Chefchaouen, Morocco: A Guide to the Blue City
Ages ago I got bored one day and made a whole blog post about the most colorful places to visit in the world. Naturally, the beautiful Moroccan blue city of Chefchaouen was one of the first places I thought of! Now that I’ve finally had the chance to visit, I thought I’d do a proper guide on what to expect.
Chefchaouen was definitely on the top of my list of cities to visit in Morocco. The blue-hued alleyways and staircases are always present on Instagram and Pinterest. The village just looked like a photographer’s dream. Plus, from all the articles I read, it seemed like a more relaxed way to get used to Moroccan culture instead of the more hectic Fes or Marrakech.
Autumn and I wound up spending a solid 2 days and 3 nights of our Morocco itinerary wandering the alleys and petting all the cats. While we enjoyed taking photos, that’s really a lot of what we did. By the second day, we felt like we’d walked around as much as we could, and we weren’t sure if we were taking photos of the same places we’d seen earlier that morning or not!
The blue walls started to look a bit same-same, and the relaxed atmosphere of the town only made the aggressive salesman and catcalling stick out more than in busier cities we’d later visit. We kind of concluded that while it was a very pretty town, we were glad with how long we decided to stay.
Hopefully, with this guide you do still have a lovely stay! I think we spent a good amount of time here, and if I did it over, I’d use one of the days to head out on a hike in the nearby mountains instead of getting lost in a blue maze again!
Quick History of Chefchaouen
Before I get into my tips for visiting, here’s a bit of history. Back in 1471, Mulay Ali ibn Rashid al-Alami founded Chefchaouen to defend against the newly Portuguese-controlled Ceuta. As the Spanish Inquisition began in 1478 and continued for centuries, many Moriscos and Sefardíes began to settle here. This is partially why you can speak Spanish and be understood. The other, probably more prominent reason, is that Spain invaded Morocco from about 1912 – 1956, which, if you’re doing the math, wasn’t that long ago.
So… Why is it Blue?
Good question! It looks like there’s no one true answer, but here are the theories I’ve found:
- Blue keeps the mosquitos away
- Jews painted the walls blue to symbolize sky and heaven
- Blue keeps the houses cooler in summer
- The houses were painted blue in the 1970s to attract more tourists
I’m going to guess it’s somewhere between all four of those answers, and the more cynical side of me leans more towards theory #4.
Cats in Chefchaouen
Like most of Morocco, there are cats everywhere in Chefchaouen! I swear most of the time I was leaning down to pet them and just watching them be the cuties they are. It was glorious. Because this was early on in my trip, I was really in my element. Autumn told her friends I’d lost my mind hahaha.
Anyway, enjoy the cats because I sure did. Most of the little guys we met were pretty happy little guys who were definitely well fed. Moroccan men can get quite annoying with their catcalling, but they sure do treat their feline pals well!
PS: If you’re allergic to cats like Autumn is, you definitely want to bring some allergy medicine. If you forget it, you can always go to a pharmacy and ask. Andddd if you get bit, here’s what to do.
Tips for Visiting Chefchaouen
Download Maps.Me to Navigate (Don’t Rely on Google Maps)
The one big thing I kept seeing recommended was to download the map of Morocco in Maps.Me to have a proper offline map. I had it just in case, and while Google was okay in most places, Maps.Me was a lifesaver in Chefchaouen’s medina. Where Google would simply show gray space, Maps.Me showed all the small roads and alleys!
It’s very easy to get a bus to Chefchaouen
It’s actually very easy to visit Chefchaouen! I think the most popular route is from Fes, but we started in Tangier since it was only a 2-3 hour bus ride way instead of the 4+ one from Fes. We took a CTM bus for about 50 MAD (+5 for suitcases). You can try to book online ahead, but we just went to the Gare in Tangier and got them there. The two buses per day, and grabbed the noon one since the other one gets in quite late.
If you leave from Tangier, know that there are two bus stations: the Gare Routier de Tanger and the CTM. It starts at the Gare, then goes to the CTM, then Tetouan, and then Chefchaouen. You can check the times for most CTM routes here.
While CTM is the most comfortable and tourist-friendly bus, if the seats are all booked up, don’t distress! At the Gare, there are other bus companies that may go to Chefchaouen, just ask around. The only thing is that they may not be as comfortable or air-conditioned like the CTM bus. If all else fails, grab a bus to Tetouan and then find another bus to Chefchaouen since they’re more frequent.
Taxi to the Medina
You can’t really walk from the station to the medina, so you’re going to want to take a petit taxi up. It should only be 10-15 MAD, and make sure you give exact change. We hadn’t learned this little trick yet, but if you don’t give exact change, they’ll keep like 5+ extra and tell you it’s because of your suitcases. Honestly, 5 MAD is like 50 cents, but I think it’s still the lying that gets to me. Why not just tell us it’s 5 more if you’re really that affronted by our luggage when we’re bargaining? You can read more of my tips and experiences on how to get around Morocco here.
You can also take a tour to Chefchaouen.
While I’d recommend staying over for two days to enjoy the area, you can potentially just do a day tour here. You could even do what I did in Taiwan, which is take a day tour but ask to stay behind instead of leaving with everyone.
There are a few day tours that leave from nearby cities:
- Day Trip from Fes: 12 hours with a 4-hour drive each way, so it gives you 4 total hours in the city
- Tour from Tangier: 9 hours, with a 2-ish hour drive each way and a visit to Ras Elma Springs
- Day Tour from Rabat: 1 day, this is also probably good 4-hour drive each way, and you’ll also visit Ras el Maa as well as Chefchaouen
Technically, you could also visit from Marrakech, but it’s a pretty long journey.
If you still want some sort of guided tour but are also planning to stay in Chefchaouen, you can try this guided tour.
While it’s a chill city, you’ll still want to be aware of your safety.
As with anywhere new, you want to keep your wits about you. Chefchaouen is going to be less hectic than other cities in Morocco, but I actually found it made the catcalling and staring stand out more. Like Tangier, we also noticed far more men and boys hanging around outside than women and girls. On the flip side, I felt I saw a good deal more women walk round in Fes, Marrakech, and Essaouira.
It’s annoyingly uncomfortable, but just keep walking and playing with the cats. From all I’ve read, the harassment rarely goes beyond “Hello, beautiful lady, come into my shop!” Plus the town is small and full of day trippers and other visitors, so you’ll never feel that alone.
Wear fun colors!
I mean, the appropriate things to wear are outfits that cover your shoulders and knees and, of course, make it more fun by matching the walls! However, while in Chefchaouen, more than Tangier, we saw plenty of tourists wearing tank tops, low cut dresses, short skirts, off the shoulder-tops, and more. I’m guessing it’s okay, but we already felt quite uncomfortable with the male stares in our clothes, so I can’t imagine how uncomfortable I’d be in anything skimpier than what I wore.
Save your shopping budget for other cities.
From what I’ve heard, most of the stuff in medina is just exported from Fes or Marrakech and marked up, so it’s probably worth it to just wait. Unless you see a unique design you’re worried you won’t find anywhere else, don’t succumb to all the glittery bags or pretty rugs on display!
Get Up Early (Before 10)
Honestly, the best way to see this city is to wander around before the day trippers arrive and the shopkeepers get too aggressive. I’d say before ten was the best for us as it wasn’t super early but everything was still pretty calm (and cool) while we walked around!
Explore the nearby Rif Mountains.
Like I said earlier, I do wish we had gotten out of the city on one of our days to see the nearby waterfalls and go for a hike in the nearby Rif Mountains. I read this post about hiking before, but I thought it might be too hot in late June for it. In retrospect, I think we would have been totally fine.
Pay to go into the kasbah
Near the entrance to the medina and the main square is Chefchaouen’s kasbah ruins. I forget how much it costs to go in, but it’s not a lot. And the view from the tower is worth the price and the climb! All the cityscape views you’re seeing in this post are taken from that tower! The gardens are also quite pretty, and if you can read Arabic, French, or Spanish, you can read the displays to learn more about Moroccan history.
Remember that People Do Live Here
Just something to keep in mind. I don’t think Chefchaouen has reached overtourism peaks like Rainbow Row in Charleston or Maya Bay in Thailand, but I can see it reaching that point in the near future. There seems to be little regulation in terms of tourism, and most of the alleys lead right to the front door of someone’s home. Frankly speaking, none of these people looked particularly thrilled at seeing two foreign girls quietly stumbling around in the morning, so I can’t imagine how they feel at the end of the day after a lot of others have come through.
An example is of that photo on the right with the turquoise door! When my friend went two years ago, the owner was more than happy to show her his home’s front steps and let her take photos. Now? It’s got a gate in front!
Also, goes without saying, but don’t take photos of people or their children without their permission!
Where to Eat in Chefchaouen
Autumn was in charge of finding where and what to eat in Morocco for two reasons: a) she is the biggest foodie I have ever met and b) we both know that if it were up to me, I’d just pick up something cheap and keep going.
We ate at some really lovely places in Chefchaouen, which I’ll list below. Also something note is that the city is one of the few places in Morocco where the tap water is super clean and technically drinkable because it comes right from the Rif Mountains. We brushed our teeth with the tap water all over Morocco, but this was the only place I wound up getting a mostly raw salad. Autumn was still skeptical, but I didn’t have any issues after our lunch, so unless you have a super weak stomach, you’ll be okay!
What a lovely little place! It was quite close to our Airbnb, which is why we picked it for our first dinner. I know we got the chicken brochettes and I want to say a tajine, but now I’m not sure. Either way, both were delicious, and this was Autumn’s favorite place in Chefchaouen! If you want to same dishes we got, just show them the photo above, and I’m sure they’ll know.
Zakaria Chocolat Patisserie Belge
One of the evenings we were walking around, we popped into here for some cake. It turned out to be such a charming place! The owner is a lovely Belgium man who’s been cooking his mother’s recipes and moved here to raise his daughter. He really only spoke French, so Autumn had a fun conversation with him about all his life here. Plus the cakes were exactly the sweet treats we were hoping they’d be.
This was one of Autumn’s picks and my friend, Silvia, had written praisingly about its cheese salad, so naturally we made it a priority to go for lunch! We grabbed seats up on the top deck, and I got the famous cheese salad while Autumn got a veggie couscous. I get what Silvia was talking about because that thing was delicious, and the onions on the couscous were *chef’s kiss*.
Our last meal in Chefchaouen was right back where we had lunch, but instead of going into Restaurant Hicham, we ate down below at Snack Hicham, which was just a nice little budget place for some shawarma!
Where to Stay in Chefchaouen
I think your best bet is to stay in the medina because you’ll be right within easy walking distance of everything. The town doesn’t get that noisy ever, so it’s not like you’re going to be sitting in your room wishing you had earplugs!
We stayed at Dar Antonio and thought it was absolutely beautiful for how cheap it was! While sharing a bathroom wasn’t always fun, we did like our room and loved the terrace we could sit around and hang out. There’s no breakfast here, but there’s a kitchen if you want to pick up anything to put in the fridge. Check here for rates + availability
Other places you could stay:
- Casa a Chauen Guest House
- Casa Karam with Terrace
- Usha Guest House
- Casa La Hiba
- Dar Lalla Chafia
- La Maisonette
- Casa Meryem
My Favorite Photos of Chefchaouen
I mean, like I said, there was a lot of photo taking in Chefchaouen! Here are some more of my favorites:
And now enjoy some more of my favorite cat pics. I wish I could explain to you just how many photos I cut out in the final editing process because then you’d truly see how obsessed I was!
And there you have it! All you need to know about the famous blue city of Morocco — Chefchaouen. Such an pretty, intriguing place, that I hope is able to avoid succumbing to overtourism.
For more on Chefchaouen & Morocco try these books:
Have you been to Chefchaouen recently? What did you think?!
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What is the coloured content in the sacks in one of the earlier photos in your report?
I believe they’re dye powder!