A common concern for women travelling to North African countries is whether they will feel and be safe travelling alone.
The good news is that – as long as you take the precautions you would when travelling anywhere – it generally is. Essaouira is not only safe, but it is more relaxed and laid-back than larger Moroccan cities.
In general, Moroccans are welcoming and very respectful people and – unlike some other countries – you will see a lot of local women out and about getting on with their daily lives. Morocco is also a very tolerant country, and visitors will notice women in the cities dressed in all manner of costume – from the very conservative (complete haik or burqa covering) to the brands and styles common in a European city. Most commonly, though, Moroccan women wear a djellaba (loose-fitting, ankle length, hooded robe) and a headscarf.
Tourism brings Moroccans into contact with foreigners in ever increasing numbers. And it pulls ever-increasing numbers of poorly-educated, under-skilled men into the cities to seek work. The result is what some tourists see as the “hassle” of the souks, the taxi drivers and the street touts, who are trying just to make enough money to survive. Surviving in the big city, away from the support networks of family and religion in their home villages is all some of these men – and they are mainly men – can hope for. The canny few will improve their skills, learn from their contact with foreigners and improve their lot. Many – possibly most – will continue to scrape an ever-desperate existence.
It is not surprising, then, that this situation leads to a clash of cultures, customs and expectations. And – for male and female travellers – some unwanted attention. For women, this is sometimes of a sexual nature. Bear in mind: young Moroccan men and women have relatively little contact – particularly in the more conservative villages. Arranged marriages, often at a very young age (for the girls), are still common. So, for a young, emotionally immature man to arrive in a tourism centre like Marrakech where foreign shoulders and ankles (which he’s only hitherto seen in pirate DVDs or Mexican telenovellas) are in full view is like a candy shop for a kid!
My word of advice: if you are not interested, don’t appear interested. This applies to shopping as it does to transactions of another nature. Keep a good sense of humour and your wits about you.
A challenging part of travelling (alone or with others) – especially if time is limited – can be in getting from A to B. Whichever airport you fly into for your trip to Essaouira, if your budget allows, I recommend organising a transfer in advance to avoid time-wasting and negotiating with taxi drivers. Contact maroc-o-phile for information on reliable drivers.