Few outside of Spain have even heard of Ceuta or its sister city of Melilla, but if you are headed for Africa from Europe these ports are very useful places to pass through and maybe explore.
Ceuta, Melilla and the three small islands off the coast that comprise Spanish North Africa are all that remain of Spain's once more extensive African territories. The territories fell to Spanish control in the 15th century as the Muslim armies were pushed out of Spain. When Spain and France granted Morocco independence in 1956, Spain refused to release these two cities (and Ifni which has been released to Morocco since) and retains them against the protests of the Rabat government. In fact, Rabat does not recognize the legitimacy of the Spanish Government operating in Africa and disputes control of Spanish North Africa - although they do maintain border controls along the frontier.
Ceuta is located directly opposite the British held Gibraltar, in an equally commanding strategic position controlling access between the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. While the Spanish have battled the British with various sanctions and protests over Gibraltar, the Spanish reject Morocco's similar claims to the Spanish enclaves in North Africa that face Gibraltar.
For the country collector, an enclave of a European country on the African continent is a must visit location. Ceuta and its sister territories count as separate locations on the Travelers Century Club and mosttraveledperson.com lists.
As a practical matter for the tourist/traveler,Ceuta represents a stepping stone North or South. Passenger and car ferry service runs at least 3 times a day between Algeciras (in Southern Spain) to Ceuta (in Spanish North Africa). The trip takes about 1.5 hours. An inter-continental crossing by ferry with the heights of Gibraltar in the background is a thrill that can not be equaled on an airplane.
Sightseeing in Ceuta
Assuming you are headed south, walk or drive from the docks into town. There is a tourist info center near the ferry dock with key information in the windows even if the booth itself is closed.
There is not a lot to see in Ceuta other than the small town, an old fort some may find interesting, and a lighthouse to see on the east end of town. Everything in town can be accessed by foot from the ferry dock. Both the fort and the lighthouse are on obviously high spots so no map is required to reach them.
From the plaza nearest the ferry docks watch for city bus No. 7 or any bus labeled Frontier. It is about a 20 minute ride up to the border where the bus drops everyone off at a turn around just before the gates. The border area is likely to be littered with garbage, the results of clothing and other goods being unwrapped for export.
At the border take a gander at the Spanish Border Fence. Ceuta almost looks like a prison with the 10 ft double fence and other security measures to control illegal immigration and smuggling into the Euro zone from Africa. There is a good background article on the border fence in the referances.
When walking or driving across the border you will need to check out of Spain, cross no-man's-land and then check in with Moroccan Immigration. Assuming you are not a Moroccan citizen skirt around the long lines of Moroccans who never seem to move and go directly to the official windows with your passports.
Beyond the Ceuta Frontier
Beyond the border will be many dilapidated Mercedes taxis. They must truck these cars directly from the junk yards of Germany to the border area. Don't expect a working seatbelt, window or anything else other than the driver's precious working radio! Be prepared to bargain HARD for the right price on a shared ride or forget bargaining and just ask a couple border guards or local travelers what the appropriate taxi fare is. Once the correct fare is known (maybe 1/4 of the quoted fares), offer the driver the correct fare to end the wildly exaggerated price quotes.
Ceuta uses Euros but dirhams are readily available since Ceuta is a border town that lives on trade. Taxi drivers on the Morocco side will also happily accept Euros, so it may make sense to wait to pull cash from an ATM in Tetouan about 1 hour drive south.
Guides to Ceuta
Ceuta is a place to pass through, exploring for a day. It does not have enough to do to rate a whole vacation there. Ceuta is no where to be found in Lonely Planet Spain and rates just a few pages shared with Melilla in the Lonely Planet Africa guidebook.
Ceuta, Spanish North Africa
Ceuta's location in North Africa
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