North Africa offers something different from many places you may ever have visited before. It has sights, sounds and smells whilst not necessarily unique that combine together to create an atmosphere that is not found anywhere else in the world. Morocco has a number of cities that offer an insight to both the history of the region as well as what daily life is like in the 21st Century. Fez (or ‘’Fes’’ in French which remains its second tongue) is an old walled city which is home to the oldest university in the world; Qarawiyyin. Those who compare it to Jerusalem are not really wide of the mark.
Fez was the capital of this ancient kingdom in the 8th Century and the claim that it is the best preserved city in Arab and Islam culture deserves serious thought. Goods still move around on the back of donkeys and carts and while tourists are more than welcome the city does not pander to their needs. Everyone must accept Fez as it is.
Transport in Fez
Fez is a major city in Morocco and is therefore well-connected to other Moroccan cities. There are also occasional flights to European cities offered from its humble airport located about 20 minutes south in a town called Saiss. Royal Air Maroc provides daily direct flights to Casablanca, although the flight schedules are either very early in the morning or very late at night, so are not suitable for most. Royal Air Maroc is also well-known for being one of the most expensive in Africa, thanks to a lack of regulation and monopolisation of the western African market.
There is also a train station, from which you can travel east to Oujda, or west towards Rabat. Moroccan trains are not known for their punctuality, so if you have a time sensitive itinerary, it will be much safer for you to take a taxi.
Taxis in Fez
As with all major cities in Morocco, grand taxis and petit taxis are abundant in Fez (although not in the medina because the streets are too narrow for cars). If you are willing to share the vehicle with others, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a petit taxi to take you from point to point within the city limits. If you want to travel further afield, for example from Fes to Chefchaouen, you will need to find a grand taxi.
Using our grand taxi fare estimator, we have calculated some prices below. These prices are estimates only, and the actual price you pay will depend on your haggling skills, along with the time of day etc.
Fez to Meknes: 310dhs (about €30)
Fez to Chefchaouen: 950dhs (about €90)
Fez to Rabat: 1000dhs (about €95)
Fez to Casablanca: 1400dhs (about €130)
Fez to Marrakech: 2500dhs (about €240)
For short hops, like from Fez to Meknes, taking a grand taxi is fine if you are prepared to put up with the heat and lack of space, but for long trips like from Fez to Marrakech, we strongly urge you to consider a private transport company that can provide air-conditioning and modern vehicles.
Seeing the City
You must be prepared to walk; it is not daunting and although the Medina will be crowded there is no real need to hire a guide if you are armed with a basic map. If you avoid hiring a guide you will also avoid finding yourself being taken from shop to shop to buy goods on which the guide will earn a good commission. By all means shop but do so on your own terms.
It helps to know basic landmarks that will help you get around. If you have come to Morocco you are likely to have an adventurous spirit and be perfectly comfortable finding things for yourself. There are some signs on the walls of the Medina to help you and although they are difficult to see at times once to identify one then you should know where you are, and armed with a simple map, and perhaps a compass you should not get lost. If in doubt, downhill will always lead to an exit. It pays to enjoy walking but of course have plenty of water during the hot weather. Some of the best walking tours are described in a book that is available locally, Fez from Bab to Bab, and it does include an excellent detailed map. You will obviously need to refer to the map from time to time yet avoid then taking a guide who sees your apparent discomfort at not knowing where you are.
See and Do
- Perhaps start the day with a shave that is likely to get you a trim as well?
- Notice how your senses come into play, noticeably your nose by going to see the pits where leather is dyed. The smell is very distinctive. You should take a guide which will not cost much because you will not really be welcome in the area by yourself. If you don’t want to go right into the area there is a chance of a ‘’free’’ viewing in a nearby leather shop but you will be under pressure to buy. If you do go in then take a mint leaf to sniff from time to time and don’t wear open toes sandals.
- Bou Inania madersa is a 14th Century religious college, a fine example of Islamic architecture that non-Muslims have access to in Fez.
- Take to the surrounding hills for a spectacular view of the old city; there is a fortress which is acting as an armaments; museum for example which is on high.
- The shrine of Moulay Idriss II, Fez’s founder is not accessible to non- Muslims but the view from outside is worthwhile.
- There are similar restrictions relating to the Qaraouyine Library and Mosque and the al-Tijani mosque but go to the locality.
- When it gets to shopping leather goods, ceramics and textiles deserve inspection.
- There are daily cookery classes that you may like to consider especially because you will find the cuisine very interesting. You will find excellent budget food but similarly you can pay a great deal as well.
You should not expect alcohol at every turn; this is an Islamic culture and it is likely to be confined to hotels that cater for tourists. Accommodation is available at a budget price but luxury is around as well. You can camp if you like and hostels are also available.
It is a sad fact of life that you may begin to distrust everyone because there are locals looking to take advantage of tourists in some form. That does not include violence however. Fez is crowded and it helps to appear to know where you are going even if you don’t. If you do need help pick someone who is busy doing something else rather than a person that looks to be waiting for an opportunity. Be prepared to bargain because that is a way of life. You will find it fun and hopefully you will find Fez interesting and fun as well.