Ceuta (Arabic: سبتة (Sabtah), Berber: Sebta) is one of two Spanish exclaves in North Africa (the other one being Melilla). The territory had several rulers before the Portuguese in 1415 took control of this city east of Tangier. Since 1580 it has been under Spanish administration but has the status of an autonomous city despite being located on the African continent almost directly south of the autonomous city of Gibraltar.
This exclave was in the spotlight in 2005 together with Melilla because hundreds of people were trying to climb over the border fence. Ceuta being part of Spain and therefore a safe haven for Africans made it a prime target for migrants. Today the border is heavily protected by the Guardia Civil. The European Union invested a lot of money to make illegal immigration more difficult.
Ceuta is easily accessible from Algeciras (Cádiz) by ferry. High speed ferry services run between Ceuta and mainland Spain, and as of 2019 there are three companies operating the line; Balearia, FRS and Trasmediterranea with a total of over ten departures per day. Tickets for "pedestrians" cost around €30 for the one to one and a half hour trip. There are discounts for local or Spanish residents and surcharges for bringing a car, motorcycle, or bicycle.
Cruise ships do visit, but only very occasionally and usually dock within a few blocks of the easily-walked town.
By land, Ceuta is only accessible from Morocco. If arriving by bus, you may have to take the bus to a nearby town and then a grand taxi to the border. For example, coming from the south, the closest an intercity bus will take you is to Fnideq. From there, take a ground taxi to the border (4 dirham). It is much easier to go to Ceuta from Tetouán than from Tangier, as most buses from Tangier go through Tetouan anyways before heading north to Fnideq.
To come via Tetouan get a grand taxi near the CTM station. 15 dirham, 40 km, 40 minutes will get you right to the border.
You will need a passport to cross the border with Morocco in either direction and official ID to book passage between mainland Spain and Ceuta. Rules for immigration are the same as for Spain. Ferry ticket salesmen have been known to sell tickets without requiring the proper identification, but security at the port going from Ceuta back to Algeciras can be much more strict. Spanish citizens and EU nationals (if their state issues them) need only their national ID cards, or DNI, but non-EU citizens will require their passports to return. Just because you are not leaving the country of Spain doesn't mean you shouldn't carry your passport.
The increased border security may result in minor waiting time. This could be longer if you travel in summer when the main holiday season in Spain and France starts and lots of families return to their homes in Morocco. Note that there seem to be separate queues for Moroccans and foreigners at many border crossings, ports, and security checks. If you find yourself stuck in an extremely slow moving queue and do not look Moroccan, try getting noticed by an officer. You may be ushered past the queue and processed very quickly.
If you are travelling by bus or taxi, you may consider taking a bus from the border to the city walls or even a little further downtown. Line 7 passes the border. You can however, also walk along the busy costal road for slightly more than 2 km and enjoy the views.
Unlike Melilla, Ceuta does not have an airport on Spanish territory. There is just an heliport where Heli sur Este operates two daily connections between Ceuta and Malaga. The closest airport in Morocco (which naturally involves entering Morocco and crossing the border) is Sania Ramel Airport (TTU IATA) serving Tetouan. A wider selection of flights is available at Ibn Battouta Airport (TNG IATA) in Tangier. Don't forget that Spain and Morocco are in different time zones.
There are taxis available. Make sure they use the meter or negotiate a price before you get in. There is a decent bus service with modern and spacious buses running around the city with stops at the border with Morocco. Look for a bus marked "Frontera". All bus lines leave from "Plaza de la Constitución".
The area hosts a few churches, and fortifications for those interested in Euro-African history and governmental relations. The centre and waterfront are remarkably clean and attractive with safe walking, and feature many stores and cafés. There is also a lighthouse to see.
- 1 Arab Baths.
There are lovely beaches and desert areas to explore.
Ceuta is no longer a free port. The city was a free port before Spain joined the European Union in 1986; now it has a low-tax system. You will see that the economy of this city focuses on people transiting to/from Morocco and one-day shopping tourists. Offerings range from footpath hawkers and kiosks, to modest stores (with goods you'd expect from the types of visitors noted above), to fine jewellers and an El Corte Ingles department store.
In the city, there are two main types of cuisine: Moroccan and seafood, both of which can be found in many restaurants.
Moroccan cuisine includes many spices, herbs and combines sweet with salty. Specialities include couscous, tajines with raisons and almonds, and small pastries
Offerings range from pavement cafés and a drive-in McDonalds to a few fine restaurants.
- 1 El Secreto de Yuste, Av. San Francisco Javier 3, ☏ . Situated within the old medieval city walls. lunchtime menus at €8.
Ceuta is a great city to go out. There are several pubs and clubs and a great tapas route.
- Tetouan in Morocco