Last year I spent a total of two months travelling in Morocco, most of which I spent solo. While planning my first six-week trip, I read a lot of articles and blog posts written by women who had travelled Morocco solo. If you’ve done even a bit of research on the topic, you can imagine that the majority of them had quite negative things to say: many were harassed, assaulted, irritated by leering and touts, and so on. Despite this, I wanted to experience the country for myself.
The verdict? I loved Morocco. I would go back tomorrow.
It was my first time backpacking and whoa, did I ever choose a challenging destination! But it was a challenge in ways I never expected. As a person born in a metropolitan Canadian city and raised in a Jamaican family, living in London and Martinique never pushed me too far out of my comfort zone. On this trip, a visually stunning landscape and a captivating history of migration, colonialism, and cultural mixture wasn’t all that I experienced. I was regularly confronted with people who have different ways of life and world views than I was familiar with. It forced me to rethink my own gaze and preconceived (which were, I’m ashamed to say, exoticist) ideas about the country. On top of that, my time in Morocco forced me to be assertive and resourceful but it also taught me to trust people. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world!
I have no intention of undermining my fellow travel sisters’ experiences, I simply want to share my own, dissenting opinion. I’m not saying they did something wrong or I did certain things better; I’m aware that at any moment, Morocco could have become a nightmare for me. But luckily, it didn’t and I want to encourage women to backpack Morocco safely, but fearlessly.
My Morocco Backpacking Itinerary
One day in December 2014 I just said, “Why work from home when I can work from Morocco?!” I’d always wanted to go and was freelancing successfully so I booked a one-way flight to Agadir for the end of January and decided to leave the details for later.
With that, I add one caveat. I wasn’t extreme budget backpacking. I did live out of a
backpack duffel bag but I was working on this trip. I still had client deadlines and Skype meetings, so I didn’t always stay in the cheapest places and I didn’t set myself a particular budget for food or travel, though I did occasionally find myself eating oranges with bread and a Laughing Cow cheese triangle for dinner…
Agadir – 4 days
I flew to Agadir from London on January 22. I wanted to minimize travel times between cities so I started in the south and made my way up to the center; then north and back down to the center. Getting to Agadir from the airport (which is outside of the city) costs 200 dirhams (dh).
Highlights: Hiking up to the kasbah ruins, my favourite fish restaurant at the port, and the simple, local hammam. I wrote a whole post about Agadir here.
Lowlifes: I experienced almost no harassment in Agadir. The touts are few and far between and I found people to be extremely helpful.
Accommodation: I stayed with a fabulous Airbnb host. It cost £56 for a private room with breakfast.
Taghazout – 5 days
I took a local bus from Agadir to Taghazout. It’s about 15-minutes and costs around 7dh.
Highlights: Surfing, of course! I loved Paradise Valley. Two Belgian girls at the hostel I was staying in had rented a car and took me with them. Honestly, if you’re in Agadir or Taghazout, it’s worth the detour.
Lowlifes: Taghazout is a small village. A lot of people here are hippies and surfers. There was a surf instructor who got a bit too touchy-feely for my liking but a stern talking to got him to leave me alone.
Accommodation: Roof House Hostel. It was walking distance to the Panorama surf spot and offered breakfast. Total cost was £67.
Essaouira – 5 days
I took the bus from Agadir to Essaouira. There are two national bus services: CTM and Supratours, the latter offering the national trains as well. The journey takes about 3h 45 and costs 75dh. I wrote a bit more about my time in Essaouira here. With hindsight, and contrary to what I wrote in that blog post, I really liked Essaouira. I would have picked a different accommodation, but I met really cool people and thought it had the best artisan shops.
Highlights: I loved taking photos here, it’s a beautiful fortified city. I met a couple amazing groups of travellers and ate the best tagine I had on my whole trip with them, made by a shop owner in the medina. Hanging out with a Berber vendor who taught me how to tie a shesh (the Tuareg turban) — yes there are pictures, no I will not share them!
Lowlifes: I got yelled at for taking a photo outside a bar by a man who was inside it. I wasn’t photographing him, but in generally it’s really disrespectful to take photos of people (even at a distance) without their permission and Moroccans will berate you if you try. A couple of annoying men on the beach and in the medina, but I was quite comfortable in Essaouira.
Accommodation: Atlantic Hostel in the medina. It was cheap (maybe £10 a night for a dorm?) but it wasn’t suitable for me and my needs.
Marrakech – 3 days
I took the bus from Essaouira to Marrakech. It’s a 3.5 hour journey and costs 80dh on CTM. I came to Marrakech to explore the city a bit before Tom arrived. I used it as a time to explore a bit, research some things I was interested in, do laundry, and catch up on work. I also did a yoga class! As much as I found Marrakech a pain to exist in, so many of the country’s important monuments and cultural manifestations are here… you should check it out, even if you skip the medina.
Highlights: Gosh, I loved msemin and a woman who made them down the streetwas basically the only reason I left the flat. Seriously, they cost 5dh and make a great snack on the fly. The fantastic food I ate was a definite highlight. I explored Guéliz and it reminded me of that (slightly racist) scene in Sex and the City 2 at the hotel where the women are talking about ‘younger Muslim women embracing religion in new and exciting ways’… Guéliz is this ultra-modern, super-trendy part of Marrakech, almost right across the street from the medina walls. A striking juxtaposition for me.
Lowlifes: It’s no secret, I liked Marrakech the least. Constant harassment, rude taxi drivers, and relentless touts in the medina. I basically didn’t leave my Airbnb flat after dark. Boo.
Accommodation: I stayed at an Airbnb, a few minutes walk from the Jemaa el Fna. £62 and I was a very happy camper. It was a bit more than usual because Tom stayed a night with me.
Agadir II – 3 days
Tom and I took the bus to Agadir for surfing and relaxing. It took about 3 hours and costs 120dh with CTM. We stayed at the same Airbnb I stayed at when I first arrived.
Marrakech II – 3 days
Back to Marrakech, for more eating and exploring! It was the week before my birthday and since Tom was joining me to celebrate it (and Valentine’s Day!), we did made this part of our trip a bit more luxurious.
Highlights: Eating, again! We went to Café Clock, Le Jardin, the Henna Cafe, The Amal Restaurant… Gosh we kept busy. The Saadian Tombs were cool, the gardens around the city, and the architecture is brilliant.
Lowlifes: Mr. I’ll-Show-You-Around-the-Tanneries-then-Ask-You-For-a-Ridiculous-Sum-of-Money made me want to hide in the riad. Honestly, don’t go there. They aren’t colourful like in Fes and it smells like ammonia-laced shit. Oh yeah, and the Henna woman at Jemaa el Fna definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.
Accommodation: Riad Charcam in the Medina. Lovely place, delicious breakfast, and a character of a proprietor. It cost us around £120 for three nights.
Ouarzazate and Ait Ben Haddou – Day Trip
I took a day trip on Valentine’s Day to Ouarzazate and Ait Ben Haddou with Viator tours after Tom flew back to London. It was just me and a couple (of douchebags — to be explained). Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend this as a day trip — you spend more time driving than in the towns.
Highlights: Very beautiful, but frightening drive up Tizi n Tichka pass.
Lowlights: I was really sick from sleeping right after eating a large meal. The windy roads didn’t help and so I threw up at least three times (I don’t get carsick). I had to catch a train to Tangier at 10:30 that evening. I called twice to confirm with the tour company; they assured me we would be back by 8:00. The couple on the tour was informed the tour leaves Ouarzazate at 4:30 (which is later than normal anyways). They knew I had a train. They didn’t return until an hour after the arranged time. I missed my train and with nowhere to stay, I sat on a bench in the station trying not to cry, unsure of what to do. Luckily, the tour guide came back to the station and offered me his couch. Staying there required changing into a djellaba and covering my head in the back of his van while he drove around the neighbourhood so that people wouldn’t think he was of questionable moral character. He then drove me to the train station at 5am the next morning and I made it to Tangier. Oh, the kindness of strangers!!
Tangier – 7 days
Up to Tangier, one of my favourites! It’s also where I spent my birthday. I took the train from Marrakech — a 10-hour journey including a connection in Casablanca for 215dh. Alternatively, you can take the overnight train from 8:45pm-6:45am (the train I was supposed to take) with a reclining seat for around 100dh more.
Highlights: People watching at my favourite café below the hotel. The port, the new city, the vibe. The Librarie des Colonnes. Everything, I loved it!
Lowlifes: I had two run-ins here, one that was funny and another that made me consider punching someone in the face. The first, involved Rachid, who apparently likes to meet tourists, show them around, and then try to sell them things they don’t need (this actually happened to the group I met in Chefchaouen). I met him on my birthday and he bought me flowers and a bstilla at a restaurant, at which point I thought Oh dear, this is not good and ran away. The other problem involved a guy saying something along the lines of ‘nice ass’. Usually, I ignored these things but I was in a bad mood. I yelled at him to f*ck off. He yelled something back about me “probably being a lesbian” and I thought, that’s rich — an unwillingness to be objectified by a man must mean I have no interest them. What a great meet cute story one day: “How did you and daddy meet?” “Oh honey, daddy yelled a rude and unsolicited comment at me on the street. I knew right then he was the one.” Dream on.
Accommodation: Hotel Mauritania. A lovely new hotel in Petit Socco with great staff. £170 for the week.
Chefchaouen – 3 days
Chefchaouen was a very relaxed place, and small so I only booked a short stay here. I do wish I had stayed a little bit longer! I took the bus from Tangier — there’s no other choice since the town is so high up in the mountains. It takes just under 3 hours and costs 50dh.
Highlights: Hiking up to the old Spanish mosque. Gorgeous views. Running into RedOne in the old kasbah. The baba of the hostel — such an incredibly kind man.
Lowlifes: There was one guy trying to sell hasish (constant in the Rif Mountains) to the group I was hanging out with. I said no and he was like “Go away, I am not talking to you, you have black skin.” Rather than feel insulted, I was just confused. It was so ridiculous I had to laugh and the folks I was with told him that was rude and to piss off. Besides the random “Hey, Nina Simone/Janet Jackson/Mama Africa!” comments, that was the only racist mess I experienced there. A lot of people asked if I was Moroccan. And on a more serious note, if you’re gonna compare me to a singer, why isn’t it ever Beyonce?!
Accommodation: Whoa, top marks for Casa Amina in the medina. Wi-fi was great, it was incredibly clean, and the staff was great. For £8 a night, it exceeded all my expectations.
Fes – 4 days
I was looking forward to going to Fes, what I imagined to be the intellectual capital of Morocco. I took the bus from Chefchaouen — about 5 hours and 80dh later I arrived in the city. Fes is huge. Four days and I didn’t even leave the medina. I didn’t see the mellah or the new city, which all looked like huge treks or were a taxi ride away. Even the medina itself — sometimes I even took taxis from gate to gate because I was lost.
Highlights: Bouljoud Gardens is gorgeous. I liked Fes, there was far less hassle here compared with Marrakech. I didn’t do that much here because I was swamped with deadlines. I will, however, remember forever that it’s where I found out I got into my Master’s program!
Lowlifes: A man here asked if I was ‘looking for a date’, which I imagine is code for Can I hire you for sex? I ignored it and he left me alone. Another guy flicked me in the face with what looked like a rolled up plastic bag. That was not cool but he disappeared into the crowd before I could say anything.
Accomodation: Dar Chraibi in Place R’cif. It was a decent place and about £45 for the whole stay.
Meknes – 7 days
I was only going to spend a few days in Meknes, but I ended up liking it so much I skipped Rabat altogether. It’s only a 15-minute train ride and it costs 22dh. From here, I took a train to Rabat (3 hours, 70dh) the day of my flight back to London and caught a taxi to the airport for 50dh.
Highlights: Everything. The yellow medina walls, the mellah, the architecture. Probably one of the best parts of my whole trip was the family I met on the bus to Moulay Idriss. A woman (at 19, she was more a girl) started talking to me on the bus and then asked me to accompany her, her son (a toddler), her mother-in-law, and her friend around Moulay Idriss. Though her friend spoke some French, Amina and I didn’t share a common language. But we communicated in gestures and using the few phrases and words in the back of my Lonely Planet. Eventually, she invited me to her home, which was out in the countryside.
Sitting in their modest home, Amina’s sister, Fatima Zohra, poured water from a kettle over my hands to rinse them in preparation for eating. When Fatima Zohra removed the top of the tagine, the whole family watched intently as I scooped the stew with a piece of bread and put it in my mouth. They nodded and smiled at each other when I patted my stomach and said “Alhamdulillah” to indicate I was full. Amina showed me her wedding photos and I showed her pictures of Tom. They were so warm and welcoming, it was one of those moments I look back on and feel so incredibly thankful that I’m able to see the world and understand how good the people in it can be.
It also made me starkly aware of the privilege I have — her brother, in secret, had a neighbour who knows French write a letter to me. In it he wrote about how much he wishes he could help his family out of poverty and asked if I could marry him so he could come to Canada to earn money to help them. I said I was sorry and as much as I wished there was something I could do, I couldn’t help him. I still have that letter and I think about them all the time. I digress.
Accommodation: Riad Bab Berdaine was probably the best accommodation I stayed in the whole trip. It was bright and colourful in the breakfast area, the rooms were clean, and the owners were great. The owner’s father actually walked around Meknes with me trying to find someone who could do Arabic calligraphy. It cost around £150.
I didn’t expect this post to be so long!
I’ve decided that I will move the packing and travelling tips for Morocco into another post, so keep an eye out for that. If you want to be notified of when it comes out, add your email to the box on the right (or the bottom of the page if you’re on mobile) and subscribe today!