There are moments in Morocco when the doubt really seeps in. On the road, usually.
And you ask yourself what it was that compelled you to come to North Africa as a solo female traveler. Because it ain’t always easy. A night bus coming to a shuddering halt somewhere in the Atlas Mountains, provoking a fight you can’t follow, all Arabic and French. Feeling lost and overwhelmed in the sticky, chaotic mess that is Casablanca’s bus station. Trying to navigate Marrakech’s medina as daylight fades, walking in circles, feeling like the whole area was designed to confuse.
That’s the bad, and there’s no point in pretending it doesn’t exist. But, lows like these only serve to contrast with the highs, and there’s few countries where these highs are so epic, so dramatic, and so full of wonder.
Yes, those anecdotes above are truthful ones, experienced by yours truly – and at the time they worried me, of course. But what sticks with you is not the moments you’re reminded of your vulnerability, your otherness, Morocco’s patriarchal nature, but the many in which you witness the country’s beauty and the people’s warmth.
Looking down over Marrakech’s bustling public square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, as the sun sets is a sight that stays with you for life. As does the first time you set eyes on Chefchaouen, a startlingly blue-washed city that only emerges after hours in a rickety bus. And back down south, the Sahara needs little explanation. Which is good, because it’s not easy to explain quite how awe-inspiring the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi are, and how alone yet alive you feel when exploring them.
But it’s the fact you feel alone in such a foreign country that leads to the most memorable experiences. In my case, the experiences that happened because of traveling solo started with me looking lost then getting saved by a caring local on a motorbike. They continued with the best tagine of my life, every mouthful enjoyed, no need for the hassles of conversation. And they ended with new friendships aplenty: a musician from Ghana, a writer from Portugal, a teacher from America (and, well, the cute German is a story for another day). But, more so, traveling solo led to an appreciation of the culture, and an immersion into it.
For you, well there’s no way of knowing what crazy, ridiculous, memorable experience will fill your days in Morocco. But I can advise on a few things I found out as a solo female traveler there. First off, sunglasses. We’re going to assume the whole ‘dress modestly’ thing is a given, but sunglasses might not be. Well, they work wonders for evading eye contact when you’re just not in the mood to be sold rugs and trinkets. Bonus points for the fact they make you feel more powerful celeb and less clueless wanderer.
What else? Wander off the beaten track, but know how to return to it. Google Maps is your friend – paper versions are just a little too obvious. But you won’t feel the need for either map if you join a small group tour. As a solo traveler, there are few things that’ll make you feel more settled than making new friends and having them to navigate Morocco’s stunning, chaotic cities with.
The rest is all simply a case of planning well and using common sense. You don’t need to be told again that Morocco is incredibly diverse, so sticking just to big metropolises or singular regions means you won’t see it at its best.
Casablanca is Morocco’s most cosmopolitan city, so head there if you’re looking for slightly less of a culture shock. Alternatively, head somewhere more chilled, like Essaouira. This fairly liberal port city on the Atlantic is a great deal more manageable than somewhere like Marrakech. (Check out this definitive guide to magical Essaouira!)
But, moving away from advice-giving, and back to Morocco’s magic. There aren’t many countries that take you from dazzling mountain ranges, to vibrant souks, to stunning sand dunes in a matter of hours. And when it comes to these sights, you might arrive alone, but you’ll end up leaving with new friends aplenty, travelers and locals alike. Promise.
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