Many years ago, I had an opportunity to travel to Tangier, Morocco. Although I had and have traveled to many different countries over the years, Morocco was an especially interesting and eye-opening experience.
Tangier serves as Europe’s gateway to Africa. It’s an interesting blend of cultures and influences that are unique in Morocco.
Mention Tangier to any worldly traveler and you might get a startled look: It was long considered a bit sleezy and, well, mysterious – partly because of its time as a semi-independent international zone that appealed to flamboyant travelers, artists and spies. For many years, it had an unsavory reputation and visitors, while attracted to its seedy allure, didn’t tend to stay for extended visits!
In more recent years, however, things have changed, due to investments into the city. There’s a new business construction, along with a new TGB train line to Casablanca. But when I visited, things were still a little “iffy.” It made for a totally exciting adventure!
I took a very high-speed ferry from Spain to Morocco and arriving was, in and of itself, an experience. We were greeted by locals hustling their wares – wading out to meet the ferry, selling everything you could imagine. Even very small children met the boat and were so adorable, it was difficult to resist.
But I found resisting was absolutely a MUST because, once you bought something from one, you were besieged by everyone else. It was like flies to honey! They swarmed you! It was worse when we left – like they knew it was their last chance to get that final sale!
I’d never seen anyone with leprosy until I visited Morocco. It was shocking and heartbreaking to see both elderly and very young victims sitting on the curbs and in doorways. The depth of poverty was truly startling.
Conversely, the culture was beautiful and entrancing. One memory that sticks out in my mind is when we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant. I was with a tour group that consisted of tourists from France, Germany, and Spain. I was the only American. I was also the only one who sampled the local fare – the others were totally resistant to trying anything “new” or “foreign.” The garlic chicken with couscous was amazing, as were the steamed local vegetables and honey-laden dessert. I didn’t drink the heavy, fragrant tea they served (I wasn’t 100% certain about the quality of the water used to seep the tea!), but that was the only part of the meal I turned down. Because I was a willing sampler, the staff were extremely friendly toward me – unlike their response to my traveling companions who turned their noses up at the culinary offerings. I learned there and then to always be open to new foods – you miss so many wonderful experiences otherwise!
There are a few places you’ll want to take the time to visit should you find yourself in Morocco:
The Medina – the old walled city – is bustling with alleyways full of shops, teahouses and brothels (remember, it IS a port city!). You can find plenty of souvenirs here – although the deals aren’t as great as you’ll find elsewhere.
The American Legation: The United States established a diplomatic mission in Tangier in 1821. The American Legation is now a museum, located in the southwest corner of the The Medina. There’s some amazing art featured here, including a room dedicated to Paul Bowles and works by Eugene Delacroix, Yves Saint Laurent, and James McBeay.
Place de France: This is the heart of ville nouvelle (new city) and the social focal point for the middle classes in Tangier. It’s a good place to enjoy the sea view!
The Kasbah: Now a museum, known as Dar El Makhzen, the Kasbah features amazing examples of Moroccan art. It’s located high on a hill in Tangier with some good views of the ocean. The old Sultan's palace (built in the 17th century) lies within the Kasbah's walls.
Grand Socco: If you want to just chill and people watch (a favorite pastime of mine wherever I travel!), you’ll need to stop here. The Grand Socco is a large square at the main entrance of the Medina. It’s a busy transport hub and a good place to watch the chaos of traffic, carts, and people go about their daily routines.
A few more tips about your visit …
Since I was with a tour group, we walked throughout the city during my visit, but you can also take a “petit taxi.” You’ll need to watch that the driver uses the meter correctly! It’s best to negotiate the price at the beginning! You could, of course, arrange for a personal guide if you stay in a local hotel or book a day tour before you arrive.
Tangier’s hustlers (touts) are infamous within the city. A tout is a person who tries to sell you something (a good or a service) and will pester the living daylights out of you! The minute you get off your ferry or train, you are likely to meet your first tout.
Assume nothing is free! Although the locals are hospitable and friend, be wary of anything offered to you for free! A small, adorable little wisp of a girl offered me a wilted flower (okay, weed!) while I was walking through the streets. As soon as I accepted it and thanked her, her little hand was out and it was made very evident she expected payment for her gesture! Be careful when you’re offered anything – it’s rarely free.
You’ll find plenty of folks giving advice on where to buy your train ticket or ferry ticket if you haven’t pre-purchased prior to arrival. Be aware these guys work on commission. You can easily buy your own ticket and fill out your own forms. Be firm and say "no thanks" and look confident. If you really don't know where to go, then be aware you will end up paying a tip for getting help with directions, no matter how many times the offer is given for free.
You’ll also be offered a “free” guided tour around the Media – and if you accept, you’ll also find yourself at your guide’s family trinket shop. Your guide may even demand money at the end of the tour. You’ll also probably see a lot of places and shops you didn’t really want or intend to see. And that offer for a free cup of tea might include you checking out a stack of locally made carpets!
Basically, if you hear the word free, beware: the price you pay is often not in your control.
But remember your faux guides are simply people trying to make a living to support their families. While ripping off gullible tourists may not seem like the most honest way to make money, it's simply a survival tactic and you shouldn't take it too personally.
If you would like more information about visiting Morocco (and I definitely recommend adding it to your Bucket List), please click the button below and enter “MOROCCO” in the comments section. We have suppliers that will help us design a memorable visit, shy of some of the hustles and hassle!
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