On this Day 4 of a road trip in Andalusia we went on a daytrip from Jerez to Tarifa and across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, Morocco. The distance is not far, but it proved to be a world apart.
This is #4 of seven articles from a journey to southern Spain. It is diary based.
This post starts with a map of this part of the car trip, continues with the plan we made before leaving and finishes with what we actually did. Read the introduction to this trip.
The Plan (= my best tips to Tangier)
0800 – 1000, Jerez – Tarifa
We are going on a day trip to Tangier in Morocco from our hotel in Jerez. This means we have to get up early for a drive of 120 km, 1:45 hours. We have a choice between two routes just to make it a round trip, but also for the sake of variation compared to yesterday.
1100 – 1000, Tarifa – Tangier by ferry
There are boats from Algeciras (closest to Gibraltar) and Tarifa in Spain. The advice is to depart from the latter. The timetable for the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier shows that fast boats run every two hours. It is an hour long passage in comfortable large fast ships right into the port of Tangier. We have seats for the departure at 1100, but must be in Tarifa at least one hour before that to pick up our tickets.
1000 – 1700, Sightseeing in Tangier
Arrival at 1000 local time due to time zones. Tangier is concentrated on the waterfront promenade with a mixture of colonial and Arabic style. It’s about the Medina (old town) up from the harbour with its ancient fortress at the very top (Kasbah) and narrow streets. Two places of note, Petit Socco and Grand Socco. Outside this is the probably boring town where most of the locals would live. Tangier had a cosmopolitan past fifty years ago, but fell asleep. It still has some old private palaces around, and caves outside town for a half-day outing. Not for us.
If you follow a tour group you are (mis-)led to half the family of the guide to buy something. Leaving the port on your own you are immediately “attacked” by guides and sellers. There are apparently no problems doing the town on your own, if only you get away from the port area. There are reports of very aggressive sellers.
Gadling Travel site has a guide to Tarifa. Norwegian Dinside.no mentions Tangier as one of the top ten cities to visit, quoting Lonely Planet. Here’s a bragging page from Moroccan authorities and a blogger page. Both Wikitravel and Wikipedia have instructive pages about Tangier.
Here is a link and another about the hassling guides we’ll meet in the port and in town. Here are the entries of a woman who writes on these chat pages.
To take it down to earth again here follows a short article about what is worth seeing, followed by a private album on Picasa. Finally, a simple Google image search and a link to Lonely Planet.
1700 – 2000, Tanger – Tarifa
The boat is leaving at 1700 local time. I do not understand why it’s scheduled to three hours despite the passing of time zones.
2000 – 2200, Tarifa – Jerez
Transportation stage of two hours the same way we came, or with a round trip. Dinner on the ferry or roadside.
Getting started – the drive to Tarifa
As my plan shows we were in some ways prepared for this day-trip and most of us had been to the Middle East and North Africa before. On the other hand we were struck by the huge difference that we encountered just 14 km from mainland Europe. In short we had quite a culture shock, an exciting, intriguing, and indeed pleasant one as such.
We had to get up early and managed to get a good breakfast at our Jerez de la Frontera hotel before taking the road to the Spanish port of Tarifa. At first we had a bit of a problem finding the correct road past Cadiz but eventually ended up on the one we were looking for, the E5. It helps having a good map-reader in the car.
The road to Tarifa only left us with one memory, the one of the all the surfer camps we passed as we were closing in on Tarifa. This part of the coast, the Costa de la Luz, is famous for its good beaches for surfers. We were heading elsewhere and found the port easily. The parking lot right on the quay suited our needs fine and proved affordable for a day’s stay. I went to the booking office, got our tickets and we queued up for the ferry.
The ferry across the Strait
The ferry was as I expected from the website pictures. It was fast, comfortable and modern. We crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in less than an hour and landed in the port of Tangier, Morocco. Most other passengers on board had small stickers attached to their chest suggesting they were part of guided groups.
In the terminal we were approached by a local apparently offering his guiding services but we rejected him. Instead we walked out of the port area and onto the pavement along the broad boulevard immediately between the port and the city. In contrast to what I had read there were no others offering their services to us.
First impressions, into the Medina
Old colonial style buildings face the waterfront and right behind them the Medina (old city) kind of climbs up towards the Kasbah fortress on top of the hill. I had forgotten my copied guidebook pages and we were left to our memories and the basic orientation principle of Tangier: Upwards and to the right from the port means walking the streets of the Medina ending with the Kasbah on top. If you walk down you will eventually get to the port.
We asked our way to a proper hole in the wall to the Medina, but did not find the easy one. Nonetheless we ended up on a vibrant and colourful street market, continued further up the road and asked our way once again. That advice led us to the Place Grand Socco (official name is Place du 9 Avril 1947). This is one of the historical landmarks of Tangier.
Self-proclaimed guide no. 1
There we were approached by quite a few guides or should I say hustlers. We sent them away, but one of them was quite persistent, claimed he had been working as an official guide and he spoke good English. For some reason we followed his advice and entered a hole in the wall which lead us right into the Medina.
The self-appointed guide insisted he wouldn’t be our guide. He just wanted to show us his city. His advice was to avoid the restaurants on the Grand Socco square. “They are dirty.” He had no sooner said this when a waiter or cook approached us with a dirty apron and saliva on his cheek offering us a table in his restaurant. We politely rejected the offer.
Our man led us a few metres further on into the Medina, to a building obviously housing a restaurant. We were actually looking for a place to have lunch and were only semi-reluctantly led upstairs to a pleasant surprise. If you with no particular experience have a notion of what a typical Moroccan or North African restaurant would look like, this is it. To us it looked genuine. It probably was as well and must have been here for decades. It’s called Mamounia Palace.
Lunch with live music
The restaurant was shaped like a T with low seats along the walls facing the tables and the centre of each adjoining room. We were placed on the perimeter of one the T-arms. The room was decorated with carpets on the walls and the floor, paintings and other local artifacts. There were open windows to the Medina but as we were on the first floor the heat, noise and smells at the outside did not disturb.
A four-man strong band was playing traditional music in the cross-section of the T and in the adjoining room a large group of tourists were about to finish their meal. Later an even larger group were led into our section of the restaurant. Our little family group of five sat there on the outskirts, seemingly the odd persons out in this entourage. Was it a tourist trap? Well …!
Anyway, we were very content about this. We received additional attention from the waiters; the band acknowledged a new member on the Moroccan guitar (the youngest in my family) and the set four-course menu was delicious.
The soup was a tasty vegetable soup, followed by a thin flaky pastry shell filled with meat and generously sprinkled with cinnamon. The main course was a less exciting couscous plate with boiled vegetables (carrots etc.) and chicken legs. The dessert I can’t remember. It was all tasty and a perfect meal for us, having only this single opportunity on our day-trip to Morocco.
A rooftop with a great view
Upon leaving the restaurant we were once again approached by our self-appointed guide. We tried to send him away and were not at all interested in his services. Somehow he managed to once again hit the right strings, this time by asking if we wanted to get a good viewing platform for photographing the city.
He had clearly noticed our cameras and led us straight away down the road a bit and into a building. It was a massive souvenir shop, three storeys high. Naturally. The guide must have seen our immediate negative reaction and swiftly led us straight through the store, up several flights of stairs and right up onto the flat roof of the building.
What a fantastic experience!
The 360 degrees view of the Medina from the Port to the Kasbah was amazing. As we were taking the stairs the calls for prayer started and when we stepped out on the roof the voices of the Muezzins seemed to come from everywhere around us.
There were concrete square buildings with flat roofs everywhere. Some were painted in a varied range of colours and some not at all. They all had satellite dishes mounted and laundry hanging to dry in the heat of the sun.
After a while I memorized the geographical bearing of the Kasbah in relation to where we stood and wanted to do like Elvis; leave the building. That was of course easier said than done, it was after all a going tourist business concern even in the midst of the praying hour in the month of Ramadan. I am not one for souvenirs but I must admit seeing some very good handicraft in that shop.
Eventually we slid out into the street and said a final goodbye to our guide. I gave him ten euros for the job. He had not been with us for long and we did not like him, but the quality of the restaurant and in particular the roof-top view was worth it. He was on the other hand not satisfied and started to make a row about the low payment. We gave him a couple of euros more in coins and sent him away with some words in Arabic.
I could not remember what a proper guide would be charging and this man was clearly taking a risk in trying to guide a group of unwilling followers. In any case we walked off and entered the Jardins de la Mendoubia through a hole in the Medina wall.
Up to the Kasbah
This park next to the Grand Socco was a place for grandmothers with young children and sleeping men on the grass. We wanted to reach the top of the hill before too late, and split company. Some took a taxi and two of us walked up the long and steep Rue de la Kasbah that I figured out was going our way, to the Kasbah. Quite right.
The Kasbah, or fortress of Tangier, is today merely a continuation of the Medina with a distinct concrete wall facing the sea and with obscure fortifications the other way. Much to the dismay of a group of young men wanting to guide us, we walked alone along the wall taking in the smells of private house kitchens and the sounds of scooters hurrying past.
Self-proclaimed guide no. 2
As I was filming into one of the alleys a man dressed in a long white djellaba emerged from his house and smiled at us. He happened to speak very good English, was polite and very knowledgable about Tangier. He was to become our second guide that day, a day we had been intent on handling without outside assistance. Like his predecessor he mentioned nothing about money, only took up a position of keen interest in helping us around. Naturally we knew what was in it, but like I said: He was good.
We were led into the maze of small streets and alleys that makes up the Kasbah. Apparently affluent Europeans are now returning to Tangier, forcing up the cost of real estate and leading to a necessary renovation of this primarily residencial area. Our guide told us of several foreign dignitaries and famous artists who had been residing here or paying a visit there.
A rooftop drink
After a while we felt like sitting down somewhere and our guide had a solution to that need. There is a large square on the north-eastern side of the walled Kasbah area. Situated right on the wall is a restaurant, a tiny one spread out on several floors. It was a cool, relaxing place with a lovely view of the port and the Medina. We sat down on one of Le Salon Bleu’s terraces for a drink and some fruit and simply breathed deeply the feeling of being in Tangier. We felt we had plenty of time, and so did the waiters. But who cared?
Meanwhile our guide sat down in the shade across the square with a newspaper. He was not going to let go of a tip that day. He even confided in my as we met an hour later that he was indeed looking forward to that. I made it clear to him that I had realised that long ago. We thus had an accord but we set no price.
The family of five and the guide now left the Kasbah area and entered the even narrower streets of the Medina. The clock was ticking towards our departure and one of the boys suddenly came up with the idea that he wanted an earring. Our guide really went for it, leading us from shop to shop trying to find the right place. That wasn’t easy, but the rest of us managed to see places in the Medina we would hardly have seen otherwise.
Into the narrow streets
It was utterly fascinating and certainly more so with few other tourists around. Tour groups are clearly being led other places than into the deepest core of the Medina. This is where only locals go. We did not at any point feel insecure only amazed at seeing all the hole-in-the-wall workshops were craftsmen of all sorts were doing what they had been doing for decades, not to say for centuries. This was exotic, and it was only a few kilometres from Europe.
At the end we had to stop looking for the earring and asked for the way down to the port. Our guide followed us as far as he could, that is, until he saw a policeman outside the Medina. In any case, he showed us an easier way out of the Medina than we had finding the way in. I gave him twenty euros, he looked sorry and asked for thirty but I said no. He made no big argument and I felt the price was fair. He had been good and twenty can’t be bad in Morocco for a couple of hour’s unplanned work.
About the guides
As I emphasized in my plan and reiterated above we had no intention of using a local guide. Looking back, the Medina is not that big and you will find your way quite easily. On the other hand we came out lucky with each our guides, different as they were. It might be a good idea to not agree on a price beforehand, they will anyway try to use the tricks our guides did – to say they were only helping us, they were no guides and so on. In my view they then take the risk of being underpaid, not the tourist.
Sometimes it pays off for them as well and there is no shortage of guides. Besides, accepting one guide scares away the touts. Let me add that the practice of using a guide is also a way to pay for your visit to this destination, and not only leave your money on a Spanish ferry or with a tour company.
This video is the result of a daytrip across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain. It contains photographs and video clips from the Medina.
The return to Tarifa
In the port terminal we passed the customs check sending our bags through a scanning machine like in airports. It was sounding the alarm all the time but no one seemed to pay any attention, and certainly not the officials manning the machine. The passport control was far more serious. The return journey passed as relaxed as the other way.
Back in Tarifa, Spain we made it a roundtrip back to Jerez, but we came home very late. The time was about to turn 2300 in the evening when we parked the car at our hotel and went into the neighbourhood looking for a restaurant. We had not eaten properly since lunch in Tangier. Thanks to the Spanish habit of late dinners we were able to digest some savoury stuff at a local restaurant shortly before midnight.
It had been a very long day, full of impressions. I’m already starting to plan a vacation to the parts of Morocco that is supposed to be even more intriguing than Tangier. I’m thinking of Fez and Marrakech. Tomorrow is going to start somewhat more relaxed. We are going to Seville (Sevilla in Spanish).
All chapters in this series
This post is #4 from my Andalusia road trip in 2012. Find all articles in this series below.
- Introduction: We had a fantastic 15 days’ vacation in the southern Spanish province of Andalusia making the classic golden roundtrip to the famous cities of Seville, Cordoba and Granada. And a lot more.
- Malaga, Marbella and Ronda: The first two days of our Tour of Andalucia started in Malaga, continued with a short stop in Marbella and is mostly about lovely days in Ronda.
- Ronda, Gibraltar and Jerez: On Day 3 in Andalusia we took the mountain road from Ronda down to Gibraltar and continued across the lowlands on the Spanish Atlantic coast to Jerez de la Frontera, home of Sherry.
- Tangier: Day 4 in Andalusia is a daytrip from Jerez to Tarifa and across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, Morocco. The distance is not far, but it proved to be a world apart. (THIS)
- Seville: Days 5 and 6 of our Andalusia tour were spent in Seville, previously and today one of the world’s most important cities.
- Córdoba: We visited Córdoba on Day 7 of our stay in Andalusia. This day we were on the move from Seville to Granada and stopped for a few hours in extreme heat in this former Moorish capital.
- Granada: Days 8 to 15 in Andalusia were mostly spent in Granada. I also made a day-trip to the Renaissance towns of Baeza and Úbeda inland and a drive along the coast.