Generally speaking, we prefer to visit places on our own as opposed to using a tour guide or being part of a tour group. We don’t like having to be on someone else’s schedule, so we’ve never gone on a packaged group tour, but on occasion we will use a tour guide or go on a guided tour for a specific location. Whenever we do use a tour guide, there are specific things that we look for when choosing a guide. Whenever possible, we go on a private tour or, at a minimum, a tour with limited numbers of participants. We also look for a guide that has been in business for at least several years and preferably one who is from the location that we’re visiting. The best example of our using a tour guide when was we visited Morocco during our trip to Spain in fall of 2013.
We are pretty comfortable travelling abroad, but there a few places that can be a little overwhelming if you haven’t been there before and that is how we felt about going to Tangiers. We did some research based upon advice from the concierge at the resort where we were staying and contacted Said Private Tours to see if they had availability. Partially because we were travelling off-season, something we prefer to do, but we were in luck and we were able to schedule a private tour in Tangiers, Morocco. And if that wasn’t enough, Said even personally guided us through parts of his own neighborhood.
After taking the high speed ferry from Tarifa (near Gibraltar) to the port of Tangiers, we were met by Said and one of his assistant guides to start what would be a truly memorable day and highlight of our entire trip. Tangiers is a unique African city as it has been the doorway to Europe for centuries and therefore has a varied population, although it is still mostly Muslim. Knowing that, we dressed appropriately, long pants and nothing that might be offensive to the locals. The tour started with Said taking us to the market in his own neighborhood, where he was hugged by friends as we walked the narrow streets lined with merchants. Unlike America, hugs and kisses are quite common place, even among male friends, it is a genuine expression of endearment.
It is hard to describe the market in Tangiers other than to say that the colors and aromas overtake you at every turn. There are merchants with spices piled to the ceiling, olives of every possible variety, exotic fruit, butchers with meat on display, and every variety of fish imaginable caught fresh from the Mediterranean Ocean. As Said took us to some of his favorite merchants, we were given samples of olives, dates, candy, and more. It was truly a magical experience. After leaving the market, we were off to the Kasbah or Medina, the fortress and oldest part of the city.
Walking the streets of the Kasbah was like walking back in time. The cobblestone streets and grand arches led to a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean. It is off the coast of Tangiers where the Mediterranean Ocean and Atlantic Ocean meet. Said was proud to point out the homes of celebrities that live in the area, but he is most proud of haven taken Sting and Bruce Springsteen on a tour. Before we left the Medina, we were treated to our own private performance by a snake charmer. Having seen snake charmers on TV and movies, we weren’t quite sure what to expect, but it turned out to be fascinating as the charmer played his flute and waived his hand in the face of the King Cobra. We weren’t, however, prepared for what came next as they wrapped a live snake, not a King Cobra fortunately, across our shoulders so that we could take some pictures.
From there, we said goodbye to Said as he left to make our lunch arrangements, and his assistant drove us south of the city for some more adventures. On our way, we stopped at little restaurant and shop to get some water and rest for a few minutes. We enjoyed the brief break as the morning had been a whirlwind already and we took in the gorgeous views of the Atlantic Ocean and a nearby cathedral. Next we were off to ride camels on the shore of the Atlantic. It was a little touristy, but at the same time, how many people get to say that they’ve ridden camels on the beach. From there we visited the pre-historic Caves of Hercules, which is a beautiful geological attraction.
Once we got back to Tangiers, it was time for a late lunch, which was good because we had definitely worked up an appetite. We had quite the meal in a tiny, family owned, restaurant, that was authentic Moroccan chicken served in a tagine with hot tea. The food was incredible and the family that served us couldn’t have been any nicer. After lunch, we were taken to the shops of some local artisans with the hope that we’d buy some authentic Moroccan products. We visited a spice shop where we did purchase some saffron, cumin, and marjoram at prices you could never find in the States. At the carpet weaver’s shop, carpets of every description were laid at our feet as we enjoyed some more tea, but as tempted as we were, we decided not to buy one. In hind sight, we wish we’d have taken them up on their offer to ship one home to us, so perhaps another trip to Morocco is in our future.
Before taking the ferry back to Spain, we said our goodbyes to Said and his assistant and thanked them profusely for what had been a remarkable adventure. Could we have visited without a guide? Sure, we would have figured it out and it would have been fine, but we would have been nervous and unsure of what to expect. Having a private guide made all the difference as we were immediately put at ease from the moment that we arrived and we could tell that every one we met knew our guides and looked forward to the guests that they brought with them. Perhaps our next visit to Morocco will be on our own, but this trip was definitely a better experience due to our choice to hire a guide.