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Chefchaouen, Morocco is a picturesque and bewitching small town in the foothills of the Rif Mountains. Known as the “Blue Pearl of Morocco”, Chefchaouen is notable for its eye-catching pastel blue medina. Once a hidden gem in Morocco, Chefchaouen has now become somewhat of a tourist destination for those looking for dreamy vacation photos, thanks in part to the popularity of Pinterest, Instagram, and other social media channels. But there are plenty of other things to do in Chefchaouen, Morocco besides taking photos. If you are wondering what to do in Chefchaouen, here is a look at the history, culture, and the 16 best things to do in Chefchaouen, Morocco’s blue city.
History of Chefchaouen – The Blue Pearl of Morocco
Chefchaouen, or simply Chaouen in Morocco which means ‘peaks’, is a photographer’s paradise. But it’s pastel blue hue has more to do with its history than it does the draw for tourists. Or at least it originally did.
The history of Chefchaouen dates back to the 1400s when both Muslims and Jews were forced out of Europe and evacuated to Morocco seeking asylum. The town was founded, more or less, as a refugee camp, and it was primarily settled by Jewish refugees.
Why is Chefchaouen blue?
Some accounts say the Jewish settlers painted the city blue as a symbol of God’s love and provision. The color blue is often associated with Judaism, as it is the color of the star of David on Israel’s flag and is the color of the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah. The color blue has a deep spiritual significance as it represents the sky and spirituality. Although Chefchaouen is predominantly Muslim now, as is the rest of Morocco, residents have kept up the tradition and maintained the blue painted buildings.
There are other theories as to why Chefchaouen is blue. Some say the blue hue repels mosquitos and keeps the building cool during Morocco’s hot summers. Regardless, it is probably safe to say the main reason Chefchaouen is still blue today is to attract tourists to the small village. An attract them it does. In fact, Chefchaouen is one of the most popular places to visit in Morocco. And the history of the blue city is one of the most interesting facts about the country.
Things to do in Chefchaouen, Morocco
If you, like many people, are drawn to the Blue Pearl of Morocco for its photogenic appeal and simply must see it for yourself, here are the most popular things to do in Chefchaouen.
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Explore the blue medina
This should go without saying because the blue medina is the number one reason people visit Chefchaouen. But you can’t talk about things to do in Chefchaouen without including the city’s pastel blue historic city center. It’s important to note that not all of Chefchaouen is painted blue. In fact, it’s just a small area known as the medina. A medina is a distinct, historic section of a city that is typically walled and includes narrow maze-like streets.
Get wonderfully lost
As I mentioned, most medinas will seem like a maze to visitors unfamiliar with the city. Although Chefchaouen’s medina is relatively small, it’s easy to get lost while exploring the historic area. Don’t worry though, just like when you visit a city like Venice, Italy, getting lost is part of the fun.
Take lots of pictures
Although we only spent 2 days in Chefchaouen, we probably have more pictures of this small, picture-perfect village than any other place we visited on our 2-week trip to Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. It really is as beautiful as it appears in photos! So while you are exploring the blue city and getting lost around each new turn, make sure to bring your camera. Because around each new turn you’ll find quaint alleyways, or thriving souk markets lining the blue streets.
Tips for taking photos in Chefchaouen
Be mindful when taking photos, as many of the beautiful doors and charming patios are actually people”s homes. Many of the residents also do not want their photo taken. It should go without saying, but I’ll say it just in case, do not take photos of other people without their permission. A few residents have opened their Instagram-worthy patios up for private photo sessions for a small fee. For about $5 USD, you can be sure to get a perfect photo in this beautiful town without having to worry about offending anyone or having other people walk into your shot.
If you would rather not pay for the perfect backdrop, there are a couple now-famous, established photo spots in Chefchaouen where you will often find a small gathering of people waiting their turn to take a photo. These flower-lined streets and steps are great places to pose for a picture without upsetting any of the residents who live there.
Shop for textiles, leather, and dyes
Morocco is a great place to shop! Whether you are in the market for a beautiful handwoven rug or textiles, leather products or vibrant dyes, you’ll find all of them in Chefchaouen. Spend some time shopping for souvenirs, and don’t forget to haggle. Negotiating the price of an item is a commonplace practice in Morocco and is not considered rude.
Visit the souk market
Although you’ll find small shops throughout the city of Chefchaouen and its medina, the majority of vendors are clustered together in the souk. A souk is an outdoor marketplace or bazaar popular in Arab countries. A souk is somewhat of an outdoor commercial district or business quarter. In Chefchaouen, as with most souks, you’ll find blankets or tapestries draped over the street to provide shade from the scorching sun.
Tour the Kasbah Museum
The Kasbah Museum is in the main square of the medina, Plaza Uta. This castle-like museum, with its fortified, brown clay walls stands out among the rest of the blue city. The museum is a small, self-guided experience. It costs approximately $6 USD to enter. There is a pretty interior garden and a tower you can climb to see views of the city. The kasbah was originally built to defend the city, and has been used as a palace for the sultan and a prison, before it was eventually transformed into a museum.
The Grand Mosque of Chefchaouen is located directly next to the Kasbah Museum. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter, but throughout the day you will see devout Muslims going into the mosque to pray and worship.
Watch street performers in Plaza Uta
Plaza Uta is the main square of Chefchaouen. You’ll find a number of great restaurants near the plaza as well as the Kasbah Museum. It is a fun gathering place for locals and tourists alike. During the day you’ll find street performers entertaining crowds for tips, and at night musicians set the stage for a lively atmosphere. A walk through Plaza Uta is definitely one of the top experiences in Chefchaouen if you want to truly get an authentic feel for the city.
Meet the resident Chefchaouen cats
There may be more cats living in Chefchaouen, the blue pear of Morocco, than there are people. You’ll find street cats everywhere throughout the medina. They’re in the alleyways, on doorsteps, in the souk and in the plaza. From kittens to adult cats, these strays aren’t scared of people, unlike feral cats you find in the United States. The Chefchaouen cats are, for the most part, friendly, and fed by the locals. Most of the cats are not pets and they do not live in the homes. They are street cats that roam wild. But the local Moroccan people seem to have an affection for the cats in Chefchaouen.
A small word of caution, stray cats can carry rabies, which is spread through saliva from either a bite or a scratch. And rabies is an issue in Morocco, although it is more common in stray dogs rather than cats. Keep in mind, the Chefchaouen cats are not vaccinated pets, so if visiting Morocco with kids, watch children carefully around them. I’d recommend keeping your distance from the stray cats in Chefchaouen. Although they are not shy and don’t mind being the subject of your photos, you should avoid petting them or letting them playfully nip at you. Should you get bitten or scratched by one of the cats, you may also want to consider a trip to the hospital to start a series of rabies shots. Rabies is always a life or death situation, so you can not be too cautious with this disease.
Hike to the Spanish mosque
For the best views of Chefchaouen, make sure you hike up the mountain to the Spanish mosque. The hike is especially pretty and popular around sunset, so you can watch the sun as it sets over the blue city. The hike from the medina takes roughly 20-45 minutes depending on your fitness level. It can take a bit longer if visiting Chefchaouen with kids, but the views are worth the effort. The path to the white-washed mosque is right beyond the small Ras El Maa waterfall. The mosque is small and nothing special to see. It was closed so we did not go in. I’m not even sure if non-Muslims would even be allowed to enter. But the easy walk to the top is a great way to spend your evening as the sun sets.
Ras el Maa waterfall
If you love waterfalls and have visited some of the more impressive waterfalls around the world, you may walk past Ras el Maa and not even see it. I wouldn’t actually call it a waterfall, although the locals do. It’s more like a small cascade in a flowing river. Located at the northeast gate to the Chefchaouen medina, Ras el Maa was once where locals would go to wash their clothing and linens. Now, it’s just a small water feature that brings the sound of nature into the medina. You can usually purchase a fresh squeezed juice or some fruit in the area before continuing on to the mosque. Ras el Maa isn’t worth going out of your way to see but if you are hiking to the mosque you’ll be passing it anyway. So it’s good to at least know what it is and it’s historical purpose.
Day trip to d’Akchour waterfall
If you have more than one day in Chefchaouen, take a taxi to visit d’Akchour waterfall. The drive is approximately 45 minutes to get to the trail head. This local swimming hole requires some hiking to get to, but the hike is part of the fun. The trail, although not necessarily physically demanding, takes a few hours to reach the waterfall. I recommend bringing snacks and water with you, although there are some cash-only food and drink vendors along the trail.
Drink Moroccan tea or have a beer at one of the only places where alcohol is served
Moroccan tea is not only the national drink of the country, but it is a must try when in Morocco. Moroccan tea is a green tea blend with mint. Personally, I thought it tasted like chewing gum or toothpaste, but it is definitely worth ordering at least once. If you prefer beer instead of tea, Hotel Parador may be your best bet. Although Morocco is more progressive than many Muslim countries, alcohol is still hard to find in Chefchaouen, as well as in much of Morocco. But at the restaurant inside Hotel Parador, you can enjoy a beer with your meal on a lovely outdoor patio.
Eat traditional Moroccan food
Moroccan food is delicious! With a blend of spices coupled with meats like lamb, beef or chicken, traditional Moroccan cuisine has a unique flavor and aroma. Aladdin is one of the more popular places to eat in Chefchaouen. Near Plaza Uta, Aladdin offers great views above the plaza, excellent food, and a really cool atmosphere. If visiting Morocco on a Friday, be prepared to eat couscous. This communal dish is a staple in Morocco and is typically enjoyed each Friday, which is a holy day in the Islamic religion. Even if visiting on a different day of the week, couscous is easy to find on most menus.
Stay in a riad
If you are wondering where to stay in Chefchaouen, you can’t go wrong with a riad. Riads are traditional Moroccan houses with a shared courtyard and common areas. If wondering where you should stay in Chefchaouen, I would recommend booking a riad in the medina for the authentic Moroccan experience. Chefchaouen is a popular destination, so the riads can fill up quickly. You can also stay in a casa, which is typically a family-owned and operated establishment with a limited number of rooms or apartments. If staying in the medina, keep in mind, it can get very busy and thus noisy at night, so if possible request a room on a higher floor.
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Listen to the call to prayer from a rooftop patio
Many of the hotels, hostels, riads and casas in the medina have rooftop patios. These are great places to have breakfast or enjoy the sunrise or the sunset. One of the most fascinating things about Chefchaouen is that the Muslim call to prayer echos throughout the streets of the blue city 5 times a day. I’ll admit the first time I heard the prayer resounding through the town at dawn, it was a bit of a culture shock moment. At 4 a.m. on my first day in Chefchaouen, it jolted me out of bed. But I guess that is the point of the call to prayer being broadcast over a loudspeaker.
As a Christian visiting a Muslim country for the first time, I found this to be one of the most fascinating things about Morocco. We only heard the call to prayer in Chefchaouen. In other places we visited in Morocco, we did not stay close enough to a mosque to hear the call to prayer.
Enjoy the atmosphere
Chefchaouen has a laid back and very cultural atmosphere. It is unique, to say the least. You have a mix of traditional, devout Muslim influence that somehow blends (when it should clash) pot-smoking backpackers and Instagram influencers drawn to Chefchaouen by it’s beauty and inexpensive appeal. Even if you’re like us and don’t fit into any of those categories, this interesting blend of people creates an atmosphere that is interesting to observe. It was definitely a place that was far out of my comfort zone, but it helped me to grow as a person and I look back at Chefchaouen with a deep fondness that makes me want to revisit Morocco and explore more of the country.
Chefchaouen with kids – what to know
If visiting Morocco with kids for the first time, Chefchaouen is a great city to add to your Morocco itinerary. Here are a few things to know before you visit Chefchaouen with children.
Kids will receive a lot of attention
Our curly, blonde-haired 4-year-old has a tendency to draw attention, particularly in countries where blonde hair isn’t commonplace. We’ve experienced this in Guatemala and in China, but the attention was much more apparent in Morocco than anywhere else we have visited. The Moroccan culture is very family-friendly and affectionate. In fact, multiple times in Morocco, older ladies would come up and kiss our daughter on the forehead, touch her hair, and bless her. Some children might be alarmed by this type of affection, but our daughter felt adored and doesn’t mind attention, so we allowed it.
Hash is everywhere
Hash is a byproduct of cannabis, and in Chefchaouen, it won’t take long before you are approached to buy some. I found it interesting that it is difficult to find a beer in Chefchaouen but you can buy hash from practically anyone on the street. You can even tour a marijuana farm! Although it was offered, since we were traveling with kids, it wasn’t pushed upon us. But those visiting Chefchaouen without kids will likely be offered this illegal substance multiple times. It is perhaps why this destination is so popular with backpackers in their 20s. 🙂
Nights in Chefchaouen are very different than daytime hours
As with most destinations, businesses cater to an adult crowd at night. Even though you don’t have bars serving people who are already half-drunk, the atmosphere is quite different at night than during the day. Nights are busy and loud. In fact, if (or when) you are offered hash, it will likely be after the sun goes down. Don’t worry though, Chefchaouen is still safe for families at night, but you will want to be a bit more cautious and don’t let your guard down.
It is easy to get lost
As I mentioned earlier, medinas in Morocco are very maze-like. Getting lost is part of the fun, but if visiting Chefchaouen with kids, you’ll want to stay extra close to them. They could turn a corner and be out of your sight very quickly.
Be mindful of the cats and stray animals
Although rabies is mostly eradicated in many parts of the world, this fatal disease is still an issue in Morocco. Cats can carry rabies, so keep an eye on children in Chefchaouen where hundreds if not thousands of stray cats freely roam the streets.
How long do you need in Chefchaouen?
If you’re trying to determine how many days you need in Chefchaouen, I’d recommend spending at least one night. There are several tours you can book if you want to do a day trip to Chefchaouen from Tangier or a day trip from Fez. But the drive is much longer than I expected. It is a mountainous area, so the speed limit is slow and the road winds and turns. If you do a day trip to Chefchaouen, you’ll spend most of your day in a car and you won’t have much time to truly experience the Blue Pearl of Morocco. We arrived in Chefchaouen at night and spent 2 nights and 1 full day in Chefchaouen, which felt like a good amount of time.
Giving yourself the extra day, if time allows, gives you more opportunity to experience all the incredible things to do in Chefchaouen without feeling rushed.
How to get to Chefchaouen
Morocco isn’t well connected by train the way Europe is. So, to get to Chefchaouen, you will need to drive, take a bus, or a taxi. We crossed over strait of Gibraltar after nearly 2 weeks exploring Spain and Portugal. Our itinerary started in Lisbon, Portugal and took us to Sintra, the Algarve coast, and then into Spain, where we explored Seville, Cordoba and Ronda.
We arrived in Morocco via Tangier MED and reserve our transportation to Chefchaouen in advance through Tangier Taxi. Keep in mind if reserving transportation in advance and arriving via ferry, that there are two separate ports, one in the city of Tangier and one about 30 minutes outside of Tangier called Tangier MED. The ferries also do not arrive on schedule. Ours actually arrived 3 hours late! If you choose not to arrange transportation in advance, there is a taxi station directly outside the port and there was no shortage of taxis available.
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Have questions or comments about any of these things to do in Chefchaouen, Morocco? We’d love to hear from you. Leave your thoughts or questions in the comments below.