In February, 2018, I visited Tangier, Morocco during a 10-night cruise on NCL’s Norwegian Spirit. We were not originally supposed to be visiting Tangier by cruise ship, but several of the cruise’s original ports in the Canary Islands were cancelled due to bad weather so Tangier was substituted. Only 20 miles from Spain, Tangier seemed like a whole other world. Exotic and perhaps a bit intimidating. But my concerns were completely unfounded – Tangier was truly magical, just as Rabat was on the preceding day.
Tips for Visiting Tangier By Cruise
Tangier is best explored on foot, so you will want to wear some comfortable sturdy shoes to navigate its maze of uneven surfaces. Flip flops aren’t going to cut it here! To find your way in the often confusing kasbah and medina, you can print out some paper maps before leaving home. I would also suggest downloading an offline map from google maps onto your smartphone. That way, you can use the phone’s gps without access to wifi or cellular service.
But do try to be discreet about using directional aids because guides will quickly approach and aggressively market their services if you look lost or confused. If you do wish to hire a guide, their rates are quite reasonable. While I do feel like we experienced quite a bit just walking around, some commentary would have been helpful at times. Also, hiring a guide would have kept the other guides from constantly soliciting. FYI, certified tour guides are licensed and wear a badge. If you don’t want a guide, be polite but very firm and direct, otherwise they will keep following you.
The currency of Morocco is the dirham which is worth about 11 dirham to 1 euro at the time of this writing. If you wish to withdraw dirhams, there are several multi-lingual ATM machines near the ferry docks, which is very close to the cruise ship dock. Euros are pretty widely accepted in Tangier but you are going to receive a terrible exchange rate. Still, if you only intend to spend a small amount of money, it might be worth the poor exchange rate for the convenience of not withdrawing dirhams. If you do withdraw some dirham, don’t go overboard because you won’t be able to spend or exchange them anywhere else on earth outside Morocco.
Okay, so onward! After disembarking the ship, it is a short walk to the beginning of the historical section of Tangier, perhaps 0.5 mile or a 10 minute walk. The first sight you will come to is the pretty and aptly named “Port Mosque”. From there, the kasbah is visible high above.
Click any photo for larger version.
Not knowing where to start, we ascended up the first set of stairs that looked like an entrance and wound up on the street in front of the blue and yellow buildings in the photo above. Members of a car rally group were staying at the Hotel Continental which made for some interesting and colorful photos.
The Kasbah Museum
We gradually made our way west toward the Kasbah Museum. Actually, the full name is the Kasbah Museum of Mediterranean Cultures and it’s housed in a former sultan’s palace. The exhibits focus on the history of the area from prehistoric time through the nineteenth century.
Although the displays are only available in French and Arabic, I still think this museum is worth a look. If nothing else, you will want to see the splendid tile work, intricate wood ceilings, and the calming gardens. Admission is 10 dirhams (equal to about $1) or you can pay €2 which is a poor exchange rate, but convenient.
After exiting the Kasbah Museum, if you turn left and walk across the plaza, you will come to the outskirts of the Kasbah and a great view of the harbor and coastline. You can’t miss the viewpoint – just look for the many mini-buses full of tourists.
Next, we made our way toward another museum, the American Legation Museum. You’ll notice that the kasbah will transition into the hectic medina, where you can buy just about anything. One of the more popular items being hawked on the street were very unrealistic fake Rolex watches – we later saw two fellow cruisers wearing them! Besides fake Rolex watches, we also saw a ton of cute stray cats. Apparently the local fishermen are generous with giving them scraps, so the cats stay pretty happy.
The American Legation Museum
Morocco was the first country to recognize the statehood of the newly independent USA. And the Legation Museum is the only US National Historic Landmark located in a foreign country. This property has served many roles over the years including Consulate, a language school, and Peace Corps offices, but fell into decay during the 1970’s.
Now fully restored, the museum celebrates the relations between Morocco and the US, as well as housing an impressive art collection. Admission costs 20 dirhams (about $2) per person and guided tours are also available at additional cost. You can check out the museum’s website for additional information about hours and whatnot.
Summary Of Visiting Tangier By Cruise Ship
Unfortunately, right after we left the American Legation Museum, our day in Tangier was cut short by rain. The weather report called for heavy rain starting in the early afternoon and for once, the forecast turned out to be correct. So we scurried back to the ship just in the nick of time before a torrential downpour which lasted until it was time for Norwegian Spirit to depart.
If the weather hadn’t turned so nasty, we were planning to take a taxi to the Caves of Hercules, a popular attraction on the coast about 9 miles west of Tangier. The complex of caves, part natural and part manmade, is said to be where the mythological god Hercules rested in between doing some of his 12 labors to achieve immortality. In reality, the caves were where the Berbers quarried their millstones, which explains the circular patterns everywhere. Petit taxis are readily available to and from Tangier at a cost of €8-10 each way.
In summary, Tangier is fairly compact and quite safe. Plan to walk a few miles total, but that’s all that’s needed to enjoy a memorable port day on your own without a ship’s excursion. Both Rabat and Tangier made a lasting impression on me and I’m pretty sure I’ll be returning to Morocco before too long – on a land trip next time. If you want to see all my photos from Tangier, please check out my flickr album.
Have you been to Tangier lately or planning to go? Let me know in the comment section!