Updated: Nov 3, 2019
When planning a trip to Morocco, it's good to be prepared and know what to expect.
My own first day in Morocco was not fun, due in large part to the fact that we didn't realize that Tanger Med Port is in the middle of nowhere. But at least this experience has made me eager to spare others similar pain. In this post, I'll talk about the pros and cons of ferrying, what to expect, and finally which port to choose.
Why travel by ferry?
In general, taking the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar between Morocco and Spain is cheaper than flying.
Traveling by ferry can be fun, and a novel experience for those of us who don't normally have a chance to be on boats.
The scenery can be spectacular, especially if your ferry has an outside deck where you can enjoy the fresh air and the views of the coasts.
Why avoid the ferry?
Seasickness can be a problem - you cannot control the weather on the day you will travel and at times the sea can be very choppy, especially on the small ferries. I recommend packing your anti-nausea remedy of choice (dramamine, ginger, peppermints, sea-bands...) Weather tends to be worst in January and February.
Even though the actual boat ride is short (30-60 minutes depending on the route), arrival and departure times tend to be flexible, especially during high season, i.e. it's not uncommon to actually make it through customs at your arrival port an hour after the scheduled arrival time.
Because of #2, make sure to give yourself lots of time between connections. I've frequently been frustrated taking the ferry to Spain and then trying to get trains and buses from Algeciras. I'd advise not buying tickets for the train or bus connection beforehand, but buying them upon your arrival at the train or bus station. For travel in Spain, when your group is small (1-3 people) and you don't have a car, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that Blablacar, a car sharing app, is the cheapest and best way to travel, if you can find a driver who's going your way (and usually you can).
Take the ferry if you want a leisurely and scenic travel day, and if you'd like to travel as cheaply as possible. Take a flight if you'd prefer a more direct route, especially if your final destination isn't a costal city.
Things to keep in mind while traveling by ferry
There is food (and alcohol!) available for purchase on the ferry in euro only; so bring some euro with you if you'd like to buy something. There is also typically a duty-free shop which does take credit card. It's fun to eat in the ferry, but of course it's cheaper to bring your own snacks (and the ferry options are limited: pastries, sandwiches, etc).
When traveling to Morocco, you need to get your passport stamped on the ferry. Because of this, veteran travelers usually dash for the front of the passport line as soon as they enter the ferry — if the ferry is crowded you may have to spend a significant amount of the trip in line, and you have to have that stamp in your passport before they let you off the boat and into Morocco. When leaving Morocco and traveling to Span, passport control happens in the ports.
Again, it's a good idea to bring a nausea remedy with you just in case, especially if you tend to get motion-sickness.
What's the difference between Tanger Med and Tanger Ville ports?
As I said above, my first experience with Tanger Med was slightly disastrous, but since then I have taken ferries successfully and enjoyably to and from Tanger Med. I typically prefer Tanger Ville because it's much more convenient when traveling to and from Tangier and not much more expensive. Here's the comparison:
*Approximate price from memory per foot passenger. Prices vary by company and season. Summer, especially August, is the most expensive and winter is the least expensive.
**All ferries to Tangier Ville Port leave out of Tarifa, however ferry companies have complimentary buses for passengers between the ports of Tarifa and Algeciras.
Note: There are also ferries across the strait to Ceuta (and Melilla, I believe), but I haven't taken these so I don't have much wisdom to share there, and this is a blog about Tangier, so I'm focusing on the Tangier ports.
Tanger Med Port: Big, beautiful, and remote
Tanger Med is a beautiful new industrial port located about 45 km from Tangier, just outside of Ksar Seghir. You can get a ferry to Tanger Med from Algeciras, and also from other Spanish cities like Motril, Malaga, and Barcelona. Because Tanger Med is a deep port, its ferries are larger and so you're less likely to get seasick than on the faster, but smaller ferries from Tanger Ville (like the FRS jet).
Tanger Med is ideal if you are road-tripping and traveling by car or plan on renting a car when you get to Morocco. The drive between Tanger Med and Tangier is lovely, with a lot of hills and twists and turns and beautiful views of the Strait and the countryside.
**If you are renting a car and planning to drive it across international borders and/or on a ferry, you need a special permit. Talk to your car rental company about this.**
How to get from Tanger Med to Tangier by public transit
Eventually, trains will run to and from Tanger Med, but I don't believe they are up and running yet, so for now the best way to get to Tangier from the port is to take the bus, which is about 7 MAD cash; there are ATMS at the port and places to exchange currency. There is an info stand at the Tanger Med port near the entrance/exit where you can ask for help and directions.
How to get to the bus stop
As you exit the port at Tanger Med, you'll be in a covered parking lot type area; turn left to exit the parking area and then follow the sidewalk to turn right and walk up the hill towards the main road. You'll pass a taxi queue (I recommend avoiding these, because they are very expensive).
When you get to the main road, turn right and there's a covered bus stop. Wait for the i3 bus to Tangier (it's the only bus that goes by). I believe this is the location of the stop. With your back to the port, the bus will be heading right, roughly southeast, toward Tangier.
The bus comes by every half hour to 45 minutes. It takes around an hour to get to Tangier and the drive is very beautiful. The bus can get very crowded, especially on summer afternoons, but since you're near the beginning of the route, you should have no problem getting a seat. The i3 route goes along the coast, stops near several small towns and beaches, and ends around the corner from the Tangier City Train Station.
There are also "transports" - 15 passenger vans that run unofficial routes that will come by. These cost around 10 MAD per passenger but are not recommended for those not living in Morocco because they are unregulated and less safe.
If you'd prefer to catch a taxi, you can also hail one from this main road, if one is passing. It should be about 5MAD/person for a white taxi (that is, a "taxi kbir" lit. "big taxi") to get to Ksar Seghir, and 10 MAD/person once you're in Ksar Seghir for a place in another big taxi to Tangier.
Fun fact: Ksar Seghir means "little castle" and you will, indeed see the ruins of a little castle there, right by the road between the town and the beach.
Tangier Ville Port: Small, and in the city
The nice thing about Tangier Ville port is that it's right in the city of Tangier and a short (uphill) walk to the old medina. The ferry ride is also shorter than the ride from Tanger Med, which can be nice but if the weather is bad you may be more likely to get seasick because the ferries are smaller (however they are still multi-level boats large enough for 20+ cars and 100+ passengers).
Transport between Algeciras and Tarifa
When you take the Tangier Ville ferry, on the Spanish side you have to go through Tarifa, which doesn't have a major bus or train station. However, the ferry companies do have complimentary buses to and from the port in Algeciras (typically about 30 minutes unless traffic is heavy). So you can buy your ticket in Algeciras and then take the bus to Tarifa to catch your ferry, or if you're coming from Tangier, you can take the bus from Tarifa to Algeciras and go on your way from there.
There are taxis at the port in Algeciras to take you to the bus and train stations, or you can walk. It's a pleasant and straight walk of about 15 minutes, characterized by Google Maps as "mostly flat."
Sample itinerary: Last time I took the 8am FRS ferry out of Tangier, it left at 8:30am and I was through customs in Tarifa a little over an hour later at 10:45am Spain time (it was July and Spain was an hour ahead). The bus to Algeciras left 25 minutes later at 11:10 and arrived in Algeciras at 11:38, about an hour after we'd arrived in Spain. This means I could *probably* have caught the noon bus to Malaga, but I would have had to book it.
Ferry delays can make it tricky to time your itinerary so, as I said above, this is why I've started using Blablacar whenever possible; sometimes I can find trips through Tarifa, which is great.
I do find Tarifa, much more than Algeciras, a pleasant place to kill a few hours, or even spend a night, if you want to hang around in a Spanish coastal town (and who wouldn't?) Tarifa does, apparently, have great kite-surfing and whale-watching tours; it's also very walkable, which I love.
Getting a taxi from the port in Tangier
When you walk out of the port, you will walk through the parking lot and towards the main gates to the city. You can get a taxi inside the port or outside of the port (discussion below) or you can wait for the city tour bus if you want to start sight-seeing right away.
There should be ATMS and money exchange locations in the port where you can get cash for taxis and other expenses. If your final destination is another town (e.g. Tetouan, Asilah, Chefchaouen) I recommend getting a taxi to the Tangier bus station and getting a bus or a grand taxi (taxi kbir) from there.
Get a taxi inside the port if you have a large group (4+) or lots of luggage. If you want a cheaper taxi and don't mind walking, you can get a normal taxi outside the port.
As with most taxis that wait outside ports and train stations in Morocco, there is a convenience tax - the ride will not be metered and you need to agree on the price with the taxi driver before you get in. Keep in mind the drivers have spent time sitting and waiting there and this is why the price is higher.
If you want to get a taxi from the port, here's how:
Ignore all the people asking you if you want a taxi. Instead, go almost to the exit gate of the port and you will see a group of blue and white taxis waiting in a parking lot to your left (if you are facing towards the city and away from the port).
Go to the first taxi in line and speak directly to the driver. You want a blue taxi if you're staying in the city and have 3 or less people in your group, and you want a white taxi if you have 4-6 people in your group and/or are going somewhere outside the city.
Again, make sure that you and the driver agree on the price before you get into the taxi (and preferably before they're putting your luggage in the boot). Shooting from the hip, I would say 20-50 MAD is reasonable for locations downtown and/or in the old medina. If you're staying in Tangier, ask your host how much they recommend you pay so you know what price is normal.
How to catch a taxi outside the port
If your final destination is in Tangier, or you want to get to the train or bus station, you can opt to catch a blue taxi (or taxis) outside the port. It will be cheaper and metered but you will probably have to walk 5-10 minutes.
Leave the port and turn left (this is the way you want to go for downtown, and you are much less likely to catch a taxi than if you turn right, because that way it's just the merkala, a beautiful nature-y drive and walk along the coast)
Here are the basics: blue taxis are the city taxis. They can take up to 3 passengers going up to 3 different destinations, so if there are less than 3 of you in your group, or you don't mind splitting up, you can hail a taxi that already has 1-2 people in it and the driver will let you in if he's going your way.
To hail a taxi, hold out your arm with the number of people in your group (if it's 2 or 3). Normally it's easier to get taxis a little bit close to the city, at the first roundabout, about a 10 minute walk from the port. This can easily cut your taxi fare by 60% or more.
For more information, check out the article Everything you need to know about taking taxis in Morocco.
In conclusion, Tangier Ville is the most convenient port for those traveling in and out of Tangier, but it necessitates more travel on the Spain side (getting to/from Tarifa). Tanger Med is cheaper, but necessitates more travel on the Moroccan side (getting to/from Tangier or elsewhere).
Sailing to Tangier
If you have your own boat, it's also possible to sail to Tangier. There's a swanky new marina right downtown, Tanja Marina Bay. However, I have no experience sailing to Tangier, so I'll leave that advice to someone more qualified.
This post is the first in the "Traveling in Morocco" series where I share the wisdom I've accumulated in my 4+ years of traveling in Morocco and discuss different ways of getting to and from Tangier including plane, train, bus, car and taxi.
Also in in this series:
Moroccan infrastructure is continually improving and evolving especially in high-traffic tourist areas, so check the time-stamp of this article and keep in mind that things may be different than described in this post.
The recommendations in this post are subjective, based on memory and experience. I did not receive any incentives to write this post or mention any companies or locations.