I’ve taken hundreds of tours in my lifetime. From half-hour guided tours in museums to day-long city tours, it’s been one of my favorite avenues to discover someplace new. (I’ve taken a few at home, too.) But anyone who’s been on their fair share of tours will know that’s it’s pretty hit or miss. Even if you do the research, locate a reputable company and pick someone with stellar reviews, you could still have a bad experience. I know many travelers who opt for the thrill of self-discovery instead. But if you’re exploring a medina with almost 10,000 unmapped streets in a country where you don’t speak the language, it might be a good time to consider hiring a guide. I did, and here’s what I can tell you about hiring a guide in Fès.
How Do You Hire A Guide in Fès?
The two recommended options for hiring a guide in Fès are through the tourist office or through your hotel/riad. The official tourism agency, Association Regionale des Agences de Voyages Fès-Meknes, or ARAV/FM, has an office located in the new city, Ville Nouvelle. Both options will ensure that you’re paired with an official guide who speaks English. Morocco used to have a problem with unlicensed guides, but the government has since cracked down on it pretty severely. Popular tourist destinations are policed by the Brigade Touristique, and guides with tourists in tow must be able to show their official badges upon request.
How Much Does a Guide Cost in Fès?
The tourist office will have rates posted. I chose to go through my riad, but a Trip Advisor contributor posted the following in a forum: The official rates by the Ministry of Tourism is 600 MAD per day (6 to 8 hours) and 300 MAD per 1/2 day (3 to 4 hours). The guide arranged by my riad cost us 400 MAD for a full day and 250 MAD for a half day. Note that the prices quoted are per group, and not per person. If you’re trying to visit attractions that are located farther away, your riad or your guide may recommend hiring a driver, which will incur an additional cost. Mine cost 300 MAD. Hiring a driver allowed for hassle-free visits to the Royal Palace and Borj Sud. Note that in all cases, you should never be required to pay upfront.
It’s important to note that your riad likely receives a commission for referring you to the guide and the driver. This isn’t completely unorthodox, most hotels in other countries also receive kickbacks or build beneficial relationships from sending clients to specific businesses. Good hotels or riads will ensure the prices are in line, and that your guide will provide good service, so as to protect their own reputation.
What You Need To Know About Hiring a Guide in Fès
They work on commission
Tour guides earn a commission off anything you purchase. In fact, if your hotel or riad is involved, they may receive a commission off your purchase too. Guides have relationships with shopkeepers, so they probably won’t take you to the best carpet shop, but the carpet shop where they’ll earn the biggest commission. Naturally, the commission structure means the cost to you might be greater. It also means guides are going to usher you to as many shops as they can get away with.
When the guide delivers you to the location, you usually have to sit through a separate presentation or tour of the goods. So, shopping trips are likely to take longer, and feel less organic. Regardless, don’t allow yourself to feel pressured into buying anything. It’s okay to say no, and to do it sooner rather than later. Be firm.
Note that this isn’t limited to buying goods. Your tour guide may also take you to a restaurant where they earn a commission or a free meal from your patronage.
Beware the bleeding heart causes
It appears salesmen in Morocco have learned that foreign audiences are much more willing to part with their dirham if they believe their purchases are benefiting a cause. You’ll hear the shops labeled as cooperatives. They’ll highlight the women apprentices. They will mention the small Berber tribe in the Atlas Mountains where this particularly unique item is made, how you won’t find it anywhere else, and how you’ll be improving their lives.
We were carted off to a ceramics factory billed as a “cooperative” for a tour. I watched as a worker got behind the pottery wheel only as each tour group came by, where he posed for the perfect photo opportunity in front of a sign with the factory’s hashtag. The tour ended in the air-conditioned gift shop, where ceramics were markedly more expensive than those you would find in the medina. I’d like to believe the factory is providing valuable skills and employment to locals. But I think there’s a good chance a savvy businessman manufactured an experience suited for tourists, and was smart enough to strike a deal with the guides. A healthy dose of skepticism would be wise.
But before I cast myself as a complete cynic, I want to be clear that if you’re planning on shopping anyway, then you might enjoy the guided experience. All these places are likely to have representatives who speak English, and they will make an effort to put you at ease. We visited a textile factory where the representative was informative and affable, and I walked away with two beautiful scarves at a very reasonable price.
Communication is everything
Knowing that your guide has the most to gain from taking you shopping instead of sightseeing, I highly recommend being clear about what you’d like to do from the get-go. If you have no interest in shopping, that should be communicated clearly. If he attempts to steer you into a shop, you can refuse to enter. And if your guide isn’t willing to go along with your wishes, then you can threaten not to pay him and report him to the Brigade Touristique. Come prepared, and you’re less likely to fall victim to an opportunistic guide.
The Benefits of Hiring a Guide in Fès
Save yourself some time
There are still many reasons hiring a guide could be beneficial. If you’re pressed for time, a guide could help you see much more than you would on your own, as he’s able to navigate the medina much more efficiently. The medina is largely unmapped, so it’s not difficult to get lost. If you arm yourself with a decent map, stick to the main streets (Tala’a Kbira and Tala’a Sghira) and pay attention to color-coded signs around the medina, you’ll likely find your way to most of the major attractions. But a guide could take a lot of the guesswork out.
Insider knowledge of the culture
Tour guides will usually spout off the same information you would find in a guide book, like the history of a place or the reason for its significance. But a good guide will also provide deeper insight into the culture. Our guide told us interesting facts about the doors of the medina. He pointed out a circular structure overhead that acted as a peephole, so that the person at home could see who was at the door. He showed us a sign hanging in a vendor’s stall indicating they had camel meat in stock, a Moroccan delicacy. Those are things we could have easily missed otherwise.
Our tour guide also told us about a square within the medina where Fassis hold auctions daily. There’s an appointed appraiser, and locals take their goods to him to be valued. The goods are then auctioned off in the square. We spied items like silverware and bicycles, all up for grabs to the highest bidder. It’s not something we would have stumbled upon on our own.
Reduced sales pitches
People all over the medina, both children and adults, will call out to you as you wander by. Kids will offer to direct you to your destination, expecting payment for their service. One young lady went so far as to grab my hand and try to pull me along. Shopkeepers will make every attempt to lure you in. Usually a firm “la shukran” (no, thank you) will suffice, but if you have a guide with you, you’re less likely to be solicited in the first place. A young boy approached us then turned away and exclaimed to his friends, “They already have a guide!” So if dealing with aggressive touts or sellers is something you’re apprehensive about, being accompanied by a guide might ease your concerns.
So at the end of the day, would I recommend hiring a guide in Fès? Yes, I would. But I think hiring one with an understanding of how to get the most out of the experience offers a significant advantage. So do a little research, communicate clearly and consistently with your guide, and most importantly, enjoy yourself!
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