Chefchaouen is in so many ways the perfect introduction to Morocco and all of it’s intense potential for extremity. The city itself is placed right in the middle of the beautiful Rif Mountains and is famous for its beautiful blue buildings that wind the city upwards into a shimmering maze of sapphire. The streets climb up and up and up, and if you are lucky you can find a view that overlooks the entire area.
The wonderful thing about this city is that you do not have to do anything in particular in order to properly experience it. The only thing you need to do is to explore, to get lost and to get nice legs walking hills and steps in the perpetually uphill place that is Chefchaouen. Shop, eat and glide through the streets of the Medina to your hearts’ content. Watch the locals go about their trades at the local markets. Feast on the mini mandarins, so small yet so so so delicous. Drink a boiling hot and sweet cup of mint tea. Be in the city, breathe it and then depart having seen scenes you shall never forget.
This city was one of the first places that I truly explored when traveling through Morocco. After a wild ride through the south of Spain we made the perfect entrance into North Africa by ferry heading into Tangier. The next (very early) morning we made our backpack-lugging way to the bus station to catch the first bus into Chef! This bus ride, costing us around $5 per ticket, lead us through an intense path of winding roads along steep hills overlooking SO much green. We bypassed many a man leading a pack of silly goats, and arrived in under three hours to the very edge of town.
If coming from Fez, expect a trip of around 4 hours. Many fly into either Marrakesh, Fez or Casablanca and all of these cities have reasonable bus trips into Chefchaouen. And if you ask me, the bus trips in this country have to be a highlight. Landscape. Uhhhhhhh!
The bus stop is located right at the edge and bottom of the city. If you would like to stay right in the center of the city and the center of the blue, then you must walk up a serious hill. This hill will take you into the heart of the Medina, and not only will your butt be thanking you for the workout of its life but your eyes will too. Buy a big bag of olives, throw down your bags and get ready for some serious Morocco.
Chefchaouen offers a fantastic range of accommodation that can either be pre-booked or taken upon arrival. I did the latter and had no trouble bartering an extremely reasonable price for a gorgeous little room with a tiny blue window overlooking the blue city. Note: we were traveling in Winter which is known to be (lower) season.
When looking for a place to stay halve your trouble and ask a local for help! Admittedly many may only be able to communicate with you in French, but they are eager to help if only for the price of a cheeky little tip at the end.
Do not be shy in asking for a better price. My advice for bartering and negotiating prices for accommodation would be to keep your game face on. Poker face, yes? Allow them to show you the room, ask questions, ask about breakfast and anything else you may need for your stay. The tighter the budget you are on, the better your poker face need be!
Something to consider buying while in Chefchaouen would be the hand woven blankets and garments. These you are unlikely to find in other parts of Morocco. You can also buy some of the more commonly found traditional crafts such as the Moroccan slipper, leather and lamps too. Don’t forget your haggling! Read up on the prices or simply consider your own budget, what you would pay for the item and work around that. Remember not to get so wound up in the negotiations that you forget you really didn’t want or need the item anyway! Try not to ask a price for an item you are not willing to buy. Bonus points if you can barter in French!
Say hello to Plaza Uta el-Hammam
This is the center of Chefchaouen and where you can find many a touristy cafe if you so wish. The waiters are pushy to get you inside, but do not feel uncomfortable to resist. Be firm. My advice is to look for the tallest cafe, walk to their roof, order a traditional Moroccan mint tea and feast your eyes on a stunning downhill view of the city. Rain, hail or shine this city is bloody romantic.
Visit the Kasbah
Remember the talk about rocking the Kasbah? Well this is an important experience to have when in Morocco/Rome. While Chefchaouen’s Kasbah is relatively small compared to those in the larger cities, it is a walled fortress that boasts a beautiful garden, museum and collection of stunning traditionally crafted jewellery and baskets. For a view that might blow your slippers off, climb to the top tower and feast your eyes some more.
Walk with no aim
One of the most wonderful things about Chefchaouen is the life that hums through the streets. If you have even just one day here, one of the best ways the experience it is to just explore with no aim. You can find the most beautiful alleyways, streets, doors, little restaurants and people shaking hands wearing their traditional jackets that look suspiciously like wizard capes. I’m not saying there are wizards in Chefchaouen. I would never say that. Ok, its Africa’s answer to Hogwarts.
Chaouen, as the locals call it, is located amidst some very hikeable mountains known as the Rif Mountains. If you have an extra day here I would absolutely advise you to take your adventure even further into the hills. You can walk to the very top of the Medina right until you reach the walls of the city. Here you can continue your journey towards the mosque and further depending on how much time you have and how prepared you are for a steep incline. The views are absolutely worth it from the top. You can have a panoramic view of the entire city and most likely walk past a few hash plantations, which is also one of the cities biggest trades. Cheeky.
You really cannot go wrong in visiting this little gem.
Here are my final little words of advice.
- Do visit Morocco in Winter. We had the absolute time of our lives and the weather was wonderful all the same.
- Barter with strong poker face, or they won’t respect you and sure as hell won’t give you the right price. Note: This does not mean being rude! You can be strong willed without being offensive, play with the good-cop bad-cop balance and you shall be a pro by the end of your holiday. One winky-frown at a time, young padawan.
- Don’t be too focused on ‘doing’ particular activities. Just hang. Just wander. Notice little things like the patterns on the walls, the odd tiny doors, the baker with the wood fired oven through that tiny door..
- Allow the locals to lead you. One thing I found was that kids especially wait around all day to have the pleasure of taking you places. They most definitely want a little tip at the end, but they are harmless and lovely. PLUS if you have ever wandered a Moroccan street before you know that its basically impossible to know where you are, ever. You’re gonna end up needing the dude, so pay up and be breezy.
- Feast. If you truly must have a concrete plan on your itinerary, then eating can be it. Tagine, breads, olives, dates and all of the lovely traditional cuisine can be found and worshipped/eaten here. Ask the locals for their recommendations!
- When on a bus trip traveling from city to city, DO try the bus stop sandwiches. They are are little daunting with the whole hanging carcass decoration, but know that these sandwiches (flatbread, onions, pepper, salt and some divine juicy meat) were some of the best snacks I had in Morocco. Drooling, now.