Tangier Tourist Trap

Morocco – my one claim to visiting Africa. It was during the summer of 2000 when I was in Spain for a study abroad trip. (Warning: since the trip was so long ago, I didn’t have a digital camera, so the pictures are film photos that were scanned in.) We were given an opportunity to take a day trip from southern Spain to Tangier, Morocco, so of course we decided to go. We went through Gibraltar to take a ferry across to Morocco. When we finally arrived, all I could think was, I’m in Africa! Of course I had no idea what I was walking into.

Tangier tourist trap - Rock of Gibraltar
Rock of Gibraltar

We met our tour guide, boarded a bus and listened to a little history about Tangier and Morocco. A few minutes into the journey, the guide told us we would be stopping soon where we could buy postcards with stamps so we could mail a postcard from Morocco. I love postcards, so this sounded nice. However, I was a bit confused when we pulled over on the side of a road with no stores in sight.

Suddenly a man and a boy of maybe 12 years old ran our from behind a tree carrying a folding table and some bags. I’ll admit I did buy a few postcards from this roadside stand, but I thought it was incredibly tacky. In hindsight, I realize it was more than tacky, it was some kind of arrangement between the guide and the man with the folding table which I can only assume translated into inflated prices and possibly even stolen goods.

Tangier tourist trap - me on a camel
me on a camel

From there, we drove off to ride camels. That sounded like fun! But when we got there, there were hoards of people and maybe half a dozen camels. We had to pay 100 pesetas (About US$1. And yes, Spanish pesestas, it was THAT long ago.) to get on top of the camel, but I wouldn’t say I technically got to ride a camel. We were only allowed to sit up there for a brief moment, basically long enough to have a friend take a picture, and I don’t think the camel took a step.

After the camels came the snake charmers in the middle of a big square. They freaked out a girl in our group by putting a snake over her shoulders, and overall I wasn’t impressed by what they were doing. At least they were working on tips, and I didn’t have to plunk down money for this particular attraction.

Next stop on the Tangier schedule – a traditional Moroccan lunch. By now almost all of us were pretty cynical about this whole tour. That only worsened when we realized they were taking us to lunch extremely early and everyone who came into the previously empty restaurant was in a large tour group like ours. It was pretty clear that this restaurant was set up specifically to cater to the scores of tour groups that pour into Tangier every day. 

While we were eating, a belly dancer came out into the dining room, which was a nice touch. Until we realized the belly dancer was the same lady who filled our water glasses and brought us our napkins. I suppose it was just efficient use of staff members, but it seemed odd.

Tangier tourist trap - Morocco flag
Morocco flag

After lunch our guide took us to a rug store. While it was kind of interesting to see the carpets being made, it was obvious our guide brought us there because he received some kind of commission or kickbacks from any sales made from his tour groups. Unfortunately for him, I don’t think a group of thirty 19 to 22 year old students was really their target audience. We were more interested in the market we were quickly dragged through before and after the rug store.

Eventually we went back to the port and sailed back to Spain. I was happy to be able to say I’d been to Africa and had experienced new things such as “riding” a camel. Though I hoped for more genuine culture, maybe blatantly obvious tourist scams are part of the culture if it’s how they make a living. I’m interested in going to other parts of Morocco, but I think I’ll skip the guided tour.

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