Tangier: An Unexpected Disappointment

You know when you walk into a city and it touches your heart? As if the air is full of magic and anything can happen?

Well, that’s not Tangier.

Usually, I start these blog posts with things to do, but in this city it’s best to start with what to avoid. Be prepared for an incredibly negative review of this city. In addition, I’m side-eyeing all of you who Instagrammed Tangier as if it was the shit when it was actually just shit. And if you’re going to argue with me about this in my comments section, you’re welcome to do so, but you’ll never change my mind and I am judging you.

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Before Leaving America, The Language, and What to Pack

Visas are not required for American citizens. At customs, they’ll just stamp your passport and you can move on. Just don’t forget your passport.

What to pack depends on what time of year you’re visiting. I imagine during the summer it is pretty hot, but I went in the winter and it was absolutely freezing. Bring your thickest socks and warmest coat. Tangier is between two bodies of water, The Mediterranean and the Atlantic, and is down wind from the Atlas mountains so there’s lots of wind and moisture making a cold day even more miserable.

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Bring an adapter AND converter or a 2-in-1 for the electrical outlets. They are the same as Europe.

English, Spanish, French, or Arabic is acceptable here. Even better if you speak all four since they will speak in all of those languages within one sentence. It’s like if they don’t know a word in one language, they’ll say it in the language they do know it in, and that switches throughout. But you’ll get the gist, fa sho.

If you want to change your money at the airport, that’s fine. The difference is not that much in the city if you’re changing over $320 (you get a special rate). In general, 10 dirham is equal to approximately $1 USD.

How to get there and how to leave

By plane– Tangier has an international airport, so you can fly in from pretty much anywhere and it will probably be cheaper. Even if you’re flying to Spain, maybe check Tangier first and see if it’s cheaper because it’s only a $35 ferry ride to Spain. Your taxi from the airport should cost no more than 150 dirhams or $15 to the medina (market in city center).

Train or bus Tangier is a well-connected city from Casablanca, Rabat, and Marrakesh and is easily accessible by train or bus. The Tangier bus station is called Gare routiere. Here you’ll find like 8 different buses taking you to any and all cities. Just outside of the station are also Grand Taxis looking to transport up to 6 people for triple the price of a bus ticket, but the difference isn’t huge (For example: a bus ticket to Chefchaouen was $2, the grand taxi was $6). They are parked under signs that show where they are going.

The bus stop in Tangier is about 2 kilometers (1.5 miles) from the medina. Walking to the medina, you’ll need to get to the main road opposite it and make a right. Go straight for 10 minutes and you’ll hit the boulevard. At the roundabout make a left and go straight until you hit the Kasbah (old fort/castle).

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The walk is about 20 minutes. If you have a lot of luggage, I suggest hiring a taxi for 50 dirhams or ($5) or take a petit taxi (the green cars with TAXI signs at the top) for about 10-20 dirhams ($1-2).

If you’re walking to the bus stop from the medina, just walk along the boulevard.  At the second roundabout make a right, walk for 10 minutes, then when you see a bunch of buses and taxis you’ll see the bus station labeled Gare Routiere.

Leaving from Tangier, you’ll want to buy a ticket within the station. Go to the kiosk with your city listed on it. The times and prices listed online are either non-existent or are wrong. I suggest going the day before and figuring out the time schedule. You don’t necessarily have to buy your ticket ahead of time, you can hop on the bus and someone will come around and collect money.  I always bought my ticket ahead of time, though.

I only know the times for Chefchaoen, which leaves every 1.5 hours starting at 5:30AM. The price is 20 dirhams ($2) per person and 10 dirhams ($1) for each piece of luggage. The buses are cushioned with air conditioning, but no bathroom. If it’s raining, the water will definitely leak inside the bus also, so just expect to be a little wet. You can buy food at the restaurant inside the bus station (they have the best omelets, olives, and coffee in all of Tangier, and all for the price of 20 dirhams or $2).

Ferry

The price from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier by ferry is 29 Euros or $35 one-way. Keep in mind, it doesn’t take you directly into the city, you’ll need a taxi if you’re staying inside the medina from the port. Spain is only 14 kilometers away, but the ferry takes 1-2 hours.

What to avoid in Tangier

Tangier. Jk, not really.IMG_0503.jpg

Guides.

No doubt the first thing you probably read about before coming here were the faux guides and to “just say no,” because the guides get really aggressive. But really, just say no. There are plenty of “students” wanting to “practice their English,” or want to help you take a picture, or want to help you find your way, but really they’re faux guides that will ask you for a tip after showing you around the medina. And even if you feel kind enough to give them some change, they may ask for more. Whatever you do, whether you get one or not, do not let them walk you back home. That way you can tell them to fuck off and not fear them waiting for you outside of your front door every time you leave. However, they will follow you. So good luck.

I got into a shouting match with one of these faux guides who I repeatedly told no and he followed me home.  He started arguing with me saying I owed him money for him “guiding” me home (I knew the way). We yelled at each other in the street, while people passed by and paid no mind, as if it was a regular occurrence.  They were not alarmed and did not stop to help.  A fellow blogger said something similar happened to him except he was kidnapped, then saved, then kidnapped by his rescuers, and finally rescued by a hostel worker.  So don’t expect help.

IMG_0726.JPGI went into my house and locked the door.  The guide waited outside. My friend (a novice traveler) got scared and gave him $1 but then the guide said it was too little.  So he shuffled back in and brought out more money.  Still it was too little for him. Finally he left with $8.

Honestly, I would never have given him money, but I understand if you’re scared. Instead, I suggest you threaten to call the police, which is punishable for up to 3 months in jail for pestering you. So really, don’t feel bad. Don’t let them use guilt on you.

Also, don’t feel bad if you get played once or twice, no matter how much you’ve read on it because it really is a hard thing to get away from. And honestly, they do come off as nice and helpful at first, and it’s not my character to just distrust every human being I come in contact with. So just know its not you, you’re a good person. It’s them.  They make you into a hateful human being.

Food Inside the Medina.

If you ever ask someone for a suggestion on a place to eat, they are always going to lead you to some kitchy restaurant with carpets on the walls and extremely overpriced food. Don’t eat there. Just turn around. Also, I found hair in every single meal I ate. So…there’s that.

Even if you try to find a “local” place or what they call “fast food” the meat has been out for awhile and the meals don’t look that appetizing albeit are cheaper. In addition, if you try to order at one of the two cafes in the city, don’t order a hamburger, unless you want to eat this:

Drug Dealers.

Although illegal, lots of Moroccan males do it and hash has been part of their culture for generations. Because of this, it’s extremely easy to get. Someone is bound to ask you if you want some hash (particularly if you’re a male).

Probably a good idea to steer away since it is a punishable crime for 10 years in jail and a fine. Also the seller may turn you into the police for a reward. Maybe smoke it if you’re in someone’s house, or buy it if you’re very near to your hotel and can drop it off, but not anywhere else.

Couscous.

Friday’s are holy days in Morocco and the dish of the day is couscous. However, unless you like bland grainy balls of non-flavored nothing, then try it once and then pass on it for the rest of your life. Some people like it, though so maybe eat this after you smoke your hash that I just told you not to smoke.

Shopping Too Early.

If you’re traveling through Morocco, I would just wait to buy things. They’re replicated throughout the country.

Buying Carpets.

Make sure you have done your research on carpets before you buy one. There is no set price for carpets because it is dependent on style, quality, manufacture type (hand-made or machine made).   Make sure you know before hand what to check for before you get ripped off because it’s incredibly easy for them to overcharge you by THOUSANDS of dollars. For example, make sure you do burn tests on caterpillar and cactus silk carpets.  Check for knot count and make sure the fringe isn’t sewn on, but actually the ending of the carpet.

I had no idea how many fucking options there were with carpets and honestly had no idea how to negotiate for this until I went back home and started Googling. And even then there was so much information I was like forget it. I think generally, I would pay no more than $100 for a wool carpet (8×10) or $40 for a smaller one, and no more than $1000 for a caterpillar silk carpet (8×10), $650 (5×7), and $80 for a very small one.  The large ones should include door to door shipping (make sure they package and put your address on it in front of you).

Public Service Announcement: If you’re a carpet expert, PLEASE comment on this post. I would love to know what’s a “good” price for different carpets.

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Things to do in Tangier

Nothing. If I were to give any advice on this place, it would just be to get out as fast as possible. Below is a list of things to do, but keep in mind I don’t recommend any of them.

Kasbah Museum

This was the best thing in Tangier, but still not that great and definitely skippable if you’re exploring more of Morocco. It used to be the sultans palace and was turned into a museum for Roman, Portuguese, Arabic, and Berber artifacts. The charge is 20 dirhams or $2 and is open 10AM-6PM everyday except for Tuesday.img_0698

It’s right next to the “punishment” door. It’s called punishment because back in the day, the soldiers would close the gates to the city at sundown and if you were still outside past curfew you would just have to stay outside until morning. Also this is where public lashing would take place.

The American Legation Museumimg_0631 This place got SO many good reviews on Trip Advisor and I can’t understand why. This place was established in 1821 because of the American-Moroccan Treaty of Friendship in 1786 (which basically means Morocco put the United States on its list of countries it will trade with). Morocco was the first country to recognize the U.S. as a new independent nation from England. The legation, now museum, was the first property acquired abroad by the U.S. Government as a gift from the sultan. It served as a legation (which is basically an embassy, but with a more permanent connotation) until 1956. Inside the museum you can see a bunch of pictures from the old days, random artifacts and descriptions regarding the early days of the friendship.

In my opinion, boring as hell. The cost is 20 dirhams or $2, or 50 dirhams or $5 for a guided tour, if you’re interested. Open from Monday-Friday from 10AM-5PM and Saturday from 10AM -3PM. It is closed Sunday and Moroccan holidays (which you can find in the Life & Culture section at the end of this blog).

The Medina

The Medina is basic at best. You’re bound to run into a “guide.” The guides are a double edged sword. The first guide may be beneficial since they do point out things you’re “supposed” to see (such as the first bakery in Tangier, the first Catholic church in Tangier, the first mosque in Tangier, the first school for women in Tangier, the first Hebrew temple in Tangier, etc., etc.) The guide can answer any questions you have, and help you get from point A to B as the streets are a bit confusing the first time (I believe there are 900+ just within the medina). They are also relatively cheap since you’re just tipping them whatever you want to (unless you get an aggressive piece of shit like the one mentioned above, and in that case, they’re expensive.)

I recommend Abdullah. He’s this little old man that shuffled out of the shadows from nowhere and took us on this grand tour to see the houses of his old friends such as Keith Richards, Tennessee Williams, Malcolm Forbes, and Barbara Hutton (I did not know who she was, but click on her name, she has a fascinating history.) He also showed us where Salvador Dali lived, places that Matisse painted, and the bars they all used to hang out.

The Matisse painting called Le Marabou and the actual building

He tried to leave me several times, but I kept asking him more questions. This is how I knew he wasn’t in it for the money and felt more comfortable hanging out with him. I asked him for his contact information, but he said just to take a picture because he’s famous and everyone knows him (he also says he had a role in James Bond-Spectre as a receptionist, have not validated that information. I looked up a lot of things he said, and most are true). So basically, show someone on the street this picture

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and ask for Abdullah (because I’m sure there is only one Abdullah in all of Tangier), who works for the official ministry of tourism, and lives in the Kasbah. That actually might work since we ran into him everyday since we met him…

We spent 2 hours with him and tried to buy him dinner but he declined saying his wife would get jealous that he didn’t eat her food. **heart eye emoji**

Herculean Caves

I didn’t do this, but there are caves outside of the city that you can visit.

Where to Stay and Where to Eat

If you want local and inexpensive seafood, walk along the boulevard on the coast and there are a plethora of restaurants to choose from that 1) taste better, and 2) are less expensive.

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I would suggest a place to stay, but the place I stayed was overpriced and a piece of shit. This man got 167 5-star reviews on AirBnB but literally the place would never pass code.  You had to climb up the stairs with both hands and feet, a midget wouldn’t have been able to pass through the doorways, and when it rained, it rained on the inside as well.  I can only tell you not to stay in the L’air de Tanger, but that’s about it.  His breakfast looked amazing, but lacked any taste whatsoever.

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Life & Culture

Tangier has been a port town since forever due to it’s convenient access by sea between the Mediterranean countries of Europe and entrance to Africa.   You can look up a more detailed history here, but in summary, it has been occupied by the Berbers, Romans, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and British at some points in time and sometimes multiple points in time. Because of this, different religions have come through the area and stayed. You’ll see evidence of that with mosques, synagogues, and Catholic churches all being built within the same vicinity. The doors and door knockers mark what religion the person is inside.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Tangier was a safe house for international spying activities and one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Tangier after watching the TV series: “El tiempo entre costuras” about a Spanish spy living in Tangier sending messages through stitching in her dresses.

During the 1950’s, Tangier was declared an international city and was ruled under a collective of several countries, so there were lots of people coming in and out. This was when it used to be the hip spot for writers, artists, and musicians such as Salvador Dali, Matisse, Tennesse Williams, Keith Richards, etc. Basically, it was lit. But in the 60s. It’s no longer like that. It’s just dusty and run down now. I know you don’t believe me because the tag #TravelerInTangier may show you these amazing photos of Tangier, but it’s called SATURATION.  Also, these are snippets of a city that does not really look like that.  Don’t think it is representative of the city and that you will be surrounded by beauty.

Since Tangier is a port town, lots of transactions are being made, including illegal ones. There are people looking to illegally immigrate to Spain, human trafficking, and drug trafficking, amongst other things. So there is a lot of mistrust and a lot of shady dealings, on top of just looking like a shady city in general.

The Tangerines may be offensive to the tourists, but when watching them pass by each other on the street are very gentle to each other. Everyone knows everyone and are genuinely happy to help each other. For example, multiple times I’ve asked for change and a store owner didn’t have any and waved to someone just passing by on the street like, “Hey, you got change?” and they would stop, hand over some money, and continue on their way. No exchange or anything, just provided change. Or the guides, regardless of how annoying, would stop and pet the heads of children, or talk to old women in the medina, which gave me hope that they knew how to be human.

Keep in mind all food is organic and non-GMO here so expect seeds in your grapes. Wouldn’t want you to be surprised like my travel partner who screamed, “THERE’S SEEDS IN THESE GRAPES? THESE ARE NON-GMO?! IS THIS THE MIDDLE AGES? WE BRED OUT SEEDS YEARS AGO!” A little bit of a basic reaction, but just in case you think the same…

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The traditional garb for men looks like a long kaftan with a hood. The hood is pointed. So it definitely looked eerie to my American eyes as suspiciously similar to the KKK hoods. But obviously they are not KKK, it’s just their style. Don’t be alarmed.

Speaking of alarms, no need for an alarm clock in Morocco. The call to prayer will surely awaken you at dawn. Some holy days to look out for are:

  • Fridays are holy days for Moroccans and everything is shut down. Avoid this day to do museums.
  • During Ramadan, stores are closed (the time changes every year, so look this up)
  • Muhammad’s birthday, everything is closed (the time changes every year, so look this up)
  • Festival of Sacrifice or Eid Al-Adha where they go around and slaughter sheep. Could be kind of a cool thing to observe, but just know people will be with their families, not working. (the time changes every year so look this up)

This is a Muslim country, so be aware alcohol is not served in common establishments so you can leave that for another time.

In summary, skip Tangier, move onto another city.

8 Comments

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  1. Man that is so crazy, I had such an amazing time in Marrakesh, Morocco back in 2010, I would have imaged the experience to be similar since Tangier is so close (in relative terms of course, I realize they are over 300 miles apart) and have such a similar . I am so bummed to hear you had a less than amazing experience.

    Some of the things I did on my trip:
    -Went to the souk and meet with lots of people who crafted their own products.
    -Traveled to a near city called Essaouria by the coast and saw a carpet making store, where the owner walked us around and showed us his workers crafting items by hand. We also visited the castle that they called the Castle in The sand where we found more open markets lots of fisherman, it was pretty cool seeing them toss around buckets of fish and get them prepped for sale, there was surfing , but I went when it was cold so I didn’t give it a go.
    -Visited a village (on the way to Essaouria, don’t know where they were exactly on the map) of women who made almond butter & oils by hand.
    -Wondered around Marrakesh and found a hot baths spa (which was amazing and very very all up in your business haha).
    -Visited the Ysev Saint Laurent gardens, called Jardin Majorelle, so extremely gorgeous.
    -Visited the Dar Si Said Museum

    Tangier is still on my list of travels but I will have to be mindful of your whoas and experiences.

    -Nicole

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    • Hey Nicole! First and foremost thank you so much for reading. And secondly thank you for taking the time to comment! But nah girl, Tangier aint nothing compared to Marrakech. Tangier was occupied by the Spanish and Marrakech by the French when Morocco was split into 2 so the culture is way different. I’ll be sure to update you when I post my Marrakech blog post and also Essaouria so maybe then it will be easier to compare my preferences with yours! Did you write a blog on Marrakech?? Send me the link!

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  2. similar cultural aspect** ( forgot to finish my thought )

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  3. I’ve been to Morocco several times (Marrakech, Atlas and desert) but never to Tangier and your post justified my decisions. Love your vivid descriptions of the Medina and your take on the guides – that also happens in Marrakech too. You just have to shake your head, ignore and move on. I love Morocco and will go back & look forward to reading and seeing more about your trip and picking up some valuable tips. Thanks!

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  4. great article. Marrakech has been on my bucket list since I was a teenager. i will look out for the shady guides and regular tourist traps if i do decide to visit Tangiers. thank you for writing in great details, very helpful to fellow travelers like me.

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  5. Abdullah was our “guide” when my husband and I visited Tangier, too! He was great and I my favorite picture of him is him showing us some public fountain with a big old doobie in his hand.
    Our experience was different because we were there almost a month and I was doing an internship at a clinic while he was studying language so that took up most of our time, BUT I have to say I was disappointed in Tangier. It was seedy as hell, and not really in a charming way. I did love Chefchouen, though!

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