Discover the Spanish enclave on the shores of North Africa, where world-class fishing, watersports and history abound.
Having always thought of myself as being well travelled and versed on most destinations in the world I found myself stumped when the destination of Ceuta cropped up. After a bit of research I discovered that Ceuta is an autonomous Spanish city located on the coast of North Africa, on the Moroccan side of the Straits of Gibraltar.
After a flight from London to Malaga, an hour’s drive to the port of Algeciras and another hour by ferry across the Straits to Ceuta, it became apparent as to why it’s not well trodden on the tourist map and remains relatively undiscovered.
Surrounded by Morocco, the boundaries of which can be seen from the city’s viewpoint, Ceuta offers an interesting cultural mix of Spanish and Moroccan influences. The evidence of which abound in architecture and cuisine and the city prides itself on its harmonious amalgamation of religions and cultures.
Ceuta’s rich historical past is evident in the city’s old walls and fortifications, where its previous Roman, Muslim, Portuguese and Spanish settlers have all left an indelible mark as well as a beautiful focal point for today’s visitors exploring the city.
Once an important stronghold for traders, Ceuta is now transforming itself into a unique holiday destination, with its rich marine life, tax-free shopping, fantastic year-round climate and considerably lower prices for fishing and watersports than nearby Gibraltar.
One of the main pulls for visitors to make the extra effort to cross the Gibraltar Strait to Ceuta is the abundance of marine life. The Straits are where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean collide and mingle, with the current ever-changing to seduce the bounty from both sides. Not only does Ceuta offer the same fantastic fishing opportunities as nearby Gibraltar and the southern tip of Spain, but because it is still a fledgling on the fishing map the waters are quieter and the boat hire cheaper.
With my only experience of fishing being catching tadpoles in the local pond as a child, I was eager to finally get the chance of hooking my first-ever fish. Plus the fact that we were lunching on our catch later in the day was extra motive to succeed. Chugging away from the shoreline before sunrise afforded a stunning view of Ceuta, with the twinkling lights strewn around the bay and the lighthouse still signaling to incoming fishermen. As soon as we were far enough away from the shore, we cast off. Letting the line trail behind the boat as we continued to head out into the still-dark waters.
Having always imagined fishing to be endless hours of watching water, I was more than surprised when the line started to tug and strain erratically virtually straight away. Our ship’s captain jumped on the case and within minutes our first catch was on board flapping away – an impressive bonita (tuna’s smaller counterpart). After that we managed to catch another three respectably sized bonitas, which we then dined upon in a local restaurant where they served them in a variety of styles, including a stew with clear Moroccan influences. As well as the tasty bonita, the waters in Ceuta are also teeming with the highly sought-after red tuna, as well as plenty more prize catches.
As well as fishing, Ceuta is positioning itself as an all-round watersports and activity destination. My next taste of sea adventure was to be in the form of aquatic trekking. Having no idea of what this would entail, I had visions of donning a metal deep-sea suit and walking along the seafloor, which it wasn’t. As I found out on the rocky shores of Ceuta, aquatic trekking is being zipped up in neoprene suits and scrambling around the coast, climbing up rocky mounts and jumping into icy waters.
After overcoming a bought of vertigo when plunging myself off a massive rock (ok, probably not that big but felt like Everest at the time) combined with the excitement of swimming, kicking and sliding around the coast it was a great deal of fun. Plus our excellent guide Rafa was always on hand to assist in preventing us from being swept out to sea by the odd surprising strong current.
One of the highlights of my trip was the sea kayaking at night. Starting off from the beach, we set off for an evening jaunt out into Ceuta’s waters, complete with head lamps and guide. After making our way along the shore we soon headed into the belly of Ceuta and paddled through the canal that makes its way around the pretty fortifications we had previously walked around (and stayed in). With the old walls and battlements lit up the trip was beautiful and our knowledgeable and entertaining guide Keke brought the historic buildings to life with his tales of invasions and Ceuta’s colourful past.
All in all, Ceuta might require an extra bit of effort to reach than say Gibraltar, but with its abundance of sea-faring activities, tax-free shopping and close proximity to Morocco’s delights, it has made itself much more than just a gateway to North Africa but a unique and worthy holiday destination in its own right.
For more information on watersports in Ceuta contact:
- The Empresa Diving Centre, www.ceutabuceo.com.
- Kayaking can be arranged through Carlos Galet of Club Kayak Aventura, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Aquatic trekking with Rafa Jimenez, www.viajesfortur.com.