I’ve wanted to go to Marrakesh for as long as I can remember – I imagined vivid colours, intricate architecture and attention to detail, buying beautiful garments in the souks, and drinking delicious mint tea and eating vegetable Tagine in cute cafes down tiny alleys.
After a failed attempt to get to Marrakesh whilst in the coastal Moroccan town of Agidir a few years ago (I got sick from the dodgy hotel buffet), I was finally on my way with one of my closest friends, Hannah.
In all of the above, Marrakesh did not disappoint. It was colourful in every sense of the word, the food and tea was sensational, the architecture and design involved in everything from the palace to the hotel where we stayed blew my mind, and we did indeed see some amazing goods being sold in the souks. However, Marrakesh is also an intense city. It’s a city of juxtapositions, a delicate balance of yin and yang. For every relaxing and serene restaurant, riad or garden, you also had the hectic life on the streets – the motorbikes constantly winding down the narrow alleys, leaving you to inhale the fumes; the local men CONSTANTLY harassing you; the hot relentless sun; and the insane snake charmer music in the medina which is enough to induce you into a trance-like state.
Marrakesh was not a relaxing holiday (even though we did manage to get a bit of down time to relax on the riad rooftop and soak in the North African rays) but it was such an incredible experience, and the intensity added to that experience.
I feel that one of the things that made it so intense for us was the fact that we were two young women travelling together.
Before we set off, we were told by more people than I can count that we would most likely receive unwanted attention. I’d already read and heard many times that Marrakech can be a tricky destination to navigate as a female traveller. We didn’t go in blinded to this and were aware of it, so knew we would have to be vigilant. However, I did not want to let this well-intentioned but fear-mongering advice put me off a dream destination for me.
Despite being an intense city with it’s own intrinsic culture which is very much present, there is also tourists all over the place. So even though it is definitely a trickier destination for a woman, it is not as though we were the only tourists around or the only western women around. And there will have been many other women travelling with other women or solo. However I am sure that the reality of it is, travelling to Marrekech with a man would make it an easier experience.
Of course, the Moroccan culture is going to be way different from the culture me and Hannah are used to, so even the fact that it seemed like men were just hanging around in the streets with their mates seemed odd to us. If a group of men were hanging around a narrow alley in the UK for no apparent reason they’d probably be arrested for loitering! So already, we were thrust in to a world we were not used to. We would often walk past a big group of men and they would ALWAYS without fail give us unwanted attention – sometimes this would be a shop owner trying to sell his goods in an upfront and aggressive manner, other times it would simply be random men making comments about the way we looked. Sometimes these comments we could laugh off (like the amount of times men would shout fish and chips at us after hearing our British accents – umm what?!), however sometimes it was just super inappropriate.
However the thing that really bothered me would be the noise men would often make – it is a noise that is really hard to explain, but it was a noise clearly used to indicate approval, and of course, it sounded gross.
I’m lucky enough that most of the time in my day to day life, men don’t walk around making inappropriate comments about my body (at least not in front of me). They respect me and other women enough to not only give us our privacy, but also let us have our bodies for ourselves. Unfortunately there are still men all over the world who make unwarranted and unsolicited comments and advances and everyday sexism is VERY real (getting on to a whole other tangent here), but thankfully I can usually go about my day without receiving comments on a minutely basis. In Marrakesh this was certainly not the case.
So – with all that in mind, do I regret not taking the words of advice from the worriers and not going? No, of course not.
Marrakesh was one of my favourite trips, I absolutely adored it. The men was a negative, but it was something we knew about and didn’t let it ruin our trip. If you are a woman thinking of going either solo or with other women, then don’t let this put you off. Instead, let my experience allow you to go in prepared for the fact that, unfortunately, you will get unwanted attention. However there are some things you can help to get through this:
1. Be Respectful of the local culture and cover up
Don’t worry, this isn’t to say you have to go around covered from your head to your toes and wrists, however, this is a Muslim country and you won’t see any local women with their tits and ass hanging out, so best to make like the locals and cover up. Even though you will still get some attention simply for being female, it will definitely help detract unwanted attention. Plus, it’s just bad manners to go in to another country with different cultures from your own and not be respectful of those cultures. So wear maxi skirts or dresses with some cute kiminos and you’re good to go. You will still see western tourists wondering around not respecting these cultures, and when it’s 30 degrees plus, you may be a bit envious, but trust me, you’ll be thankful for it in the souks.
2. Ignore, Ignore, Ignore
It sounds juvenile, but my best bit of advice to tackle the harassment head on is to literally ignore it. Carry on walking with your head up as if you haven’t heard. If men are trying to sell you something then a polite ‘no thank you’ and moving on is fine. I let this harassment provoke me and, being the sassy Aries and stringent feminist I am, couldn’t help but bite. I ended up getting in to an argument with a local who just spoke to me like I was an idiot. It was so frustrating but trust me, you won’t win this battle, so keep your head up and save your energy so you can enjoy your holiday.
3. Have a clear idea of what you’re doing
Marrakesh is not the kind of city where it is easy to just ‘see where the wind takes you’ – not least because it’s full of winding alleys that are easy to get confused and lost down. Whilst you certainly don’t need a set itinerary, and Marrekesh is a small city, it’s good to have at least some sort of idea of where you are going and what you are doing. If people catch wind that you don’t have a clue where you are going, they’ll pounce. Plus, it will make you feel less lost if you have a map and can work out exactly where your accommodation is and have a rough idea of how to navigate the city. If you get to a point where you really aren’t sure where you’re going and you’re in an overwhelming area, fake it to you make it, walk with a purpose until you can stop at a rooftop cafe for a mint tea to recalibrate.
4. Learn to laugh
Of course, borderline harassment may not seem funny, but there is no concept of leaving people to themselves here. You won’t get through the holiday without daily unwarranted comments. Sometimes these comments will be frustrating. But other times they will just be completely ridiculous and silly, so learn to laugh at the silly ones. By the end of it me and Hannah found the constant ‘fish and chips’ comments so funny. We also found it hilarious when a bunch of boys started singing ‘no diggity’ at us. Sometimes you just have to pick and choose what you’re going to let bother you.
You may read this and allow it to put you off, but please, do NOT let this small part of a trip to Marrakesh impact your trip or put you off visiting. Marrakesh is a beautiful city rich in culture, and despite this hiccup, the majority of people are ridiculously nice. I will also be writing a trip about my favourite parts of Marrakesh to inspire you to visit this incredible city. Don’t let the invasion of personal space put you off travelling as a woman. Instead, let it empower you to go DESPITE this. Even though this can be an irritating problem, not once did I feel in danger. As long as you are sensible as you always should be when travelling to a city that is new to you, then you will be perfectly safe and have the best time!