Crossing the Straight of Gibraltar from Spain to Morocco has long been on my bucket list. There is something so fascinating about the point where the European and Islamic worlds meet. Clearly there has been an interchange of culture for centuries that can be seen in Spanish architecture on the northern side, however, the two places are surprisingly similar yet vastly different. Something you really need to see for yourself.
How to Cross
The trip was surprisingly easy and straightforward. There are many places to cross, but the most frequent and shortest services leave from Tarifa. Tarifa is also the only way to get to downtown Tangier as other ferries tend to go to Tangier Med which is nearly an hour by free shuttle bus (usually included in the ticket price) to Tangier. There is also only one weekly ferry from Gibraltar so unless you want that exact date and time, Tarifa is easier.
To get to Tarifa there are daily buses from Sevilla or other cities in Southern Spain. I was staying in Sevilla for New Years Eve and was a bit too tired to make it all the way to Morocco so I spent the night in Cádiz, another classical Spanish port city.
From Cádiz, I got up early to catch a 7am bus to Tarifa. From the Cádiz station there were departures at 7:00, 9:00, and 10:15, but I wanted to make it all the way to Fez in Morocco so I had to leave early for the long day.
The journey to Tarifa was about 1:45 but it could be closer to 2 hours with normal traffic. From the station I walked 15 minutes downhill through a beautiful city leading me right to the Tarifa Port. The palm trees, sunny skies, light sea breeze and beautiful Spanish architecture reminded me quite a lot of San Diego. The coolest part was when I was nearing the port. I couldn’t quite see the coast line yet as the buildings blocked my view, but as I turned left down the final stretch I caught a glimpse that left me speechless. Africa. Literally across the water. You can see it. Unreal. I had no idea they were actually this close.
At the port, I purchased a one way ticket for 38 euros. There is a boat leaving almost every hour. See pictures of the schedules below. Morocco is one hour earlier and two during Ramadan.
When getting on the boat, I suggest lining up early. People start queueing for their ferry departure about 45 minutes prior. Leaving Spain was fairly easy and quick, but the reason you want to be in that line early is because once you get on the boat, Moroccan authorities stamp your passport into Morocco on the ship, and that onboard line takes significantly longer. If you end up at the back of that, you could spend your whole boat ride waiting for your passport stamp. As I was a little earlier, it only took me ~20 minutes in line but I missed photographing the departure from Spain.
Once docked in Morcco, getting off was super simple. A few guards simply check passports for stamps and the lines move really quick.
Port of Tangier
Moroccan authorities have done a really nice job cleaning up the modern looking port in Tangier. I was expecting to be instantly hassled by touts upon leaving, but the atmosphere now is totally chill. A few people asking you about money change services and some taxi guys that are constrained to just the taxi area. It was much more chill than I thought.
Since I was going to Fez, I needed to make my way from the port to the train station. There are several trains from Tangier to Fez everyday but the most relevant ones are the 10:30 am and the 12:50 pm. There are a few more earlier in the morning, but then a huge afternoon gap until evening trains. You can get a taxi to the station from the port, but as it was a nice morning and I wanted to see a bit of Tangier, I went for the ~40 walk to the station.
I was quite happy I did the walk; however, because just before the station I came across a brand new mall where I was able to get a Moroccan SIM card, withdraw money, and do some grocery shopping for snacks on my train ride to Fez. The mall is just a couple minutes walk from the train station towards the coast, but it can easily be missed unless you know it’s there.
I was absolutely blown away to find out a Moroccan SIM card with 2gb of data costs just 40 Durham or approximately $4. It took about 5 minutes to get and all they needed to do was scan my passport and set up the account on my phone.
Train To Fez
Getting a ticket again was extremely straightforward. The station is under construction so the beautiful new train hall is closed. Passengers are directed towards a temporary waiting area to buy tickets. I got a one way to Fez on the 12:50 for 110 durham in second class. They said no first class tickets were available, but the train was pretty empty so second class wasn’t bad at all. All the compartments have air conditioning anyways.
The train ride was smooth all the way to Fez with more people slowly getting on as we stopped in smaller towns throughout the Moroccan countryside. The train never got full and I was always able to keep the seat next to me open though.
Arrival in Fez
Once in Fez, I exited the station and walked straight forward to the area with all the red cabs. I took a red taxi to get to my hostel and the price was 50 durham without the meter. I learned later that I could have crossed the street to flag a red cab driving around and got a better rate using the meter but for prices this low, it wasn’t really worth it. I think the taxis waiting outside the station will be quite reluctant to use the meter, but ones driving around will be more inclined.