Drastically different from its more popular and well known sister Marrakesh, this travel guide to Fes will help you get a better feel for what Moroccan culture is really like.
In a stark contrast to Marrakesh, Fes is EXACTLY what I expected/hoped Morocco would be. Certainly there are tourists but it is nothing like the madness and commercialized hype of Marrakesh. If I had to do it all over again, I’d skip Marrakesh entirely and spend the entire week in Fes.
Getting to Fes is a good 7 hour train ride from Marrakesh. The great thing is that there are trains leaving almost every hour and buying a ticket is simple (just buy the day of your departure). Depending on where you’re staying, you’ll either need to get a taxi to your riad or if staying outside of the city walls, your hotel should be within walking distance. If staying in the medina, I wouldn’t consider it walking distance from the station. I stayed at the Marriott which was about a 20 min walk from the train station.
Fes is MUCH larger than Marrakech. The city itself is broken up into sections but I would HIGHLY recommend getting a guide. I got incredibly fortunate to meet a random person on the train and he offered to take me around Fes and the surrounding area just because he was proud of his city. He also does guided tours and can be reached at Fez Sahara Tours. Abi (my guide) was absolutely amazing and I can’t recommend him enough.
Getting lost is almost a given without a guide as the streets and openings seems to wind their way through the city in a nonsensical way. I really don’t know how much good any sort of map would do in this case.
I will say this, I saw more than a few people being “guided” into stores (primarily rug and leather stores) after a “free” tour of the tanneries or the rug shop. Seeing the tanneries is an experience (be prepared for the smell) and shop owners surrounding the tannery will say it’s free to go up to the rooftop to take a picture only to ask for money if you don’t buy anything. My advice is this: go up, take your photos, and then start gagging immediately as the store owner ushers you back downstairs. I wasn’t in the mood to buy anything but I knew the sales pitch so I immediately started to act like I was about to throw up. That leather shop owner couldn’t wait to throw me out of his store.
Rug shops will also show you rug after rug. It isn’t a hard sell, but it isn’t like you can just walk in and walk out either. It’s a process of sitting, having tea, talking, etc. I had no intention of buying a rug but they’ll sure try to entice you.
Yes my guide took me as well but he also asked if I had any interest to begin with. Then, although he would sit patiently, he gave me an out by telling me that he was ready to go whenever. It was interesting to see but I certainly have no use for a rug like that in my house. I got the feeling that my guide was more interested in showing me quality products vs. cheap tourist imitations so he took me to the type of stores most tourists would want to visit.
Also, it might be good to note that these purchases are not meant to be done hastily. Inviting you into their store is like inviting you into their home and they’ll offer you some tea, a place to sit, etc. Basically, if you’re entering a store, they’ll welcome you to look around but don’t think you’ll be able to just pop in and out.
All I can really say about Fes is that you will not be disappointed. If you’re willing to just slightly go off the beaten path, you’ll be amazed at the feast you can have for very little.