Take the Ferry from Spain to Tangier, Morocco
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
Tangier Morocco was once a hideout for celebrities, CIA agents, international spies, artists and drug runners back in the 1960's and 70's. Now it's a bit more of a laid back port town at the top of Africa. There is an airport, but for a unique trip, I wanted to take the ferry from Tarifa Spain and cross the narrow Strait of Gibraltar to reach Morocco. There was a huge mix of people on the ferry, most seemed like local residents out on shopping trips and there was even one guy who brought his Ferrari over with him (note: the streets of Tangier do not look very friendly for a car that sits about an inch off the ground. Good luck with your tires, rims and fenders my Ferrari importing friend). I however was traveling slightly less fancy, with just a backpack. While on board the FRS Jet Ferry, you'll go through Moroccan immigration before reaching the port. The ferry ride from Tarifa to Tangier Villa is just under an hour and drops you off at the port terminal closest to the old Medina and costs around $66 euro round trip. After you exit the ferry, you immediately see the old fort Casbah and the buildings built up the hill side. You will also likely be approached by many people either offering to take your bags, be your guide or offering taxi services. It's best to keep your wits about you here, and keep a close eye on your belongings. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. I was walking, so I needed to head up the hill and into the old Medina.
Into The Medina: I was alone on this trip and the idea was to blend in and not stand out as much as possible. I found this to be utterly impossible and I was approached by people wanting to sell me something or act as an impromptu guide constantly. Once you enter the walled old Medina, you are entering a whole new world. This is a world of very tight, cramped passageways and alleys, barely big enough for one person to walk down. The alleys twist and turn in a maze of unmarked passages that is all at once disorientating and impossible to not get lost. Occasionally you'll accidental wander into a one of the open air "souk" or "socco" which is an open air bazaar. The walls of the alleys are lined with various shops selling a strange array of items like: rugs, trinkets, tea, luggage, lamps, fans, recycled metal, and pretty much anything else you can think of. As cliched as it may sound, there are plenty of dark corners and doorways for people to lurk in. And on one occasion, a group of young men (16-19 years old) jumped out of one such door and grabbed my iPhone from my had as I walked, desperately trying to get the map function working as I was hopelessly lost. I have limited Arabic language abilities, but I knew some strong phrases and threats and actually convinced the young thieves to give me back my phone after I convinced them it wasn't worth the trouble!
Running the Gauntlet of the Medina: You'll most likely be constantly approached by various aggressive touts and people wanting to act as your "guide". This can be very unnerving for new travelers and it gets to be a source of near constant aggravation. Most will not be swayed with a simple "no", you'll need to be firm and repeat "no" several times and continue walking. Some of the touts may get very upset, aggressive and start yelling at you and creating a spectacle with the hope that you'll cave in out of terror or embarrassment and pay them. It's best to move on to another area quickly if possible, though I did have one gentlemen follow me screaming obscenities for quite some time! This situation is particularly made worse when you are obviously lost and have no idea where you're going! Eventually I made it to the Grand Souk where the tight alleyways open up into an open air main square. It was nice to stop for a moment and collect my thoughts away from the chaos and aggravation of the Medina. I finally had the chance to start taking in some of the actual sights and stopped for a fresh squeezed orange juice. The Grand Succo (Souk) has a great view of the pink colored Sidi Bou Abib mosque. After I had my bearings, I prepped myself to wade back into the twisted maze and find my hotel.
I finally made it to my hotel by pure luck after multiple turns and dead ends. I was staying at the Dar Yasmine hotel ($78) which is located in the Medina, and this hotel was a highlight of the trip. At check in, you're presented with traditional Morocco mint tea, which is a delicious warm blend of mint and exotic spices. The hotel was a welcome respite from the maze of passageways below and offered an outdoor patio overlooking several terraces and rooftops and out into the port. I seemed to be the only person enjoying the view, and the attentive hotel staff brought me some tea and fresh fruit. At night it was interesting to see the various family members of each house come out onto the rooftops to spend some time. Apparently it's very common to sleep outside on the roof as it's much cooler with a light breeze. A highlight of this hotel is the unobstructed view it has of the Grand Mosque. From the patio you have a stunning view of this beautiful building and sitting outside watching the sunset as the days last call to prayers play from the minaret of the mosque is an experience all should enjoy.
My time was brief in Tangier, but navigating the tangled streets was an experience. Truth be told, I was ready to get back on the ferry and return to the other side of the Mediterranean, but my trip to Tangier certainly provided for some great travel stories! I dodged as many touts and guides as possible on my way down the hill to the port and climbed aboard the ferry and watched Morocco slowly disappear from the back of the ship.
Where I Stayed: Dar Yasmine, Old Medina Tangier ($78)
Where we ate: The Grand Central Cafe, Dar 23. Petit Socco. Great coffee and tea.