Chefchaouen, the blue city. You’re bound to have seen photos of visitors from here sitting on steps of blue, in a blue street, surrounded by … well, blue! Situated in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco, this quiet city is a visual delight. Whereas in most big tourist destinations there are big landmark sights to visit, in Chefchaouen the entire medina (old town) is the attraction. Here you can wander the narrow blue streets and alleys that wind their way up the city’s hillside and that’s plenty.
Arriving at the bus station from Tangier, the ratio of tourists to taxis meant that I hopped in what was certainly not a taxi to get to the medina. Despite its sketchiness, I was taken to a gate in the city walls where I would start my climb through the steep maze of streets. Even with a map on my phone and some signposts to my guesthouse, I was soon lost. Thankfully a local carpet store owner was able to point me in the right direction (for free!) and I reached my guesthouse exhausted from lugging my pack up so many, many stairs.
You may be asking, why is the city painted blue? Historically, the city had a large jewish population who adapted a religious practice of dying thread and instead chose to paint their houses and in turn streets. I realise that isn’t a particularly detailed answer, but that’s as good an answer as I could get from the locals I asked. It’s probably best to avoid the whys and simply enjoy its splendour.
Walking and exploring the medina I found that all but the main streets were practically devoid of people. The main streets had restaurants and stores, but everywhere else was residential and so during the day they were extremely quiet. This means that photo opportunities abound. Being one giant blue labyrinth, you’re bound to get lost and get exhausted walking up and down all over the place, but you may also uncover corners you’ve yet to see. That really is the fun of a place like Chefchaouen.
Outside the medina, you’ll find a seriously different city. While not overly modern, the city is buzzing with people coming and going to cafes or the market. You won’t be able to spot many tourists as they tend to keep to the medina. If you head to the east of the city, you’ll find a river and further up a waterfall with local women washing clothes, which is actually popular with tourists.
While I didn’t have time to on my short stay, I’ve read there is the possibility to go hiking up in the mountains above town either independently or with a tour. It is worth noting that hiking up there will take you through marijuana plantations, something for which the region is quite well known. What do I know firsthand is that you’re bound to have people try and sell you hashish, which in Chefchaouen seems to take the place of the usual tout harassment. I don’t say this to dissuade people going to Chefchaouen – it’s perfectly safe – just to inform you.
All in all, Chefchaouen is a complex place, but a definite visual treat. You’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else like this and it’s a place you’re bound not to forget. Oh and think of the Instagram / Facebook profile pic opportunities!
Have you been to Chefchaouen? What was your experience like? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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