Fes (Fez) is Morocco's oldest Imperial city and its "old town" is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Medina (old town) is called Fes el-Bali and behind its high walls is a magical, medieval city just teeming with life in every one of its 9000 narrow streets. Fes is the cultural and spiritual capital of Morocco and you'll certainly experience its vibrancy. The new part of Fes, called ville nouvelle, was built by the French and is totally different from the medina. The wide boulevards are lined with modern shops and traffic is hectic. There's not much to see, but if you prefer larger Westernized hotels, this is where you'd stay.
When to Go to Fes
The best time to visit Fes is from September to November and April to June. It's not too hot and there are fewer tourists. The Fes Festival of World Sacred Music is usually held in June and is certainly worth planning your trip around.
What to See in Fes
The biggest attraction in Fes is the entire old medina (Fes el-Bali)and the best way to get around it, to see (and find) its main sights, is to hire a guide through your hotel or Riad. A full day should cost around 250 dirhams. You can tell the guide exactly what you'd like to see, specify if you don't want to buy a carpet and tell him (or her) what language you prefer. Once you feel comfortable getting lost, there's no need for a guide anymore and you can simply rely on friendly shopkeepers to point you in the right direction or a good map. The joy of old Fes is turning down little alleys and finding a donkey drinking from the most fabulously tiled fountain you'll ever see; watching local artisans at work; or ducking into a local Hammam and enjoying a good scrub (this is a good way to meet local women, if you're a woman too of course!) There are two main alleys in old Fes, the Talaa Kebira and the Talaa Seghir. Both end up at the main gate of Bab Bou Jeloud. If you get lost, head for either of these, and ask for the direction of the Bab Bou Jeloud. The Bab Bou Jeloud is quite impressive, but it's the little square with rooftop restaurants that you'll enjoy even more. The Kasbah restaurant is decent and the service is pretty good; they don't mind you lingering over mint tea while you stare at the goings on below.
Getting to (and away from) Fes
You can get to Fes by bus, train and plane so there's no excuse not to visit the most fascinating city in Morocco. If you haven't been to a developing country before, Fes is going to be quite intense. If you also plan to visit Marrakech, you may want to head there first because believe it or not, it's a little more laid back. Don't spend all your money on trinkets in Marrakech though, you'll find it's cheaper in Fes.
Train to and from Fes
Morocco has an excellent railway line, the trains are comfortable and they run on time. Fes has one train station and you can catch a train from Tangier (5 hours), Marrakech (7 hours), Casablanca (4.5 hours) and Rabat (3.5 hours). You can only book your train tickets in Morocco and it's advisable to book them a day in advance. Trains rarely fill up though and they leave regularly, so you shouldn't encounter any problems getting to where you want to go. More information about train travel in Morocco ...
Bus to and from Fes
CTM is Morocco's best bus company and they have buses traveling to Fes from most major destinations in Morocco. If you're not on the train line, then a bus is a fine option and always cheaper than the train. A recent 4 hour bus ride on CTM cost me 70 dirhams; a 6 hour ride cost 120 dirhams. CTM has a computerized booking system so you can book all your bus tickets for anywhere in the country at any CTM office. CTM buses are a little more expensive than other bus companies but their buses are in good condition and the bus stations are clean and efficient. Supratours is the other major bus company in Morocco and is linked to the train -- which is handy if you're combining the two forms of transport. Sample journey times by bus from Fes -- to Chefchaouen (4hrs), Casablanca (5hrs), Meknes (1 hour), Marrakech (9 hrs), Tangier (6 hrs), Ouarzazate (14 hrs), Ouezzane (3 hrs).There are 2 bus stations in Fes and the right one depends on your destination. Your petit taxi driver should be able to know which one you need -- or make sure to ask when you book your tickets.
Plane to and from Fes
The Fes Airport is called Saiss Airport and is situated just 6 miles (10 km) from the new town center. Several European charter airlines fly in direct from Paris and London. Royal Air Moroc has a flight to Fes from Casablanca which departs twice a day.An internal flight from Casablanca to Fes won't save you a whole lot of time since the train ride is just 4.5 hours. You'll probably spend the same amount of time getting to and from the airports into town.
Grande Taxi to Fes
If you wish to visit Meknes and/or Volubilis you can either take a bus or train (to Meknes) or opt for the more expensive Grande Taxi. Grande taxis don't have meters, so you need to negotiate the fare beforehand with your driver. These taxis are often shared, so don't be surprised if more passengers get picked up along the way. It should take just under an hour to get to Meknes from Fes.
Renting a Car in FesThe airport has several car rental services including Tiger Car Rental. If you're planning to stay in a Riad in the medina of Fes you will not be able to park your car outside the hotel -- because cars cannot go in to the medina. Ask your hotel owner where the best place to park is, usually a nearby gate that leads in and out of the old city. Compare car rental prices by clicking here.
Getting Around Fes
Taking a Petit-taxi is definitely the way to go around Fes, if you don't feel like walking. Petit-taxi's are little red Fiats that you simply flag down on the street. Every petit-taxi should have a meter and the drivers are generally very good about using them. If your driver refuses, or the meter is "broken", flag down a different taxi or negotiate a fare if you have an idea of what's reasonable. If you have some luggage it will be thrown on the roof rack; don't worry, it doesn't fall out. Note that no taxi or vehicle can enter Fes el-Bali (old Fes). There you have to rely on your own two feet, and if you have luggage you need to rent a guy with a cart to help you get it to your hotel. Ask your hotel owner to either meet you at the appropriate gate of the medina, or to give you some good directions which you can pass on to your guy with the cart.
Most nationalities including those from the US, Canada and the UK do not need a visa to enter Morocco as a tourist. If your nationality is not on the following list, then you should contact a Moroccan Embassy and apply for a visa. You do not need a tourist visa if you belong to one of the following countries: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Congo (Rep. of), Cote d'Ivoire, Denmark, European Union, Finland, Guinea, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Korea (Rep. of), Kuwait, Libya, Liechtenstein, Mali, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Oman, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, and Venezuela.
Your passport must be valid for at least six months after you enter Morocco. You will get a stamp in your passport upon entry into the country (make sure you get it) which will allow you to stay for 90 days. No entry fees are charged.
Health and Safety
As with most destinations in Africa you have to careful about what you drink and eat in order to avoid stomach upsets. Buying food from street vendors carries some degree of risk and tap water should not be drunk. There is plenty of bottled water available throughout the country. Luckily Morocco is basically malaria-free. There are a few areas near the border with Mauritania that can harbor malaria but it's an unlikely destination even for the hardiest of travelers.
No vaccinations are required by law to enter Morocco but Typhoid and Hepatitis A are two vaccinations that are strongly recommended. It is also a good idea to be up to date with your polio and tetanus vaccines.
A series of terrorist attacks took place in Casablanca in May 2003, killing 45 people. The targets included hotels, cafes and other areas which tourists frequent. The Moroccan authorities claim to have caught the perpetrators, but there is still some risk of further attacks. Despite the unpopularity of the American presence in Iraq and its support for Israel, attacks against US citizens have not been reported. Most Moroccans, to their credit, do make a distinction between US Government policies and US citizens.
Violent crime is still quite rare in Morocco but getting harassed by "guides" and petty theft is fairly common. Avoid walking alone at night especially in unlit areas and on the beach. Take care of your valuables and don't flaunt your jewellery.
Morocco has strict penalties for those caught purchasing or using drugs including "kif" as the local marijuana or hashish is called. That said, "kif" is smoked by a sizeable percentage of the Moroccan male population and many, young travelers in particular, visit Morocco with this in mind. Just be careful. The Rif mountains, where most of the marijuana is grown, is notorious for forcing their wares on unsuspecting tourists and the police are in on the scam. Do not buy "kif" from anyone who approaches you (and you will be approached) it is usually of inferior quality and you don't want to spend a lot of time with these folks. For more information I have an article about smoking hashish in Morocco.
Morocco is an Islamic country so be modest in what you wear. No short skirts, shorts or tank tops. Wear a bikini or swimsuit only at a pool or on a beach. You'll attract attention regardless what you wear, just ignore it and move on, most of it is harmless. More information on women traveling alone in Africa.
Homosexuality is considered a criminal offence in Morocco (so are sexual relations outside of marriage for that matter). So just be careful of overt displays of public affection, although handholding between men is very common; you'll probably get fewer looks than if you were wandering around holding hands in some towns back home. Click here for more information.
The Moroccan unit of currency is the dirham which is divided into 100 centimes. There are ATM's throughout Morocco in all of the major cities and most towns. Credit cards are accepted at most of the higher end hotels, restaurants and shops. You can change money and traveler checks at all major banks, bureau de change and some hotels. Click here for current exchange rates.