Best of Morocco: Chefchaouen

By on April 2, 2015 in Africa, MOROCCO with 8 Comments

Morocco, Chefchouen, Street

It was probably the only time I’ve felt let down by a Lonely Planet Guidebook.

3 days on and I still couldn’t find my way up Jebel El-Kelaa.

Each morning I set out from the hostel (Pension Mauritania) in Chefchaouen, full of high hopes, hiking shoes, snacks, water and the Lonely Planet’s guide on how to reach the summit, and each afternoon I returned grudgingly down the hill with nothing but a sense of confusion and disappointment ringing in my ears.

However, this didn’t stop Chefchaouen, and its surrounds, claiming the number 1 position in my list ‘The Best of Morocco’.


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This was my first week in Morocco, after I’d entered the north of the country, following a hitchhiking expedition down from France and through Spain.

Not long after arriving in Tangier, I’d hopped on a bus and found my way to the stunning little village of Chefchaouen.

Nestled among a range known as the Rif Mountains, this picture-perfect village is famed for its uniform and immaculate blue colouring, which adorns each and every one of its houses.

It’s a stunning town, which looks exactly like you imagine a model Moroccan village would, with its traditional central square, buildings and mosque.

This is reinforced by its quintessentially narrow, cobbled streets and its vast number of steps that constantly have you out of breath as you scale up and down a town that is, essentially, built on the side of a mountain.

Morocco, Chefchouen, Doorway

For that is one of the main attractions of Chefchaouen, and one that brings a lot of tourists here – being set amidst the mountains, the town is a great base for some seriously good hiking.

In hindsight, I clearly should have taken a guide to help me find Jebel El-Kelaa on that first day.

No doubt I would have been up there and down all in a morning if I had.

Instead, in my budget backpacker wisdom, I chose to spend hours aimlessly wandering around the incredibly similar and disorientating landscape of the arid mountain range that surrounds Chefchaouen, wondering, at times, if I would even be able to find my way home!

It’s probably a given that many single female travellers wouldn’t attempt a trek through the Moroccan hillside by themselves, but then, I’m not your average single female backpacker.

Despite being in my early 20’s I’d already travelled extensively across various continents and, in doing so, had both acquired what can only be described as a love for the madness and risk of slightly off beat travelling.

Despite this, and the naivety of youth accounted for, I do think one of the main reasons I attempted to climb Jebel El-Kelaa by myself, was because Chefchaouen made me feel so safe.

Morocco, Chefchouen, Woman Walking

Unlike a lot of the country, what made Chefchaouen  the best of Morocco for me, was the safety I felt as a solo female backpacker.

In Chaouen (as it’s affectionately known), I felt incredibly relaxed.

Perhaps it was the warm blue tones of the houses or the buildings that seem to crowd round you protectively, hunching their shoulders up against the mountains beyond, but something about being nestled in that town made me feel very secure.

In addition, Chaouen hosts a wealth of tourists each year and with Spain just across the water, there is a distinctly ex-pat feel to the town, which was reassuring even to a girl who doesn’t like touristy places.

Yet despite it’s credentials as a tourist hotspot, Chaouen’s touristic elements have not been overdone.

Sure there’s a heap of artisan shops selling amazing local handicrafts, a number of cafes catering to travellers and a plethora of hostels, but none of it is overbearing, garish or distasteful.

Although there is a steady stream of travellers passing through Chaouen, it still seems to retain much of its traditional feel.

Morocco, Chefchouen, Cityscape

The call to prayer, which rings out across the town 5 times a day, quickly grounds you and the sight of people hurrying to the mosque in the town’s centre each time it sounds becomes a familiar occurrence.

The best place to take in this scene is from one of the cafes that dot the town’s central square.

From here you can enjoy some of the best freshly squeezed orange juice I’ve ever tasted and enjoy hour upon hour of people watching as you admire the sights and sounds of a genuine Morocco.

The beautifully ornate mosaics on many of the buildings can fascinate the eye for ages and this, combined with the backdrop of the mountains that surround the town, make Chefchaouen an incredibly visual spectacle.

Chaouen also presented me with a welcome and warming sense of tolerance and openness.

Perhaps this was an ethnocentric or outsider perspective, but nobody seemed to mind me, as a tourist, being there.

This is despite the fact that few local people spoke English.

However, due to the colonial history of Morocco, many were able to converse in French.

This was a welcome relief for me, not least because my knowledge of Arabic is thin on the ground, but also because my school-level French started coming back surprisingly quickly.

Nevertheless, I was however, very glad of my Lonely Planet French Phrasebook, which not letting me down quite like the guidebook, certainly proved very helpful.

I highly recommend taking one.

I thoroughly enjoyed Chefchaouen and, characteristically of my travels ended up staying much longer than I expected.

After over a week there, the only thing that dragged me away was the limit on my visa.

Chefchaouen is definitely an example of the best of Morocco in my opinion, in fact I think it’s one of my favourite places in the whole world.

As such, I would highly recommend visiting  if you are in Morocco.

Indeed it’s a great place to start your North African journey if, like I was, you’re entering from Europe.

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Getting There and Away

I hitched to the south of Spain and then caught a boat across to Morocco, but you can of course easily catch a flight to Tangier from where it will be a bus ride to Chefchaouen.

Check out Skyscanner for some great deals.

International flights are also available to Marrakech, Casablanca and Rabat, among other destinations, through Expedia.

Brilliantly, Morocco has the best train network in the whole of Africa, which means you can easily make your own way round the country from pretty much anywhere.

 The either option is to hire a car and drive the country, which is very possible given its relatively small size.

Where to Stay in Chefchouen

I stayed in Pension Mauritania when I visited and loved its traditional riad style.

Money and Insurance

The local currency is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD).

Change some money before getting to the country.

Make sure you’re insured before you head off on your trip to cover any unfortunate accidents you might have.

I recommend World Nomads Insurance who offer comprehensive global cover.

Guidebooks and Phrasebooks

Despite my complaints, having a guidebook can be very useful, if only for maps of cities and towns.

As mentioned, I do also recommend taking a French phrasebook with you to Morocco and trying to pick up a little local lingo.

The Morocco Lonely Planet is also hepful – outside of the hiking trails!

Packing Items

I’d definitely advise some good day shoes like these if you’re heading to Chefchouen – sandals won’t cut it on the cobbled streets I’m afraid!

A headlamp is a must for me when I travel in Africa. My Black Diamond Storm hasn’t let me down yet.

You’ll want a good camera to photograph all the amazing parts of this Moroccan town and I think the Sony A6000 is perfect for the job.

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About the Author

About the Author: Creator of Big World Small Pockets, Stephanie Parker is a budget travel addict! Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Stephanie backpacks the world collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile .

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There Are 8 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Vanessa says:

    Very interesting place and an entertaining post to read. Thanks for the share!

  2. Louis says:

    I can’t wait to get to Morocco, it is definitely at the top of my list (and if I can get there hitchhiking from France, well all the better). In your experience were French and Arabic spoken at a 50/50 ratio, or was it more one or the other?

  3. Imad Nohad says:

    Great Article about a city that i personally love. I visited many times and felt the need to write about it. You guys are very welcome to visit worth every moment. Thanks.

  4. Jack says:

    I visited Chefchaouen in June and agree with you it is an absolute highlight. It felt so much more relaxed and calm than Fez, where we also visited.

    The market workers are still pushy, but it is somehow nicer and less forceful than in the bigger cities.

    Sorry to hear your Jebel el-Kelaa hike didn’t go to plan. We had a little more success and I highly recommend trying again if you are ever lucky enough to go back.

    • Steph says:

      Hey Jack! I’d love to finally summit Jebel el-Kelaa … but it could be a while before I can pluck up the courage to try again! Glad you had more luck than me!

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