A bold streak of white, splashed with deep blue, all set high within the rocky gray Rif mountains.
If there is one thing that my travels through Morocco certainly haven’t been lacking, it’s vibrant color. Now, with stunning blue surfaces spread throughout ancient stone buildings, Chefchaouen is probably the most extreme example of this.
I had heard about Chefchaouen from a few other travelers I had met along the way. Described as a beautiful blue mountain town that has a much calmer atmosphere than the other Moroccan hot spots.
Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that it’s located smack in the center of the country’s marijuana growing region – impossible to ignore at certain points throughout the day when the wind is juuuust right. 3-2-1 contact baby…
Or maybe it’s just that you can really only get there by car or bus, the latter requiring 3-4 hours of cramped seating and a top-heavy vehicle careening around turn after turn. But after the hustle and bustle of Marrakech and the heat of the Sahara Desert, ending my Morocco trip on a calm note sounded pretty good to me.
So, as soon as my bus from Merzouga touched down in Fez, I made my way over to the CTM bus counter and purchased my 75 Dirham ticket to Chefchaouen.
Even though there are plenty of hostels and guesthouses open for drop-ins, I’m not one to arrive someplace without a plan for where I’m staying. Before leaving Fez I had emailed a few different places in Chefchaouen and ended up settling on Hotel Casa Miguel. They were offering a very comfortable room with breakfast and were located right in the middle of the Medina. To seal the deal, I was able to negotiate the price down to only 25€ a night, which fit my budget perfectly.
Upon arriving and dropping my belongings in the room, I immediately set off with my camera to capture the amazing surroundings. Chefchaouen is referred to by many of the locals as “The Blue Pearl”, and it only takes a few seconds of wandering to see why.
Just about everywhere I looked, I was absolutely surrounded by beautiful powder blue surfaces. To this day it’s still unclear what motivated the locals to paint the town this color, though many believe it was to help repel mosquitos. Whatever the reasoning, this color rush creates a strange but stunning sight throughout the entire Medina.
With Chefchaouen being built on the side of a mountain, this place is steep. Like really, really, steep. Even with being in decent enough shape, having climbed around Porto and even summited the peak of a volcano, I was still having difficulty with the seemingly endless amount of staircases.
It was necessary to make this climb if I want to get up towards the mountain trail, where there was the promise of an amazing view of the city. So I trudged on…
Up this high, I could even still see the ancient fortress walls that have surrounded Chefchaouen since the late 15th century.
After all this climbing, I was absolutely exhausted and figured it best to start moving my way downhill.
Now that I wasn’t quite so fixated on getting enough oxygen to my lungs, I could focus more on my surroundings. I now noticed that the locals, continuing about with their day-to-day activities, had further surrounded themselves with color, adding to the already rich canvas of Chefchaouen.
Continuing downwards, I finally made it to the not-so-central square known as Plaza Uta el-Hammam. Much like the city of Chefchaouen itself, this calm space is a far cry from the madness of the Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakech.
It’s here that you’ll find many hostels, as well as restaurant after restaurant offering almost identical tourist menus, each providing low cost options for equally low quality food.
I found it better to wander away to one of the local places within the Medina. They may not always be the easiest to find, but I promise it’s well worth it for both your stomach and wallet. Restaurant Beldi Bab Ssour was one of my favorite spots not too far from the square. They offer up delicious local Moroccan dishes and even have a secret chili sauce that you can ask the owner to bring out. If you do end up here, make sure to sit up in the second floor, which provides a spectacular view of the landscape.
Past the Plaza Uta el-Hammam is where Chefchaouen begins to slip away from its visual uniqueness and enters into what you’re likely to find in most parts of Morocco. There’s an outdoor shopping area with the standard assortment of spices, clothing, and produce. Past that is a small Financial district with a few banks, paved roads, and even a small bit of traffic. Further still lies the bus station and the road leading onward.
I still had a day and a half before I needed to be on that road, so I grabbed a pot of mint tea and kicked back on Beldi Bab Ssour’s second floor. Looking out over the cool blue blocks of Chefchaouen, I took a deep breath of sweet mountain air and felt immediately relaxed. Honestly, after spending the last few weeks running around the country, sitting up here for the next 36 hours sounded pretty good.
Maybe it is true what everyone says about this city being the most calming place in all of Morocco! I mean, I was really feeling it. Call me a believer.
Or maybe it was just that time of day, where the wind was juuuust right…
Either way, I’ll take it.