Nestled into a peaceful valley of the Rif Mountains in northern Morocco is a tiny little blue washed town just waiting to charm you.
Chefchaouen is Morocco’s secret paradise, delighting every sense and remaining mostly undiscovered by tourists. The town is a melting pot of cultures and was home to the fleeing Spanish Moors and Jews during the Reconquista of Spain in 1471.
In “Chaouen,” as the locals call it, the pace of life is laid back and easy. The sun shines most days and the air is fresh and crisp, drifting slowly off the tops of the Rif Mountains. You’ll see cats lazing in the sun, shopkeepers sipping sweet mint tea with their customers and little kids playing soccer in the streets.
Because of its relatively difficult-to-get-to location, many tourists skip Chefchaouen on their trip to Morocco. It’s their loss. The town is vibrant with rich colors, varied local culture and delicious, ethnically diverse food. The cobbled alleyways wind up and around hills, dotted with shops selling Moroccan textiles and open air restaurants serving family style tagine.
The town is also blue. All the walls both inside and out are paint washed with different hues of a beautiful sky blue. Literally every single building is a shade of blue, which makes viewing the town from afar quite striking, if not a little surprising. Nobody seems to know why the town is painted to look like the sky, though; and when asked, the shopkeepers will say, “It just is.”
The town’s remote location makes it a great place to hang out on a sunny roof terrace and read a book, stroll around town frequenting the shops of handicrafts or eating incredible food until you can’t move.
That being said, there are no shopping malls, clubs or public transportation; so if big cities are what you’re after, this is not your place. Most hostels and hotels have a curfew in place; and while they’re not all strict, most people tend to go to bed early. Walking around all day in the hot Moroccan sun can make you pretty tired.
There are a few activities to keep you busy, though, if you like. Akchour Waterfall is about a 30-minute grand taxi ride outside of town and provides a beautiful hike that gives way to a jaw dropping waterfall that crashes through the forest and tumbles into turquoise pools below.
The water is crystal clear and definitely chilly but a welcome refreshment after a long, sweaty hike. There are little makeshift cafés along the way if you’d like to stop for lunch or a yummy ice cream. Make sure to bring water and sunblock or something to cover up, as a good portion of the two-hour hike is in the sun and it’s easy to get burned quickly.
From the base of the hike, you can either choose to go to the waterfall or to God’s Bridge. If you have a whole day to kill, why not get some exercise and do both? The hike to God’s Bridge is shorter and gives way to a beautiful place to watch the sunset or take a cat nap after all that hiking.
If you’re still in town around sunset, look across the way to the Spanish mosque; it’s by far the best place to watch the sun sink behind the mountains. Just follow the tourists walking up there about an hour before the sun goes down and you’ll have no trouble finding it. Make sure to bring your camera, as you’ll probably want pictures of the sparkling sky and the view of Chefchaouen.
After the sun goes down, take note of the adorable cafes dotted along the river, and stop to have some tea or dinner. You can find Spanish tapas, middle eastern food and of course traditional Moroccan fare. Eat at Aladdin Café and you’ll even have roasted rabbit as an option.
Make sure to shop around the traditional souk for hand-crafted leather, vibrant textiles and embroidered blankets. Everything is pretty affordable from a western budget standpoint, so bringing a second suitcase to pack with goodies might be good idea. And if a shopkeeper invites you in for some mint tea, do the polite thing and accept. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll learn.
If your itinerary in Morocco allows, definitely make Chefchaouen part of your list. The locals are friendly, the scenery is beautiful, the food is delicious and it’s (probably) the only place you’ll ever go that’s all painted in blue.