I try to live by this motto when I travel…Always make time for at least one little adventure off the beaten path.
And if you find yourself in north Africa, I highly recommend taking a detour to visit beautiful Chefchaouen, aptly called The Blue Pearl Of Morocco.
When: end of March
Temperature: 10-15 C during the day, cooler at night
This village high up in the Rif mountains is a true gem.
It’s not the Morocco you might envision or may have seen portrayed on TV or in the movies.
If the sea was nearby you could easily be fooled into believing yourself to be on a beautiful Greek island, thanks to the vibrant blue hues of the buildings.
Because of its distance from the larger cities of the country, this amazing place has retained it’s old world charm and remained much more quaint. However don’t go thinking you’ll be alone here.
Thanks to some pretty stunning Instagram photos, the word is out on Chefchaouen. And eager explorers from all over the world are discovering this beautiful town.
A little history…
Chefchaouen was founded in 1471 by Jews and Moors that were fleeing Spain.
Originally it was painted in beautiful coral hues. But at some point a transformation began, and nobody has a definitive answer as to why the village is now painted blue.
Some say it was painted by the Jews who settled here after fleeing Hitler. Others believe the colour was chosen to keep the mosquitoes away, while some say it simply represents the sea, which is too far to see and enjoy.
What I know for sure is this…
Chaouen, as it is called by the locals, was a must-do on our travel itinerary and it should be a must do on yours.
I dare say it might have been the deciding factor for us choosing Morocco on this trip.
However, we underestimated how far off the beaten path it actually was. Getting there was not easy.
Our day tour with Viator
We opted to book a last minute organized day tour, online, through the app VIATOR.
Our day package included the 4 hour bus ride from Fez to Chefchaouen.
The drive was a bit long and slightly nerve wracking thanks to a driver with a very heavy foot!
But the mini coach bus was very comfortable and felt safe overall.
We enjoyed a guided tour of the town with a very knowledgeable and interesting local character.
The only downside was the 4 hour crazy bus ride back to Fez….in the dark…with that same driver with the very heavy foot!
Actually the darkness was a blessing, best not to see what was out there. LOL
It was a heck of a long day but so very much worthwhile.
Having said that, I would highly recommend staying overnight if at all possible. We really would have loved more time to explore and enjoy this pretty town.
Also, I discovered afterwards, and obviously too late, that there are beautiful hikes, waterfalls and wonderful places to explore in the mountains nearby.
I think it would have been amazing to do some side trips, so if that is something that interests you, give yourself some extra time in the area.
What to see and do
Chefchaouen is indeed a village, it’s small and very walkable.
However, if you can arrange a guided tour for a couple of hours, do it.
It’s always more interesting to see and hear about a place from the perspective of someone who knows it well, even if it’s a small place like this.
The old medina is the highlight here and walking it is fairly easy.
You will likely still get lost however, wandering the narrow alleyways with all its picture perfect nooks and crannies.
Here’s an interesting tip to keep in mind, that will help you navigate…we were told that if the path or stairs are painted blue this indicates a dead end.
At the centre of the medina is the square, Plaza Uta El-Hammam. This is the perfect spot to take in the stunning views of the mountains behind the town, and a great place to stop and have a drink or a meal.
Shopping in the Medina
As you wander around the medina you will come across small shops and food stands.
You will also come across stands selling freshly squeezed orange juice.
Do not, I repeat, do not, walk by without treating yourself to a glass.
Morocco has the best oranges and the juice is so delicious. Don’t skip this.
I found the shops in Chefchaouen to be absolutely wonderful. They sold unique items I did not see anywhere else in Morocco.
There were a lot of wool products and textiles. And the shopkeepers were friendlier and not aggressive like those in Marrakesh or Fez.
Prices were similar, perhaps even a bit lower here. This is a great place for some souvenir shopping.
My big regret was not buying more.
I mean, look at these slippers for example…gorgeous!
Why oh why did I not get myself some.
I found walking around this medina to be a total pleasure, in comparison to the very busy, dark and rather claustrophobic medinas in Fez and Marrakesh.
Yes it’s much smaller, but I think the blue and white paint just made it feel so much more welcoming and bright, despite the narrow paths.
And the fresh mountain air was bliss.
The vibrant colours everywhere are so beautiful.
The Rif mountains that surround this picturesque place keep the town rather cool, temperatures are quite a bit lower than in Fez.
It rains much more often too, so come prepared with a jacket and rain gear or umbrella.
The hues of blues are unbelievably beautiful….
If you have the chance to visit Chefchaouen take it.
It’s a must see place in Morocco in my humble opinion, and really should be on your itinerary.
Given the opportunity I would return in a heartbeat.
Notes for a future visit…
*rent a car and drive at my own leisure
*definitely stay overnight in Chefchaouen, inside the medina if possible or close by, for at least one night
*come prepared for some day hiking and explore the mountain area
*visit the Grande Cascade d’Akchour, a beautiful waterfall area about 20 km from Chefchaouen, where you also swim, canoe and cliff jump
*explore the villages we passed by bus on our way to Chaouen