With the news from Maghreb Arab Press that the tourist police brigade has arrested 414 false guides in Fez over the last three months, The View from Fez asks, just how do you find a guide who's reliable?
Official guides in Fez wear a laminated badge around their neck. Without this authorisation, anyone posing as a guide is not registered and can be arrested for showing tourists the city. The real guides are well-informed about the history of the city and, like many Moroccans, speak several languages. On offer are English, French, Spanish, Italian and even Japanese. Visitors are encouraged either to book a guide through their guesthouse, or engage the services of one of the guides at Bab Boujloud. Guesthouses usually have a few guides they know and trust.
The unofficial guides, or faux guides, are indeed pesky. They try so hard to take visitors to shops or the tanneries, where they will earn a few Dirhams. 'La shukran' (no, thank you) should suffice, but often doesn't. A more forceful 'La!' might do the trick. If you really have trouble shaking them off, the tourist brigade police are stationed at Bab Boujloud, and patrol the streets dressed in navy blue. It must be said that the situation has improved markedly over the last few years, and with this new wave of arrests, should be even easier on tourists.
TO SHOP OR NOT TO SHOP?
The cost of a guide for half a day is around Dh150, and for a full day, Dh200. Guides will take visitors to various shops where they earn commission. You can be assured that prices in these shops will be at least 50% higher if you arrive with a guide in tow, to cover his commission. So, if you don't want to pay these prices, make sure that you say so when you book, and reiterate it before you set out. It's a good idea to tip a bit more than the standard fee if you're happy with his work and you've haven't shopped.
There are, as far as we know, only two female guides in Fez at the moment. And only a couple who speak Japanese, and who charge more for this extra skill.
IS A GUIDE NECESSARY?
It depends a lot on how much time you have and how good your map-reading skills are. If you only have a couple of days in Fez, then it's a good idea to hire a guide so that you don't miss any of the major places of interest. If, on the other hand, you have a little more time, a good map (from the Bab to Bab book, the green ADER guide or Lonely Planet's Fez Encounter), and don't mind getting lost now and again, you can get by without one. But it's a good idea to support the local guides who have worked hard to get their accreditation and can point out things you might miss.