Fez, Morocco – A Brain Dump

Fes, Morocco

The souks of Fes is what I always imagined Morocco to be: a frontal assault on the nose, the eyes, and the ears. Fes was where I had the closest thing to a culture shock. The people were dressed differently, the architecture was different; the smells, the sounds, the stuff hanging from the shops were all different. All of these new sensations were found inside claustrophobic alleys that seem to go nowhere and everywhere at once.

I particularly enjoyed the artesans’ sections of the market: the leather craftsmen cutting and stitching in their tiny stalls, the tannery where they dye the leather that would become the hundreds of slippers and handbags sold in the market, and the metal smiths banging on their pots.

Here are some notes on Fes that I jotted down during our stay there.

On Touts

  • In general, I found the touts in Fes to be benign. Maybe it’s a matter of managing your expectations. I half expected to be pestered by touts and swarmed by carpet sellers waving their carpets in front of my face as soon as I step past Bab Bojloud gate. That did NOT happen.
  • I’m not saying they don’t exist. They sure do and they make their presence known when they’re around but they give up pretty easily when told ‘no’.
  • The only person who tried to sell carpets to me did this half-heartedly. He didn’t even offer tea! Do I really look like someone who can’t afford carpets? (I can’t – but do I really look like it?)
  • Carpet seller in Fes, Morocco
    This guy thought I couldn't afford his carpets.
  • I’m thinking of making T-shirts with ‘I’m not Japan. And no, I’m not China either’. What do they expect one does with ‘Are you Japan?’ greetings? Do they expect people go ‘Oh yeeeees, I am Japan. Let me buy your carpets’?

On Stray Cats

Stray cat in Fes, Morocco
His name is "Tajine" from his favorite food
  • They’re everywhere. I suspect the whole country is run by an underground kitty organization
  • The thing that gave me the warmest fuzzy feeling in Fes was coming across this makeshift cat shelter with boxes and a shelf. And a feeding station with a pile of fish on it. There are those who care.

On Getting Lost

The souks of Fes

  • I discovered that I liked the idea of getting lost in Fes more than getting lost itself.
  • The one time I did accidentally get lost in Fes’ medina, I was not a happy camper. Some of these alleys were deserted. And narrow. And dark. And dead-ended. I felt so trapped.
  • The teenager I ended up paying to get me out of there was not happy with the 5 Dirham tip I gave him. He kept yelling, ‘What is this? This is for a kid! Give me 10 more!’ I hope that he’ll never learn that if he wants to extort money from a lost tourist, do it before you take him to a public place.
  • Those signs the government puts up to help tourists, with color coded signs to show you where to go? Very helpful. The blue signs take you past palaces and plazas, and the pink ones take you through the artesans’ workshops. This way you can explore the highlights of Fes’ medina without getting lost.

On Fes’ Highlights

Tannery in Fes, Morocco

  • Definitely get yourself to the tannery. Ignore the kids offering you their guiding service and simply follow the route shown by the pink signs. When you start smelling leather and piss, you know you’re getting close.
  • Stall #10 and upwards offer the best view points. Keep walking past the main entrance to the tannery. The alley is lined with leather stores and the ones facing the tannery have a viewing balcony where you can get a nice view of the multi-colored pits.

On the souk (the market)

  • Assault on the senses? Absolutely. The smell of the tannery, the sound of hammer hitting brass, the multiple colors of sandals and fabric, the overload on details of carvings and mosaics was just absolutely wonderful. I wasn’t prepared for anything quite like it and definitely wasn’t prepared to enjoy it as much as I did.

On The People

date seller in Fes, Morocco
A date seller in Fes, Morocco
  • Not just in Fes, I found that Moroccans are genuinely friendly and helpful. It’s just a matter discovering them among the leeches and no-good losers out there. People who have jobs (shop owners, restaurant workers, etc) are your best bet.
  • Some of these salesman can be so charming I started to look for things to buy. That was how I ended up with a rose flavored soap which gave me the itchies. And I don’t even like the smell.
  • How would you call people who live in Fes anyway? Fes-ians? Fes-ish?

We came to Morocco with feeling a little bit apprehensive. We’ve heard many horror stories about Fes’ infamous touts and carpet sellers with aggressive sales tactic – but our fear didn’t come true and we found ourselves enjoying Fes so much more than Marrakesh that we visited later.


Info Box
– Try to find a hotel close to Bab Boujloud, the main gate. It’s the most recognizable gate and where the two main roads start/end from. It’s also where all the restaurants are.

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20 Replies to “Fez, Morocco – A Brain Dump”

  1. I'm shocked that you had such "benign" touts in Fez. I was constantly pursued, harassed and yelled at by various young men wanting to "guide" me. If I said no (technically, I said "no thank you' repeatedly), they told me literally "FUCK YOU" or hurled some other insult.

    A couple threatened me that it was "dangerous here" etc. Perhaps because I am travelling alone I am more of a target but I will say this, I have just finished a 18 month round-the-world trip and have travelled to about 40 countries in my life and the threats and insults in Fez have been the worst experience with touts I have had. I agree that the shop-keepers are very nice and so were most of the people I met in any normal capacity. But with literally hundreds of agressive young men and teenagers running rampant through the Medina looking to make a quick buck and acting aggressively and threateningly, its not exactly a comfortable place to visit.

  2. Hey, I just stumbled across your blog while Googling things to do in Chefchaouen, and I love it! I get the same "Are you Japan?" questions as a Singaporean travelling in Morocco, haha.

  3. Just stumbled across your blog while Googling things to do in Chefchaouen and I love it! Definitely get the same sort of "Are you Japan?" or "Are you China?" questions as a Singaporean travelling in Morocco.

  4. Morocco was definitely a positive overload on the senses. I didn't make it to Fes, but am planning another trip back to Morocco this next year since I'll be living in Almuñécar, Spain and a ferry will be nearby. Fes will be a certain destination based on this post alone!

  5. Whenever anyone approaches me and asks if I'm British, I simply reply and tell them that I'm Finnish. That usually confuses them and gets them to leave me alone.

    Also, who does that carpet seller think he is? How DARE he not approach you. I get offended when I don't get offered flyers in the street. "What, am I not fancy enough for your exclusive nightclub?" "Do I look like I DON'T enjoy delicious new Indian restaurants?" GIVE ME YOUR FLYERS SO I CAN THROW THEM AWAY. Or carpets, in this case. Except I don't even know how you'd go about disposing of a carpet.

  6. Great post! I loved Fes much the same way you did. It was exactly what I imagined Morocco would be like and I was not disappointed. I had been given advance warning to look high for the navigation signs, so I managed to get "lost" but not really lost.
    The cats in Morocco were one of my favourite things. They did have run of the place – including restaurants, historic sites, even the airport in Casablanca, and I was pleasantly surprised how unperturbed folks were by their presence. In fact, mostly everyone I encountered welcomed them happily, chatting or rubbing their heads. To me, it was one of the best indicators of the kindness and friendliness of Moroccans!

  7. Being a Fez resident it was great to see such a positive article. It is am amazing place that takes a little effort to get to know. One could spend six weeks in Fez without getting bored or even scratching the surface of what is still to be discovered. And, thankfully, it is so genuine, compared to the tourist theme park of Marrakech.

    Staying longer then a couple of days in Fez has its own reward, because the locals get to know you and the hassle factor decreases, not that it is as bad as Marrakech in the first place.

    Anyway, thanks again for being so positive about our wonderful city.

    Cheers

    The Team at The View from Fez

  8. My sentiments exactly! Excellent synopsis of Fez – 2nd only to my favorite corner of Morocco: Chefchaouen. Indeed, I too found that all the negative hype about touts 'n such utterly exaggerated. The people were wonderful and the country ever so diverse (and yes, Fez so much better than Marrakesh.)
    btw, one of my favorite memories of Fez is of sipping tea and haggling for not – one, but TWO beautiful wool carpets that (after dumping most everything else in my backpack) I somehow managed to tote home.

  9. thanks for the great report on Fez…i adore Morocco..been a few times, first when i was a very small girl, then again in 70 and a few years ago…i love the smell of the place and the people..for me it feels like coming 'home' 🙂

  10. Awesome! We never got to Fez, only to Marrakech, but I am very keen to return to Morrocco for a longer period of time. Loved your take on it, and glad you maintained your sense of humour – did you ever get that T-shirt printed? 🙂

  11. I love all of these little stories you have of Fes and I can see why you like it. I personally prefer Marrakech, Fes was just too much for me.

  12. Aaaaw, cute cat. I wouldn't know what to do with all of the stray cats. I'd probably end up walking around with a bag of cat food trying to feed them all.

  13. See, I'm the opposite from you guys (and from most other travelers I've met): I absolutely loathed Fes, but loved Marrakech. I wonder why I had such a different experience both times than most people I know…

    1. That's interesting – maybe it was because we visited Marrakech at the very end of our trip and we were already getting a little burned out by all the hassle. At the same time, I always think that Fez was closer to what I always imagined Morocco to be (claustrophobic, chaotic, and just plain crazy), but Marrakech was more pleasant to stroll around.

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