For the adventurous traveler, Morocco is a dream destination. Colorful markets, stunning landscapes, lush desert oases, and most notably a culture unlike anywhere else. With these cultural differences come some difficulties when traveling, especially for women. After hearing many mixed reactions about visiting Morocco, I decided to join a group tour to make the most of my trip.
I’m not the most daring solo traveler, usually opting to coordinate with friends living in or already traveling through various parts of the world, and am content feeling the slight sense of accomplishment when I venture alone to meet them. I’m naturally a very cautious traveler, don’t venture out alone at night, and generally have a “better safe than sorry” mindset. Knowing that unfortunately these self-imposed guidelines would really limit what I could experience from Morocco’s culture, I knew I couldn’t go there alone.
I will dream about a bucket list destination for years and years, but when it comes to researching and planning my own trips, I book everything last minute. I happened to find a cheap flight from to Casablanca from California, and a great last minute deal on Intrepid Travel’s Best of Morocco tour. It was my first time traveling on a group tour with strangers, but I trusted Intrepid’s ratings and looked forward to the 15-day journey through 12 of Morocco’s highlight cities and villages. Curious about having the solo-traveler experience, I opted to arrive a day early before meeting the group in Casablanca and stay two days later after leaving the group in Marrakech.
Upon arriving at the Casablanca airport and successfully changing money and purchasing and installing a SIM card with the friendly shop owners, I met a young man from Spain who seemed a little uneasy, unfamiliar, and unhappy to be in Morocco by himself (he was traveling for a work assignment and was not there by choice). I offered to share a cab with him into the city, help him navigate with my smartphone’s map, and give him the encouragement he looked like he needed. I was feeling like a confident, seasoned traveler, and after sharing some laughs with our kind and honest cab driver, I made it to my destination without any hiccups. However, I learned quickly that starting on this high note set me up for a rude awakening, as that first cab driver was the last kind person I met in Morocco that day.
I checked into my hotel, and though my bed was very inviting after 20 hours of traveling, I didn’t want to succumb to jetlag and decided to venture out to the Hassan II Mosque. I asked the front desk attendant for help calling a cab, and though maybe my questions were lost in translation, I eventually understood that he could not help me, that cabs do not come to our hotel, and that I would need to walk to a street where cabs pick up. Even though I was just dropped off in a cab right in front of our hotel, I was a little confused by what he was telling me but knew that he was offering no help. I walked out toward a major street that the hotel attendant lazily pointed me in the direction of, and immediately felt the pressure of eyes looking at me from every corner. I heard the whistles and catcalls from men who offered to take me home, to kiss me, and to marry me. I kept my head held high, ignored the catcallers, and walked to an area where I could hail a cab. For what was realistically only ten minutes but felt like an eternity, I stood on the side of a small plaza motioning for a cab, only for each one to slow down in front of me then speed away. This happened several times and I felt the longer I stood there the more lost I was beginning to look and the more attention I was attracting. Men would come up and offer to take me where I needed to go, but in my gut I felt I couldn’t trust any of them. I finally was picked up by a cab driver who luckily didn’t demand an outrageous fare, and was on my way to Hassan II Mosque.
The Mosque itself was immense and impressive, and being situated right on the edge of the ocean provided a beautiful view up and down the coast. What I was hoping to be a peaceful experience admiring the beauty of the mosque, was cut short because I quickly became tired of the advances. I found some nice travelers from the UK who snapped a quick photo of me, and I was ready to head back to relax in the confines of my room. Though I made it through the day unscathed, it was still enough to make me uncomfortable and I opted to spend the next morning at my hotel awaiting the arrival of the others joining the tour.
Once the group arrived and I met our local tour leader, I knew I had made the right decision joining the group. I believe there is power in numbers and I was immediately connected to other like-minded individuals, many of them other females traveling alone. Our local guide was enthusiastic and excited to show us the best of his country. And that is exactly what he did.
Our tour took us through Rabat, Fes, Merzouga, Todra Gorge, Ait Benhaddou, Essaouira, and Marrakech. Though the tour was full of experiences I will remember forever, my favorite memory was being able to enjoy every moment of it overall. Our local leader facilitated all of our experiences, and I felt like I was able to relax and free to take it all in. It was an extreme contrast from the aggression and hostility I experienced while I was by myself prior to joining the group.
By the time our itinerary was ending, I admit I was exhausted. We had seen and experienced so much of Morocco, and I was feeling fulfilled. After I said my goodbyes to the rest of the group, I reminded myself to put my guard up as I ventured toward the Marrakech Medina to check into the Riad I booked for my last few days in Morocco. I found a cab and handed over the address, we agreed on a price and we drove off to my destination. A few minutes into the ride, my driver began complaining that my destination was too far and it wasn’t worth the price we decided on. He complained that he didn’t want to take me there, but at this point we were traveling rather quickly on a highway.
Annoyed that he was complaining about our agreed price, I became worried that he was going to drop me off in an unfamiliar area and leave me to find another cab. I adamantly demanded that he take me to my destination for the price we agreed on, but he continued with his complaints. This argument lasted the duration of the 25-30 minute drive, until we reached the edge of the Medina. I referenced my smartphone’s map and was thankful to be closer to my destination, until the driver told me to get out of his car because he didn’t want to drive me the rest of the way. He said the roads were too crowded and it wasn’t worth the fare. Annoyed with the driver but happy I packed light, I took my bags and was on my way. Without my map I would have been lost, but carrying my smartphone along with my luggage would have attracted too much attention. I studied the map and put it away, and rushed with my bags to quickly find my riad on foot. Once I arrived, I immediately felt transported to a relaxing hideaway. Exhausted from the prior two weeks, I spent the rest of my time in Marrakech resting at the riad. I knew this decision sounds boring and doesn’t make for the best storytelling, I was feeling too lazy to put my guard up and continue exploring on my own, but was content having had a fulfilling experience in Morocco on my tour.
I admit I’m not the most adventurous traveler when it comes to exploring completely on my own, especially in a place like Morocco, but having shared this story I realized there are many of you just like me. Someone who dreams of visiting these far off lands, but hesitant to take the leap and visit completely alone. For this reason, I felt joining a small group tour was my best option, and I’m so glad I did. To learn more about Intrepid Travel’s tours in Morocco, click here.