by Betty Nguyen
To be honest, I've heard several disturbing stories about traveling to Morocco as females. From being disrespected (the men allegedly would grab you at the markets) to having sexist experiences at the airport (a friend described an incident where a busboy would not touch her bags because she was female), it may distract a hesitant female traveler from booking.
A bit apprehensive and doubtful, I did research about Moroccan culture and I prepared our all-female group before our departure.
Your experiences may vary from ours, but we found these following steps helped us have a better trip:
Cash is King + Tipping
Remember to get small change from the ATM once you arrive in Morocco (get plenty of 20 Dirhams).
The culture of tipping is very strong in Morocco. Many people make a living primarily from the tips they receive.
Tip for the following services:
- hotel and restaurant staff
- tour and excursion drivers
- camel or mule drivers
- hiking guides
- hammam attendants who give you a scrub or massage.
Meals and accommodation are much cheaper in Morocco than in Europe or the States, even with the tips, so just budget a bit extra.
Learn the Verbal and Body Language
Respect me and I will respect you is a common mantra which applies to most visiting countries, including Morocco. We cannot presume that everyone speaks English and adhere to our Western ways in other countries. We are visiting their country so do acknowledge their different cultural ways and customs. We learned important phrases of French and Arabic, like "Merci" and “As-salam alaykom”. We bowed our heads to passing men and they smiled and bowed in return.
For the most part, local women dress conservatively in Morocco, so we wore long dresses and cover our heads and shoulders with a fashionable scarf in public places, especially during Ramadan and in the countrysides. You don't have to and may very well be treated with kindness. By eliminating feelings of paranoia and anxiety from inappropriate attire, we were able to enjoy our experiences and focus on our activities.
Sure, there was this one time where we were shooed off because the restaurant served male patrons only. Instead of creating a scene, we respectfully left and ate at another restaurant and was treated with utmost kindness and care. We now understand that there are all-men establishments in Morocco and although we may disagree with the concept, it is their right and custom to have such institutions and establishments.
We learned that compliments go a long way. If you start out a conversation with "We love Morocco, what a beautiful country", the strangers and locals will immediately warm up to you.
Always Ask, Don't Assume
We also learned that you should ask first and not assume first. Don't touch anything without asking first (even changing the channel on the driver's radio). Don't take photos (of faces, especially women and children) without seeking permission (you will be yelled at and may be subjected to monetary demands).
Hire a Professional Driver and Tour Guide
To preempt any mishaps, we strongly recommend hiring a professional guide and driver. Consider him your so-called 'body guard'. He can communicate to the locals if they feel slighted by your behavior in any way. It prevents chaos and avoids possible unpleasantries. He knows what restaurants to take you, he will wait patiently for you after every meal and activity, and ensures you are safe and happy.
Overall, we felt completely safe in Morocco. My mother immensely enjoyed our trip (she keeps raving about it) and we took so many wonderful and unique photos. We would return in a heart beat.
We hope these steps will help you prepare you on your Nomoon Morocco trip (see our tours here).
Please leave your experiences or questions in the comments section below.