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Traveling From Spain To Morocco: Everything You Need To Know

Traveling From Spain To Morocco: Everything You Need To Know

Have you ever looked at the map and noticed that Southern Spain is barely even separated from the African continent? Spain and Morocco are split by just a tiny channel of water where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea.

There are a ton of flights between mainland Spain and Morocco, and they can be very cheap. But if you’re not a fan of flying, have lots of luggage, or simply prefer overland travel, ferry services are the way to go. Plus, isn’t an international, intercontinental ferry route just plain fascinating?

There are actually a ton of ferry services from Spain to Morocco. Recently, I had the chance to travel on one of the most popular routes – from the southern tip of Spain to the northern Moroccan city of Tangier.

I did it as a day trip, returning to my hotel in Europe the same evening. This is a common excursion for visitors to the beautiful Costa del Sol region, where you can stay in awesome beach destinations such as Marbella.

The Spain to Morocco ferry routes can be confusing to book and enjoy, so I’d like to share my experience, specifically on the Tangier ferry. Luckily, it’s really not so bad to do once you understand the basics. Hopefully, this advice can help you make it happen – hopping over from Europe to North Africa for a few hours is a one-of-a-kind experience!

The Various Spain-Morocco Ferry Routes

The Maltese Virtu Ferries catamaran Maria Dolores passes by Punta del Santo at the Port of Tarifa, Province of Cadiz, Andalusia Spain
Stanislava / Adobe Stock

As I said, this article will mainly focus on the Costa del Sol (Southern Spain) to Tangier route, as it’s the most traveled by tourists and the one that usually makes the most sense. However, there are a number of ferry companies operating from multiple Spanish ports to points across northern Morocco. Here are some of the main routes (Spanish port first, Moroccan port second):

  • Costa del Sol <> Tangier
    • Algeciras <> Tangier Med
    • Tarifa <> Tangier Ville
  • Motril <> Nador
  • Motril <> Al Hoceima
  • Almería <> Nador
  • Barcelona <> Tangier

The Moroccan ports of Nador and Al Hoceima are a bit isolated in the remote eastern part of the country, plus they have a longer ferry crossing. Therefore, those routes are usually only appropriate for roadtrippers who are on a mission to get really off the beaten path. There are some incredible beaches on this side of Morocco, though.

Ferry Schedules from Spain to Morocco

Spain To Morocco Trip Booking in Ferryhopper
FerryHopper / FerryHopper

It wouldn’t be wise for me to put schedules here – there are too many routes, and they are subject to frequent change anyway. However, if you’re going for one of the common Costa del Sol to Tangier ferries, it’s safe to say that they are very frequent.

Expect a ferry every two hours from the port of Tarifa from morning to night. From Algeciras, near Gibraltar, there are often multiple ferries per hour, with the overnight hours included. For the other routes to and from more distant cities, ferries may only be once weekly, depending on the time of year.

My favorite way to check schedules is using the websites FerryHopper and DirectFerries. It’s basically like Google Flights or Skyscanner for ferry travel, meaning you won’t need to check each of the various ferry companies’ websites. It’s also safe to purchase tickets directly on these sites without hidden fees.

Costa del Sol to Tangier Ferries

Now, we’ll go into more detail about the most likely route you want to take, as promised. The southern coast of Spain, known as the Costa del Sol, is home to many resort areas, including Marbella and Málaga.

This coast is connected by ferry to the Moroccan city of Tangier via the Strait of Gibraltar, the narrowest point between the two continents. However, there are two ferry docks on the Costa del Sol, and it can make a big difference to choose one or the other.

Algeciras to Tangier Med

A panoramic view of the industrial port city of Algeciras taken from the Rock of Gibraltar during an overcast sky
Joseph Creamer / Adobe Stock

The main ferry port of the region is Algeciras, a small city with a rich history, thanks to its strategic placement. It’s also just minutes down the road from the British enclave of Gibraltar, which, by the way, is very much worth a visit.

This is the ferry terminal with extremely frequent crossings, with departures that often continue overnight, and many ferry companies. It’s also the easier port to reach, as Algeciras is connected to the rest of Spain by train and many buses. There are many hotel options within walking distance of the port, like the AC Hotel Algeciras by Marriott, where I stayed.

However, there’s a major drawback to the Morocco ferries that leave from Algeciras: they arrive in Tangier Med Port on the other side. That may sound fine by the name of it, but Tangier Med is over 50 kilometers and a 1-hour drive to the east of Tangier city! That’s a serious extra voyage added to your travels.

If you’re taking your car on the ferry, this isn’t as big of a deal. But if you’re a foot passenger, you’ll have to handle onward travel, as this port is kind of in the middle of nowhere.

You may be able to find car rentals with pickup or delivery at the dock – check RentalCars.com. Other options include bus services to Tangier, taxis (that will surely try to rip you off), or pre-arranged transfers.

Tarifa to Tangier Ville

Village of Tarifa, located in the Strait of Gibraltar. In the background you can see Africa
Juanamari Gonzalez / Adobe Stock

The alternative to the Algeciras and Tangier Med ferry is to depart from Tarifa. This is a much smaller port in a small town 30 minutes further south of Algeciras. In fact, Tarifa is the southernmost tip of continental Europe – which is cool to visit and makes for the shortest crossing between the continents.

Tarifa is a bit further to reach in Spain and unfortunately doesn’t have a train station or many hotels. But if you can manage to get here, whether by driving or on a bus, you’ll arrive at a much more convenient port on the other side.

It’s called Tangier Ville, which means Tangier city, and that’s an accurate description. The boat docks on the coast of the old town, and you can walk to just about everything from there.

You’ll also get to Morocco faster, as the crossing only takes about an hour from Tarifa, as opposed to 1.5 to 2 hours from Algeciras. The only ferry company operating this convenient ferry ride is FRS Ferries, which takes passengers and cars. Their schedules are easily searchable on FerryHopper and DirectFerries.

You pay just a little bit extra for this convenience – around 40 euros per person from Tarifa, as compared to 25 to 35 from Algeciras to Tangier Med. In my opinion, it was very much worth it, especially if you’re just doing a day trip to Morocco on which you won’t want to waste time.

My Experience Crossing from Tarifa to Tangier Ville

I did the Tarifa to Tangier Ville crossing in mid-April, which was a great time to go. The weather on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar was wonderful, and the crowds weren’t very large. My family and I went to a different continent for a day, arriving just after breakfast and returning after dinner!

Booking and Ticket Pickup

Boarding the FRS Ferry in Tarifa, Spain departing to Tangier Ville, Morocco
Woodrow Matthews / ViaTravelers

I decided to book tickets in advance, even though I learned it’s almost always fine to just show up a bit early at the ferry offices and do it before boarding. I used FerryHopper to find my preferred departure but went to the FRS Ferry Company website to do the transaction.

There was a downside to this. After making my booking, I still had to collect my boarding pass from the ticket office at the port, whereas FerryHopper would have offered me a mobile ticket to avoid that.

We plugged Tarifa into Google Maps and drove our rental car there with enough time to arrive about an hour before departure. The drive is very nice, winding along small cliffs, from which you can see the African coast just across the strait very clearly.

However, we learned that parking in Tarifa is not simple. There’s not a big car park, and we had to search for street parking, which we eventually found about 15 minutes from the dock.

Lining up to pick up our ferry tickets didn’t take very long, and we got stamped out of Europe by Spanish passport control in the same building. Foot passengers went on the boat after that and could take any seat they found. Car passengers will have a slightly different procedure for driving onto the ship.

On the Ferry

Interior of the FRS Ferry ship that travels from mainland spain to islands and Morocco
martinscphoto / Adobe Stock

First of all, don’t run into the same problem as me – I am not sure if this is a frequent occurrence, but we waited a very, very long time in the hallway to get into the boat. Eventually, I pushed past the line to see what was happening.

As it turns out, it was the line for Moroccan immigration, which is on the ship and can be done during sailing! There was no need for everyone to be held up like that and delay the departure just to get it done ASAP. I started the trend, and everyone swarmed into the passenger lounge, allowing us to get underway.

The boat seemed clean, and you can take any seat you find. I found one with a view of the passport control line, which I jumped on once it got smaller. It was nice that they stamped you into Morocco en route, as it saves some time.

The ferry ride is only an hour, so there’s no need to get too settled in. There’s a little café on board with some snacks and drinks.

Don’t expect any wifi. The ride wasn’t very rough when I went, but I understand that it can be at times.

Arrival in Tangier

The walls and ancient medina of Tangier after arriving in Tangier Ville port
Woodrow Matthews / ViaTravelers

After a quick ride, you’ll dock in the most convenient port in northern Morocco: Tangier Ville. As a foot passenger, getting off the boat was as simple as showing that my passport was stamped. If you have your car, you’ll need to wait a bit longer and show extra paperwork to drive it out of the port area.

The ancient medina of Tangier and the rest of the old town are less than 10 minutes away from the terminal building, and it’s very simple to walk – you’ll see it all immediately upon exiting. Just cross the street and you’ll see the city walls, along with a large, open square, from which you can walk up the stairs into the old town.

Take note of the FRS ticket office on your way in, as it’s in a separate small building just outside the terminal. That’s where you’d pick up your return ferry ticket, if necessary, or go for any requests to change your boat. By the way, FRS allows free changes in case you want to take an earlier or later boat!

Tips for Tangier & The Costa del Sol

Now that you know how to make the trip, let’s make sure you have a great time on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar! First of all, make sure you pick up some travel insurance for Morocco – I use TravelInsurance.com to search many providers at once. I don’t know what medical costs would be in Morocco without it, and I wasn’t really interested in finding out.

Exploring Tangier & Northwestern Morocco

Camels on the cliffs in front of an empty beach near Tangier, Morocco
Woodrow Matthews / ViaTravelers

In Tangier, you can choose to explore the ancient city center on your own or with a private guide. It’s very hilly, and the narrow streets can be confusing, but the wandering is part of the fun. Don’t miss the Kasbah Museum near the top of the medina, and have a Moroccan tea at one of the many cafés.

You can find a car on RentalCars.com to explore the many sights just beyond Tangier. Cap Spartel is the corner of the country where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean, and there’s a beautiful nature park there with a lighthouse you can climb for views back to Spain.

Just a few minutes south of that is Hercules Cave, where the mythological God is said to have slept after doing one of his 12 labors. Other activities over here are doing a camel ride on the beach and visiting the quiet seaside town of Asilah.

Personally, I chose to do a guided tour of the attractions and activities outside of Tangier and explore the city center on my own, which was a good choice. If you decide to stay the night in Tangier, there are two Hilton hotels in the city center – the Hilton Tanger City Center and the Hilton Garden Inn Tanger City Center. Both are fairly priced, clean, and comfortable.

Across the Strait in Spain

Plaza de los Naranjos in Marbella, Spain
sushaaa / Adobe Stock

There are plenty of things to do in the south of Spain. If it’s summertime, there are miles of sandy coastline for beach bums to enjoy and beautiful resorts with pools and bars. I always choose Marriott’s Marbella Beach Resort, which is a timeshare property with oversized rooms that can be booked as a normal hotel.

Besides relaxing on the beach, don’t miss the chance to cross another border and visit the British enclave of Gibraltar. This tiny country surrounds the giant, strategic Rock of Gibraltar that guards the entrance to the Mediterranean. A guided day trip to Gibraltar should take you to the top of the rock, where you’ll meet the bold resident monkeys (known locally as “rock apes”) and then descend into Saint Michael’s Cave deep within the mountain.

Visitors can tour the picturesque resort town of Marbella, the main southern city of Málaga, or get out into the countryside for activities like canyoning. In the evenings, enjoy a night of Spanish cultural entertainment at a flamenco performance.

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