If you get a chance to visit Fez, Morocco you will no doubt experience the utter chaos of walking through the Medina, the largest in the world which has over 9,500 sprawling streets and alleyways. So when people talk about getting lost while traveling, this medina will have you in a disorientated mess in seconds. The Fez medina is best described as a cross between a giant market and a maze where the souks or shops offer herbs, spices to carpets, rugs, anything. The city is dripping in culture, from the infamous tanneries to men transporting goods on donkeys backs to open funeral processions through the crowded medina. It will no doubt be an intense overload of the senses and you need to have your wits about you especially as a woman in this city. Here are a few nuggets of advice for traveling through the city of Fez:
Research the location before booking your accommodation.
This is hugely important for any city you travel to. I would strongly recommend to either find accommodation on the edge of the Fez medina or just outside the medina walls. For safety, I would also recommend staying in a busy part of the city. There is no comfort in staying down a dark quiet area where you do not know what may be lurking behind each corner. By doing this it will limit your chances of getting entirely lost deeper inside the medina or booking into accommodation located in a dodgy area.
Brace yourself for locals trying to hassle you.
Traveling throughout Morocco you will soon become very accustomed to locals trying to hassle you on the streets, everything from trying to lure you into their restaurant, to buying tickets for a day trip to buying souvenirs from a souk. It will run you down, draining the life out of you at points and you will have to develop a thick skin to bluntly say no and turn them in the other direction.
Beware of fake tour guides.
You will no doubt come across locals who seem oh so willing to offer you help with directions. Beware of people on the streets that seem eager to walk with you to show you the way, it is likely that they will try to lead you in circles then demand money once you say you are fine to find the way on your own. This is a well-known tourist scam happening all over Morocco. If you do come across a local who acts in this way, I would advise you to sternly tell them you do not need their help so you do not run into hassle later. These ‘tour guides’ tend to lead you towards their friend’s souks and businesses to encourage to you buy from them. This is something you need to be aware of also.
Do not venture too far into the medina at night.
This is my number one safety tip for Morocco in general as it gets very sketchy. I would not recommend wandering around the medina at night especially as a woman. It is not safe and you will get hassled by local men trying to show you the way and there will not a local woman in sight.
Keep your belongings close.
This is good advice for any city, but particularly in Fez where pickpocketing and thefts are fierce. Always carry your bag on your front and in your view so nobody can try to steal from you. If you have access to a security box at your accommodation, I would keep all of your valuables locked away there instead of walking around with them on you.
Do not rely on Google Maps or your phone’s GPS.
We found out the hard way when we got entirely lost that the GPS is not 100% reliable in the city of Fez, especially the further you wander into the medina. While it will appear to work in some parts of the city, venturing just a 5-minute walk in one direction the GPS might black out.
Beware of the carpet scam.
The story is told the same across the internet that carpet shop owners will invite you in, nice as pie, offer you all some mint tea as a hospitality gesture and before you know it you are in the middle of a sales pitch on ten different types of carpet. What we experienced is that while you are innocently drinking your mint tea they will ask everyone their nationality to pick out who is most likely to spend big money on a carpet, then whisk you away into a room on your own before you can ask for a second opinion and the haggling begins. The more interest you show the more outrageous the initial asking price will be. Do not feel pressured into anything and if you feel uncomfortable, its time to get out of the situation.
Negotiate the price of the taxi before hopping in.
This is a rule of thumb everywhere you travel and Morocco is no exception. Taxi drivers will try to take full advantage of the fact you are a tourist and try to charge you an over the top price for a 10-minute journey in the hopes that you will know no better. Always haggle down their initial asking price, if you are persistent you should be able to get it for at least a third of what they initially asked for.
Note: There is a weird taxi rule around Morocco that a standard taxi with four seats available can only transport three people at a time so bear this in mind when choosing your mode of transport.
Do not be afraid to haggle… for everything.
Like taxi drivers, most shops and tour agencies will try to upcharge tourists. Their initial asking price may be as high as 7 times the amount that they are willing to sell an item for. Do not be afraid to haggle and be persistent, it is a very large part of their culture so do not be afraid that you might insult anyone. They are willing to try a rip off a tourist, you are entitled to try and get the best deal possible.
Morocco is a conservative country so you won’t get away with wearing your usual summer skirts and shorts without some stares. As a sign of respect for their culture and to avoid drawing attention to yourself on the street, it is recommended that you dress as the locals do, wear clothing that covers below the knee and your shoulders.
You will get lost.
This is inevitable in Morocco, especially in the larger cities. Fez, for me, is one of the most disorientating places I have ever visited. When you do get confused as to which way to go, do not ask people hanging around the streets as they will continue to hassle you even after you no longer need their help instead stop into the next riad or restaurant you come across and ask the staff how to get to where you are going. It is advisable to carry with you at all times the address of the place you are staying at. Often hotels and riads will hand you their business card on check in which has the location and address on the back.