The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: The Truth About Hiring a Guide in Fès, Morocco

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?

A Fassi local sitting in the arch of a passage where colorful pottery is for sale in the Fes Medina

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.

Read more about what to see, where to eat and where to stay in our guide to the Fès medina.

How Much Does a Guide Cost in Fès?

A luxurious restaurant located within a riad in Fes, Morocco with tables covered in red tablecloths and zellige tiled floors

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

A carpet shop in Fes, Morocco with seats and tables for customers to sit at while carpets are displayed

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

Artisans at a ceramics factory in Fes, Morocco
Worker at a textile loom in a factory in Fes, Morocco

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

Entrance to the Nejjarine Museum in Fes, Morocco with a wooden door and carved stucco surrounding the door

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

A street in the medina of Fes, Morocco with shops on the right and  carved wood door to the left

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

The entrance to a mosque in the medina of Fes, Morocco
Silverware being valued and auctioned off at a square in the medina of Fes, Morocco

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

An alley in the medina of Fes, Morocco with colorful, painted walls

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.

If you’re traveling through Casablanca, read our guide on how to make the most of your layover there.

Conclusion

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!

Like it? Pin it!

Pinterest pin of the colorful tagines handmade in Morocco via Mad Hatters NYC blog

– L.

14 thoughts on “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: The Truth About Hiring a Guide in Fès, Morocco”

  1. We’ve always opted for self guided tours.
    Now that I know there are these great factories to visit, I’m gonna really do my research before we go, when we go.
    As for navigating streets ( unmapped or otherwise) that’s when the husband is in his zone. 😉 I guess it’s his idea of a maze!

    1. A maze is the perfect analogy for the streets of the medina, Tara! I think you two will be in your element 😉

      I wouldn’t count on getting very far each day because there are so many distractions! But I think that’s one of the benefits of going with the self-guided option: you get to choose where you want to linger. Thanks for reading and commenting, I always enjoy your thoughtful responses 🙂

  2. Great pictures!! ☺️ Good job and thanks for sharing. Reading the post made me remember our short Tangier day trip a few months ago, from Tarifa crossing the Med. Getting past the colors, scenes and sights, one gets a feeling that you are being surrounded by people who takes advantage of one’s blind ignorance. As a traveler myself, it’s not easy to deal with this type of people. We figured that if we visit any destination in Morocco on our next trip, we would probably reach out to a local/expat blogger who would be willing to show us around to his/her beloved city.

    1. That’s a great idea! I’ve received so much great advice from fellow bloggers, but I’ve never considered having one of them play tour guide. They’re already open to sharing what they know, and you can vet their interests in advance to make sure you align. I think it’s a great way to get a local perspective!

      Thanks for sharing, Jan. I’m definitely going to consider that next time 🙂

  3. First of all, I want to see these scarves you bought! 😉 Great tips. I do think in this case hiring a guide could save lots of time and trouble, provided your suggestions on how to avoid too much shopping are used! I had similar experiences in India and Turkey. Often shopping expeditions are billed as tourist experiences, and the prices might be higher than if one went shopping on one’s own.

    1. It’s definitely scarf season now, Cynthia! I’ll be getting lots of use out of them soon 😉

      I do think it’s tricky. Overtourism has so many negative effects, and as travelers, I think we have to accept partial responsibility for the thousands of locals who now make a living in that industry. I like to think of it as symbiotic, as long as you know your options 🙂 And I’m saying this only after learning from past mistakes!

    1. Thanks, Jason! I’m always a fan of transparency since it helps us make informed choices. I enjoyed my experience, but I know it isn’t for everyone. I’d love to hear about your experience when you make it there! 🙂

  4. I am such a bleeding heart/sucker so I would be the WORST. Plus even though I know that my guide is getting a commission, I’d feel obligated to buy stuff to make it worth-their-while or something. It’s probably best that I stay away from guided tours 😉

    1. Hahahaha, I don’t think you’re alone on that, Kat! 😉 I think it’s natural to want to contribute to the local economy. And I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with that, as long as we’re doing it willingly. If we’re aware of the total costs and believe it still provides value, then it’s a win-win, right?

  5. Your post reminded us when we joined a guided tour in Peru. It was a private group but the guide was pretty “sneaky” in a way that at the end of the tour he brought us to his home and showed us how they live. Rick didn’t like it because he thinks he is using his family to get a BIG tip 🙂

    Another well written article Lynn. I love the photos. We’re actually planning to visit Morocco this year. It gave us the idea if we’re hiring a guide or not.

    1. I’m glad you found it helpful, Jane! I think it’s a tricky situation when the locals rely on income from tourists. We had a driver who was so honest that he went back to a roadside vendor and demanded he refund us some money because we were overcharged. Then we had guides who took us to terrible tourist traps. I think you can definitely explore much of Morocco on your own, and I’m happy to share the good experiences we had if you’re looking for a specific guide. But I’m sure you’ll love it, Morocco is a photographer’s dream! 😉

  6. Such a comprehensive article. Tour guides are definitely salespeople. I hate getting ushered into shops where it’s so obvious that they are all besties. The last thing we want when traveling is to lose time at places we don’t want to see, so this is great advice thanks.

    1. Some people have lost a lot more than time, so I’m thankful that my mishaps over the years have been fairly benign. I think being somewhere foreign can make us more vulnerable. I don’t want to suggest everyone is untrustworthy, because we met many honest, hard-working locals. But a healthy dose of skepticism is always wise!

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