Last Updated: 2021-04-28
Sometimes the best way to enjoy a new place is just simply being there. We’re often mistaken in thinking that we only make the most of our time on a trip if we cram in as many experiences and places as possible, as if a greater sum of parts will automatically make for a more complete whole.
We often forget that soaking in a place usually involves just killing some time there. With this in mind, let’s talk about one of the best places in all of Morocco to let the hours go by: Café Hafa in Tangier.
There are only a couple of places of interest in the area near Hafa (the necropolis or, somewhat further away, the kasbah), so after you’ve done seeing all of the main sights, set aside an afternoon to check out this café. Believe me. It’s worth it.
Starting from a central location, for example the Grand Socco (also known as Place du Grand 9 Avril 1947), we’ll have three options to get to Café Hafa. The first and most direct is by petit taxi (after some haggling it shouldn’t cost more than 20 dirhams).
If we’re up for a 20 minute walk, we have two other alternatives: we could go through the gate that leads to the Mendoubia Gardens and continue straight up to Café Hafa, or from the Grand Succo, we could first locate the Café Central, then, facing the front of the cafe, take the street on the right all the way to Café Hafa. The last option is the best because the path is not very steep and it goes through the middle of the scenic medina.
Any of the three options takes us to the area in the photo above. Then, we take the street to the right, until we spot the ocre stones set into a whitewashed wall that spell the name of our destination.
Usually in Morocco, the design and building materials are not what impress us about a place. Hafa is no exception. Concrete floor, block railings, plastic chairs and a motley herd of tables, brick and tile ones, wooden ones, and a few held together with more rust than metal.
When the founder, Ba M’Hamed, opened the cafe in 1921, he obviously didn’t put much emphasis on interior design. He knew that aesthetics is not always about the magic of the moment. Sometimes it’s all about the uniqueness of a particular location and the people you share the moment with.
That’s what Café Hafa is all about: whiling away the hours in relaxed conversation, playing music or listening to it, at one with the expanse of the Strait of Gibraltar, mint tea in hand (one of the best I’ve had in all of Morocco. Seriously).
This is a special place for many reasons. For one, it’s been one of cultural nexus in Tangier for over a century, with a long list of important figures in art, cinema and literature among its customers. But the main reason is that it’s one of those rare places that’s worth spending a few hours in just to soak in life for a while.
The official motto of Morocco is “haste kills” and Café Hafa is no exception. There are only a couple of waiters navigating up and down the stairs and back and forth along the rows of terraces. So, just sit back, relax, and enjoy the view and some conversation.
Brief Death and Resurrection
On August 4, 2018, local authorities showed up at the door with a bulldozer to demolish part of the café.
Apparently, they did some renovations without the appropriate building permits and without the approval of the agency that oversees historical buildings in Tangier. The owner and the authorities had conflicting opinions and a lack of understanding which cast doubt on the future of the café.
Fortunately, thanks to a combination of public outrage and the owner’s willingness to make some needed adjustments, the cafe reopened after two weeks, once again taking its rightful place as a cultural icon in Tangier.
One Last Thought
Below are two photos, which show outdoor seating at a café, one in Spain, and one in Morocco:
Both cultures enjoy outdoor life, but there is a noticeable difference. As a Spaniard I can tell you that we prefer sitting around the table, turning our backs to the street if necessary. In contrast, Moroccans usually sit on just one side of the table, turning their full attention to street life and people watching.
I think this reveals a fundamental difference in our attitudes toward life. I used to go to cafés with a friend who, when it was time to go home, would always say: “Well, we’ve already fixed half the world, tomorrow we will fix the other half”. We Spaniards often like to prattle on about everything that’s happening in the world and try to fix all the ills of society.
However, a Moroccan’s conversation over mint tea tends to be more leisurely. They prefer observation and contemplation, perhaps accepting that there are certain things that cannot be changed, but above all being thankful for what they already have.
You can’t pick up these subtle cultural differences by hiring a guide or visiting a museum. Moroccans connect with each other by letting themselves go and watching time pass over a meal or a cup of tea. Café Hafa is one of the best places in Morocco to do just that.
Coordinates: 35°79′N -5°82′W (see location)
Size: Approximately 1,800 square meters (20,000 sq. ft.), the terrace taking up 1,000 square meters (11,000 sq. ft.)
Construction date: 1921
Hours: 9:00 AM to 11:00 PM. Open every day of the week
Entrance fee: Free
Recommendations: Café Hafa doesn’t have a menu and doesn’t really offer meals, but you can enjoy an afternoon tea on the terraces with different appetizers like nuts, cakes, briouats, etc. Different foods are available at different times of the day.
If you want to know more about the city, check out our visit Tangier guide.