This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.
Our road trip adventure with a “little” detour to discover Ceuta, a little piece of Spain in Morocco, and the most chaotic border in the world.
We are in Tangier.
More specifically, in our room at Fredj Hotel.
We get ready to load up the red Panda that we rented at the airport and I take a look at the road that we have to take for Chefchaouen, the next stop of our journey.
“Cinzia, why don’t we take the panoramic street along the coast and take a little detour to Ceuta instead of driving straight to Chefchaouen?”.
Cinzia: “That’s a great idea!”.
Ok let me start with some spoiler here. It wasn’t a little detour at all. But it was for sure a great idea.
Ceuta is a little piece of Spain in Morocco.
In more technical terms, Ceuta is a Spanish enclave surrounded by Morocco.
In our mind we have the utopian fantasy to take the panoramic street, pass by Ceuta, get a few tapas and cerveza, and arrive in Chefchaouen before it gets dark.
But in the real world it surely didn’t go this way.
Entering Ceuta (and especially exiting) is no easy thing.
But we will find out just later.
Unaware of what is going to happen, we get ready for our road trip.
THE PANORAMIC STREET TO CEUTA.
We don’t have a GPS device in our car so we use the Wi-Fi of the hotel to download the maps and we are ready to hit the road.
My friend Cinzia and I feel just like Thelma & Louise (without the murder and suicide part).
We are so excited to explore our beloved Morocco by car in total freedom.
The panoramic street along the coast is absolutely amazing.
We can see the coast of Spain beyond the Strait of Gibraltar for most of our drive to Ceuta.
The street offers panoramic views of coasts and headlands along twisted mountain roads.
50 km from Tangier the street confuses us. We are close to Tangier Med, the huge port for container ships and ferries. It’s so hard to understand what road we have to take.
At some point they even stopped us and asked for the ferry ticket. So apparently we are on the way to board a ferry. We clarify that we have no intention of taking a ferry and we finally find the way to Ceuta.
A few kilometers ahead we see the mountain of Jebel Musa, one of the two pillars of Hercules.
The other one is the Gibraltar Rock, located overseas on the European coast.
According to mythology, while Hercules was performing one of his twelve labors he separated a mountain in two parts (the pillars of Hercules) that were the limits of the inhabitable world.
We are almost there.
Don’t worry if you see signs to Sebta. You are not going the wrong way. Sebta is in fact the Arabic name for Ceuta.
THE ARRIVAL IN CEUTA, SPAIN.
Here we are. We’ll be in Ceuta soon.
It’s only 1 kilometer away.
I’m starving and I can’t wait to sit on a table and order lots of tapas and a glass of “vino tinto”.
But here it comes the image that shutters the wine glass of my dream.
Total chaos in front of us.
A never-ending line of cars. The flowing sound of the horn. People everywhere. Moroccans handing the immigration forms over.
We get it. We can’t enter Ceuta by car. Also because it’s a rental car and we don’t have insurance for foreign countries. Yes because we keep forgetting that entering Ceuta from Morocco means entering a foreign country. Or better, another continent!
We leave the chaos behind and get back to find a parking space beyond the long fence of Ceuta that separates Spain from Morocco.
Locals help us to enter Ceuta. But they help for money. We are not sure if this is properly legal but it doesn’t look like we have a choice.
So we follow their instructions and we walk on a dirt track before getting through a hole in the fence (and once again we are not sure how legal our actions are).
We keep giving out dirham here and there and without even knowing how we end up to the front of the line.
We have to go through a few checkpoints. Immigration form, exit stamp of Morocco, passport check.
They even sent us back because apparently we skipped one checkpoint.
It looks like there is no accurate system and chaos rules everywhere.
But we finally make it. We cross the border. We are finally in Spain!
So now we get on a bus that takes us to the center of Ceuta and we feel like we are entering another dimension. We leave the chaos of immigration behind and we enter a world of order.
Streets are neat and tidy, the architecture of the buildings is of European style, there is a calm and peaceful atmosphere and a familiar vibe.
And everybody is speaking Spanish. And I mean real Spanish!
Entering Ceuta from Morocco is a unique experience that gives you sensational feelings.
THINGS TO DO IN CEUTA, SPAIN.
Once we cross the border I can only think about food, tapas, wine.
But there’s no trace of tapas, just doors shut in our face.
Unfortunately lunch time is long gone, even in Spain!
Until we find him, Mesón Pacho, our angel of mercy. The only restaurant that doesn’t shut the doors in our face and does us the huge favor to have us.
The kitchen is closed but we can order food that doesn’t need to be cooked.
For us anything eatable looks just fine. We order some cold tapas and we finally have our glass of red wine.
With a full stomach I can finally think. We say thank you to the waiter million times and we are finally ready to explore Ceuta.
PLAZA DE LOS REYES.
We start exploring Ceuta from Plaza de los Reyes.
The square takes its name from the statues of the kings (reyes) Saint Ferdinand and Saint Hermenegildo that used to decorate Puerta del Hospital Real. The original gate was destroyed during the Second Republic and today is replaced by a replica.
In Plaza de los Reyes there is also Iglesia de San Francisco, a church with a yellow facade. We have noticed that yellow is the color of most of the buildings of Ceuta.
CASA DE LOS DRAGONES.
Around the corner we see a very particular building full of decorations. It’s Casa de los Dragones, the House of Dragons.
It’s probably the most popular building in Ceuta and what makes it very special and unique are the statues of dragons that give the name to the house.
PASEO DEL REVELLÍN.
We walk now on Paseo del Revellín, the main shopping street.
I am not sure about the meaning of these decorations that remind us of Christmas but they definitely give a cute touch to this lovely street.
PLAZA DE LA CONSTITUCIÓN.
Paseo del Revellín ends in the beautiful Plaza de la Constitución.
That half naked lady in bronze who is waving at us is Calypso, the goddess who according to the Odyssey saved Ulysses‘ life after he shipwrecked in the island of Ogygia by the Pillars of Hercules and fell in love with him.
They placed the statue in the square only in 2017 and the city reacted with enthusiasm as it’s considered a symbol that reinforces the historical and cultural identity of Ceuta.
But Calypso is not the only statue in Plaza de la Constitución.
A little further there are also the six allegoric statues that represent Peace, Africa, Industry, Arts, Trade, Work.
From here there is also a nice view of the port of Ceuta.
But it’s here that we finally meet him! Our friend Hercules while he’s separating his pillars.
PLAZA DE AFRICA.
We walk along the port on Paseo de las Palmeras and get to Plaza de Africa, another important square in Ceuta.
Here there are a few buildings including Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción that is located on the same place where there used to be the Grand Mosque of the city before the Portuguese conquered Ceuta in 1415.
The other church in the square is Santuario de Nuestra Señora de África, dedicated to the patron saint of Ceuta.
Around the square we find as well Palacio de la Asamblea with its clock.
In the middle of the square there is a monument dedicated to the soldiers fallen during the African war in 1860.
It’s now time for our last stop before saying goodbye to Ceuta.
We are by the Royal Walls that were built in 957 to protect the peninsula of Almina where the old city used to be under the Arab domination.
When the Portuguese conquered the city in 1415, they enlarged the walls and made them stronger. Then they were rebuilt again after the arrival of the Spaniards.
Today the Royal Walls host a museum with temporary art exhibits.
OUR STRUGGLE TO LEAVE CEUTA AND SPAIN.
We say bye to Ceuta and get on a bus to go back to the much feared border.
We never thought that leaving Ceuta would have been so much harder than entering.
What our eyes are about to see is just incredible.
The gates are closed. A huge crowd is stuck to the big net that separates Spain from Morocco.
The police officers every now and then open the gate to let a few people through and a huge flow of people take advantage of this moment to sneak in.
I get by the gate and ask the police officer how to get out in French. The police officer yells at me saying that he doesn’t speak French.
Fine. I get it. Maybe French is not the right approach. I try again in Spanish. He sends me to another gate protected by another police officer.
And this police offer keeps shouting “ANIMALES” at the people who have their face glued to the net.
Well I’m up now to believe that I will never leave this place and I start picturing how my life would be in Ceuta.
Until the police officer cries out: “From this moment I will decide who is going to pass and who isn’t” and starts pointing at people (probably randomly).
And thank God I see his finger pointing at me. I suddenly grab Cinzia’s hand and we can finally get through the gate.
We line up again for weird checkpoints to get our passports checked, entry stamp to Morocco and other strange formalities.
We finally get to our parking spot.
It really was a labor! Not Hercules and his little pillars!
It’s already dark and we look at the border of Ceuta from above.
Forgive me if I don’t have any pictures of videos of the crazy moments at Ceuta’s border to show but I think you can understand that it was quite a desperate situation.
Anyway I could take this short video from above to give you at least a little taste of the chaos that surrounds this place.
ON THE WAY FROM CEUTA, SPAIN, TO CHEFCHAOUEN, MOROCCO.
Entering and leaving Ceuta has been hard, nerve-racking and maybe a little bit comical. Any plans to get to Chefchaouen before it gets dark has failed miserably.
But our little detour to Ceuta has been a fun and unexpected adventure in our journey in Morocco that we will cherish forever.
And I think it’s right the unexpected that makes each journey different and unique.
We finally get in the car.
Tired but happy we are on our way to Chefchaoun where a new magic adventure is waiting for us. But this time with no detour.
CASABLANCA: THINGS TO DO IN ONE DAY
FES: A SCAVENGER HUNT IN THE MEDINA
RABAT: THINGS TO DO IN ONE DAY
TANGIER: THE PERFECT ITINERARY FOR ONE DAY
CHEFCHAOUEN: THINGS TO DO IN THE BLUE PEARL OF MOROCCO