Before I even booked my ticket to Morocco, people were suggesting I don’t go as a solo female traveller. People who had been to Morocco and people who hadn’t. As it turned out, I went with a white female friend and I think I speak for both of us when I say I felt safe the whole time. Of course, in Marrakesh there are some hard sellers who will follow you down the street but a ‘laa shukran’ and a smile seems to shake them off without any trouble. There was the odd one or two who replied with “’laa shukran’, this is all I hear all day!” but ignoring the pleas after until they gave up and walked away didn’t cause us any problems. Personally, I found the worst sellers to be veiled women selling henna tattoos, who hold no fear in grabbing your hand to give you a “free” flower tattoo and telling you that you have beautiful eyes – one time we both had our sunglasses on!!
The only time I felt slightly at risk was when I stole a lone Chinese man from a tout. I was not having him rip off an elderly traveller who was clearly different and could speak no English, French or Arabic. This ended up in an argument between me and the French speaking tout, with me giving constant reassurance in Chinese to the tourist. Was it worth it? YES. Amazing language story!
The food and drink is Morocco is undoubtedly one of the highlights. As soon as we entered our riad, we were offered mint tea – which is completely different to any mint tea you could buy in Tesco! It’s made from pure mint leaves, which are a delight for your nostrils if you see them being sold by the bunch in the market. I didn’t dare to ask how much sugar was added!
Our visit coincided with Ramadan. Despite all of the travel warnings of things being closed, not being able to find food easily etc, we didn’t encounter any problems. In fact, I would say that it made our trip even better! Every day we were offered at least a date (the food, not a romantic evening!) from peoples’ Ramadan breakfast. On our second day in Marrakesh, just as we were about to head out to find dinner, the riad owners and their friends invited us to sit down and join them for their full Ramadan breakfast! It was a brilliant experience. Even just a simple “Bon appetit” as we passed people having their breakfasts in their doorways on the streets of Casablanca got us a conversation and offerings of food. The generosity of Moroccans during Ramadan is a beautiful thing.
We got lucky with our accommodation in Morocco. We stayed at three excellent places in Marrakesh, Essaouira and Casablanca. Cost wasn’t a problem – and we always travel cheap! Our first riad in Marrakesh was probably my favourite place we stayed.
“What’s a riad?!” I head you cry. A riad is an old style house or palace in Morocco with all floors focused around a central square on ground level. Some are like a courtyard but the majority now have roofs, often made of beautifully coloured glass. Many riads have now become hotels or hostels. The walls and floor of our riad in Marrakesh were covered in tiny tiles and the furniture was really cozy yet almost glamourous with big sofas along one end of half of the room and a dining table at the other end.
Apart from our riad hotel in Essaouira paid for by our new found friend Shounian, we stayed in dorms. This was never a problem, and both dorms had their own bathroom and air conditioning. Obviously, this would vary from place to place.
As soon as I got back to the UK, I said to my boyfriend (who didn’t come to Marrakesh), “We’re going back there when we get a house!” Marrakesh is a shopper’s paradise. Especially for artistic people with a keen eye for a unique bargain that you won’t find at home. Specialities include leather shoes, bags, wallets and belts; kebab skewers; metal lanterns; and pretty floaty clothes.
Getting around Morocco was a worry beforehand, purely for the fact that we had very limited time here in order to get into Spain in time for what we wanted to see there. This meant that we wanted to book all onward travel in advance to make sure we wouldn’t get held up anywhere. Thankfully, it was pretty easy to book long distance buses in Morocco using Moroccan based CTM. The website isn’t the best but we managed after a few attempts – I think we had to pay by Paypal if I remember because it wouldn’t accept our foreign debit cards. We used Spanish company ALSA to book a bus from Casablanca straight to Granada – ferry fee included!
The only issue we had with transport in the country was that it was Ramadan. And each bus we took (all of which were early morning buses – 8am ish) was delayed by 1-4 hours. In other words, there were no early buses because of Ramadan! This wasn’t really a problem, but it was annoying that we’d been able to book tickets on the website for the early times when there was no bus until later. It also meant that we missed a day in Casablanca and our experience of the place consists of walking up and down the main street once as it got dark. Hence why there’ll be no post on Casablanca.
Morocco is fun, relatively safe and would make a great destination for a first peek outside of Europe. I also felt that it would be a great place for young gap year students who fancied a bit of hiking, beaching and cous-cousing without mum and dad but with adventure. That said, don’t be put off by that if you’re a well-trodden traveller as Morocco is very much a unique place with its own quirks and wonders and well worth a visit by everyone.