Female Travel in Marrakech:
How to Survive the Marrakech Medina, with a Vagina.
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I won’t lie, by the time we went back to our riad after the first day in Morocco Geena and I looked at each other and both simultaneously said: I fucking hate Marrakech. We had had a car rental booked the next day and plans to head down to Sidi Ifni and neither one of us could wait to get the hell out of there. By the time we were returning from our South Atlantic coast adventures, I decided I could give Marrakech another chance. Maybe we were just off to a bad start? Nope, not the case, not in my case, not in our case. Since my trip to Morocco every time I have publicly brought up my dislike for Marrakech (particularly the Medina and Jemaa El Fna) it’s almost as if the women claiming that they had a wonderful time and never were harassed were trying to hush me up, dismiss what I was saying, or try to counter with x, y, z excuse. But then I was met with just as many, if not more women saying nope, never again will I step foot in Marrakech. More than anything else? I had comment after comment from women saying I want to go to Marrakech, can you share some tips and what I need to prepare for.
Now before you Marrakech-lovers go on the defense: This post isn’t meant for you. It’s meant to prepare other first-time female visitors for
what they’re up against what they may run into. I would hate to find out that someone decided to not venture out into the rest of Morocco or cut their trip short because of the unfriendly verbal assault welcome they received in Marrakech. Trust me, the rest of Morocco has slightly more morals and respect than the Marrakech Medina. I loved Morocco as a whole, but Marrakech kept pushing me away.
And for those that were in a sense, let’s just be real here, were 100% victim blaming us for our treatment in Marrakech let me just tell you the following: I did my research. I had read about the near-constant sexual harassment, the scams, and everything else. This ain’t my first rodeo either, I’ve traveled many conservative Islamic countries. I know how to dress. I NEVER make eye contact with men, I dress pretty conservatively, I almost always have sunglasses on and I have a resting bitch face that will destroy your soul. I always look like I’m about to fuck someone up. I know what I’m doing, and yet still I’ve never in all of my travels dealt with anything near the threshold of what is Marrakech.
And with all this said, while Marrakech certainly pissed me off and annoyed me- I did not once feel in danger. I never felt like I was going to be beaten or robbed, even at night.
If you ever ever are harmed in any way there is a Tourist Police office in Jamaa El Fna Square (ask for Police Brigade Touristique), or call +212 0524 38 46 01. Often times just threatening to call will likely get someone to leave you alone. Note that if you search ‘police brigade touristique’ on maps.me it will show you the location of the office.
Do you love or hate Marrakech? I’ve never been a place I’ve felt so bipolar about. I had a horrible experience on arrival here in Morocco, enough to make me say Marrakech is officially the worst city in the entire world. I’m now back again trying to like this city, but the scammers, touts and disgusting harassment makes it nearly impossible, but then you round the corner into Ben Youssef Madrasa and I forgot about it for a minute, and staying at @riadchamsmarrakech made me realize there is some humanity in this city (if you ever come to Marrakech, I 100% recommend this Riad- it’s just lovely). Who wants a no-Bullshit guide to how to survive and what to avoid in Marrakech especially if you’re a woman?… I think that may be an upcoming blog post. . If you haven’t gone over and checked it out, go watch my Instagram takeover of @kkdaytravel from the 3 day Merzouga tour! #marrakech #morocco #visitmorocco #wearetravelgirls #dametraveler #darlingescapes #girlswhotravel #letsgoeverywhere #travelstoke #madrasa #benyoussefmadrasa #travel
My Tips for Female Travel in Marrakech:
Trust me, I got a few up my sleeve…
What to wear.
Disclaimer: It doesn’t matter what the fuck you wear. You’ll get harassed no matter what. From wearing a full-length muumuu with a headscarf to a knee length dress our treatment was no different. You essentially are a target for every misogynistic epithet under the sun just for being foreign and being the owner of a vagina. Even upon speaking to foreign tourists from other Middle Eastern and North African countries, they faced the same shit. Marrakechis can spot a foreigner instantly.
But I digress, it’s better the err on the side of conservatism to be respectful of the culture. Even though the male end of the culture won’t respect you either way.
Batten down the hatches, ladies.
Good clothing options are loose fitting floor length dresses, long loose tunics paired with trousers, or loose fitting elephant pants paired with a loose t-shirt. A scarf is always a good item to have in your bag, as it can be used to cover shoulders if wearing something sleeveless or to cover your hair when you just want to hide from the non-stop bullshit.
Don’t Make Eye Contact. And don’t smile either.
Now this, this is something I hate. I hate having to walk around not making eye contact with other people. But for your own sake, don’t do it. This is an open invitation for a seemingly harmless 6 year old to tell you they ‘Wanta da sex‘ (I’m not even kidding, this actually happened), or a grown ass man to making suckling kissing noises at you.
Ignore anything said to you.
This is another one I hate! I love to mingle with locals and find out about the places I’m visiting through them. But Marrakech is a different animal. Anything said to you is just an open invite for further harassment. Even things that seem so innocent like hello, where are you from, hola, hello spice girl to other more obvious ones such as sexy baby, hello beautiful, and so on all are just openers to continue to pester you for dates, phone numbers, to tell you something insanely sexual or to sell you shit. Men don’t just walk up and casually say hi here in both our experience.
But you gotta draw the line somewhere.
I just roll my eyes and continue to ignore the hello beautifuls, the I love yous, the sexy ladys. Most of this is annoying, but harmless. Likely, over the course of your stay in Morocco you will have things said to you that range from grotesque to downright appalling. The first incident where I completely lost my shit? ‘Hey lady, leta me fucka you in da ass!‘ I went off on the kid (who looked to be about 12 or 13 years old). If he hadn’t run like hell to my reaction I would have grabbed the little fucker by his ear and drug him to his mother. Guys catcall women where I live, but if you yelled that to a woman here someone would likely beat the ever loving fuck out of you. Twice.
Don’t be afraid to make a scene.
Obviously Moroccan woman don’t put up with this shit. So if you ever feel so uncomfortable, make a giant scene. More than one woman will likely come to your aide.
Having a boyfriend doesn’t suffice here. Even after meeting some couples on the trip, being there with your boyfriend doesn’t suffice. If you’re with a guy, he’s your husband. If you’re there alone or with girlfriends, you’re all married. I’m not even going to explain this one, it’s self explanatory. Even if you sport the ring and carry on about your husband wherever he may be, you’re still going to have men trying to make their move.
With this said, I did meet a number of very lovely men in Morocco and even a couple in Marrakech. But they approached in completely non-sexual ways, one was the owner of a juicebar who struck up a conversation with us all because he checked to see how his product was and if there was any feedback we had to improve, if any (no feedback needed it was delicious!), another one that stuck in my mind was a young man in the villa-nouveau who passed me on his motorbike, stopped and pulled off the road ahead and walked up to me to tell me to carry my purse in front (it had bounced around to the back with my speed walking) to curb any potential thief. The last one that stuck with me was Mohammed, the man working at the riad we had booked the night we returned to Marrakech after our 3 day Merzouga tour. Geena was in tears by the time we made it to the riad (we got dropped in the wrong spot and had a pretty long walk with all our bags with men leering, not to mention a huge football game had just ended so it looked like scene from Mad Max out there). Mohammed was so alarmed, he grabbed our bags and put them in our room and took us to the terrace where he welcomed us with mint tea and said he had to run to the souk real quick and he’d be back in a few minutes. He came back with a plate of hot kefta and some flatbreads and insistence to make our evening better.
Now for the scams to be aware of.
This part doesn’t apply just to the ladies. Oh yeah, this doesn’t end with just sexual harassment. This is the most scam ridden place (I’m talking about the Medina) that I have ever been in my entire life. I have been all over East Asia, Central Asia, Southern Africa, South America, Central America, the Middle East and parts of Europe and never have I seen a scam game so strong. Now, some of the Instagram victim blamers will try to disregard this behavior by carrying on about how I must not understand what it must be like to be a Moroccan since I must be a wealthy American that’s never traveled anywhere impoverished in my life, not once, ever. I fucking get it, loud and clear. Morocco isn’t the wealthiest nation. I am fully aware unemployment and low wages are huge problems. I get that people are just trying to make a living. But never have I been somewhere where I’ve had people so aggressively try to scam tourists. I found it a bit shocking too, considering I have been a number of places that are far more financially worse off than Morocco is, and they don’t go this far. So be warned.
‘That way is closed!’
Don’t even entertain it, don’t even respond, just keep walking. The Medina is a giant labyrinth, and it’s super easy to get lost and lose every sense of direction. Well, men and boys are aware of this. So they’ve all seemed to band together and create the ‘That way is closed‘ scam. No matter where you’re going if they see your non-Moroccan looking ass coming, that way is closed. So then you might ask, well then what way is open? Then the insistence comes in. ‘No money, no money! Come I show you.’ You start to follow them and before you know it, they hand you off to a friend. Then once you arrive to wherever you’re going with friend (AKA: business partner) the demands for compensation begin. Then you’ll probably roll your eyes and ask how much? That will be met with a ‘What do you think is enough?‘ Well whatever you decide ‘enough’ is they’ll demand double. I swear you could have offered 1,000€ and they would pout and demand 2,000€.
‘The Berber festival is happening, today only! Come I will show you where the tanneries are! No Money! No Money!’
YES MONEY is really all you need to take away from this. And the funny thing about the Berber festival where they come down out of the mountains for the one day a year? This Berber festival takes place everyday of the year. But for only that day according to any of these scam artists. This one isn’t quite as bad of a rip off as the above mentioned one but it does operate in a similar manner. First you’re headed to a festival that only happens once per year (how exciting!) and you happened to be there on the one day of the year it was happening. But then before long you’re handed off to the friend (see, business partner). Then you’re brought to the tannery, given a quick tour of one of the most atrocious smelling places on Earth, then taken to a shop selling leather goods and maybe even a Berber Pharmacy and before you know it, your guide wants his money. This one wasn’t the worst scam. I mean the guy did show us some insightful things and even gave us bushels of mint to protect us from the tannery stench. I learned something! But really, I don’t appreciate the lies.
And no, I’m not making reference to the disgusting behaviors of men in the Medina. I’m talking about when you’ve finally made way down to Jemaa El Fna, the main square. There’s men with monkeys, snakes, and I’m sure more than what I noticed milling about the square. Then before you know it, they’ve thrown said money onto you and now hey, it’s photo time. Except for afterwards the demands start rolling in. To the tune of 200 Dirham. I’ve seen this same game played in other countries, so I knew what it was. Although that first evening we had monkey man aggressively trying to throw the monkey on us, at one point he was even chasing Geena around the square. Like she was full on running from the guy. I never had to run away from a man with a monkey in the Caribbean, a firm NO sufficed.
The Henna scam.
This was a new one to me. I was walking in the square minding my own business when all of a sudden someone had a hold of my hand and something wet and kinda cold was spreading on my skin. Before I had a split second and a chance to even process what was going on little Miss Henna artist was about halfway thought her tattoo. Then she demanded 600 Dirham for the tattoo that I didn’t even ask for! I tried to liken it to rape. I didn’t back down on this one. It turned into a giant argument in the middle of the square.
‘Ben Youssef is closed to individuals, only groups are allowed right now. Join my group.’
As we went to walk into Ben Youssef Madrasa a man was standing next to the entrance and said that to us on our way in. Crazy enough, he had managed to thwart a few tourists into it as there was about 5 of them standing there all looking a bit confused. I rolled my eyes at him and said ‘you’re a liar, that’s the most ridiculous lie I’ve heard yet‘. That seemed to dissipate the group of potential victims who all fled the scene and followed us into the Madrasa. Whether you’re going to the Bahia Palace, Ben Youssef Madrasa, or any other famed site in the city ‘groups only’ is a lie, don’t fall for it. There are official guides in the city. They have badges.
The menu scam at restaurants.
Luckily neither of us had this one attempted on us but I was told about it. You’ll sit down at a restaurant and get handed a menu and the prices are great. Then after the meal is said and done you get the check and it’s at least double what you had tallied up when ordering. Then when you ask the waiter about it, you’re brought a menu and the prices do add up. But this isn’t the menu you originally looked at. Some travelers recommend taking photos on your phone of the menu you’re given when you order to help curb this scam.
‘The meter is broken’
I think outside the United States, Australia and Western Europe no taxi meter has ever worked. EVER. My best tip is to ask someone (like staff at your riad or hotel) how much a taxi should cost to go to _____. That way you know what price to demand.
Airport Taxi scam.
Save yourself the headache and arrange an airport pickup with your riad. The going rate for a taxi between the airport and the Medina should cost about 80 Dirham, however, good luck getting it for that price. Most riads will arrange transfers for 120 Dirhams (some as high as 150). If you step out of the airport and try to negotiate a taxi you’ll likely end up paying somewhere between 200 and 500 Dirham, which is absolutely ludicrous.
‘Come for free tea’
Okay, this isn’t really a scam. I never fell for it, as I was fully aware of its workings beforehand. It’s a lure to get you to visit a shop and purchase items. Be wary of anyone offering anything ‘free’. Many times if you do not make a purchase, payment for that free tea will be demanded- which in all fairness is fine, just don’t tell passerbys you’ll gift them free tea.
Other annoyances I encountered:
Yes there’s even more annoying shit you’ll face.
Overly aggressive salesmen:
Okay this one wasn’t a surprise. And I get it: unemployment is high and wages are low. But I’ve not experienced salesmen so aggressive in my life. The only one that I thought really crossed the line was the lamp salesman. He physically picked up Geena and placed her in his shop! I of course ran in there, you can’t pick up my friend and try to kidnap her! He then blocked the entrance and wouldn’t let us out. In all of my crazy travels- this was a first for me. We had to push and scream our way to freedom.
An angry response to calling out a scammer:
We were walking toward Ben Youssef Madrasa when we were stopped by an elderly British couple who were standing there with a map, completely lost. Instantly we busted out our phones and opened maps.me to help. At this point one of the ‘this ways closed‘ guys appeared.
Me- “You don’t even know what way we’re going”
Scammer- “I will take you, no money!”
British wife- Looks as if she’s about to cry.
Me- “No thank you”
Couple- both look confused, and at a loss.
Me- Rolls eyes. “This is the usual scam, here’s how it works… First they say this ways closed, or the square is this way. Come, I’ll show you, no money! Oh hey here’s my friend _____ he will take you! Said friend takes you, then demands money. How much you ask? Well that’s up to you. Whatever you offer, he’ll demand double and still pout at whatever amount given. He will then go and split the profits with guy #1.”
Scammer- stuffs his middle finger in my face. “Fuck you, you fucking bitch! You’re a fucking cunt!”
Me- “Well, fuck you too.”
Scammer- “No fuck you! I will fuck you! I have the dick!”
Me- “You have no dick! Kiss Om-Mak!” (Kiss Om-Mak translates out to ‘Your Mom’s vaagina’ in Arabic- but is the equivalent of saying ‘Fuck your mother’)
Scammer finally shuts up and goes away.
British wife- “Everyone scams you here, everyone.”
So my point here: Unless you know a few obscene phrases in Arabic and want to use them, and don’t mind being called every name in the book I suggest not calling out the scammer as he is standing right there in front of you.
Did I just really get threatened to be raped?
Things to do to make your Marrakech experience better.
With the chaos and crazy of the medina you need and escape. It’s mental exhausting!
Treat yourself to a nice riad.
Here’s the thing, you don’t need to break the bank for a nice, relaxing riad. A good riad can make a world of difference in the mad surroundings you’re in. Here are the three riads I stayed in and can personally attest that they were all good places to stay.
A couple things to note about hotel/riad/hostel bookings:
Most bookings online DO include the 20% VAT tax (but do double check). There is a 2.50€ city tax per person per night that is payable on arrival (I’ve not seen it included on a booking), so just remember to tack on 2.50€ per person to the listed price. All three riads I am recommending, I did stay at and all include breakfast as well as wifi. All three are located in surprisingly quiet locations considering they’re all within the medina. Was woke up to birds chirping each morning- that kind of quiet.
Riad Chams Marrakech
Address: N° 214-215 Derb Sidi Bouamer, Riad Laarous, Medina, Marrakech.
Riad Chams I think was my favorite accommodation on the trip. (This is the riad that the lovely Mohammed welcomed us with kefta mentioned above). The rooms are adorable, all doubles, includes a yummy breakfast, the courtyard is to die for the terrace is a perfect spot to relax. They can also set up tours and excursions for you as well as prepare meals (give some advance notice). Rooms range from $27 per night up to $77 per night 255 to 728 dirham (excluding that 2.50€ city tax per person, per night). Book Riad Chams Marrakech here
Les Jardins Riad LaaRouss
Address: 56, Derb Sidi Bouamar – Riad Lâarouss – Marrakech, Medina. (it is very close to Riad Chams Marrakech).
Les Jardins Riad Laarouss is just stunning, plus Emre and Samira will go above and beyond to take care of you. I actually ended up at Les Jardins because we had booked a night at Riad Chams Marrakech, stayed one more night and they were fully booked for the remainder of the month! So they kindly called Emre and he had availability for my remaining two nights in Marrakech. And I think I lied above when I said Riad Chams was my favorite, I loved Les Jardins equally! There are three rooms here, all doubles and the decor is adorable, the breakfasts delicious and the staff are wonderful. They also serve meals (for an additional fee, give at least 4 hours notice), but whatever you do- order the chicken with lemon tagine (70 dirhams), it’s to die for and is home cooked in their kitchen (I’m not kidding it was the best tagine I had in all of Morocco!). Emre speaks so many languages it made my head spin…French, Arabic, English, Russian, Spanish and many more, so communication will not be an issue. They can book excursions and tours as well. Rooms range in price from $59 per night to $71 per night 558 to 671 dirham (excluding that 2.50€ city tax per person, per night). Book Les Jardins Riad LaaRouss here.
Riad La Famille
Address: 213 Arset Ali Ou Saleh Bab El Khamis, Medina, Marrakech.
Riad La Famille is cute and cozy and not too far walking distance from Jamaa El Fna. Nadia, the owner is very sweet and helpful. She speaks French, Spanish and Arabic but even if you’re only an English speaker she will find a way to communicate (we had no issue between what French, Spanish and Arabic I understand). Nadia can arrange tours, excursions and car rentals for you. The only strange thing that happened here was the morning we were leaving to pick up our rental car we noticed the door leading to the terrance was locked, so we were essentially locked upstairs. After a little poking around we figured out he switch next to the door was a doorbell (it looked like a lightswitch), this isn’t a complaint- we do appreciate the additional security. All rooms are double rooms and range from $35 to $41 per night 331 to 387 dirham (excluding that 2.50€ city tax per person, per night). Book Riad La Famille here.
Other options that you see on Instagram, that I did not stay at.
Curious which places you constantly see on Instagram? La Mamounia and La Riad Yasmine are home to the two most famous Marrakech pool shots you see. La Mamounia will set you back $473 to (gasp!) $5,786 PER NIGHT! I don’t know what in the ever loving fuck could be offered to get me to spend that kind of money for one night of my life, but my interest in piqued… just not enough to ever in my life book something that expensive (but La Mamounia, if you ever want to bring a doubting travel blogger who never reviews accommodations over for a press trip… wink, wink, nudge, nudge). But good news for you guys that are only out to #doitforthegram, apparently you can get a day pass to the famous pool so you can flaunt to your friends that your faux-rich. If you guys are all curious what’s the most expensive accommodation I ever booked? It was my solo trip to the Maldives over Valentine’s Day 2014. I never clued into the fact that I was in the most romantic place on Earth over Valentine’s Day until I checked in and the young lady working asked “So it’s just you checking in for the next 3 nights?…Really, just you by yourself?” I stayed at Herathera Island Resort, now named Canareef Resort Maldives for just under $200 per night, including the meal plan, (excluding the internal flight to get out there) with a beach front bungalow, score!
Treat yourself to an amazing meal.
The Marrakech Medina does have some amazing dining options, here are a few of my favorites, and all have rooftop terraces.
Un Déjeuner á Marrakech
Tagine’d out? Check out this Mediterranean meets Moroccan restaurant. We stumbled across this place by accident after visiting the Bahia Palace and our lunch was so good we returned for dinner. It is a bit on the spendy side for Marrakech- expect prices of 90 to 140 dirham for main courses, but the food is worth it!
This place serves up pretty authentic local food according to Marrakechis (locals are who recommended I try it). The tangines are tasty and come with a side of couscous (I went with the Marrakechi beef tagine and have no regrets). Expect to pay 90 to 120 dirhams for a dish.
Café Snack Riad Laarous
This is a cheaper option with good tagines and tasty paninis. Most dishes will only set you back 30-60 dirham. The manager is very kind.
Catanzaro (this is just outside the medina)
Another welcome break from the tagines, Catanzaro serves up some pretty good pizzas and Italian food. Expect dishes to come in at the 60-120 dirham range. Serves wine.
Alas, there are dirt-cheap eats on the streets
Rock up to any of the street food stalls and grab something super local (a word of the wise: choose ones that are busy and crawling with locals). Some yummy snacks to try: ma’qooda, chebakia, and b’stilla… or anything that looks delectable- try it!
Stop, Hamam Time!
I unfortunately did not visit a hamam while I was in Marrakech (I’ve experienced one in Uzbekistan and it was amazing!). Ones that came highly recommended in Marrakech were Hamam Mouassine, Heritage Spa, Sultana Spa, and Hamam Bab Doukkala. Prices can range anywhere from 100 to 600 dirham.
Book a tour
You can book walking tours of the city if you’d prefer something organized and less harassment. Shop Marrakech walking tours here. From foodie tours to artisan shopping to historic sites, there’s a tour for just about anyone.
Other great articles to check out with female travel tips for Marrakech:
READ THIS BEFORE YOU GO- Solo Female Travel Tips– By Journalist on the Run.
Solo Female Travel Guide For A Weekend in the Red City– By Weekend Jetsetter.
The Solo Female Traveler’s Guide to Marrakech– By The Blonde Abroad.
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