10 Tips For Women Traveling To Morocco

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

A maze of winding alleyways, intricately carved wooden doors, brightly woven textiles, the smell of wood-burning stoves in the air, and the hauntingly beautiful call to prayer all awaits you in this mesmerizing country. The architecture, the desert dunes, the Atlas Mountains, the long stretches of sandy beach — there are so many reasons to visit Morocco.

Is it safe to travel in Morocco as a solo female? Of course! 

But, like with any new country or culture that you are visiting, it is important to be aware and respectful of any etiquette and traditions that are different than your own. Whether you are traveling solo or with a group, here are some things to keep in mind when setting out on your Moroccan adventure. 

1. Be Modest in The Way You Dress
You don't have to wear a headscarf or anything, but the majority of women in the country wear long, loose clothing and some do cover their heads. Throwing on your short shorts and spaghetti straps will not only make you a target for aggressive touts and scam artists, but is disrespectful. If you want to have meaningful interactions with the locals, make sure your knees and shoulders are covered and try not to show cleavage.

2. Avoid Tons of Makeup and Wear Your Hair Up
Yes, I know that changing your appearance drastically goes against every feminist bone in your body, but the reality is that this is a culture of machismo, where men are very much in control and don't get a chance to interact with women much before marriage, making them more attentive towards foreign women who are not bound by Islamic Law. The prettier you look, the more you are going to get shouted at and noticed when walking down the street. Especially if you are traveling alone or with only females.

3. When Walking Through The Market Don't Say "Hello" to Everyone That Speaks To You
Like in markets all over the world, every person you walk by will try and sell you something or get your attention. While it may be the norm to make eye contact, smile, and say hello to the people that you pass at home, if you engage with the street vendors in Morocco, you are going to get pulled into a transaction that you may not have wanted or have been prepared for. Just look straight ahead, and ignore the calls coming at you from all sides.

4. Avoid the Henna Tattoo Women
Common at the beach and in other tourist areas, women will come up to you and grab you by the arm and try to give you a henna tattoo. While getting a beautiful temporary design on your hand may be tempting, be wary. They will usually finish the tattoo and then try and charge you an exorbitant rate, kicking up a huge fuss if you refuse to pay it.

5. Sun Tanning 101
While the warm weather and long stretches of sand beckon, be careful where you spread your towel and lay out in your two piece. Local women are still completely covered at the beach, and there have been incidents where female tourists have been harassed or had blankets thrown over them while sun tanning. Most beaches have tourist hotels or resorts at them that have a roped off area where for around $1 a day, you can rent a chair and avoid any sort of hassle.

6. Don't Wander Alone at Night or in Isolated Areas
This may seem like common sense, but as the sun sets relatively early, getting caught in the street when the sun goes down is easier than you think. There is a local understanding that "good women" are at home once it's dark, so it's best to be safe inside to avoid any uncomfortable situations.

7. No "Fraternizing" With The Locals
Islamic law rules, which means that getting caught having sex with a Moroccan man or women that you are not married to can lead to them getting thrown in jail (or worse) and you getting thrown out of the country, never allowed to return.

8. Learn a Little of the Local Lingo
French and Arabic are both widely used throughout the country, and I found that uttering the traditional Arabic greeting "As-salāmu ʿalaykum" and the response "Waʿalaykumu s-salām", was the quickest way to make a connection with the locals, as it shows a level of respect.

9. No Smoking or Drinking
Muslim women don't smoke in public, and Islamic law does not allow drinking, though many tourist restaurants in the larger cities sell it. If you decide to indulge in either, try and do it in private or with a large group of fellow travellers at a tourist bar or hotel.

10. Try These Spots if You Need an Escape
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to get away from street harassment, or just need a break from the craziness of the market, try going somewhere that is frequented by local women. A hammam is a great male-free zone as well as the top terrace of a tea house or restaurant. Hotel and public pools tend to attract groups of local men, as does anywhere that serves alcohol, so avoid these spots.

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5 Things To See In The Marrakesh Medina

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

Are you looking for things to do in Marrakesh? You've come to the right place!

In between getting lost in the maze of narrow streets bordered by red walls draped in vibrant, hand-dyed carpets, there are some incredible places to see and experience in Marrakesh! Here are five of my favourite spots. 

1. Djemma el-Fna

I had heard that Djemaa el-Fna, the gigantic main square in Marrakesh, was an open-air theatre full of action, entertainment and general hoopla, but words can not describe what was waiting for me when I wandered there one night as the sun was setting.

The chaos that greets you has been non-stop since the square was the site of public executions in AD 1050 (the name means "assembly of the dead"). It is such an incredible collision of Moroccan culture that UNESCO declared it a "Masterpiece of World Heritage" in 2001. 

A view of a portion of Djemaa el-Fna from a rooftop restaurant patio

Camera at the ready and all senses on alert, I walked past snake charmers right out of an Indiana Jones flick blasting oboes to calm hissing cobras, fully veiled female henna tattoo artists would suddenly appear beside pulling me towards their stools, and monkeys on leashes that sat obediently next to the feet of their owners.

Stalls piled high with figs and oranges were lit by hanging lights and seemingly out of nowhere, benches, tables, and cook-tops appeared where chefs were prepping fragrant traditional meals that would break the Ramadan fast for the day. (Apparently what I saw was tame compared to what occurs outside of the month of Ramadan.)

Surrounding restaurants open their rooftops to tourists — the perfect spot to enjoy the show! 

One of the many elaborate doorways at the Bahia Palace

2. Bahia Palace

This gorgeous, historic palace has floor-to-ceiling decoration that was begun in the 1860s by Vizier Si Moussa and then was completed between 1894 and 1900 by Vizier Abu 'Bou' Ahmed. It has been home to rulers, warlords and French colonizers, but now lies empty — other than the tourists that filter through daily, of course. 

The incredible pointed, gilded, and inlaid ceilings will have you looking up in the Grand and Petit Courts, but don't forget to look down at the incredible mosaic floors, and stunning doorways. There are multiple courtyards and rooms to stroll though, but no furniture remains. 

Though you can't visit the entire 8 hectares and 150 rooms, the opulent harem rooms are open to the public.. This is where Vizier Abu 'Bou' Ahmed kept his four wives and 24 concubines. 

The spectacular second floor rooms at Dar Si Said

3. Dar Si Said

Only a short walk away from the Bahia Palace (there are signs to help you navigate), this incredible structure showcases the city's riad architecture and is the home to a spectacular painted wedding-chamber dome.

It houses the Museum of Moroccan Arts, and has an incredible collection of historic artifacts from all over the country. 

Because it is located off the beaten path, it doesn't get the same amount of traffic that a lot of other sites get, but it is well worth a visit. Make sure not to miss the beautiful central garden! 

4. The Souq

I rarely get lost when I am in a different city. As long as I have a map with me, I can usually find my way out of a wrong turn pretty easily. In the souq (market) in Marrakesh however, I didn't stand a chance. I attempted to navigate the winding, twisting alleyways multiple times and each time ended up completely lost surrounded by carpets, cushions, lanterns, spices, and shoes. 

The colours, smells, and shiny objects overflowing from the stalls around me were only slightly more distracting than the shop owners calling out to get my attention in any way possible. 

It was a completely disorienting, adrenaline-pumping, five-sense engaging experience that I have never had in a market anywhere else in the world! 

5. Hammam

I encourage all visitors to Morocco to skip a tourist spa and experience a public hammam (public bathhouse). Entry fees are cheap — $3.00-5.00 — and all you need to bring is a towel! Soap is available to purchase if you want (I highly recommend it as it makes your skin really soft), but you are welcome to bring your own.

A typical entryway into a public hammam

Most locals strip down entirely, but you can leave your underwear on if that makes you more comfortable. You will then be taken to a big tile room with the other hammam-ers (don't worry, the sexes are separated), be given a pail to fill up with water, and you can then sit or stand and scrub yourself clean, rinsing as needed. 

Why not just have a shower at home, you ask? For the experience of course! Morocco is essentially a desert, and so public hammams are a way for locals to save water and money. AND, for just a few extra dollars you can pay to have a gommage (scrub) where one of the attendants will scrub you from head to toe — an AMAZING experience!! 

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