Morocco Part II: Getting Lost in Chefchaouen
Life moves at a slower pace in Chefchaouen. One can’t help but feel the calmness of the small city as you wander the nearly empty streets and take in the blue-washed buildings. Set beneath the peaks of the Rif Mountains in the northeast of Morocco, the city is nick-named the Blue Pearl. When planning our trip to Morocco, I knew that I had to make the trek to Chefchaouen (pronounced shef-shouw-en, also known as Chaouen), even if the city is a bit further off the typical tourist loop.
After our quick introduction to Morocco in Tangier, we met our driver, Ahmed of Dunes Line Tours, bright and early and set out on the 2.5 hour drive to Chefchaouen. Along the way, we stopped a couple times to take in the views of the mountains and learn more about the many dams that control the country's water supply.
We spent one day exploring the medina and another hiking in Akchour. I was so looking forward to visiting Chefchaouen based on images I'd seen on Instagram, but I don't think many of them truly convey what one experiences in the city. I think they're more of a dramatized, almost fantasized version of the city. While I had a wonderful day in Chefchaouen, there isn't much going on per se and the city doesn't necessarily resemble the edited and staged Instagram version of itself. The beauty of visiting Chefchaouen is to slow down and get lost in its narrow lanes, quite a stark contrast to the bustling cities of Fes and Marrakech. In fact, my favorite part of the area was getting out of the city to hike in the mountains.
Head to Chefchaouen for two days to wander the medina and head into the Rif Mountains to experience some of the most beautiful scenery. Follow along as I take you through our first day in the Blue Pearl and share a special experience eating a home-cooked traditional meal.
What to Do
Wander the streets of the medina and get lost in the maze.
Chefchaouen is quite a small city. Take your time getting lost in its medina. We had a lot of fun with our photography here. Follow the narrow streets as they twist and curve. Don't be afraid to wander into the small offshoots. You'll ultimately find yourself walking in circles passing alleyways you've seen before. Just go with it.
bonus: let's play a game. find this door.
There are a number of beautifully decorated and odd-shaped doors in Chefchaouen. It just so happened that Dan's family visited Morocco the week before us. His brothers sent us a picture of a door to find thinking we certainly weren't going to succeed. I'm telling you Chefchaouen is so small we found it within our first hour of walking around the medina. Now, I'm passing the game onto you and I'm asking you to find this pretty one. Make sure to tag #tbpdoors if you find it!
Visit the Kasbah.
For some of the best views of the city, head into the kasbah, or walled fortress. Pay 10 dirhams ($1 USD) to enter from the main square, Plaza Uta el-Hammam, and climb the main tower to overlook the city and surrounding Rif Mountains. I suggest going right before sunset to witness that beautiful hazy golden hour glow. There's a little exhibit about the history of the city, however, English was not one of the languages displayed.
Walk up the hill to Watch the sunset from the Spanish Mosque.
After your visit to the kasbah, take an evening stroll up to the Spanish mosque to watch the sunset over the city. Exit the medina from the eastern gate, Bab al Ansar, and follow the path over the small waterfall up the hill. The walk up takes about 40 minutes. My only word of caution are the groups of men that hang out at the mosque smoking kif (marijuana). They seemed harmless, but I wouldn't have wanted to be up there by myself.
Have a local dining experience.
One of my favorite meals during our time in Morocco was at the home of one of the employees of Casa Perleta, our hotel (more below). Mohammed serves breakfast at the hotel, but also takes guests on day excursions and invites them into his home for a wonderful meal made by his lovely wife. Mohammed doesn't speak English, but he speaks Spanish and his wife speaks a little English. I'm sure it was quite the scene watching Dan and Mohammed communicate in Spanish and Mohammed's wife and I trying to communicate in English. There were a lot of hand gestures, smiles, and attempts to translate. Music is always a universal language, so we enjoyed listening to Mohammed play his own music on guitar and afterwards watched a bit of a Bollywood movie...classic. If you'd like to enjoy a unique home-cooked meal, you can get in touch with Mohammed via Facebook. He doesn't charge, but you pay as you wish. We picked up cookies from Chez Aziz on our way over as a token and also gave him 400 dirhams (about $20 USD per person, which he seemed overly gracious for). Mohammed picked us up at Casa Perleta and walked us back after dinner. I highly recommend reaching out! He can also take you on the hike to Akchour (more details HERE).
Chefchaouen is best reached from Tangier (2.5 hours) or Fes (4.5 hours), but you can also come from Rabat (4 hours) or Casablanca (5.5 hours). We used the fabulous Dunes Line Tours, who picked us up in Tangier and drove us around the rest of the 8 days we were in Morocco. I highly recommend springing for a private car, so you can stop at gorgeous viewpoints along the way. You can also take a CTM bus line or a Grand Taxi.
Where to Stay
You’ll want to stay inside the medina of Chefchaouen. We absolutely loved Casa Perleta, a small house hotel with only 8 rooms. The staff were so warm and the location was perfect. Plus, they had a killer breakfast with an even better view. They serve you the best sfenj (donut) with breakfast! Make sure to call just before you arrive in Chefchaouen, so someone from the hotel can meet you at the appropriate gate and walk you into the medina (pedestrian only).
Where to Eat
There are limited options for good restaurants in Chefchaouen. The only one we enjoyed was Restaurant Populaire Bab Ssour, just off the main square. I wish we had eaten there for lunch and dinner as there were enough options. Obviously, the restaurants on the main square are going to be more expensive. Casa Hassan was recommended to us, but I really didn’t enjoy it and would avoid.
If you're looking for a pastry or quick breakfast, head to Chez Aziz just outside the medina.
If you're not staying at Casa Perleta, make sure to visit the sfenj (donut) stand right outside its door. You're served them as breakfast as a guest of the hotel.
TBP Insider Tips
> You do not need a guide in Chefchaouen as the medina is small enough to navigate on your own.
> Spanish is more widely spoken than French or English in this region.
> Cash is more widely accepted than credit cards and there is an ATM in the main square.
> Casa Perleta only has 8 rooms, so booking early in advised. You'll send a small deposit mostly likely via PayPal and pay the balance in cash when you depart.
> Chefchaouen is in the mountains, so it can be quite cool at night.
> We didn't drink the water in Morocco. You can purchase large bottles in the small stores just outside Casa Perleta.
> Make sure to try the clementines and pomegranates (if in season) from the produce market just outside the western entrance to the medina. I've never had a pomegranate so sweet! They're yellow on the outside and pinker than the ones I'm used to.
> One thing I will mention is that I fantasized this picture perfect blue city, but it was actually a little dirty and the buildings worn down...don't expect perfectly clean blue walls everywhere. It's still an old town.
> If you're looking for the hustle and bustle of a big city, I wouldn't go all the way to Chefchaouen.