If you’ve followed any travel “influencers” on Instagram in the last two or three years, you’ve definitely become familiar with Chefchaouen, Morocco’s Blue Pearl! The whole city is painted beautiful shades of blue and is nestled in the picturesque Rif Mountains. Many people choose to take day trips from larger cities like Fes and Tangier, but a day trip will objectively not do justice to this village. So, this is your ultimate guide to the things you need to know before you go, so you can start planning your trip to Chefchaouen!
How Do You Say It?
Chefchaouen: (“Shef-sh-aow-in”) Sounds like “chef” and “shower”!
Locals have Nicknamed it “Chaouen”
So you may hear people calling it “Chaouen” both here and across Morocco!
You Will Climb a LOT of Stairs
Between the hike to the Spanish Mosque, finding the best photo-ops, and just walking around, you will climb a lot of stairs! Here’s a snapshot of our full day in Chefchaouen:
How to Get There
You can drive to Chefchaouen if you are brave enough to rent a car and drive yourself. But if that’s not your preference, you can take either the Supratours or CTM bus from Tangier or Fes. I recommend buying your ticket at least one day in advance to make sure you get a seat since it has become such a popular destination! We bought our tickets in late afternoon the day before, and the bus time we wanted was no longer available! We were able to get on our second choice. The CTM bus fare from Fes to Chefchaouen at the time of this writing was 80 MAD (approx. $8.00 USD).
Once you arrive at the bus station for Chefchaouen, you will still want to take a taxi to the medina (or Old City) because it’s just over a mile uphill. It should cost no more than 30 MAD (approx $3.00 USD), but you can try to haggle them down to 20 MAD. The taxi will drop you off at the city gate (no cars inside the medina!), so be prepared to tote your own luggage from there to your accommodation.
Why is It Blue?
There are many theories! The city is painted any and every imaginable shade of blue, not just one. Some say it keeps the mosquitos away. Others say the hues represent the sky and the water. Still others believe it keeps the city cooler in the hot months!
The most plausible theory says that in the 1930s, European Jews fled Hitler to settle in then-Spanish-held Morocco. They painted it blue in keeping with their culture and belief that the blue represents the sky, which reminds us of God. Most of the Jews living here relocated to Israel in the late 1940s and 1950s, but the blue has remained.
And actually, if you ask older locals, they’ll tell you that when they were young, only the Jewish quarter was painted blue—all the other buildings were traditionally painted white! But the blue spread, and now it’s definitely the primary draw for tourism.
You Can Get This Iconic View from the Spanish Mosque
Often I find that bloggers keep the good photo spots a secret, which I think is ridiculous and a little bit frustrating. So I’m telling you what no one told me until I found out for myself: you can get the iconic Blue Medina view from the Spanish Mosque, which is only a 25-30 minute hike from the medina! Just ask a local or a staff member at your accommodation how to get there. You’ll take the eastern-most gate out of the medina and follow the path!
Pro Tip: The Spanish Mosque is a great place to watch the sunset, but the mountains behind it are tall enough that they obstruct the sunrise for almost two hours after the official sunrise time! The best time for photos of the town is from mid-day to sunset.
Cash is King
I read in someone else’s blog that there are “no ATMs” in Chefchaouen. This is not true! There are plenty of ATMs in Chefchaouen, so don’t panic. If you need to find one, just ask a shop owner—they will do all they can to help you have cash to spend!
Instagram Makes Everyone a Capitalist
You will definitely find a line at some of the famous Instagram sites, and some locals have even started charging 2-10 dh (approx. $$0.20-1.00 USD) to take photos at some of the more popular spots. So if Instafame is your game, don’t be surprised when you have to wait a while or pay to take your photos!
On a similar note, I went back to this same spot above on our last morning in Chefchaouen, and when I arrived before 8:00am, there were already 4 or 5 Instagrammers hogging the steps, changing clothes onsite, and completely disregarding anyone else who wanted to photograph the area. When I walked by 30 minutes later, the same girls were still there, again with no regard for the line that was already forming. Please don’t be that!
On the Bright Side, There Are Plenty of Other Places to Photograph
I went wandering a few times, and there were always empty blue alleys just a little ways off the main drag. Another pro tip: go out early. No one was out when I went exploring at 6:30 am on our last day, and I got a lot of beautiful shots! Alternatively, Steve took this photo for me in the middle of the day while everyone else was waiting in line for the “good” Instagram spots!
Do Not Photograph the Locals
No really, don’t do it. I know they dress differently. I know they live in an unbelievable place, I realize it seems like a Disneyland-esque novelty, but please ask permission if you want to photograph a local going about their work or if you want to photograph their home. They may ask for payment, so be willing to give them a few dirham!
You Might be Offered Weed
And you might also be asked for weed. It’s very important to know that hash, weed, whatever, is 100% illegal in all of Morocco. Do not buy any, accept any, or sell any. I can’t imagine the inside of a Moroccan jail is on your “must-see” list!
Your Hot Water May Be Solar Powered
That was a rude awakening not to have hot water in the morning. And not just “not hot” water; cold mountain stream water! Thankfully our riad’s staff made it work before we gave up for the day! If your hot water is solar powered, or if you’re not sure, go ask your riad’s front desk person about it before you try to take a shower!
A Day Trip is Not Enough!
If you try to do this as a day trip, you will be spending a minimum of 8 hours in a vehicle round-trip from Fes or 6 hours round-trip from Tangier. That does not leave much time to explore this beautiful blue city in the mountains! There’s not a ton of stuff to do to fill up a whole week, but you could easily spend two to three relaxing days here, and you definitely wouldn’t regret it.
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