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Welcome to Chefchaouen, one of the, if not the, most mesmerising cities we’ve ever visited. A city high in the Riff mountains of Morocco with a winding Medina where every house is painted a shade of blue. It sounds kitschy but the result is a piece of paradise, a sort of heaven on earth. Truthfully, visiting Chefchaouen culminates in an intoxicating feeling of happiness when strolling the streets. Quite rightly referred to as the pearl of Morocco.
Contrary to out last post documenting our travels from Ronda, Spain to Chefchaouen, Morocco where we invited you to wait for this post to find out about all our adventures in Chefchaouen, in writing this post it has become apparent that we did not do much adventuring. So, while we will document some hiking expeditions, we don’t actually partake in them. If you’re here for adventures, maybe read some of our other posts. Otherwise, stick around for pretty pictures, what to do and see in Chefchaouen, history & culture!
Our time in Georgia is coming to an end and while we’re sad, we’ve got big plans for the summer. We are going to drive through Central Asia on the Silk Road with a final destination of Kyrgyzstan. A country not many people have ever heard of. When the summer is over we will head […]
In the heart of the Pyrenees, we wake up from a cosy nights sleep in our tent, it was cold but not excruciatingly so. Wide awake, freshened and energetic to explore. We came to Espot to experience the mighty Pyrenees mountains. We decided randomly on the national park Aigüestortes i Estany of Saint Maurici. Well […]
Fasten yourself in for a ride – this is a good one. The events of this post take place over one year ago. The 14th September 2017 to be precise. We had planned to take a cable car to the top of Dachstein (the second highest mountain in the Northern Limestone Alps) and maybe hike […]
Hitchhiking for over three months, carrying all of your belongings and shelter in your rucksack requires a lot preparation and money. After spending many, many smackers on equipment, from a tent to a french press (Girl needs her coffee!), only to discover in the process that so many more items are needed, you have to […]
This article will be more of a what to do in Chefchaouen type, because we’re pretty sure you don’t want to read about us walking through streets going “oohhh”, “ahhhh” & “sooo cute”. We will of course throw in a few personal experiences. There is a lot more to do in the area, what with all the surrounding mountains. Unfortunately for us, we spent too much time in Europe and ate into our time in Africa, and now our flight back from Marrakesh got cancelled and the only other one is a few days before we actually want to leave, so yeah, we’ve lost time. Anyway, here’s some initial impressions of Chefchaouen. You can see for yourself how mesmerising it is.
We arrive in Chefchaouen in December and the weather is perfect. Shorts and T-Shirts weather. Blue skies, sun shining, ideal. We can’t say if that’s the norm or not, being the beginning of winter. Apparently, it does snow in the area and although not typically in town, it does happen. There will be snow in the mountains during winter for sure. Regarding the other seasons, it will mostly be warm to very hot.
The city was established in 1471 by Abu al-Hassan Ali ibn Moussa ibn Rashid al-Alami. Back then it was known more succinctly as Chaouen, which roughly translates to The Peaks in Arabic. Fitting, considering the towering peaks flanking the city and its elevation at 564M above sea level. The purpose of the city was to defend against the invading Portuguese armies from the north; it was essentially a fortress. In fact, you can still see much of the city walls to this day.
The Moroccan empires once stretched into the Iberian peninsula where a great wealth of history is left over from the Moors, particularly in the south of modern day Spain, Andalusia. If you want to read more about the history of the Moors in Europe, check out our article about Granada, Spain.
So it turns out that not a great deal of history is known about Chefchaouen. I’ve done a lot of research and it seems most sources are regurgitating the same information and most disappointingly, no one really knows for sure why Chefchaouen is blue.
There are a bunch of theories how it came to be blue:
Although we might not know the origin of the hues, that is secondary to the fact that the tradition lives on. Even to this day city dwellers maintain the thousands of shades of blue and you will often see them arduously painting their homes and streets. The colour blue is a way of life, it’s enshrined in the inhabitants’ very existence.
The pictures above show traditional Berber people of Chefchaouen. They are wearing the traditional dress of the Moroccan Berber, the descendants of the nomadic people who inhabited North Africa before the Arabs arrived.
Many Moroccans wear western style clothes. However, you will find a host of traditional clothes with influences from Berber and Arab cultures, for example the men often wear the pointy hooded robes known as Djellaba. You can find out more about traditional Moroccan clothes here.
Berber actually means “Non Greek Speaking” in Ancient Greek. The Romans also used the word to refer to the Northern tribes, Germanics, Celts, etc. Present day Berbers often refer to themselves as Amazigh. They live through Morocco and other countries of North Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and so on.
The Arabs enlisted the Berbers for the conquests of the Iberian peninsula and bought Islam along with them. Afterwards, for many centuries, the Berbers individual identities were replaced by those of the Arabs, language, scripts and clothes. Eventually the Berbers were driven in to the mountains.
Nowadays Morocco is made up of mostly Berbers and Arabs and the communities appear to be very mixed, however, that is anecdotal. The French are credited with identifying the different cultures, establishing rights and allowing for institutions to study and promote the Berber history during their reign in Morocco. Furthermore, they were administered as a separate people – not that this is meant to paint colonialism in a favourable way.
Enough with the history and culture in Chefchaouen, what is there to do?
Let’s face it, the number one thing to do in Chefchaouen is to roam around the streets and fully immerse yourself in the idyllic blue walls, passages, courtyards and staircases. It’s hard to describe in words the way one feels in such a place, it’s harmonious, it’s elating, it leaves you awestruck. It’s a sort of beauty that might otherwise seem unattainable. But it’s not, it’s here, yours for taking, so relish it. Climb every staircase, peek around every corner, take photographs of hundreds of doors.
You can easily find solace from the crowds off the main streets. Besides, the best tip we can give is to get up early and enjoy the city whilst most tourists are sleeping and eating breakfast. The city will be empty apart from the few locals running errands and setting up for the working day ahead.
Fez. A truly crazy place. Situated in the mountains and desert of Morocco. It contains the worlds largest Medina, and while it can be very intimidating, it’s also wildly rewarding considering the architecture, the smells, the food, the characters and the colours. Fez is a drug, a stimulant, it’s the volume turned up to 11. […]
Merzouga, synonymous with the Sahara desert in Morocco. It’s the gateway. The Sahara Desert is every traveller’s dream, representing the ultimate adventure in an environment seemingly too hostile to support life. However, humans have defied the laws of nature for thousands of years and life has flourished in these hostile lands. We travelled over mountains, […]
The sun is beating down, sand wisps across the empty road, we’re in the desert, in Merzouga. We’re on the way to Tinghir where we’ve rented a private room for the night. Tinghir is the home to one of the most famous spectacles of nature in Morocco, Todra Gorge. Not to mention a vast oasis […]
It’s the last few days of our epic hitchhiking trip from Vienna all the way to Marrakesh. Our first destination was the Green Lake in Styria. Since then we’ve travelled through Austria, Switzerland, France, Spain, Portugal and finally Morocco. The last days are not quite going to plan but that’s okay; we’ve had some incredible […]
Did this really need to be it’s own section you ask? Naturally. There are many cats in Chefchaouen and they are the best. What can be more heartwarming than these fluffy little felines against the magnificent architecture? And if you’re wondering, where is the cat in the second picture – look a bit harder!
Watching the sunset is the ultimate holiday experience. I always wonder why we chase sunsets on holidays but when we are home, we mostly ignore the best time of the day to be outside. A good sunset is the perfect grounding. The immense beauty is often inspiring and always humbling. A reminder of everything that is well and a glimpse in to a better future.
Anyway, there are a few great spots to watch the sunset, some harder than others to get to:
Remarkable Ronda. This magnificent town has been on our travel list for a long time now. We’re finally here, and it’s our final destination in Europe too. Two days to explore Ronda and then we’ll take a ferry to Morocco, my first time on the African continent. It’s going to be an action packed few […]
After a very short introduction we are packing our bags and leaving St. Gallen for Filisur via Chur. As always, we wish we had more time but that seems to happen with every place we visit. St. Gallen was unexpectedly beautiful. We were not prepared for it since we only came so Caroline could visit […]
Not exactly unhappy to leave the campsite in Manosque, we get up considerably early (for us anyway) and make our way to town to get a ride from there. Today we finally want to get to the seaside! (with a quick stop in Arles). I’m dreaming about sandy beaches and wild horses in the Camargue. […]
Wahoo, we have crossed our first border as hitchhikers! It’s been an eventful journey to St. Gallen that started early in our beloved Innsbruck. We love Innsbruck so much, we wrote not one but two posts about it! We splurged on a room there last night. When I say splurged, I mean a room without […]
Chefchaouen is surrounded by mountains so naturally there are hiking opportunities. There are various tours you can take further into the Riff mountains to canyons and waterfalls or you can just start in the Medina and head into the mountains. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t have enough time in Chefchaouen to explore the mountains so we’re going to delegate to others for descriptions and timings, but we’ve done the research and picked out the best potential hikes that we’d like to do.
Hiking information is not greatly available on the internet in English. While there are some blog posts describing personal experiences, many of them are not particularly professional. Consequently, it might be worthwhile to hire a guide or at the very least do some extensive research.
Chefchaouen is located in Morocco’s marijuana growing region and because of this you will find many unscrupulous characters in the mountains who will try to sell you weed and tours. They can be persistent and aggressive. Therefore, it’s best to politely decline and travel together in a group.
Chefchaouen is full of impressive architecture, and we are suckers for the Islamic style. The colours, the patterns, the intricacy. Apart from being a masterpiece of architecture in itself, Chefchaouen contains some striking examples which deserve more of your time.
If you enjoy Islamic architecture, checkout our post about Granada where we visit the incredible Alhambra Palace & Fortress Complex.
If you’ve ever spoken to someone who has visited Morocco you will of course have heard uncomfortable stories. Despite the smooth travel experiences so far, it’s not all peaches and cream. In an effort not to gloss over uncomfortable details we’ll air the dirty laundry. Of course it’s not to throw shade on Morocco, but if we don’t talk about these problems then we will have a less than slim chance of fixing them.
We won’t talk about the constant hassle of taxi drivers and market sellers, that’s been covered many times before and you should be prepared for that. I will add that upon reading these stories, I found myself not wanting to follow the advice of just ignore and walk away. It seems so brash. In most cases we do earn more and lead more privileged lives than many of the locals just trying to make a living.
However, on reflection, smiling and conversing with every guy trying to sell you something, purposely acting naïve, humouring people who maybe do just want to help, quickly becomes exhausting. Smiling and repeatedly saying no is easy, but when they start hurling abuse, it soon becomes tough. You will have to find your own approach to dealing with the madness of Morocco. There is no one-size fits all remedy.
Anyway, some of the more uncomfortable encounters.
There are many airports in Morocco and as there is not really a nearby international airport, the airport you choose will mostly depend on the rest of your trip. If you plan to visit other cities such as Casablanca, Fez or Marrakesh you might want to fly directly there and take a bus to Chefchaouen. The closest international airport is Tangier. Check Skyscanner for flights.
For domestic travel we’d recommend using buses, they are modern, clean and punctual. CTM & Supratours are the main operators.
If you want to figure out how to get to Chefchaouen from Spain to Morocco, read our previous post.
We’ve described what to do and our experiences in Chefchaouen in the above post, to summarise:
We stayed at Casa Amina in the heart of the Medina, they welcomed us warmly with mint tea and a chat. They have a rooftop area to enjoy nice views over the city. They have dorms and private rooms, we took a private.
We stayed for 2 days and it wasn’t enough. It’s not enough time to fully appreciate the beauty of Chefchaouen. You can absolutely see all the sites in that time, but going at a slower pace is definitely recommended. Of course if you want to explore the mountains, you will need more than 2 days.