By Alexandra Gritta
By Alexandra Gritta
Rabat – Chefchaouen (or simply “Chaouen”) is a city located in the Rif Mountains of northwest Morocco. Its buildings appear to be washed in various shades of blue—hence Chaouen’s endearing nickname, “the Blue Pearl” of Morocco.
The city has long been known to backpackers for its surreal hiking spots and easy accessibility to hashish (cannabis), which prospers in the dry mountain climate. The city’s relaxing and secluded atmosphere has attracted many tourists seeking to escape their rushed city lives.
The origin of the city’s blue color is debated—some maintain the buildings were painted blue to ward off bugs, while others say a Jewish population changed the color of the buildings from white to blue in the 1930s. Blue is a symbol of spirituality and proximity to the sky and heavens.
Regardless of origin, it is safe to assume that the blue color is now maintained for both aesthetic and touristic purposes.
Things to do in Chefchaouen:
Hike up to the Spanish Mosque. The mosque is the best place to appreciate a panoramic view of Chaouen without having to hike very far (about 10 minutes from the start of the trail). The best times to visit are at sunrise and at sunset, when the city is set aglow by the angles of the sun.
Shopping in the medina (old town). Different regions of Morocco specialize in different goods. If you are planning to shop in Chaouen, take a look at the wool items (carpets, blankets, and clothing). Additionally, there are two popular argan oil shops in the area which sell merchandise ranging from perfumes to shampoos and body oils. Signs are out to help guide tourists to the locations.
Check out Pizzeria Mandala and Restaurant Assaada. Pizzeria Mandala is an authentic Italian restaurant and one of the most highly rated restaurants in the area. It is very small and quite popular, so go a bit early for either lunch or dinner. Restaurant Assaada offers a wide variety of Moroccan cuisine and is also one of the most highly acclaimed eateries.
Explore the old medina. In addition to shops, the old medina contains some very scenic spots that are popular for photography. Part of the fun is hunting for new blue doors, staircases, and walls in different corners of the medina.
Hike up to the Akchour Waterfalls. For those more athletically inclined, the hike up from Chaouen to see the Akchour Waterfalls is well worth the effort. It takes approximately two hours to hike up and two to come back down. Swimming in the falls is permitted.
If you are looking to vacation in Chefchaouen, here are some important things to be aware of:
You might be approached by hashish dealers. Possessing hashish is illegal in Morocco and can result in jail time. Additionally, the government employs undercover police in Chaouen who may approach and claim to offer hashish, but are actually trying to catch dealers. Dealers may target foreigners with offers of hashish, knowing they may not be aware of laws in Morocco.
The city is very hilly. As Chaouen is an older city located in the mountains, the majority of the streets are cobbled and unlevel. Appropriate footwear is recommended and travelers with disabilities may want to consider a more accessible destination.
Spanish, French, and Arabic are all spoken, but English is less common. While some people in Chefchaouen (particularly shop owners) know a few words of English, you may have some trouble communicating if you do not know basic Arabic, French, or Spanish. Restaurants do typically provide an English version of menus.
You only need a couple of days. Unless you are looking to hike extensively around Chaouen, the major attraction is admiring the city’s unique color and shopping for local goods. Some people even experience Chaouen as a day trip.