Chefchaouen, Morocco's Blue City
Chefchaouen, (say chef-shoe-ahn) is a city in the Rif Mountains of northwest Morocco. The brightly painted Medina (old town) of Chefchaouen leaves you seeing blue for days! The blue walls are said to be either the result of Jewish settlers in the 1930's or that the blue keeps mosquito's away. That's quite a contrast of opinions but whatever the reason it is a beautiful medina and a great way to spend a day wandering around.
What is Chefchaouen Known For?
Handmade Wool Products
Chefchaouen is known for wool products and everywhere you go there are stunning woven blankets. They are gorgeous but heavy which is the reason I didn't purchase one. A regret I have to this day. Not only stunningly beautiful they would have kept me much warmer than my poxy supposed 5 degree sleeping bag that was clearly just a sheet in disguise!
If you visit Chefchaouen, try and find a cafe that serves the goat cheese for lunch. Its local to the area and so nice. Its smooth, creamy and slightly tart all in the same mouthful and honestly I don't think I've ever eaten better cheese. Unfortunately Chefchaouen is also renown for its marijuana producing fields and you do get so many men siddling up to you asking if you want hash. Even me – which barely happens to me anymore but Chefchaouen was the exception.
Morocco's Blue City
Chefchaouen is also known as Morocco's blue city. The entire city isn't blue but the very quaint Medina area is almost 100% whitewashed blue. Or should I say bluewashed blue? Anyway the medina component of the city is these gorgeous cobblestoned winding alleyways of blue washed walls.
It is of course an Instagram dream and you do see influencers and wanna be influencers posing for shots in every little alleyway.
One very enterprising woman has these amazing white pots around her entryway with bright red flowers in them and charges everyone $1USD to take one photo. They are inside her gates but still outside her home and she has a nice little business going. You only get one photo though so you better make it a good one!
The view over the hillside from my gorgeous little lunch spot. An elderly lady accosted me on the street and offered her roof top for a home cooked lunch and I gladly accepted. The fresh flat bread, goat cheese (which I suspect was home made), olives and meats were divine and when I got back to the camp site that evening, I'd paid about a quarter what others had in restaurants. Sometimes being a female on your own allows you these local luxuries.
What will you find in the Blue Medina in Chefchaouen?
The medina is not just home to many locals it also has lots of cafe's, shops and restaurants. I would recommend tring to avoid the really touristy ones near the city entrance and ask some locals where you might eat. As always the more local ones have better food and are way more affordable. They aren't super easy to find however. As in a lot of Morocco, a lot of the eating establishments are roof top or behind closed doors, however the locals are keen to help if you give them a big smile. Some are a little jaded (from Instagrammers acting badly) so approach slowly, smile and nod and say thanks multiple times.
Morocco has two official languages, Arabic and Amazigh, or Berber, however almost all Moroccans at least understand French and a lot speak it fluently. So “thank you”, “shukran” or Merci will set you in good stead.
We stayed further up the hill from the town and so walked down over the hill and in the back way so to speak, which meant that we found more local eateries. Just head to the back of the Medina and then start looking and you should find something. The worst thing that happens is that you don't and you end up at the tourist end of the M'dina and eat there.
Are the sales people pushy in the Chefchaouen Medina?
While everyone is very friendly the locals are well indoctrinated into tourism culture and even though the “you buy you buy” isn't terrible, it is there. There wasn't anything I wanted to purchase (with the exception of a wool rug that I just didn't have room for), and for the most part I wasn't overly bothered. In saying that however, now that I'm older that is an added advantage of being over 40. I smile, shake my head, say no thank you and they take me at my word.
There are also other ways to make a living from the tourists. I saw one gentleman who was so weathered and had an amazing face but he wanted $100 USD for me to take his photo. If I was a pro photographer, it would have been worth spending the money I'm sure, but I'm not and that is just not something I could afford to pay. There is also the danger that if I pay it, its going to be more for the next person and $100 is a LOT of money in Morocco. It's a lot of money to me as an Aussie, but in Morocco that is really good money. I understood his capitalism but I just didn't want to be part of it.
The final thing you might see is touts taking you to restaurants. Take this if you please and don't if you would prefer to find something yourself. Mostly I found my own food, however the last day I was there I wanted a roof top bar for the sunset and so I just asked a stall holder and she flagged down a guy who got me arguably the best seat in the house at one of the very popular restaurants. I tipped him $5 and he hugged me so I'm assuming no-one ever does. He was so polite and held the door open for me and got me such a great table I felt it would have been rude not to tip him. It may or may not be the done thing but I was happy with my decision to do so.
Where to stay in Chefchaouen?
We camped at Camping Azila which you can't seem to book online. Most of the accommodation is in the Medina (old town) but that isn't far from the bus stop at all.
Hostels in ChefChaouen are around $7-9 (dorm bed) or mid range hotels via Booking.com are around $50-70 AUD per night. Alternatively if you are wanting to splash out – try Hotel Lalla Ghayta for around $385 AUD per night!
Is it safe to wander Chefchouen on your own?
Chefchaouen is definitely worth a visit and is one of the places I felt most safe in Morocco but it is a big pot and hash growing area so you do have to put up with a lot of peddlers. Apart from the hash and pot sellers I never felt unsafe in Chefchaouen, however as usual I rarely walk somewhere I don't know late at night, or after dark if its somewhere less established. The night I spent the sunset at the roof top restaurant I got a taxi back to camp which was only around $4. It was only a 15-20 min walk but it was up through the mountains at the back of the town and I didn't think that was a great idea.
No-one I met had any challenge and its a friendly local town for the most part. Take the usual precautions and you will be fine however during the day I wandered all over on my own and never felt at risk at all.
NB: One of the guys from our truck saw a pot pusher slip a bag into a tourist backpack and then bail him up abusing him for not paying for the product. Luckily for him our guys saw it and a couple of them are large dudes and managed to scare off the drug pusher. If you were a woman that could be very scary so keep your bags closed at all times. Closed and zipped. I met a local policeman the next day and he said that they all know the drug pushers tricks so just scream bloody blue murder (his words not mine) and people will come and chase the offender away. Still – I wouldn't want to find myself in that position!
How to get to Chefchaouen
Weidly even though it is in the north, Chefchaouen doesn't seem to have a bus route from Tangier. The easiest way to get there is from Fes. CTM seems to run buses daily as below. The website is in French however if you use Google Translate it translates well. The Comfort buses have Wi-fi, USB charge points and toilets on board. The buses do fill up fast so either book your ticket online or head to the bus station when you get to Fes to book. Otherwise you could find yourself waiting for hours or even days. The bus station location in Fes. Make sure you check where the bus station is before the day of travel. From what I understand there used to be an old one near the Medina but it isn't there anymore and it causes mass confusion. Check with your accommodation as to where you catch the bus to be sure.
Bus times from Fes to Chefchaouen
|Departure Time||Arrival||Duration||Coach Level||Price|
|08:00 am||12:15 pm||4h 15 min||Comfort||80.00 MAD|
|11:00 am||15:05 pm||4h 5 min||Comfort||80.00 MAD|
|16:30 pm||21″15 pm||4h 45 min||Comfort||80.00 MAD|
How long should I stay in Chefchaouen?
I would recommend at least a 2-3 night stay in Chefchaouen. Apart from the Medina and old town there are a few things to see and do.
- A day trip to Cascades d'Akchour is worth it, especially if you are a hiker. I can't find the one I did as I booked it locally, however this one on Trip Adviser looks very similar. You could get a Grand Taxi from town as well however I was on my own and wanted to maximise my time at the waterfalls so I did a tour. The grand taxi's are very affordable but you do have to wait for them to fill up before they go.
- If you are a spa person the Lina Ryad and Spa looks wonderful. I haven't tried it myself but I've since met a woman who spent a few hours there and loved it.
- The Kasbah museum is worth a visit and is right in the centre of town
- Head up to the Spanish Mosque for some great views over the city
- Do a food tour of Chefchaouen. I LOVED this. There was so many things I would have had no idea to ask for that were very delicious.