How to get to Chefchaouen, Morocco from Spain?
We recently took a trip to Spain and decided to go to Morocco as well, since it’s just a ferry ride away. (Ha! “just” a ferry ride away…well, not quite.) We went from Algeciras to Ceuta, crossed the border and then went to Chefchaouen, Morocco. I had done research and thought I was pretty prepared, but I was not nearly as prepared as I thought I was. The things that I had read ahead of time were too cut and dry, and not detailed or possibly honest enough. Here is a detailed account of our story and tips for everyone that might be making this journey in the future.
We left Sevilla early in the morning and drove down to Algeciras. The port was easy to find, but I was unsure about where exactly the parking would be. I thought we might have to park right outside the port in unattended parking. As it turned out, there’s a huge guarded parking garage right inside the port area. We were concerned about guarded vs. unguarded parking because we packed everything we needed into one suitcase and left the other in the car. My husband was concerned about leaving anything in the car, but the parking seemed safe and we had no problems.
Next, we planned to buy our tickets once we got there, because I had read that ferries sometimes don’t operate on their schedules exactly and it’s the smartest way. I definitely agree with this. This option was also appealing since we had to drive down that morning and figure things out. So, we didn’t have to worry about missing our ferry had we bought a ticket and been late. When you exit the parking garage, turn right and go straight down to the building at the very end. All along your right, there will be ticket counters, but they are for travel companies. Ignore them and go straight into the main building at the end, which has signs that say “Estación Maritima – Terminal de Pasajeros.”
Here you will find the ticket counters for the actual ferry companies (FRS, Balearia, Acciona) and each will display the time for the next ferry. Just choose the one with the next departure time and buy your tickets. Also, there are two ATMs inside this building.
We were shocked at how big and nice the ferry was. It was a pleasant ride and took about an hour. Some of the ferries are fast ferries and take only 30 minutes. Because we were in a rush earlier in the morning, we didn’t eat before we left Sevilla. Big mistake — because the food offerings on the ferry were limited and the coffee was terrible. However, we ended up eating a turkey baguette because we knew it would be a while before we got to our destination.
We traveled from the port city of Algeciras in Spain to the Spanish port city of Ceuta (in Morocco!) So, when you arrive, you’re in Africa, but you’re also in Spain. Who knew? Once we arrived, we exited the building and caught a cab to the border. I think we paid €6.
Border Crossing on Foot
The taxi left us at the border and then we just started walking. We had no idea what we were doing, but thought surely at some point, there will be a line, and they’ll look at our passports, right? Wrong!
There were lines of cars, people carrying goods, people scurrying over the adjacent hills trying to sneak in or out and then there were people walking on various sides of barricades. We just kept walking, thinking surely we’ll get to “the” place, “the” line…whatever it is. No. No signs, nothing that made sense. Nobody going to any one location or line. Seriously?
A man dressed in a thawb approached us and introduced himself as Mohamed, an official tour guide. Riiight. He’s actually what they call a tout. There are lots of them who are there to try to make money in exchange for their help. The touts make everything seem very complex to show you how you need their help and the ‘helpers’ are often relatives of the officials, who then get a kickback on the fees. I also read that the border crossing keeps things confusing so that people will need help from these guys. Argh!
I wanted nothing to do with him, as I had no interest in visiting his cousin’s rug emporium and we just sort of ignored him and kept walking. Well, I ignored him…Erick had a hard time doing this. Eventually, we got to the end and realized they were checking passports for stamps. We didn’t have a stamp. Where the heck do you get a stamp? This is nuts.
So, as we’re turning around to go back and figure out what to do, there’s Mohamed again. This time, he said, “You don’t have to be afraid. I am official tour guide. See, here’s my badge,” as he points to his tag pinned to him. Then, he gives us customs forms and tells us to fill them out and takes us over to this little hut that looked closed, is completely unmarked, and knocks on the door. A man appears and takes our passports. He walks away and we’re just waiting. I’m thinking, is this really an “official” person who can do this? Then, another tout comes up to us, and is just chatting about where we’re from and this and that. Eventually, he is telling us what we should do. Here we go again. I’m just nodding my head politely, but thinking, uh-uh, no way. He’s saying we should go to Tetuan first and then to Chefchaouen later and that way we see two cities. Take a taxi, then take a bus, etc, etc. Nice plan, but we’re only going to be in Chefchaouen for less than 24 hours anyway. We had plans and there was no way I was deviating at that point. Not to mention that I don’t want to see Tetuan with my luggage in tow. Or…take a bus…in Morocco. So, then, he says, I can’t take you, but another guy can as he waves someone over. I’m thinking you’ve got to be kidding me. Well, it’s Mohamed again. They’re double-teaming us now and the hassle factor goes up tenfold. I was just like, “Absolutely not. We’re going to Chefchaouen. End of conversation.” They knew I wasn’t going to change my mind and they acted pissed, threw their hands up, muttered under their breath and walked away. Fine by me.
That, my friends, is just how it is there. It’s what I had read about and why I tried to ignore him. Mohamed was nice to us and helped us initially, but he did it only in the hopes that we would hire him as a guide. The bad part is that instead of just taking no for an answer, they pressure and hassle you and then are very rude in the end. Being that this is your first impression of the country, it’s a little off-putting, but I was not intimidated. I had absolutely no problem saying no. Unfortunately, I hadn’t briefed my husband well enough in the art of just turning your head and walking away.
Meanwhile, the guy in the hut actually stamped our passports, so we walked back to the end. It was just a dude sitting on stool checking the passports. Wouldn’t you think it be some sort of official procedure or more secure endeavor? Nope.
Hiring a Grand Taxi from the border to Chefchaouen
We made it across the border and now we needed transportation. After you cross, you’re essentially in the grand taxi lot. This was an absolute cluster. It’s a lot full of old Mercedes sedans. That sounds fancy, right? No, it looked like it must of been a junkyard in Germany, where these lovely automobiles go to rust away. Someone approached us, and they wanted €60 to go to Chefchaouen. Yea, I don’t think so. I flat out told him that I had done research and I knew that price was way over the going rate. We said no way. I was looking to pay €30 (300 dirham). I thought we’d just go to the next taxi, since there was a whole lot full of them, and find someone who would do it for what we were offering. Well, we couldn’t just go to the next taxi…they wouldn’t talk to us. There was one guy, the guy we talked to, that seemed to be negotiating for many or all of them. Eventually, he offered us €40. At some point, another guy approaches us, and is kind of like, come with me off to the side. The guy practically has a neon sign over his head blinking “Shady!” I wasn’t sure if he was an unofficial driver trying to get our business or another passenger or what his aim was?!?! No idea. Then, the shady guy and the taxi negotiator guy get into an argument.
So, we’re standing around in hot sun, with our luggage, watching them argue, thinking great…now what?! As much as I hated to because I felt we were being taken advantage of, we decided to take the offer of €40 because we were done with that whole fiasco. (Now, after doing even more research, I think we got a fair price.)
The Journey by Taxi
So, we get in the taxi and it’s like 100 degrees inside. It’s an ancient Mercedes that’s all duct-taped up and doesn’t even have a handle to roll down the windows in the back. Finally, the driver hands us the handle and we take turns rolling our windows down. The guy is nice, but we can’t really communicate. He knows a few Spanish words. (Which, turns out, Spanish seems to be the unofficial second language in the areas we visited in Morocco, which worked for us.)
We drive along for a few minutes and then our taxi pulls over on a random street corner and he turns to us and says pasaportes (passports). We’re looking at one another thinking what the hell? We just crossed the border. Why on earth does our taxi driver need them? Something is not right. It freaked me out. There was no way in hell I was letting a guy walk away with our passports, especially when we had no clue why he wanted them. So, finally, I said to Erick, “You want to go with him?” So, he did. Meanwhile, I’m freaking out and just scared. Here I am sitting on a street corner by myself, not knowing where they went, if they’re coming back and people are walking by the car and leering at me. Some crazy things went through my head. I just prayed. Finally, Erick and the taxi driver come back and Erick says it was a police station and he was registering us or something?!?! Huh? (Later, we asked our hotel about this and they said they had never heard of such, but that stranger things had happened in Morocco.)
So, while my fears were probably baseless, you can see how it was sketchy and scary. But, if it happens to you, you won’t have to be afraid.
The rest of the ride was ok considering how the border crossing had gone. He stopped a few times because he had to keep putting water in the radiator. I was afraid the thing would break down. First, you drive along the coast for a ways and the roads are nice, wide and there are palm trees and flags all along the way.
Then, when you start climbing in elevation, it gets more rural. The higher we got, the hotter it got! What?!?! Usually, it’s the opposite. When I say hot, I mean HOT. I mean the air blowing in through the windows felt like air wafting out of an oven. Also, the roads became steep and the driver wanted to pass everyone. A little scary at times, but not too bad. I had read that some people were scared for their lives or had to ask the driver to slow down. Ours was ok.
Along the way, I hoped he had understood where we wanted to go and we were pleased to see signs for Chefchaouen and kept on the look-out for the next one.
After we got to the town, he stopped at a busy street corner and was asking someone on the corner for directions, I’m assuming. After a long conversation, we started moving. I was thinking, oh no, he doesn’t know where to go and is just going to leave us right here. Crap. But he drove down another street and pointed at a gateway. He got us to the right place, which for us, was the Bab Souk entrance to the medina.
Oh, thank heavens! We arrived!
I was a drenched rat by the time we got there after two hours in that hot box of a taxi.
As we’re walking through Bab Souk to the medina, we’re accosted by another tout that was being friendly (aka wanting us to hire him.) I thought the hotel would be easy to find (it was), but Erick is way too nice and just kept talking to him, therefore he was unofficially hired. We gave him one euro upon arriving and he was upset because it wasn’t a Moroccan dirham. Sorry buddy. And, then, he was trying to arrange to come back back after we got settled in to take us on a tour. Um, no.
After that, we were not hassled any more. In fact, it was more like we were ignored by adults. I think the touts just wait at the entrance to bamboozle tourists. Once you’re in the medina, you’re fine.
- Customs Forms – I have no idea where you actually get the customs forms at the border? So, I read after we got back that you can ask at the ticket window when you buy your ferry tickets for the Moroccan forms. Also, I suppose you could get them from the people who stamp the passports? If there were long lines, this is a problem as you’d get to the front and then have to go to the back again. Going out, there were long lines. On our way back, as soon as we got out of the taxi, there were guys offering Moroccan customs forms for 1 euro each. Knowing what a pain it was before, I was more than glad to pay this. Turns out to be good that we did, as once again, there wasn’t one to be found.
- Touts – While it might be a good idea to ignore people who approach you, you might be required to use their assistance out of necessity unfortunately. Just know they’re there to sell you something and just be prepared to be firm in what you want or don’t want. We didn’t pay them one cent.
- Money – We had read you could exchange money “at the border.” Not sure what this really meant. We never saw a place, but we were way too busy figuring out how to cross the border so maybe it’s there. If you want money before arriving in Chefchaouen or wherever, I would suggest asking the cab driver that picks you up at the Ceuta port. Maybe he could swing you by somewhere to do it in Ceuta before you get to the border? (We were able to pay the grand taxi with Euros and once we arrived to Chefchaouen, our hotel manager changed money for us and then we got more money from the only ATM in the main square so it wasn’t a problem. Apparently, it works sometimes, and sometimes doesn’t. Also, there are several banks just outside the medina walls, within a short walk.)
- Border on the way back– On our way back when leaving Morocco, it was easier to figure out what to do. There were several lines, though unmarked. We just picked one, got to the front and were told to go to the one next door. Ugh. Try to figure out which is the right line by looking for the line with the Europeans. When leaving, we went through Moroccan customs and never went through Spanish customs. Weird. It didn’t seem secure because we saw several people in line hand over a stack of passports to get stamped and we never saw the other people?! But, when I handed him our two, he asked about Erick, who was standing right there with me?
- Time – Once you cross the border, you go back two hours. Spain is ahead of Morocco by two hours. So, on the way back, the ferry times are Spanish times.
- Taxi Price – Whoever said you can get the taxi to Chef for €25-30 is nuts. Maybe if you stayed there all day haggling. No thank you. I think €40 is the lowest you’ll get. On our way back, we had the hotel arrange this for us and it was €50 to hire one for a specific time. But, man, was it nice to have the taxi driver come pick us up and not deal with any nonsense.
- Length of Stay – I originally was thinking to go to Tangier just for a day trip since our travel plans were tight and we were visiting lots of places in Spain. Then, the more I read, the more I thought Tangier is not the best place to go. So, I decided to go to Chefchaouen because it’s not too far inland and decided to stay one night. This was not enough time! You need at least two nights. Not so much because you would miss seeing something in Chefchaouen (it’s really small), but rather because the journey is long and it wasn’t fun to have to do it two days in a row. It would have been nice to have more time and relax a little.
It was an adventure for sure. I think expectations are everything, which is why I have explained this in detail here. Would I prefer to travel differently? Sure. But, do I regret it? No. We really enjoyed Chefchaouen. Not getting there, but we enjoyed our stay. Since being back, I have read that the crossing at Tangier is not this bad. You do some of the paperwork on the boat and once you step off, you’re in Morocco. But, Ceuta was closer to our ultimate destination, so I don’t know. Also, I’m sure if you fly into Morocco, it’s about 100 times easier.
If anyone is planning this journey and has questions, please contact me.