Welcome Wanderlust Lovers!
What an adventure! I have to start this blog post with saying how blessed I am for where we live currently. At a moment’s notice I was able to pack up my daughter and I and hop a ferry to Africa!
Now, to those who know me and my style of traveling, I tend to lean away from taking tours. There are situations when taking a tour is the only option to participate in certain activities or have access to certain places – then I am okay with taking a tour. But for the most part I enjoy traveling more “free range” and make my own itinerary.
Well to start this tale, a friend of mine and I decided that we were going to take a day trip to Tangier, partly because I have been dying to finally visit Morocco and partly because I am on a time crunch to get 30 countries before the end of March for my 30th Birthday. She was going to be bringing her youngest baby (who is 6 months old) and I, of course, was going to be bringing my daughter with me (who is now 3).
As we continued to make plans for our day trip I could tell that she was nervous about going to Africa for the first time alone (as a woman and mother) when she suggested that we should hire a tour driver. At first I was really hesitant about wanting to take a tour. After all, I was the nerdy researcher who already had a route in mind and transportation solutions planned out to make it as easy as possible on two moms traveling with their “littles”. After thinking on it and communicating with the tour company that someone had been recommended to us, Jamal Chatt Private Tours, I started to be a little more open minded to going on a tour. The biggest highlight points for me to set up the private tour was:
1) He takes care of all the ferry transportation for us – huge burden off my shoulders
2) It was an all inclusive Private Tour – so I didn’t have to worry about other people while traveling with my toddler.
Once I saw the price for both my daughter and I, I changed my tune about private tours to a much happier tune! It included EVERYTHING, and I mean pretty much everything. I didn’t pay for anything from the time I arrived at the ferry till I sat down for lunch (lunch and souvenirs was my cost – duh).
The morning of our trip I woke up to sad news, my friend’s baby was very sick and had spent the night before in the hospital so she wasn’t going to risk taking her on our trip. That left me in a panic! Was Jamal going to still want to do the tour with just two people? What if we got all the way there and he wouldn’t do it?! Every ‘worst case’ scenario ran through my mind and it was only 5:15 in the morning! Not a great way to start the day.
After spending a few moments debating on it, I decided that we were going to go anyways. I had sent a text to Jamal (crazy early of course) letting him know the situation and prayed I’d hear from him soon. When I didn’t and it was time to go, I figured I had planned a trip anyways without a tour guide so if they didn’t want to take a tour with just two people then we would fly solo like I originally had planned.
It was an hour and a half drive from Chipiona to Tarifa where we would catch the ferry to Tangier. Thankfully, it was dark and with some music playing not only did Harmony go back to sleep but it turned into a very pleasant drive. Since it was dark, of course, I couldn’t tell you what the scenery was like but I am assuming it was very beautiful once we hit the coast because every piece of property that wasn’t beach was a resort or camp ground of some kind.
Once we arrived in Tarifa everything went like clockwork. We found parking at the ferry terminal where we could park all day in a secured parking area for a low cost. Checking in and getting our tickets was very easy with the booking assistance of Jamal Chatt Private Tours all I had to do was show them the booking number, inform them the number of people on our reservation had changed, and they handed us our tickets.
Customs is what took the longest, you had to go through customs to leave Spain to get on the ferry and then once you were on the ferry you would go through customs a second time for Morocco. (psst, make sure you take a pen with you).
Traveling Tip: As SOON as you get on the ferry I highly recommend that you get into line for customs on the Moroccan side and don’t wait till you get closer to landing in Morocco. If you wait you could risk getting turned away and having to do this process in the ferry terminal which takes MUCH longer. Also if you are traveling with anyone else in your group, keep them with you so you don’t hold up the line, the agents have to verify the names and faces of every single passport – including children.
Once we had gotten all the stamps in our passports we went and found some seats near the windows and settled in for our hour long ferry ride. Upon landing in Tangier the key is to follow the crowd. The herds lead you right out the doors where we found Jamal waiting for us with a sign in the terminal!
This is when the fun really began, we were graciously escorted to the van to start our tour and were informed by Jamal that he was going to make sure we were treated like queens! (Which is something you will see a lot if you are traveling as a mother – side note)
The tour started with a driving/sight seeing tour. This tour took us through some of the neighborhoods of Tangier which included “Kings of Oil” (which is exactly as it sounds), Little Italy, Andalusia, even a “California” area!
After we left the neighborhoods we started to climb a steep hill that took us through part of the National park, Park Rmilat, and suddenly the crest peaked and we were at the Northernmost point of Africa (or so we thought till I did more research…but we were close dang it).
Our first stop took us to the landmark of where the Atlantic and the Mediterranean meet! I was a little sad we couldn’t get down to the water itself to see where the two meet, the landmark was very cool still though. I have had the privilege of standing between two countries and four states before but I have never have stood where two oceans meet!
Here we were able to get out and explore! The beautiful scenery could stop your adventures for hours! And it was a PERFECT day for capturing it on camera. The dramatic blues against the white of the lighthouse was a perfect photo opportunity for capturing contrast and the bright colors of Morocco I was looking for. Standing proud over 1,000 feet above the crashing waves of the Atlantic, the lighthouse of Cape Spartel watches over the Strait of Gibraltar.
Next stop was one I was really looking forward to, Hercules’ Cave or also known locally as The Grottes d’Hercule. These caverns are where Hercules allegedly rested during his labors of gathering the Golden Apples which happened after he split Africa and Europe apart (known now as the two sides of the Gibraltar Straits), if you follow Greek Mythology. The caves are also known for the odd and yet naturally created opening in the shape of Africa.
I love caves, something I probably picked up from my mom who studied geology at one point of her life and always highlighted geological formations that are interesting or unique when we were traveling. So, being able to visit the Caves of Hercules (also a super nerd with Greek Mythology) was a double win for me.
Travel Tip: If you are traveling with babies or toddlers, I highly recommend putting them in a backpack carrier of some kind. I didn’t do this and regretted it, there are lots of little corners and caverns inside that your little one can run off too and will manifest in the form of a heart attack for you. I also would not recommend having a stroller in the caves. You CAN take them down there but it is slippery and steep going down – fair warning.
The next stop of our driving tour was, I think, Harmony’s favorite part of the whole day – riding camels!
This was a very fun experience to have with my daughter, I remember my first camel ride. I was on a trip to Israel with my mom when I was six and one of the ladies in our tour group was taking me around the market and she thought it would be fun for me to have camel ride.
Travel tip…agree to a price BEFORE you get on the camel.
Because the price wasn’t agreed upon prior to me riding the camel the guy who owned the camel was trying to gouge my friend for a lot of money, when she refused to pay he started walking off with his camel with me still on it! I remember a lot about that trip to Israel (surprising I know because I was six) but that memory stands out more vivid than some of the others.
This was not the case with our camel ride, our tour guide works with these owners a lot and they know not to mess with his customers. He asked if we wanted to ride down on the beach instead of next to the road and I was all for it. It was amazing! Our camel, Sabrina, was so sweet and even posed for the pictures that we stopped for several times to ensure that we were totally satisfied with our ride. The entire experience was fantastic especially knowing that my daughter is just a little younger than I was from my first camel ride and we got to experience this together.
Once we were done on the camels we loaded back up into the van and headed back for the city. From here our sightseeing tour transitioned to a walking tour. This is when we would walk through the souks and the Medina, which is like their old city center – this part I was very excited about!
Walking into the heart of Tangier, it is like walking back in time. We entered the city walls through the Bab Kasba (or gate), which is one of eleven gates into the Medina. This is also a time I was very thankful for having a guide.
The narrow streets that suddenly changed levels and took sharp turns would have seemed impossible to navigate had we not had a guide to show us the way, nor having cell reception to pull up Google Maps.
I have walked some odd, old and narrow streets before in my travels but walking through the Medina of Tangier took my knowledge and understanding of “narrow streets” to a new level. One street we walked down, which is the narrowest street in the city, couldn’t have been any wider than 3 feet.
One thing that has always drawn me to Morocco is all of the colors! Sometimes when you see things on social media you think that it is too good to be true, the reality of visiting is a disappointment in comparison of the dream on Instagram. That was NOT the case in Tangier!
Suddenly, you would come around the corner and there would be a POP of color that is so sudden at times it almost startle you! This is the Morocco I had been dreaming of and I was so thankful that the dream and the reality were the same.
We wandered through narrow streets as my guide had pointed out interesting landmarks and histories throughout the city. Another great point of my tour, especially with a guide, was being able to get advice on where to pick up souvenirs and where you’d end up buying a Chinese knockoff. I have been on plenty of tours before and I have never seen a guide direct where to get authentic items and where to avoid shopping.
The next stop I was very excited about was the Spice Market! Now, this isn’t a market like you might be imagining. These are more like spice kiosks that are all in a row, vendors who mostly all have similar products but displayed in a different manner to draw attention from unsuspecting shoppers. My guide to me to “his guy” and then asked me what kind of spices I was looking for? I hadn’t even thought about it! I just wanted to pick up some fresh spices knowing how much easier and cheaper it is to buy them here.
Finally, my guide suggested that I get the “Moroccan blend”, there are 23 different spices that are blended together in a single phenomenal smelling blend! I only paid 2 euros for a decent amount (see photo below) and now my kitchen smells amazing!
One of the last stops we made on the walking tour was to see some rugs! As I’m sure you know, Morocco is fairly famous for beautiful handmade rugs, so of course part of the tour includes stopping at a home that has been converted to a multi-level shop. Each floor has a different theme of items being sold, rugs on one floor, wood carving and pottery on another, trinkets and knickknacks so on and so forth. I’m sure every tour group has “their guy” they visit to bring in customers but the one we went to was fabulous! So many colors!!!
You could get every size and color imaginable! One thing I constantly remind fellow travelers is – HAGGLE! It is your best friend. These shops know they have their prices marked up. They expect you to haggle so that way they still can make a profit and the travelers who aren’t comfortable haggling they can make a lot of money off of.
Travel Tip: Did you know that you can use Euros in Tangier? I had Euros and USD with me and shop keepers preferred if I paid in Euro! I wasn’t even able to exchange money. I was informed that it is a “useless currency” since you can’t use it anywhere else. With the close proximity to Spain it stands to reason that they would at least acknowledge the currency but when receiving change don’t be surprised if you get several currencies back.
Shortly after my shopping endeavor ended it was time to get back to the ferry. The sun was beginning to set and I knew that after our ferry ride back we still had an hour and a half drive to get home. It was going to be a long night for us but the full day of adventures in Tangier was worth the exhaustion.
Last notes: The tour company used was Jamal Chatt Private Tours, you can find the links to his site above. If you are planning to visit Northern Morocco I highly recommend looking them up, they take very good care of their customers!
This is one of many trips to Morocco and I can’t wait for my upcoming adventures that will bring me back to this beautiful country…
Stay tuned for my 3-day Desert Tour with Morocco Vacation Travel Guide!
Traveling Photographer Out!