Planning a visit to Andalucia in Spain? Morocco, voted by Forbes magazine as one highlight for cheap travel for 2017, is only a ferry ride away. Closer than Madrid, read below to see how you can take a side trip to Morocco from the south of Spain.
While doing my research into our trip to the South of Spain, I noticed how geographically close Spain was to Morocco. A mere 9 miles at its narrowest, the Strait of Gibraltar is the only entry point into the Mediterranean from the Atlantic. I became enthralled at the idea of crossing onto a new continent in such a short trip. I'm sure I'm not the only wanderlust traveler who saw Morocco's proximity to Spain and pondered the possibility of visiting one from the other. Surely it was possible that the two countries frequently entertained travelers who were seeking that cultural doorway between Europe and Africa?
After little effort, I was able to plan a side trip from our travels in Spain to Tangier, Morocco for two days. A simple ferry ride of 45 minutes takes you across the strait of Gibraltar, and back again!
From Europe to Africa
The influence of the moors, or Spanish Muslims, is evident everywhere in Southern Spain. This comes as no surprise considering the Ottoman Empire ruled in this region for over 700 years. Even after they were finally ousted by Spanish forces, the imprint of their culture remains in the architecture, food, clothing, music, and markets. If you enjoyed the Arabic influence on Spanish culture while visiting Spanish alcazars or markets, or just crave an exotic outpost from your travels in Spain, I highly recommend you take the ferry to Morocco for a day or two to experience these features in full force.
Morocco remains an entirely Muslim nation. Mosques call to you six times a day from their loudspeakers across the maze of rooftops. Women and men dress in traditional Muslim and Berber attire--covering arms, legs, and hair. And the sale of alcohol is illegal, according to Islamic regulations. And while Islam and those of Arabic descent have made their way west due to globalization, there is something necessary in immersing yourself in this culture that is entirely different from our own, in this case, a nation that does not follow Western rules of architecture, city planning, religion, and culture. It's not about deciding if our way of life is better or worse, but simply acknowledging and experiencing that there ARE other ways of life besides our own.
A Maze of Wonders
Morocco was incredibly exciting. From the moment I set foot in Tangier to the moment I left, I felt a range of emotions, including awe, trepidation, excitement, and even frustration. I think what appeals to many about Morocco is that it is so completely different from anything they have ever experienced. Stuck at a crossroad between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, Morocco never seems to fully commit to one identity.
My favorite experience in Tangier was exploring the numerous souks and street markets that have existed there for thousands of years in the old walled city. Vendors seem to cram into every space and overflow onto the streets selling just about everything, including leather goods, handmade clay pots, hand-blown glass, wood carvings, metalware, antiques, produce, meat, linens, clothing, and of course, spices. (More recently, many vendors now sell knock-offs of name-brand products and clothing such Michael Kors, Armani, Louis Vuitton, and Lacoste.)
Tangier, like many Moroccan cities, revolves around the medina, the old city. To protect its residents from invaders, early Moroccans built fortress walls around their cities. As time passed, the population grew, but the fortress walls remained. As these Moroccan cities filled in to use every available space within its walls, the residents had only one way to build: up. As a result, winding passageways weave between narrow and tall buildings with grand doorways that hide cloistered residences and courtyards. It's difficult to describe the feeling you get when traversing through the narrow passageways that make up the maze of the medina. Each doorway holds a secret behind it, buzzing like a beehive. It had certainly been one of my top travel experiences exploring the labyrinth of this Moroccan city.
You'll just have to see for yourself if Morocco is everything it promises to be. The best way to do this is to visit Tangiers for a day or two from Spain before planning a lengthier holiday to explore the many other cities that make Morocco such a wonderful travel destination. This is exactly what we did, and I can assure you that one day we will return.
To begin your trip to Morocco, speedy and efficient passenger ferries leave Tarifa, Spain, and travel to the newly established passenger port directly in Tangier. We parked our car at the public parking lot in Tarifa, at a cost of about $20 a day. From the parking lot you can walk to the ferry. Make sure you have all travel documents, including passports and ferry tickets (no visa required for U.S./E.U. citizens). The ferry trip from Tarifa to Tangier takes about 45 minutes. The port is located within walking distance to the medina in Tangier, although we opted to take a taxi ride to the hotel since our hotel was up the hill in the Kasbah area. Taxi vendors are usually soliciting for a ride from you as soon as you exit the port, and it can be a little overwhelming to those who aren't used to vendors who haggle with you. It's normal to negotiate a price with the taxi driver before starting your ride.
Tickets, at the time we went, cost about $100 each, round trip. Other port locations in Spain and Morocco include Algeciras, Gibraltar, and Ceuta.
IMPORTANT: PLEASE NOTE: WHEN BOOKING A TRIP TO TANGIER, USE THE REGULAR TANGIER PORT, NOT THE TANGIER-MED PORT. THE TANGIER-MED DESTINATION IS A COMMERCIAL PORT AND AN HOUR DRIVE OUTSIDE OF THE MAIN CITY OF TANGIER.
We booked online directly with FRS. You can check out all current time schedules, prices, and destinations here:
The only difficulties we had with the ferries was our trip back to Spain. Unfortunately for us, we discovered, along with the 40 other passengers who were sitting in the port waiting for our ferry, that due to rough seas, all ferry trips for that day had been cancelled. There was a flurry of Arabic, French, and Spanish as we watched in confusion, unable to understand, as passengers began leaving the port in anger. After speaking with another passenger in Spanish and English, we finally understood.
We tried our best not to panic. We had two options: we could either stay in Morocco another night and wait for the next ferry and hopefully better weather, or, we could rent a taxi to the above-mentioned port, Tangier-MED. Another problem, we discovered, was that the Tangier-MED ferry only went to Algeciras. We would have to taxi from Algeciras back to Tarifa, where our car was parked.
All together the travel back to Spain took about five hours. As bummed as we were for cutting into our travel itinerary, one thing we've learned from traveling is that you just have to go with the flow. You can't control everything, and there was nothing you could do about the weather!
I do look back and think maybe we would have decided to stay in Morocco another night. It was such an exhilarating experience, and look forward to returning to Morocco one day.
Has anyone else out there taken a ferry to Tangier from Spain? What else would you recommend to travelers who are thinking of planning this side trip?