Thursday, June 23, 2016

Day Trip {Tangier, Morocco}

Last weekend we took a day trip to Tangier, Morocco.  I had originally said I didn't need (or want) to go to Morocco, but I am so glad I did!  I have traveled to many different cities and countries and this is one that I will never forget and also one that I will return to one day.

Tangier is a very up and coming city.  It has been governed by many (as many as nine at one time) countries in its past but now solely belongs to Morocco and the current king wants to restore Tangier to its former glory -- this is very apparent by all the construction in the newer parts of town as well as the brand new pier being built.  But Tangier still holds its old world charm and history especially within the walled old town (medina).  Tangier was ruled by France in more recent history; therefore, many Moroccans speak French in addition to the first language of Morocco, Arabic.  I thoroughly enjoyed using my French throughout our day (and loved that the Moroccans were more than happy to let me practice).  Although four months in Spain has greatly confused my poor brain -- I would often use a French/Spanish mix -- oops!
I highly recommend taking a day trip to Tangier if you are in southern Spain.  It is very easy to get to: drive to (or stay in) Tarifa which is about an hour and a half from our house, park and walk to the ferry terminal, and then take the so-called 35 minute ferry to Tangier (more on the ferry later).  The ferry will drop you very close to the old town so it is easy to do without a car.  We opted to go with a local tour guide - Jamal from JC Private Tours and I am very happy we did.  While I never felt unsafe in Tangier, the medina was very tight quarters and very maze-like making it nearly impossible to explore the area while also knowing how to get back to the starting point.  Our group was five adults, one kid and two toddlers -- all friends from Spain which made everything more personal than a large 30+ person tour.  I will warn you though, you are on a tour and at times, it felt very much like a tour.  However, I would still go with Jamal again -- he will personalize your tour for you depending on your group and wants/needs.

So, our day!  Because we were visiting Morocco during Ramadan, they are two hours behind Spain* and shops open later to accommodate everyone partying/eating all night and sleeping as much as they can during the day -- we took an 11am ferry to Tangier.  The ferry claims it is 35 minutes, but I swear it was at least an hour each way and oh so rocky (don't forget your Dramamine).

We were met by Jamal when we got off the ferry and immediately started our driving tour.  We went past the Grand Mosque (as non-Muslims, we were not allowed in) and drove past all the insanely gorgeous and large houses of Moroccan and Saudi Arabian royalty.  We went up to the lighthouse to see where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean.  The views were simply breathtaking.

We then went and had our camel ride (one of the very touristy parts but oh so fun) -- we basically just pulled over on the side of the road and hopped on some camels in a dirt parking lot, but it was still such a unique experience and I was laughing (and hanging on for dear life) the whole time.  I am also pretty sure my camel was trying to kill me because he/she kept getting way too close to the very steep edge for my liking.  When I remembered to look up, the views were again just stunning.

We then went to the Hercules Caves (again gorgeous -- seeing a theme about Tangier yet?) and legend has it this was where Hercules used his super-human strength to create the Strait of Gibraltar and also slept here before completing one of his tasks.  The caves are part natural and part man-made and have the famous "Map of Africa" sea opening.
It was then on to lunch where we had only a few places to choose from -- given that it was Ramadan, the only people eating during the day were non-Muslims.  Our restaurant was fine, but again -- we didn't have a lot of choose from.  The bread was unbelievably good and I could have easily eaten it for my whole meal.  If (when) we return, I would love to enjoy a smaller, more authentic Moroccan restaurant.

The second half of our day was spent walking around the medina.  We started in the kasbah (walled in, protected residential area near a castle).  The streets (I use that term loosely since it was much more like walkways) were about the width of two people and everywhere you turned there was color and something new and exciting to look at.  I could have easily gotten lost just staring at all the gorgeous doors!

Then onto the souk which was incredible.  Picture taking was difficult because there were a lot of people (buying food for the nighttime festivities) and stopping to take a picture was not possible.  Also, always ask before you take a picture of someone, but feel free to take general pictures of the market.  We saw stall after stall after stall of fruit, spices, olives, meat -- it was all available.  The meat stalls were not my favorite (animals hung to show that they were killed and cleaned property according to Islamic law), but still worthwhile to see a glimpse into the culture.  We saw men spinning cotton/silk (who knows) for their kaftan shops gearing up for the end of Ramadan celebration.  I wish we had bought more spices because oh the smells -- I could not get enough!  A reason to go back, that's for sure.

And then sadly, our tour was over and we were back on the ferry to Spain.  I loved Tangier and loved our day there.  Everything is gorgeous and colorful and flavorful!
Part of our tour did include going into an "art gallery" (large store) where we could buy various items -- lots and lots of rugs, lots of jewelry, various items made using cedar and more.  It was not required that we purchase anything, but it felt like we should.  We wanted to buy a few things, so maybe that was why we felt like we should, who knows!  I would have preferred to shop for these items in the smaller stores within the souk but again, we were on a tour and again, I would still recommend it.

A little information on being a tourist in Morocco -- you will get bothered to buy items.  But know how to firmly say no and show little interest in the product (don't ask "how much") unless you truly want it and you will be fine.  Don't pay full price for anything -- bargain on everything (except food and spice stalls have fixed prices).  We weren't require to dress modestly, but I felt much more comfortable doing so.  Overall Moroccans are very nice and friendly people; they loved Serafina and often patted her head if we were stopped looking at something.  We opted to not bring a stroller and instead used a hiking backpack/carrier with Serafina and I am happy we did -- she loved it!  (Our friends did bring their stroller and that worked out great too).  I don't recommend letting toddlers walk around the souk -- lots of people, lots of low hanging items and just safer to be in a stroller or carrier.  But I never felt unsafe and I think that was in part to being on a small tour with a local guide who is well known in the town.  Morocco uses the dirham as their currency, but we were able to use euros for everything.

Anyone else been to Tangier -- what did you think?  Any other places we should visit in Morocco or Africa -- leave me a comment!


*Another lesson in time-zones: Morocco is on Greenwich Mean Time (as Spain should be, but isn't -- see this post) so they are always one hour behind Spain.  However, if Ramadan occurs in the summer months, the time changes back another hour to have an earlier sunset... So until the end of Ramadan, Morocco is two hours behind Spain.


  1. What a cool city! I have a close friend that is living in Moracco. She is in love with it. Glad you had a good trip. xo ~ Megan The Fashionista Momma

    1. Thanks Megan! I can't wait to explore more of the country now -- where does your friend live?

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