Only an hour ferry ride away, Morocco can be seen on the horizon from the southern coast of Spain. The tastes, smells, and sights of the buzzing Medina in Tangier Is a temptation I couldn’t resist. But many find the ferry a difficult barrier to cultural treats. With a little planning you can get your nose in the spice souk in no time.
When you stand on the southern Spanish coast you can see Morocco on the horizon. There was no way I was going to settle for seeing it only as a hazy dream from 20 miles away. I had never been and I was really excited about poking around the Medina to check out the markets. As I started reading up on it I saw warning after warning about waking alone in the Medina. Many people posted that they felt harassed while leaving the ferry. The locals could apparently be pretty pushy about selling their goods and services. One person even said they saw people refusing to get off the ferry and taking it right back to Spain. Then I remembered a friend of mine told me a story about how when he refused to buy something he was thrown up against a wall. I started getting a little concerned, but I was determined to go. Besides, if the tourists are avoiding it then it sounds like a place I want to be! I’ve been to plenty of places where you’re constantly pressured to buy things and although it can be annoying I can’t imagine how bad it would be for folks to refuse getting off the ferry. I saw a lot of suggestions to acquire a “guide” to show me around the Medina. In fact, that’s what the locals are aggressively pushing as you exit the ferry terminal. The Medina can be a maze and apparently you are pestered less when you are walking around with a guide. I did my research and decided I would do my own thing but if I found a guide who I felt good about I might take him up on his offer. I tried to figure out the exact route into the Medina so I wouldn’t look lost as I exited the terminal. I decided to head straight for the Hotel Continental which is a landmark of a place just at the entrance to the Medina. If you are planning this ferry trip no doubt you have been reading the same things I saw before I went.
You can book the ferry through a company called FRS. Boats leave about every other hour and the trip takes about one hour. Morocco is one hour behind so that means that you will arrive at the same time you leave (when you return you arrive 2 hours later with the time change). I had a car so I drove to the port and parked in a lot that was directly in front of the terminal (about €12 for the day). It couldn’t have been easier. Don’t forget to get your passport stamped on the boat to save time as you walk off.
As I crossed the Straights of Gibraltar (by the way that felt very surreal to be crossing such an iconic body of water) I could not stop thinking about my plan to avoid getting hassled, hustled, or hurled against a wall while exiting the terminal. I looked around the ferry and tried to find some fellow travelers that looked like they knew what they would be doing to follow through. I spotted a few and kept my eye on them. Finally we pulled up to the terminal and I got my first view of the white walls of the buildings rising from the walled Medina! I couldn’t wait to explore, but the upcoming hassling weighed on my mind. As I walked off the boat with my most determined face on the first peddler approached me. He wanted to show me around the Medina for €50! “No way, I know where I’m going”, I said. He followed me for a bit but I eventually lost him. I bounced off a few others and finally an older gentlemen approached me and said something to make me laugh (I can’t remember what now). I told him that I was heading the the Hotel Continental and know exactly where I’m going (I didn’t btw, it’s a little confusing figuring out where to walk into the Medina. You can see it, but you need to walk up a steep ramp and through the gate of the wall.) He walked along side of me and started a conversation. He insisted on walking me to the hotel. I told him “no thanks” but he just kept waking and talking with me. After about 5 minutes I asked him how much this little walk is going to cost me. He pretended to be offended and kept walking with me. I figured I would give him a couple of euro to lose him once we got there. We walked up the ramp and to the entrance of the hotel. This place is amazing. It’s old Morocco from the glory days, but it’s old and tired now. It reminded me of something right out of a Wes Anderson movie. At €35 a night it’s a great deal. So we arrive at the hotel I gave my escort €2 and thought he would be on his way. Nope, he insisted on waiting for me to check in and eat ( thought I would sit in this amazing place and have my first meal in Morocco, it was great!) to show me around for €20. Definitely a reasonable price for pretty much a full day tour. I told him I would think about it. He introduced himself to me as Yosef. I got there about 15 minutes before the restaurant opened and wanted to walk around and check out the hotel. There are a lot of nooks and crannies, parlors, and sitting rooms to check out. Yusuf accompanied me and I could tell he actually knew a lot about the hotel. He told me all about its history and seemed to even know where the light switches were in the rooms where they were off. Hmm maybe Yusef ain’t so bad. I checked in and loved the room. Then ate at the restaurant ( Lamb and prunes tanjine, amazing). When I walked out there was Yusef waiting for me! OK OK I give up, show me around. He was awesome. I saw so much more the I would have without him. I was also never hassled so either it’s not as bad as they say or having him with me did the trick. He also knew what felt like half the city. Everywhere we went and on the street he was greeted with a kiss on each cheek. I also got to meet a lot of locals. He bought me a traditional Moroccan pastry and I bought him a coffee. If you would like Yusef to be your guide, send me a message, I have his email and he can meet you at the ferry.
Tips on how to get through the potentially uncomfortable situation waiting for you outside the ferry terminal:
-if you want a guide the rate should be about €20-€25 for the day. You always haggle price in Morocco so if they start at €50 don’t accept until you get it down.
-tell our guide NO RUG STORES (unless you do want to buy a rug). They all (including Yusef) have something set up with stores where they will bring you to get some aggressive selling tactics. If you do want to buy don’t forget to haggle. I got prices down to half of where we started at places.
-if you are going it alone with no guide keep your head down and do not engage. Just saying “no thnaks” will not shake them. They will stay with you no matter how many times you say no. Look like you know where you’re going and tell them that you do. When they ask if it’s your first time in Tangier, you cannot say that it is. They have to think that you know what you’re doing.
I loved Tangier. I had really nothing but great experiences there and would absolute go back.