do i visit the tourist nightmare or a backwater colony?
July 1, 2007 8:07 PM   Subscribe

taking the ferry from spain to morocco: should i go to tangiers or melilla?

i'm visiting family in almeria but will also be traveling near gibraltar, so i have two options for getting over to morocco: almeria to melilla and gibraltar to tangiers. however, i'll only have a couple of days, so i really won't be able to go to fez or marrakech or any of the real must-sees. (yep, i asked about spain a few weeks ago. now i want to focus on morocco.)

i hear tangiers is both beautiful and awful. i hear melilla is kind of a backwater, although it has some good architecture.

anyone have any insights that will help me decide? hotel/hostel recommendations would also be greatly appreciated.

i am an american female, traveling alone. unless i meet up with some trustworty fellow-travelers, i'm content to stay in after dark and get an early start sightseeing in the morning.
posted by thinkingwoman to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have an answer to your exact question, but it only takes about 5 hours to get from Tangier to Fez on the train, so if you got to Tangier later in the day, you could stay the night, catch the first train out in the morning (0600), get to Fez around 1100, stay for a day and a night, then catch a train back the next afternoon/evening for the ferry back to Spain. Here's the Tangier train schedule, along with some tips on what to see.

There's also a night train from Tangier to Marrakech with 4-bed couchettes. Details on the linked page above.
posted by mdonley at 8:35 PM on July 1, 2007

Oh yeah - Meknes is a World Heritage Site that's also one of the royal cities of Morocco, but is a little closer to Tangier.
posted by mdonley at 8:42 PM on July 1, 2007

My girlfriend's actually done this, unlike myself, so I'll hand the keyboard over to her:

hey! i was just in morocco last summer and have done the trip both ways, malaga-melilla and also to tangiers. there are pros and cons to both, but i'm going to recommend tangiers. it's a dirty port and you'll be hassled, but i think it might be easier for you to get to fez or rabat from there, or the village of chefchauanyou could conceivably spend an amazing day in fez, or the nearby village of chefchuan (sp?), all big highlights. rabat and chefchuan are doable day trips from tangiers. the problem with melilla is that the town itself doesn't have a ton to recommend it, other than the novelty of being a spanish outpost in africa--you really don't feel like you're in morocco at all, and then you cross the border into a sort of spooky and unpleasant border town. tangiers is more heavily touristed and, despite the hassles this brings, i think it will be easier for you to get to the lovely parts from there. also, do NOT take the slow ferry (7 hrs! not worth it!) and don't forget that there's an hour time difference between spain and morocco or you risk missing the ferry. have a great time! eat tangine!
posted by CRM114 at 8:51 PM on July 1, 2007

forgot to mention that i'll only have a couple of days, not the 4-5 i had originally hoped for. :(
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:12 PM on July 1, 2007

nevermind, i did mention it. clearly, it's time for me to go to bed!
but i think y'all are VERY optimistic about how fast i can travel. i'll probably only have one night there, maybe 2.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:13 PM on July 1, 2007

thinkingwoman, where would you be coming from the day before you travel to Morocco? Would you be leaving from Almeria to get to Gibraltar before taking the ferry to Tangier, and is the time for that journey factored into your "couple of days" time?

An intriguing, slightly more expensive option would be to fly/AVE up to Madrid from Almeria or Malaga and then down to Marrakech on Atlas Blue, which is Royal Air Maroc's low-cost airline.

I looked at prices for a trip leaving Madrid on July 10 at 9:30pm and arriving in Marrakech five minutes earlier(!), and returning July 12, leaving Marrakech in the early afternoon and arriving in the early evening, and the total price with tax came out to about €110.

Alternatively, what about going somewhere else, like the Balearic Islands, Portugal or northern Spain? Here are all the places you can fly from Malaga, which seems to be the biggest airport nearish to where you are/will be.

Buen viaje!
posted by mdonley at 1:34 AM on July 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

i'll be coming to gibraltar from seville.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:16 AM on July 2, 2007

I'm actually wondering if it's worth it just for a day or two.

Morocco is an interesting & pretty enough place, but there are enough assholes (thieves, scammers, predatory salesmen, touts etc) there to make travel quite unpleasant at times, and that's speaking as a male who travelled with another guy on his third trip there, both of us reasonably seasoned backpackers with, idunno, a total of more than half a decade between us, living solely out of backpacks.

The thing is that the ports & cities where people arrive fresh from the west are the places that attract the greatest shithead scammers & crims. The idea is to get out of those dumps ASAP, on the same day if possible. If you visit Morocco only able to hang out in a place where you're a walking target, you could well leave with nasty memories.

If you keep to yourself & take care, you should be able to avoid anything too bad, but is that really the kind of taste you want to get for a country? Can you not return some other time & get to the nicer places?

(i don't mean to dissuade you - the emphasis is on the "take care" part. especially, do *not* accept any offers of "Moroccan hospitality" from some newfound friend because you *will* be scammed, badly)
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:01 AM on July 2, 2007

I think the spanish spelling for the town mentioned above is Tetuan, in arabic it sounds more like ChefChuan.
My only piece is that Gibraltar makes me want to slit my wrists. It is the single most disheartening weirdly concocted cultural morass in Europe. Think Chavs speaking Andalu. Shudder!
posted by Wilder at 6:17 AM on July 2, 2007

i'm beginning to wonder if it will be worth it, too, actually. but that's partly why i asked the question!
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:18 AM on July 2, 2007

no, tetuan & chefchauan are two totally different places. chefchauan is up in the mountains, maybe a few hours from tetuan.

chef' has a million different spellings. lovely place, really very nice. tetuan is ok, but full of assholes.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:22 AM on July 2, 2007

(disclaimer: haven't been to either of the towns you mention. opinion of tangiers is based on friends' first-hand experiences, plus extrapolation from the rest of morocco, as well as all the stories & warnings from guidebooks, thorn tree etc. there's a reason i turned back southwards when i got to tetuan, which is only a stone's throw from tangiers...)
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:28 AM on July 2, 2007

I'm actually wondering if it's worth it just for a day or two.

It is, specially if you've never been to a Muslim country before. I don't know Melilla, but I would suggest Tanger. I went there with my sis and we had an awful time because of the hasslers and because we were very young and it was our first time outside the continent, so we were overwhelmed by the experience, but still, for us it was worth it.

I want to stress it that it isn't a pleasant place to travel to, you won't have an easy time while you are there and we personally didn't enjoy ten minutes in a row while we were there, but now, looking back, we both love having memories of that place. It's a completely different world, in a realm of its own.

I've met a few women who traveled on their own throughout Morocco, so I don't think there is unreasonable dangers for you. Be careful, use the certified interpreters that the people from the Tourism ministry recommend when you get off the ferry (and I wouldn't recommend using interpreters for just any other country, but walking through Tanger with this guy you'll be hassled a lot less) - keep in mind that you have to let go the interpreter at about the time of the evening prayer (around 5 o 6 pm, I can't remember) so ask him for recommendations about what you should do when you are on your own, because things do change when people see you alone. Nothing to obsess about, but it's just something I felt I had mention to you and that might help you enjoy your time there a bit more.

And, last, I would say that while the cities further down South might be more charming and pleasant, I don't think you have enough time to really go anywhere else and while Tanger is not the most beautiful place in the world -though it is quite a sight- the experience justifies the trip.

(disclaimer: I am not your travel agent, this is not professional advice, you need to talk to a certified professional about this ; )

posted by micayetoca at 6:46 AM on July 2, 2007

It is [worth it], specially if you've never been to a Muslim country before [...] It's a completely different world, in a realm of its own.

True. If you've never been to a developing country, you should be blown away by an experience almost inconceivable to a westerner. Not unlike places like (some of) India, Iran, Zanzibar or Islamic Cairo, you can find yourself lost in a Medina in Morocco wondering if you're not actually back in the 15th century, or - cliche! - wandering around some fantasy from the Arabian Nights, but in sensory overload.

Having said that, I wouldn't want Morocco to have been my first loser country visited. They're very accustomed to cashed-up tourists on their first jaunt out of Europe, and poor enough in comparison to want to fleece them to within a Euro of their finances.

Language-wise, you won't *need* an interpreter, but that sounds great as a kinda bodyguard. I think French is actually the official language, from memory, but rudimentary Spanish is quite well understood, as is English.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:04 PM on July 2, 2007

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