Chefchaouen: the blue city in Morocco
Chefchaouen is the famous blue city in Morocco. It was with a picture of this place (which I saw either in the magazine National Georgaphic or simply on the Internet), that our dream of a trip to this country began. As it turned out later, we weren’t the only ones with that story.
It’s cool when dreams come true!
Chefchaouen is nestled at the foot of the picturesque Reef Mountains and immediately smashes the imagination with its bright colors, colorful pots on the blue walls, and good-natured people. It felt like the countryside, where you can say hello to your neighbor casually or just say hello to whomever you meet.
Chefchaouen is a photographer’s paradise, a kind of studio in the open air, ideal for a photo session! Too bad the locals don’t like to take pictures.
The Spanish influence is evident in the town – a vendor in a shop asks something in Spanish, a musician in the square plays flamenco, but the muezzin in the mosque may also sing – wow, how colorful!
In Chefchaouen, you will often be offered marijuana, as there are many plantations nearby. I don’t know if it’s even legal, but judging by the way it’s offered under the table, no. This point adds charm to the overall picture
Attractions in Chefchaouen
What to see in Chefchaouen? There really aren’t that many interesting places, one full day is enough for you to see everything. Chefchaouen is divided into the old town (the medina, which is located higher up the hill) and the new town (located lower down the hill). Just the medina is colored blue and this is where everything interesting is concentrated.
The focal point of the medina is the Uta el-Hammam square with many restaurants and souvenir shops and the kasbah (fortress) and the main mosque, which is visible from afar. On the square musicians often perform, it’s fun in general
Kasba not so long ago was restored, and now there’s an ethnographic museum inside (there are old photos of the city) and an art gallery.
It’s fun to walk from the northeast corner of the medina, where there’s a small waterfall called Ras El Maa and a river on a path up a nearby hill to the so called Spanish Mosque. It was built by the Spanish in 1920 but was never used. They restored it and plan to make it a cultural center, but I found it in disrepair. But the views are great! You can see the whole valley and the surrounding mountains.
A view of the medina from the Spanish Mosque.
Talassemtane National Park
Not far from Chefchaouen begins Talassemtane National Park, which covers 80,000 square miles and offers great opportunities for trekking. There are many trails of varying difficulty, so if you have the time, you can go for a walk. I recommend to come for this in late summer-early fall or April-May, in October it was rainy and a little cool here. The park grows oaks, cedars, pines, cacti (an interesting juxtaposition :)), there are many species of birds and animals.
Hotels in Chefchaouen
The doors of our gesta
It’s a great idea to live right in the medina in one of these wonderful blue-walled houses. Riads, traditional Moroccan houses, are now often set up for tourists and rented out, making it such an authentic living experience. And relatively inexpensive, although for the same money you can get better service in one of the hotels in the new city. Service, but not an interesting experience.
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Here are a selection of hotels in the city with the best reviews:
Cafes and Restaurants
The largest selection of restaurants is in one place – on the central square, but the people eat there not so much, and reviews of local cafes are not very good. The restaurants are typical Moroccan food: tagine, couscous, harira soup, salads, olives… There are several pizzerias and decent fast-food places. Interestingly, there are at least two Chinese restaurants in the medina, and there are a lot of Chinese people.
Here’s a selection of restaurants with good food, some we have been to ourselves, some just have a lot of reviews and a good rating:
- Restaurant Bab Ssour – really good, though a little overpriced, gorgeous terrace.
- Restaurant Assaada – inexpensive Moroccan food near the square but in a quiet alley.
- Sandwich Chez Aziz – there are two places with that name, look at the map, I marked the one we were in. Cheap fast food and fresh vegetable salads.
- Café Sindibad – delicious breakfasts and a great terrace overlooking the city.
- Pizzeria Mandala – If you are tired of the Moroccan food.
- Lala Mesouda
How to get to Chefchaouen?
There is no railroad in the city, so you can only get here by bus. There are many bus companies in Morocco, but we recommend CTM and Supratours. From Chefchaouen to Tangier we took a bus of a local company, it was very old, air conditioning was weak, and we had to change buses either because of bad logistics or bus breakdown. From there we only rode with the two companies mentioned above.
Here are price examples from CTM to/from Chefchaouen:
- Tangier – 2 flights per day, 45 dirhams, 3 hours
- Fez – 4 flights per day, 75 dirhams, 5 hours
- Casablanca – 1 daily flight, 165 dirham, 6 hours
The bus station is just south of the old city, about a mile and a half away. If you have just arrived, it is better to take a cab (you have to go up), its cost is not more than 12-15 dirhams, the normal price is 10 dirhams per car. The way back down the road, so you can walk around, but there you see for yourself.
Cabs in Shefshawen are blue, a ride from the bus station to the medina will cost 10-12 dirhams.
Map of Shefshawen
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A riot of blue in the city of Sheffshaven
I wanted to call the post “Chefchaouen – the city with the color blue”, but this expression with its hype has already bored many, so I replayed the title. Anyway, from Fez we went for 1 day to one of the most popularized by photographers blue city called Chefchaouen, the walk around which I will tell in the article.
1. When we were putting together the itinerary, we thought of going from Fez to Chefchaouen for a couple of days with an overnight stay. But we figured it would be easier to drive to Chefchaouen for one day from Fez.
So, being in Fez, we bought a practically individual excursion to Chefchaouen from acquaintances of the hotel owner. In addition to us on the tour went a couple from Italy.
Early in the morning, when the clock showed 7:52, we waited for our departure, scheduled for 8 am. The driver and his car didn’t arrive until 8:20. By that time we were completely stiff in our light clothing, so much so that our fingers and toes were falling off. And all because at night the temperature drops to +4, and during the day rises to +20, and we didn’t want to fall from the heat while walking in Shefshauen in warm clothes. It took another 10 minutes for the driver to run somewhere, and we didn’t drive away from the city gates until 8:35. After picking up the Italians from the hotel, we thought we were going to Chefchaouen, but it turned out that we went to a tire shop, then to a gas station, then to get money for gas, then to a gas station again.
3. The distance to Chefchaouen is 195 km, about half of the way to Tangier. For Europe such a distance between the cities is trivial, and covered in 1 hour and 40 minutes. Morocco, too, sees itself as a European country, but Google Maps shows that we will overcome the distance as much as 3.5 hours. In the blogs people are writing that in a rented car they drove that distance in 4.5-5 hours, and all because there are speed limit signs and tourists in cars are caught by numerous police officers who give out cattle fines.
So with our jigit, who ignored all the rules, driving at excessive speed with dangerous overtaking, we got to Chefchaouen in 2.5 hours, and that with a stop for coffee and a toilet. Interesting fact: the police stop only tourists, and they do not care about the violations of the locals.
To say that I was afraid to ride in this car – is not to say anything, the traffic on the roads of Morocco defies any common sense or logic, so there are frequent accidents with fatal consequences.
4. The city of Chefchaouen, or as the Berbers call it Chavin, is located at the foot of the mountain range of the Rif (the Atlas Mountains in the north).
5. There are several observation decks as we approach the city, the photo above is one of the shots from such a deck. Behind the back we can see a welcoming wall with beggars on duty.
6. The good thing about going into town not by public transport is that you immediately find yourself on the mountain, from where you start to descend into town. At the parking lot are locals who offer to take pictures in hats against a picture of Shefshawen along with a parrot, a dog, or here with an ostrich. Such photos are especially liked by Chinese tourists. Pay attention to the Berbers, who can be distinguished in these places by woven hats decorated with bright threads.
7. Shefshawen has very strong elevation differences and a large number of stairs, so once again I was glad we had to go down rather than climb up.
8. I will tell you a little bit about the history of the city. The city was founded in 1471, when Moulay Ali bin Moussa ben Rashid el Alami built a mosque and a fortress on the site of a small Berber settlement, to protect northern Morocco from the Portuguese invasion.
9. In 1492 the Edict of the Alhambra was passed in Spain, a decree for the expulsion from all territories of the kingdom of Jews, Moors and Muslims who refused to accept Christianity. Those who did not change their faith and flee the country were condemned by the Inquisition and burned.
10. And so Spanish Jews and Muslims fell in love with the place, settled down and tried to recreate their homeland, Andalusia, in these territories. This is how the face of the city was formed.
11. For a long time, the city lived in seclusion, because non-believers were not allowed to visit the place. But the city has maintained its identity. In contrast to the rest of Morocco, it is true that in Chefchaouen the Spanish language is spoken mostly in the 15th century, because the city was not opened to the Goyim until 1920.
12 Now it is time to talk about where the blue color came from in the city’s decoration. The Jews who migrated to these places symbolically painted their houses in heavenly blue, because it is the color closest to God, and we all need to reflect on the spiritual life. There is also a version that the color was borrowed from the Jewish prayer cloak Talit, which has a thread of blue.
And someone more pragmatic says that this color began to be painted on houses because it best repels flies and mosquitoes.
13. Even the streets are signed in Spanish Calle.
14. After World War II, most Jewish families left for Israel, but Moroccan Berbers continue the blue tradition, even though the blue color washes off the walls quite easily.
15. Some of the most popular pictures of Morocco from travel brochures or magazines are just that of Chefchaouen.
16. Figuring out the streets of the medina of Chefchaouen is not easy, and if it were not for our guide, we would not have seen a good half of the beautiful entrance doors and streets.
17. The doors in Chefchaouen are very colorful and great for photo shoots. That’s why the Chinese love the town. Girls wear light blue dresses and take 100500 photos.
18. Behind some of the doors are hotels, hostels, or hostels. There are few hotels in the blue city, so if you decide to stay here overnight, especially during the season, book your accommodation in advance.
19. 19. The guide told us that the Spanish immigrants were short, so there are often doors with low openings.
20. Some guides write that in Chefchaouen should go for souvenirs, as they are the best in Morocco. Tourists in this city are attracted to buy carpets, jewelry, woolen products, chests, hemp and goat cheese. The unmistakable traffickers and the opportunity to see the merchandise in peace are an undeniable advantage of the stalls in the medina.
21. In addition to classic souvenirs and leather goods, you can bring paint from Chefchaouen to paint your house blue. Since such an exclusive is being traded, it means someone is buying it.
22. And you can bring a painting with 50 shades of blue, because in the colors of Shefshauen coloring you can consider the whole range of blue – from turquoise and azure to ultramarine.
23. Babushi leather slippers are also for sale here, and I even found them to be of a more decent quality than in the markets in Marrakech or Fez. These slippers feature the Jewish-Arabic Amulet of Hamsa or “God’s Palm.”
24. You probably noticed the kitten in the previous photo, and there really are a lot of cats in Chefchaouen, they are everywhere, just like in Istanbul. Especially in the fish market.
25. While walking around in Chefchaouen, I saw a lot of strolling tourists from Europe, and you could tell they had been here for weeks. As it turned out, Chefchaouen is the center of drug tourism in Morocco, because the city is surrounded by extensive cannabis fields and marijuana and hashish are sold on every corner.
26. If you go to Chefchaouen, note that Friday is a holy day, so almost everything is closed.
27. It’s lunch time.
Remember that scam at the restaurant with the no-price menu? Well, this is the restaurant we encountered in Chefchaouen, where our guide took us. Besides the lack of prices on the menu we did not like in the restaurant sticky soiled chairs, dirty tables and flying flies, in the kitchen, of course, was unsanitary and chaos. Naturally, we left the place.
In general, the restaurants in Chefchaouen are even worse than in Fes or Casablanca: everywhere we looked, it was very dirty and the kitchens were so dirty that even the slums in Tai’s slums would seem to you incredibly clean! After we had somehow chosen a restaurant and ate a tagine with the local sour orange juice and a liter of Coke, we continued our search for the highlight of the city.
28. And now it’s my turn to talk about the negatives. The smells here are vile: everywhere – in the streets, in the back alleys reek of urine and rotten fish, and the streets are so dirty that your feet stick to the ground. And I understand that locals and cats alike go and urinate in the streets. I found only 1 toilet during my walk through Shefchauen, and it was a filthy, very smelly place that was probably last cleaned under the French. Fortunately, I can hold my breath for a minute or two and walk into such places, but it would be hard for unprepared people.
29. Unlike white Santorini, black Salzburg, red Tallinn, or fabulous Alberobello, Schefschauen did not impress me with its blue. The city doesn’t have any unified architectural style, everything looks absurd, plus everyone uses different kinds of blue. This makes the city look not like a cohesive whole, but something garish and chaotic. Well, and the most kapetz is the painting of dilapidated and crumbling unwashed buildings in blue. A piece of the wall fell off, the wall is all dirty, the roof collapsed? No problem, we’ll just paint it all blue with a dirty brush without plastering or treating it. And the fact that it will all look very sloppy and shabby, few people care.
30. Take a closer look at repairing the walls of houses and applying paint. When they were installing the meter, the Moroccans simply covered the pieces of concrete that had fallen off, and they just painted over the loose plaster. This kind of bushwork makes your eyes twitch.
31. And the stairs still don’t end.
32. The Nikon camera blues the pictures a little as it is, but in Sheffshaven its blues are often off the charts.
33. Thanks to Chinese tourists, Chinese restaurants are opening in the city.
34. Judging by the number of bars on every window, security in Chefchaouen is as bad as in any other city in Morocco.
35. Under a lone tree with yellow foliage you can have some fresh fruit, if you are not afraid of the unsanitary and you like sour pomegranates and oranges.
35. But Chefchaouen isn’t just the blue part of town, there’s a modern city where buses come in and where life goes on.
In this photo our walk through the blue city ends and we have again to overcome 200 km of inadequate Moroccan roads to get to the hotel in Fez.
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I was born and grew up in Siberia and have been living in the Czech Republic in Prague since February 2012. In my free time I love visiting new cities and countries. To date, I have been to 36 countries and 400 cities. I love Italian cuisine, swimming in the sea and long walks. I’m a bit afraid of planes, so I know how to use ground transport.