FAR FAR AWAY, FOODPORN, MOROCCO
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HOW TO TRAVEL AS A WOMAN IN MOROCCO AND NOT GET OVERCHARGED FOR A POMEGRANATE.

Morocco - Marrakech - Woman Traveler - Midnight Blue Elephant - Annika Ziehen

Two recent events inspired this post: A friend of mine is going to be in Essaouira for six weeks and while she is super excited to be in a new country, she also has lots of questions and anxieties about it. And while that is obviously normal, it seems that Morocco is still portrayed in a way that as a woman you should be more anxious than excited if you go there on your own. Following suit with this sentiment I just read a post about how to behave which to me seemed to more discouraging than anything. I’m not going to post the link, because I don’t want to seem like I’m bashing someone else’s opinion, but ultimately that’s what it was – one person’s opinion. With that said, I thought I would give you my own as I will tell it to my friend.

I think one needs to keep in mind that women will always (have to) travel differently than men. That’s just the way it is, personally I think that it can be an advantage too. I like to think that we simply get to see the world differently. Also, please keep in mind that I am not an expert; to be an expert in something you need to do it for 10,000 hours and I have only spent about 400 in Morocco. So yes, mine will also just be an opinion and if you end up getting overcharged for a pomegranate (which I totally did) after reading this, you cannot come crying to me.

But to get a bit of an expert’s expertise as well I chatted to Amanda from Marrakech Food Tours. She is in the unique position as she is an American woman, muslim, married to a Marrakchi, and has lived in Morocco for over ten years – it doesn’t get more expert than that in my view. So this will be our combined expertise and opinions on how to have the best time ever as a woman traveling in Morocco.

Morocco - Marrakech - Woman Traveler - Midnight Blue Elephant - Annika Ziehen

GETTING DRESSED.

While you can get away with shorts and tank tops these days in big Moroccan cities and guys will whistle regardless of what you wear, I don’t recommend it. As Amanda rightfully says in this awesome post about women in Morocco, just because you can wear everything doesn’t mean you should.

I see it as a sign of respect to cover up more than I would at home and it seems to make interaction with other woman easier. There is no set dress code as in other muslim countries like Iran that you must obey, but I would always cover my knees and shoulders and not wear anything too tight. I always have a scarf with me in any case and it comes in handy when I realize that I might be dressed a little to sparse judged by the reactions of people. Obviously you need to be covered more when you visit a mosque, but that’s really the same as when you go into a church or as a friend of mine put it – You wouldn’t go to the mall in your swim trunks.

One time in August I was wearing a dress that came to my knees and seemed appropriate enough; that was until I got on my friend’s scooter. Again nothing happened, but I just really didn’t feel particularly great about baring most of my legs to the rest of traffic. So remember that for any country actually: mustn’t ride a scooter in a short dress.

Unless you are Parisian and you know what you are doing, don’t wear heels in the medina of any Moroccan town. The streets are hazardous. Medinas are not made for mere mortals in heels. I sort of knew that before my last trip so I should have just stuck to flats instead of packing three pairs of heels which I didn’t wear.

Don’t underestimate that it gets cold – at night, in the mountains, and in Essaouira even in summer. Take something cashmere (okay, that might just be me).

Morocco - Marrakech - Woman Traveler - Midnight Blue Elephant - Annika Ziehen

GETTING LOST.

A medina to any foreigner is basically a maze. I found that smart phones are a bit useless as are most maps. Ask nicely at riad El-Fenn as they have the most awesome maps who show every little nook and cranny of the medina.

Don’t be scared to ask for directions. People are friendly and someone will usually just offer to show you the way or take you. If they do a tip is usually expected.

Morocco - Marrakech - Woman Traveler - Midnight Blue Elephant - Annika Ziehen

Learn a few French words: Ou est….?, a droite., a gauche. Have that and you will get far.

A bit lost on how to spend your money and how the whole haggling business works in the souks? If a vendor calls you a Berber, you have done well, but remember you don’t want to be that tourist; what makes little difference to you in price might mean a lot to the person selling. Also if a vendor won’t budge much with the price, you are usually onto something good.

If you rather have someone to help, I recommend you see one of my friends: Shane from Beyond Marrakech for customized shopping tours a la Sex and The City. And if you want to learn all about natural cosmetics, make your own, find the best argan oil, and smell nice visit Raschid from Terre d’eveil in his little workshop at the Place des Epices.

Morocco - Marrakech - Woman Traveler - Midnight Blue Elephant - Annika Ziehen

GETTING CLEAN.

You will find that Moroccan women are not shy when you venture from a public space into the hammam. Obviously it is strictly separated by gender, but this is a place where everyone really seems to drop their covers quite literally.

As a foreigner be aware that a public hammam is not a spa and it probably will not be very fancy. For Moroccans it is a place of socializing and of course to clean. You must bring your own sabon beldi (black olive soap) and kess (scrubbing glove), which you can buy at every corner shop, in addition to your other shampoos and towel. You can pay to be scrubbed and honestly I think it is the best thing ever; I don’t think as a foreigner you can get the technique quite right to get truly clean by yourself.

Scrubbing may hurt a little and you may shed a lot of skin – don’t be scared, that’s all part of the process. The last lady who scrubbed me kept shouting spaghetti, spaghetti! pointing to black strings of skin she rubbed off me. While I was embarrassed to be so apparent dirty, she seemed delighted to have gotten me clean.

Don’t wear a bathingsuit, but keep your knickers on (though don’t be surprised if they come off now and then in the scrubbing process).

Don’t take other people’s water buckets – refilling can be tedious work so don’t steal other people’s full buckets and pretend you didn’t know better.

GETTING FULL.

I remember that while I had a full bag of hand sanitizers, wipes, Imodium, and rehydration salts on my first Morocco trip, I took none on my last and was absolutely fine. As a general rule I wash my hands often, I check that chicken and eggs are cooked properly, and then I stuff EVERYTHING in my face what my greedy little fingers can grab.

I do drink only bottled water. While in the urban areas tap water is usually safe and most locals drink it, your stomach may just not be used to it. Most hotels will also provide it for tooth brushing, which I had forgotten to use by the second day. I don’t think it is a problem and just do it wine tasting style – spit, don’t swallow.*

*Actually that is a lie – I never spit when wine tasting.

Moroccans tend to eat local and seasonal so go with it. While Marrakech is not bordering the ocean, it is also only a few hours away, so I don’t think there is any need to avoid fish & seafood there. And if you are in Essaouira or any other costal region I actually think it is a must.

Morocco - Marrakech - Woman Traveler - Midnight Blue Elephant - Annika Ziehen

While a lot of people seem scared of salads and fruit, I cannot live without and the Moroccan fresh salads are actually really nice (unlike the overcooked vegetable most tajines come with). When in doubt eat fruit that can be peeled, eaten straight from a vendors cart, and drink as much fresh orange juice as possible for 4 dirham per glass.

Morocco - Marrakech - Woman Traveler - Midnight Blue Elephant - Annika Ziehen

While a lot of restaurants will serve alcohol the rule is to eat at the ones that don’t for truly great Moroccan food and to find a bar after. Or stay at the most awesome riad Chambres d’Amis and get the best of both worlds.

If you want an introduction to proper Moroccan street food, contact Youssef, Amanda’s husband, for a tour. He will show you hidden food treasures like tangia and hout quari, fish balls in a sandwich.

He will also advise you on what not to say to vendors ie. I really like your balls! I was of course talking about the fish balls I had just eaten, but I guess there are some things a woman should never tell a guy she has just met, in Morocco or anywhere else.

Any specific questions or concerns? Please comment and Amanda & I will answer.

24 Comments

  1. Hello aziehen and Amanda! I’m very happy with the article that I’ve read!
    I’m going to Morocco with my boyfriend in two weeks and will be there till the end of December. I’m visiting my aunt and uncle who live in Rabat and will tarvel around with them. However, since they will be at work it’s possible that we will visit Marrakech on our own! Can I rely on A few more local tips and tricks?

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    • Definitely do a food tour for authentic local eats with Amanda’s husband Youssef. Visit the Maison de la PHotographie and Jardin Majorelle. For a great, inexpensive riad to stay I recommend Chambres d’Amis (post coming soon). Stroll the Jemaa El Fna and the Place des Epices, also at night for storytellers and food stalls. Visit a local hammam. Get lost in the souks.

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      • I second that! I think you absolutely could come down and be perfectly fine. If you plan to stay the night, book something in advance as the World Cup Club Cup is happening and spaces to stay may be harder to find. But we’ve got over 900 riads, I’m sure you will find a great place!

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  2. Anetta says

    My friend and I are headed Marrakech next week for a few days. Do you have any recommendations for what to see and do in the city?

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  3. Cool read. I’ve always heard that Morocco can be overwhelming and sometimes feel that people are out to ‘get you’. It’s nice to know that they’re actually friendly but do expect some small gesture (tip) for helping you out. It’s better to know now than be shocked when people expect you to tip them

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    • Thanks 🙂 It is definitely overwhelming (especially Marrakech and Fez) so I would recommend to take it easy the first day or so. As I said sometimes someone will rip you off, but not really in a mean spirited way – or so I felt. If you don’t know the taxi price (70dirham to the airport) they will try to get more, same in the souks so just barter.
      By the way – I didn’t know about the tipping part at first and nobody yelled at me for not tipping..

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  4. a small tip is expected …….. ya, this is what we experienced too. but not small tips, but big once.
    i remembered in essaouria. i left a € 2,50 tip and the waiter sayd: lady, this is not enough ! what
    the hell ! it is not enoguh ? what did he expect for serving 2 drinks and 2 meals ?
    most of the time we had the feeling, what ever we gave, it was not enough ….. for me morocco is
    not a country where a tourist feel welcome. well, yes. he is welcome, when he throw around with
    a lot of money ….. they try to ripp you off where ever they can.

    beeing a frequent traveller to yemen, i never experienced anything else than hospitality, friendlines
    and honesty from the local people. they will go out of their way to help you and show you areound.
    no need to say that NO tip is expected. it would be a shame for them to take money. if you pass by people
    eating, they will always envite you to join them. in sanaa (which is a city right out of the arabian nights.
    a fairytale) you will often hear: welcome to yemen !
    one time i was passing by some children who just shared a bag of sweets. when they saw me, they offered
    me their sweets too ! this things would NEVER happen to you in morocco.

    and this is the reason why i will go back to yemen in a few weeks. inshallah. i just cant get enough of
    this beautiful and amazing country.

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    • Sorry to hear that you felt this way about Morocco. As I said I never felt taken advantage of or had people ask me for a tip. Yemen sounds lovely according to your description, I will be sure to check it out!

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      • maybe i am just too sensitive …. maybe if i would not have been in yemen bevore, it would not have been that bad.

        i would love to read a travel blog about your experiences in yemen as i liked your morocco blog 🙂 i am sure you would love it ! if you want any informations, feel free to contact me. terramagica98@gmail.com
        it is not as bad as the media make it up but you definetly have to avoid some areas. usually if i start talking about
        yemen, it is hard to stop me :-)))) and when i read travel blogs about people who have been there, i can see that there
        are many people who feel the same. happy travelling

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    • Happy that I could help 🙂 Feel free to drop me a line if you need more information! And stay tuned as I have some more Morocco posts for best souvenirs and accommodation planned.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry not there anymore, but by the other comments a lot of people are or will be going – make friends! 🙂

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      • I am not in Marrakech anymore and have no trips planned in the near future 😦 But please enjoy your trip, I am sure you will have a wonderful time!

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      • I have six full days (traveling back and forth to and from home not incl.). How many days would be recommended for Marrakesh and Agadir? Do you think it is worth it to go to Essaouira as well and for how long?

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      • Can’t speak for Agadir as I haven’t been, but I think in Marrakech you can easily spend 3-4 days and ease into it nicely. Essaouira is stunning! I love this place so much, but I think you need time to chill there. Trip is about 3.5 hours from Marrakech and easy enough with the bus, but might be a bit tight when you go to Agadir as well, rather just do 2 cities for 6 days.

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  5. Firstly, I would like to say I really enjoy following your blog (and even more so because a few of your posts have been perfectly timed with my travels!)
    I have been asked to write a guest post about Morocco on another travel blog but I feel compelled to add a few points here as I am truly surprised how in-love I am with this country!
    I started in Casablanca three weeks ago and I have been in Marrakech for the past week.
    70% of the people I spoke to about traveling to Morocco as a solo female warned me against it. I have heard all kinds of stories! I’m definitely not about to disregard them, but I have to admit, I’ve only had the best experience so far (apart from a few people trying to make a couple of extra dirhams).
    You are right, French will get you far, but learning a few basic (Moroccan or Classic) Arabic phrases will get you respect. Simple ones like “Salem Walekum” Hello/ Peace On You. Where you/they would respond with “Walekum Salem”. Thanks is “Shukran”. Bye is “Bislama”. “Haafek” = Please. **check spelling and pronunciation** Ask anyone! They are more than happy to teach you!
    I now know how to order my daily “juice of avocado, banana and orange to take away with no plastic bag” in Arabic. It also scores you points (and sometimes even local prices ) above the other tourists – Trust me! 😛
    As a solo female (moreso) you will more than likely experience a few whistles and catcalls which could leave you very sceptical of men. Its not the most respectful approach, but apart from the streets, and in all honesty, I have found Moroccans to be some of the nicest, most genuine and generous people I have ever met!!! It is very much part of the Muslim religion.
    I have couchsurfered for the most part and have only checked into a hostel in Marrakech (which i left yesterday to stay with someone that has offered me and a male friend I met at the hostel a place to stay). I am also about to share a bottle of wine with a couchsurfer that I haven’t had the chance to stay with yet.
    The hostel I stayed at (Riad Massin in the old town) was the cheapest I’ve ever stayed in (€5 p/night) and the staff were the most helpful hostel staff I have ever come across.
    I am not staying don’t be naive, but I do believe for the most part Moroccans are genuinely interested in different cultures and people and really just want you to be comfortable and feel at home.
    What I have actually been struggling with has been the poverty, the underfed animals and the ones used for entertainment and tourism 😦 …please don’t support that industry!
    A couple of extra tips; If you’re lost in the souks stick to asking shop owners for directions rather than on the street. The street kids will charge you a small fee (I guess its a bit of pocket money)
    A lot of people will say “remember me from the riad?” …they’re not harmful, they just get commission from shop owners IF you spend money at the little stalls they take you too.
    Also, always ask for a meter-taxi. Generally, it shouldn’t cost more than 15-20 dirham around Marrakech if you’re only heading from A-B.
    And, CHECK THE WEATHER! Most traveling here at the moment would know the weather has been horrible and flooding all around! With at least 32 deaths, please be smart! Don’t be a rescue case!

    With all that said, I really hope you enjoy your time in Morocco! I have picked up teaching work and look forward to my weeks ahead 🙂

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    • Thanks for your wonderful and insightful comment. You are absolutely right about having some words in either Arabic or Berber – that does help. I am personally also not a big fan of the animal for entertainment and feel really bad for the monkeys at Jemaa El Fna and wouldn’t support that either. However I think one needs to acknowledge that different countries have different standards for their animals; while we with our western minds may not support that I also think that the way animals are held here is sometimes over the top and one should rather check on the humans first.
      Agreed on the taxi, but I found it too tiring to try and get them to use the meter with me so I just ended up negotiating low fares which worked well for me.

      Enjoy your time teaching, hope the weather is better now?!

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  6. irena says

    Yes, definitely! I mentioned poverty too but you are totally right. It is a very different culture.
    The weather seems to be getting better but there are still a lot of closed roads and bridges. I will be sure to check out your must-dos whilst I’m here too 🙂

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  7. I’ve been contemplating Morocco for awhile. Thanks for the good advice.
    Gaines
    facebook.com/BrasintheBackpack
    Gainesbishop.com/home.html

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  8. Pingback: December Roundup | Teaching Wanderlust

  9. Pingback: A TRAVELER’S BEAUTY SECRETS: SAVON NOIR & THE MOROCCAN HAMMAM. | The Midnight Blue Elephant

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