Feminist Passport: Your travel guide to Marrakech, Morocco
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Perhaps you know Marrakech, Morocco because you’re aware of the world around you. Or maybe you’re like me and you know Marrakech because it’s been all over your Instagram feed recently. Either way, it’s safe to say Marrakech is a dream destination for travelers worldwide. After spending a week there, I’m excited to give some feminist travel recommendations for the city.
Marrakech is hectic. You’ll notice this as soon as you get inside the medina, which is the old city. Marrakech was founded in 1062 and is sometimes called the Red City or Red Town because of the reddish-pink walls surrounding the city’s center. Inside, you’ll find charming riads—traditional homes built around an indoor garden—the famous souks (markets), restaurants, mosques, old palaces, and hammams, which are traditional Moroccan spas.
Once you adjust to the noise, constant march of people, and exhortations of shop owners for you to come into their stalls, you’ll be less overwhelmed by Marrakech and better primed to enjoy it. Just give it a few days. It took me about four to settle in and find routes to where I wanted to go that would reduce the number of comments I got from shopkeepers and other sellers. But once I got into the flow, I really enjoyed my time in Marrakech—and I hope you will too.
1 Eat at Al Fassia
Al Fassia is a boutique riad hotel and restaurant in Marrakech. The restaurant is woman-owned and operated with two locations across Marrakech. It’s imperative that you make a reservation, because they are pretty much always fully booked. My taxi driver couldn’t place the Aguedal location, so he ended up taking us to the Gueliz location. While it wasn’t the end of the world, we definitely couldn’t just switch our reservation from Aguedal to Gueliz because there was no room. The staff was very hospitable, though, and we ended up getting a ride with their chef and driver back to the Aguedal location after she dropped off food for the night at the Gueliz location. We were at least 30 minutes late (don’t be like me, guys) but the staff was extremely understanding and seated us with no problem.
The menu is full of delicious traditional Moroccon food. I recommend the tangine kafta, a meatball tangine in a red sauce. It’s pretty big, so you might not be able to finish it all, but you can take it back to your riad and heat it up for a midnight snack. Orange juice is also highly recommended in Marrakech, and Al Fassia did not disappoint. Tangine kafta and a glass of orange juice, trust me on this. Let me also just say that you can share one tangine between two people. The atmosphere of Al Fassia is lush and decadent, and it felt good to know I was supporting not only the mostly female staff, but a woman-owned business as well.
2 Visit and buy from women’s co-operatives
Have you heard of argan oil? It comes originally from Morocco, and has been used by women and families there for hundreds of years for everything from beauty products to cooking. Most stores will sell it, but if you want to do the feminist thing, you can go to a woman’s co-op and buy it there. Not only can you then take confidence in knowing you’re getting the real thing, but you can also meet the women who make the oil and other goods while learning about their production processes.
Argan oil, of course, isn’t the only thing they make. These co-ops also offer clothing, creams (eczema, psoriasis, face moisturizer), Moroccan tea, perfume, colored powder for painting and dyeing clothing, and a Moroccan twist on peanut butter/Nutella (that is delicious, by the way). You can find a few different women’s co-ops around Marrakech, but the one I shopped from was FATNA cooperative—I really appreciated their mission of “integrating disabled women so they have reliable sources of income, possibilities of independence, dignity, and fair marketing of traditional products.” I bought perfume, but if I had more room in my suitcase I would have also purchased some argan oil cream and tea. The prices were extremely fair, and also lower than what you’ll get quoted on the street.
3 Take a cooking class at the Amal Center
Remember those tangines I mentioned earlier? Spend a morning at the Amal Center, a non-profit “dedicated to the empowerment of disadvantaged women through restaurant training and job placement,” and learn how to make them. The Amal Center offers both cooking and baking classes that will teach you how to make traditional Moroccan dishes like tangines, couscous, pastilla, and various Moroccan pastries. The classes are about 4.5 hours long and cost around $40, so you’re sure to get your money’s worth. I learned which spices go with which meats, how to slow cook the tangine traditional-style, and how to adapt the process when I’m back at home. I also got a recipe card just in case I get fuzzy on the particulars when I try to reproduce the dish. Making the tangine is actually a simple process, but learning how to do it in the environment at the Amal Center made it fun and supports women in the process. It was a win-win.
4 Go to the Musée de la Femme, aka the Marrakech Women’s Museum
Visitors to Marrakech usually hit the YSL Museum and Jardin Marjorelle, which are great, don’t get me wrong. But for a more intimate experience, check out the Musée de la Femme. It’s open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., unless they’re preparing for a new exhibit, and is “the first cultural initiative of its kind in Morocco and North Africa.” You’ll walk past Ben Youssef Madrasa on your way there, which is currently under construction and closed, so you will probably think you’re lost, but you aren’t. Continue to follow the signs and ask the shopkeepers on your route for directions. The museum’s sign is small and entrance unassuming, so you can miss it if you aren’t paying attention. But, if you manage to find it after all that, you’re in for a real treat. The exhibit on display when I visited was Pioneer Women of Morocco, which runs till September 3rd. It was amazing to learn about the only female signatory to the independence manifesto in 1944, a renowned painter, and the first woman director, producer, and distributor of documentary films in Morocco.
Bonus recs: Go for a customizable tour designed by a woman for women through Withlocals, and experience the magic of the medina from a Moroccan woman’s point of view. Stay at Jnane Tamsna, which was out of my price range but is a woman-owned boutique hotel outside of the medina. I’m working to get my money up so I can stay there next time.
Marrakech is one of those cities I didn’t realize I really enjoyed until I got home. And even though I felt like I needed a vacation from my vacation, it’s a city I would go back to, but maybe for four days instead of seven. If you, like me, end up unable to resist its pull and charm because it’s splattered all over Instagram, or if you just spin the globe and end up there, I hope these recommendations help you have a feminist experience and support women during your visit to the Red City.