Tangier, Morocco is just 14 km (9 miles) away from Algeciras, Spain by ferry, making it perfect for a day trip when you’re on Spain’s Costa del Sol. Of course you can take longer trips, but if your main plan is to stay in Spain, a day trip will serve you well. Note that if you arrive in Tangier on a day trip, you must be escorted by a licensed tour operator.
Going with a Group
Many hotels and resorts can connect you with guided group tours. This is perfect for people who want to get a small taste of tangier in a group setting. The benefit of this method is that the operator will typically pick you up and drop you off at your hotel and handle all the logistics in between, from ferry ride to meal service. On the other hand, you will have no say in what your experience will be like and you may find yourself feeling “herded” like cattle throughout the day. Also beware that some tour operators work on a commission from places they take you to throughout the day. Most infamous are the tour guides who drop you for a 2-hour hard sell by carpet sellers. You can find these scoundrels on Trip Advisor.
Another option is to hire a private guide. The benefit is that you will have direct input into what your day will be like. The downside is you will need to arrange your own transportation to and from the ferry. In 2010 my 19-year-old daughters and I found ourselves with a rainy day in Costa del Sol, and after an hour or so of research I decided to hire Said for the day. He has since become the #1 rated Tangier tour guide on Trip Advisor, and I couldn’t agree more. More later in this post about why we loved our experience with him.
First, though, you have to get there. You have a few options when it comes to ferries, but for a day trip the “fast ferry” will be your best bet. Running from Algeciras to Tangier, operator FRS claims it to be a 35 minute trip, but in my experience it was closer to an hour. You will need a valid passport to board the ferry. Once you arrive, you must be greeted by a tour guide. To get to the ferry by car, you’ll find that the main roads are well maintained with plentiful signs. Honestly, once you get to the A7 it’s nearly impossible to get lost. If you don’t have a car your hotel can arrange transportation for you.
Once you arrive you will be greeted by your tour operator. Said met us as soon as we disembarked and led us to his van. I should mention that we had just arranged the trip the day before, so there were a few minor logistical issues to take care of, starting with the other family that had also booked with him. We ended up sharing the first hour with this family and then they went a separate way with one of Said’s employees. To be honest, the first part of the tour seemed a little bit boring because we just circled the outskirts of town and ended up on a peak. In retrospect, it was a great way to put the city in perspective and see it from a birds-eye-view. From that view it looked a bit like San Francisco, with bright pastel-colored homes set in endless hills. On our way down we saw a boy on the side of the road and Said bought a baggie of freshly picked pine nuts from him. What a treat! From there we rode camels – kind of cheesy, but we just couldn’t pass up the chance. Once we got into town, Said took us to a nice restaurant where we were serenaded by local musicians and filled us in on the history of Morocco.
In town I had made it clear to Said that we were not novice tourists to be led by the nose through the tourist traps. I told him I want to go to the markets where his wife and mother shop, and he shouldn’t even consider dropping us at a carpet seller. On the other hand, we really would enjoy the opportunity to browse and shop on our own at an open air market if possible. This is where the real fun started, especially since it was Berber day, the one day the nomads come to town for market.
Said delivered exactly what I asked for, but I should warn you, some Moroccan markets are not for the fainthearted. The produce and spice markets are wonderful with their sights and smells and sounds. Women clad in colorful headdresses haggle over the price of rich purple berries and deep red cinnamon sits side by side with bright yellow turmeric. Breathe deeply and stop every once in a while just to soak in the energy of the experience. Nearly every vendor knows Said and gladly gives up a bit of their wares so he can offer his clients samples.
The meat and fish markets are where things get a bit sketchy for the uninitiated. One of my personal joys of traveling is to remind myself that the sanitized lifestyle we live in the US is not the only way – people of Morocco have lived on the output of these same meat and fish markets for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, and have survived to tell the tale, so if the apocalypse comes and we lose refrigeration, I have faith that humanity will survive. I find this mindset to be very helpful when I walk past a display of hanging entrails or see flies buzzing around a freshly cut sheep skull with dozens of kittens scurrying about scavenging whatever they can. American women are a novelty in this kind of market, so be ready for some attention. Respectful, friendly, flirty attention at its best. Many of the vendors are happy to strike a pose for your Instagram posts.
Per my request, this was where Said left us on our own to shop for souvenirs, but bless his heart, he didn’t leave us entirely alone – he left us with an adorable young guy to chaperone us, like a junior tour guide in training. We ran the poor guy ragged, three ladies darting in and out of every shop where some brightly colored bauble caught our eye. At one place a beautifully decorated door hanging on a wall caught my eye, and upon Junior Joey’s approval (“Yes, this is a reputable shop”) we ended up staying there for the next two hours. You can read more about that in my separate post about how to haggle like a pro.
We arrived back at our hotel around 9pm tired, smiling and full of cultural wonder. Five years later, my girls and I still agree that our one day in Tangier was the highlight of our two-week trip to Spain, made all the better because we did it on a spontaneous whim.
How to find Said: http://www.saidtours.com/en/
Who else has done a day trip to Tangier? Share your experience in the comments below!