When we realized we could get to Morocco from the Southernmost tip of Spain in an hour, we found it impossible to pass up the opportunity. We had yet set foot on the continent of Africa, and knew this would be the easiest way to get there. Our quick day trip left us with a bittersweet taste for Morocco.
After hiking the Rock of Gibraltar, we found out we were only an hours drive from the Spainish town of Tarifa. Tarifa is a small port city, know for it’s great windsurfing in the summer and it’s quick ferry rides to Morocco. After watching a couple quick youtube videos and reading a few blogs on the Moroccan city of Tangier, we decided to head to Tarifa and catch the ferry. This is the shortest and fastest distance to Morocco from Spain, but you can also reach Tangier, Morocco from many other Spainish ports.
The ferry is advertised as 30 minutes from Tarifa toTangier, but the ticket agents will tell you this is a marketing tactic and it’s actually 1 hour each way. It costs approx 60-70 USD round trip (45 USD for 1-way) and can be booked directly at the Tarifa Port office. Our trip was mid-November, and there was no need to pre-book. However it would be wise to book at least the day before during the high season. We used the FRS ferry system (frs.es) and found the ferry clean and comfortable. FRS allows you to have an open return ticket, giving you the option to ferry back at your leisure. The ferries run every 2 hours. Don’t forget your passport, you’ll go through customs in the ferry terminal and while on the ferry (and get a passport stamp). You’ll go through customs on the return trip as well.
Many day-trippers choose the inclusive tour option that includes a guided tour you through Tangier’s highlights. In hindsight, this is the best option and I suggest readers to take this option.
We did not take this option. Being seasoned travelers, we prefer to explore on our own.
We’d previously read on multiple sites that the “touts” or hustlers would very aggressively try to sell us a tour upon arrival. We felt we could handle ourselves. If you’re a frequent reader of our blog, you’ll know you don’t shy away from a travel challenge. Often we prefer the off the beaten path destinations. So we downloaded the googlemap of Tangier, tagged the highlights we wanted to see and decided against the tour guide.
Arriving in the port and walked past many touts trying to sell us taxi rides or guided tours. Quickly, a particularly aggressive tout began following us, offering a tour for 3 hours for 5 euro. We politely declined and he continued following us for 20 minutes. He was becoming increasingly desperate before he began calling us racists and saying we hated muslims. He yelled “fuck you” before finally leaving us alone. Gypsea Lust had written about a nearly identical experience in her Marrakech experience. We read it before we left, but somehow still found our experience to be shocking and surprising.
Nothing we did provoked this man. We were polite and apologetic for not needing his tour and still, it ended poorly. Going on his tour is the only way to make them happy, I guess. Sadly, this “welcoming” into the country left us weary of other street vendors. It made us stand offish to those trying to help point us in the right direction. We were told, nothing is free, even when it seems like it is. This advice, while true, also added to our apprehension of the city and made it difficult to have a genuine experience.
Looking back, the guided tour would have been the best way to experience Tangier. Whether with the large group or with the lone guide (maybe find a nicer one?) The tour gives you a bit of protection from all the hustle, slimy sales pitches, and aggressive touts. “One mosquito is better than 20, right?”
In certain less-developed places, we find that paying the small price to have someone show you around givs you a greater understanding of the city. Yes, they’re probably going to take you to their uncle’s rug shop and hope for a sale. However, in the end, they’re trying to make a humble living for themselves and their neighbors. Their world runs on our dollars spent in their country, and sometimes most they can do is share their town’s history with you.
Tangier Lesson Learned: Don’t try to explore on your own, just suck it up and get the tour. Go into it with an open mind and allow them to show you their grandma’s bakery. Change your mindset, it’s not a “tourist trap” its an educational tour with a few added stops and is helping them make a living.
Here are a few photos, from our short trip:2