Located in the Fes el Bali quarter of Fes’ medina, Chouara Tannery is believed to be the oldest, and largest, working leather tannery in the world. The tannery has been around since the 11th century, and still employs dozens of locals today.
Leather goods are one of the best things to buy in Morocco. There’s no better way to get a behind-the-scenes look at how Morocco’s famous leather goods are made than with a visit to Chouara Tannery.
On my recent trip to Morocco, I managed to visit the tannery that’s been taking social media by storm. Photos definitely don’t do it justice—Chouara Tannery is even more impressive in-person than it is online. There’s so much more to this tannery than its popular images of dye vats. As someone who previously worked in luxury leather and fur design, being able to tour such a fascinating piece of history was just incredible.
Chouara Tannery is one of the best things to do in Fes, but actually trying to visit is a chaotic process. Between scammers in the medina, aggressive shopowners, and the official signs, I found myself confused as to who to believe.
Before you visit Chouara Tannery, here’s what you should know:
Chouara Tannery History
Believed to be established in the 11th century, Chouara Tannery has been in existence for over 900 years. Historians are unclear as to exactly when the tannery was founded, as historical texts haven’t provided clear evidence. To this day, the tannery still leverages many of the ancient leather tanning techniques used in its early days.
Instead of using modern chemicals, leather is cleaned and processed using cow urine and pigeon feces. Industrial dyes are forgone in favor of natural dyes such as saffron, indigo, turmeric, and poppy flowers. While you will find some machinery in the factory, much of the work is done through exhaustive physical labor.
That’s not to say that Chouara Tannery hasn’t undergone some amount of upkeep over the years—in 2016, the tannery went through major renovation to help maintain its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Today, the tannery employs more than 40 families in Fes, many of whom have been working there for generations, passing down tanning skills from generation to generation.
How to Get to Chouara Tannery
Chouara Tannery is easy to reach and visit. I visited Fes from Marrakech, driving straight to the medina, then visiting Chouara Tannery the next day.
How to Get to Fes from Marrakech
Fes is easily accessible from Marrakech via train, private transfer, or airplane.
Trains to Fes take seven hours. They are often delayed, sometimes taking up to 12 hours or more to reach Fes. Morocco’s ONCF railway operates trains from Marrakech to Fes once every two hours.
Expect to pay 210-340 MAD ($20.62-$33.38 USD) for your ticket, based on which train you take and which class you’re in. If you’re looking to explore beyond Fes, you can stop at Casablanca first, before continuing to the city.
Private transfers from Fes to Marrakech typically cost about $215 USD one-way when booked online. The drive is approximately five hours between the two cities. Although hiring a private driver between Marrakech and Fes isn’t the most cost-effective option, it does give you great flexibility to stop at other cities along the way.
Flying to Fes is the fastest way to get from Marrakech to Fes. Flights between Marrakech and Fes are less than an hour long, and can be as inexpensive as $100 roundtrip. I paid 1216.98 MAD ($119.48 USD) including a checked bag, on Air Arabia. Domestic flights are still an up and coming concept in Morocco. Each airport typically has just one gate for domestic flights—don’t expect food vendors to be open, or to have access to outlets or other amenities.
Choosing to fly between Fes and Marrakech was definitely the right choice for us. Flying between Marrakech and Fes is easy and convenient.
Accessing Chouara Tannery From Fes
Whether you’re flying, taking the train, or driving to Fes, you’ll eventually need to make your way to Fes el Bali (the medina) to visit Chouara Tannery. If you’re flying or taking the train, I recommend arranging a transfer from the airport or train station through your riad, rather than trying to find a taxi driver there.
Fes’ medina is a pedestrian zone. That means that no vehicles, including motorbikes, are allowed within its walls. As a result, when you reach the edge of the medina, you’ll need to walk the rest of the way in. Do not trust direction signs in any medina in Morocco—many of them can be confusing, and scammers in Morocco tend to pray on confused tourists who are clearly trying to follow them.
I used Google Maps to navigate to Chouara Tannery from Al Attarine Madrasa, and found the directions to be reliable. From the madrasa, the tannery is a relatively simple route.
Chouara Tannery Admission Price
Technically, Chouara Tannery is free to enter. In practice, that’s not exactly the case.
Chouara Tannery has a clearly marked, official entrance. It’s between the shops near the tannery, and if you follow a navigation app to the tannery, you’ll likely be lead there.
Along the way, you’ll likely be hassled by shop owners trying to get you up to their rooftop, or trying to lead you to a guide. Due to this, it’s nearly impossible to visit the tannery without a guide, unless you’re wiling to be aggressive (though rare, some travelers have managed to).
Tannery guides also do not have a price, which is why it’s so easy to fall into common Chouara Tannery scams (more on that below). Reputable guides usually accept a 20-40 MAD tip per person ($1.96-$3.92 USD). I do recommend visiting with a guide. Having someone to explain the machinery and leather making process at the tannery is really helpful. I don’t think we would have been able to discover the inner workings of the tannery without one.
Chouara Tannery Hours
Chouara Tannery is open from 9 am to 7 pm. Although these are the official tannery hours, many workers start to go home by 5 pm.
If you want to make sure that you see the tannery in full action, go in the morning, or early afternoon after lunch. If you’re looking to catch the tannery at a quieter time, but still get a glimpse into the work, try going around 4 pm. I definitely do not recommend going later than 5 pm.
How to Tour Chouara Tannery
I was shocked to see how many tourists in Fez only viewed Chouara Tannery from the rooftops of the surrounding shops, instead of trying to actually go inside it.
While yes, viewing the dye vats of the tannery from the rooftop of a shop will give you an oh-so-instagrammable view, you’ll miss a lot of what Chouara’s really about.
It’s not difficult to find a Chouara Tannery tour guide in Fes, but it is important to know what to look out for.
Near Al Attarine Madrasa, one of the largest Quaranic schools open to non-Muslims in Fes, shopkeepers and locals will start to approach you promising to show you the tannery. As you walk closer to the tannery and near the entrance, shopkeepers and their employees will start to follow you, offering the best views of the tannery.
I recommend pushing past these people and looking for a tannery worker at the official entrance. Especially around the end of the day when workers are leaving, it’s common to find one that will take you. When looking for tannery guides that are not workers, some tourists have reported having better experiences with female guides rather than male, as they were less aggressive (I did not take this approach and cannot comment on accuracy).
Tannery workers are super knowledgable about each step of the leather making process, and won’t pressure you to buy anything when the tour is over. They’ll walk you through each step for processing leather at Chouara Tannery, showing you places not visible from the rooftops.
Our guide, Abdul, offered to take us to any shop rooftop we wanted, meaning we wouldn’t need to tip just one shopkeeper to go up one rooftop. Abdul had been working at Chouara Tannery for 36 years—a true veteran. We did end our tour at a leather store, but had no pressure to buy whatsoever. We tipped Abdul, and were not followed or chased unlike others.
Does Chouara Tannery Smell Bad?
Leather tanning involves tons of animal hides, natural dyes, cow urine, and pigeon excretion (yes, you read that right). As a result, Chouara Tannery doesn’t smell the best. The tannery’s smell is pungent and strong—you’ll probably be able to smell it before you even enter.
Some guides and shopkeepers will provide handfuls of fresh mint to counter the smell during your visit. You’ll of course be expected to tip for this courtesy, but it is helpful, especially if you have a weak stomach.
How to Get the Best View of Chouara Tannery
If you’re just looking for the best view of Chouara Tannery’s dye vats, visit Shop 10 or Shop 64. You’ll be able to get a central view over the whole tannery.
Personally, I think the way to get the best view of Chouara Tannery is to visit with a local worker who really knows the tannery inside and out. They’ll be able to guide you through all the shop rooftops. You’ll find yourself in areas that shopkeepers don’t have access to. If there’s a specific view you want to see, don’t be afraid to show your guide a picture, and ask!
Buying Leather at Chouara Tannery
If you’re on a Chouara Tannery tour, you’ll likely end your visit at one of the nearby leather stores, regardless of who your tour guide is.
These stores sell leather goods made with leather from the tannery, stocking everything from small leather goods and accessories, to leather jackets. While you certainly can purchase leather goods at the Chouara Tannery stores, I don’t recommend it.
The leather stores near the tannery tend to be incredibly overpriced. If you walk through Fes’ Medina, towards Bou Inania Madrasa, you’ll pass by tons of smaller leather stores that offer much better pricing.
My favorite find was a leather craftsman on a small side street, who made all his goods in his store, and only sold a handful of products that he made right in his shop. He offered me very fair prices from the gate, and his bags definitely felt higher quality than other stores nearby.
All this to say—don’t be afraid to wander through Fes’ medina. While you should definitely exercise caution (especially if you’re a solo female traveler), the main area of the medina is generally safe. Leather goods at the many of the shops in the medina are made with Chouara Tannery leather. Wandering will give you better prices than buying leather at Chouara Tannery.
Common Chouara Tannery Scams
Unfortunately, if you’re visiting Fes, you’re likely to encounter a Chouara Tannery scam.
Chouara Tannery scams are relatively simple, and designed to fool tourists into falling victim to false hospitality.
Al Attarine Madrasa is the heart of Fes’ medina. It’s a popular tourist attraction, and due to the mosque next door, also attracts many locals. As you start to approach the madrasa, you’ll likely be approached by locals trying to talk to you. They might try to offer you tips for navigating the medina, fool you into thinking they’re helping you by telling you a road is closed (it rarely ever is), or by straight up asking if you’re trying to find the tannery.
These locals might claim that their uncle has a shop with the best view of the tannery—no charge—or that they’ll show you the way for free. This is never the case. Tourists have reported falling victim to these schemes only to be demanded money when leaving. In some cases, they’re cornered aggressively (not just verbally, but physically).
A good rule of thumb in Morocco is to never go with anyone being pushy or in your face. Instead, wait it out, and look for those who are less confrontational in their approach. Remember, their behavior upfront is likely indicative of how they may act at the end of the tour.
Best Hotels in Fes
If you’re visiting Fes to see Chouara Tannery, it’s tempting to stay nearby. I recommend staying in Fes’ medina, but not necessarily right next to the tannery. The area near the tannery is hectic, and frankly, kind of pungent. Staying a 10-15 minute walk away will allow you to stay in a calmer, quieter area. You’ll still be near all of the best things to do in Fes.
Riad Sidrat Fes
Riad Sidrat Fes is by far one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever stayed at. Even better, it’s usually under $90 a night.
Tucked away just off a main road in the medina, Riad Sidrat Fes is covered in beautiful tile. It’s a quiet escape from the bustle of Fes’ Old Town. The riad offers a wonderful complimentary breakfast.
Aside from the stunning property, what I loved most about the hotel was it’s location. Riad Sidrat Fes is incredibly convenient to all of the best things to do in Fes—we really didn’t need to walk more than 15 minutes to get anywhere. It’s right off of a main road, but in an area less dense and chaotic than where Chouara Tannery is located, making for the perfect location.
Riad Salam Fes
Riad Salam Fes was originally my first choice for hotels in Fes. Unfortunately, was sold out during my trip. This regal riad is filled with stunning, ornate tile work and wood carvings.
The luxury property features a large tiled swimming pool, in a courtyard overflowing with greenery. The riad is also home to a restaurant, spa, and rooftop terrace.
Though I did really want to stay at Riad Salam (and still do!), I am happy that we ended up at Riad Sidrat because of the location. Riad Sidrat is much closer to to the best things to do in Fes, including Chouara Tannery. Riad Salam is a little further out, towards the edge of Fes El Bali. Keep in mind that Fes’ medina is a walking zone—cars and motorbikes are not allowed, so your location is definitely important.
That being said, Riad Salam’s location is in a quieter area of the medina, perfect if crowds and noise are not your thing. It’s also a great location if you’re looking to explore Fes’ new city in addition to the medina. It will be easy for you to reach the edge of the medina and call a taxi.
Chouara Tannery FAQ
Chouara Tannery is the world’s oldest tannery. The tannery has been operating for over 900 years since the 11th century.
Moroccan leather is commonly made from goat, cow, and lamb.
Decaying animal hides, cow urine, pigeon feces, and other products used in the leather making process contribute to the pungent smell of tanneries in Morocco.
There are three leather tanneries in Fes, Morocco: Chouara Tannery, Sidi Moussa Tannery, and the Ain Azliten Tannery. Chouara Tannery is the largest tannery in Fes.
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