Chefchaouen (sometimes shortened to simply Chaouen) is a popular tourist destination in north-eastern Morocco. Located amongst the soaring Rif Mountains, it is easy to reach by bus from major surrounding cities, such as Tangier, Fes, Tetouan, Rabat, and Casablanca. Daytrips also operate from Tangier and Fes, although it is well worth taking at least a couple of days to enjoy the beauty and surrounding nature of Chefchaouen, Morocco’s Blue Pearl. Here’s why you should add Chefchaouen to your Morocco itinerary:
A lovely welcome to a lovely town
A small ornamental section of wall, complete with the town’s signature colours of blue and white, waits to greet visitors. Featuring a blue door, it is a popular photo stop before exploring the rest of the town. You can enjoy lovely views of the mountains from here, as well as looking at an old piece of agricultural equipment, rather like an antiquated tractor, that is displayed at the side of the road.
Stunning medina with lots of shades of blue
Chefchaouen is known for its beautiful medina (town centre), filled with buildings that are painted in various shades of blue and white. The gleaming white wash is a stark contrast against the powder blues, baby blues, ocean blues, navy blues, and any other blue hue that you can think of. Homes, restaurants, and businesses all embrace the blue theme with gusto. It is said that the original reason that people painted buildings in those colours was to deter mosquitoes, though today the, sometimes mottled and sometimes chipped but overall well maintained, paintwork is more of a tourist draw than anything else.
Pretty details that add plenty of character
Many properties take pride in their appearance, and you’ll come across ornamental pots and hanging tubs filled with fragrant flowers and lush plants, various statues and other decorative effects, attractive clocks, and diverse lanterns that provide street lighting after the sun has set. Pay attention to the doors too; lots have unusual door knockers, including hands, spoons, and animal heads.
Peaceful souks with an assortment of wares
The souks (markets) of Chefchaouen are more relaxed than those in other parts of the country, with friendly locals more likely to exchange a cheery smile and greeting than to try and pressure you into buying anything. You can browse an interesting array of items, including colourful lamps, hats, leather goods, clothing, aromatic spices, argan oil products, and exquisite pieces of artwork. Paintings of Chefchaouen are particularly abundant, with vendors using the exterior blue walls to display their works. Multi-coloured woven rugs also hang outside shops, creating lovely colour contrasts.
Blue and white public art
The artwork doesn’t stop with the items for sale; you can see large painted images around the town, with whole walls covered with picturesque scenes, all painted using mainly the town’s signature colours of white and blue. Depicting the streets and the people of Chefchaouen, the details are stunning.
A small but atmospheric Kasbah
It costs just 10 MAD (approximately 1 USD) to step inside the high walls of Chefchaouen’s historic Kasbah (fortress). Dating back to the 18th century, the Kasbah was built on the orders of Moulay Ismail, the first Arab to arrive in Morocco and a former king of the country.
You’ll enter into a tree-surrounded courtyard with plenty of blooms, the sand-coloured walls looming on all sides. Climb up into the towers for pretty views of the blue town and to the mountains beyond, and descend into the former prison, complete with manacles and shackles attached to the floor and walls. There is an ethnographic exhibition within the walls.
The Kasbah’s is open between 9 am and 1 pm and 3 pm and 6.30 pm on all days of the week except Fridays, when the morning opening hours are from 9 am to 12 midday (afternoon opening hours are the same as for the rest of the week).
Babbling river and cascading waterfall
To the east of the medina there is a small waterfall and a narrow river. The waterfall, known locally as Ras el Maa is a serene spot that is popular with locals. You may see kids splashing about in the waters on a hot day, and it’s quite common to see local residents using the running water to wash the large rugs from their homes. The multi-coloured rugs are first beaten with sticks or brooms to remove the dust, before being laid in the shallow water and vigorously scrubbed with a brush. Rugs are then hung out to dry on top of small shelters.
Other things to enjoy in and around charming Chefchaouen
The main square is a terrific place to eat and drink, with a variety of restaurants that serve mainly Moroccan fare, such as couscous, Moroccan salad, and tagine, as well as a handful of bars and coffee shops that really get lively in the evenings. Restaurant Paloma is especially lovely.
The ruins of Jamaa Bouzafar, an old mosque, are interesting for a short stroll, and you can also enjoy excellent views of the town from the hilly location. There are several active mosques around the town, each sending out the soulful call to prayer five times each day.
The nearby hills and mountains provide great opportunities for scenic hiking, with trails of varying difficulty levels available. The beautiful waterfall of Akchour is also just a short drive, of around 30 minutes, away. Many visitors negotiate a round-trip fare with a local taxi.
There are plenty of reasons to visit Chefchaouen when travelling around Morocco!
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