Chefchaouen is everywhere right now. It’s all over Instagram, it’s all over Pinterest, it’s all over travel magazines, it’s everywhere you look. The Blue Pearl of Morocco perched up in the Rif Mountains in the northern part of the country has just blown up as a hot spot these past few years. Lucky for you and me it’s still super cheap to visit and honestly, it can be super cheap to get to.
During out trip to Morocco this past March we got to spend time in the Sahara Desert and Fes before heading up to Chefchaouen. Boy, did we not know what we were in for with this adventure. Of course we planned ahead but some how Christie and I always find ourselves in these unpredictable situations. We had meant to spend two nights in Chefchaouen originally but things just don’t always work out as planned do they? I’ll tell you about the fiascos we got ourselves into but also all the things you can’t miss if you only have a short time in the town! Chefchaouen is in the region of Morocco that was settled by the Spanish so it feels a lot like Andalusia and unlike the rest of Morocco. It’s a very different feeling from the rest of the country but what I loved about it was the laid back vibe of Spain.
The night we arrived back from the Sahara, our guide, Hassan, had set us up with a free ride to Chefchaouen the following morning – or so we thought. We headed to dinner in Fes and as you may know, there is no cell service except for when on Wifi so we didn’t find out until after dinner (and after being locked out of our Riad) we discovered that the ride we thought we had in the morning was actually leaving that evening and we no longer had a ride. When we planned the trip we had originally wanted to take the bus but we had heard horror stories of the buses in Morocco and we were a little freaked out. When the opportunity arose to ride in a regular car we jumped at it. Normally the private taxis cost 140 Euros one way! The bus was only 7 euros. We also would’ve needed to buy the bus tickets the previous day and we had arrived back to Fes too late when we agreed to ride with Hassan’s friend.
We decided we would get everything ready that night and get up early to get bus tickets for 11am. The bus station was in new Fes so we needed to take a taxi to get there on time and our host at Riad Jamai offered a taxi for us to make it easier – or really so he could make money off of us. We ended up taking it but the taxi was super delayed and we missed the 11am mark we had hoped for. We got tickets to take us at 4pm and decided to head back to Riad Jamai to take advantage of the Wifi and just figure everything out from there.
When we arrived the manager welcomed us and returned a few moments later letting us know our guide from the city was going that way and would be glad to take us for free, and would be leaving around the same time as the bus so we agreed. Back to our fear of the bus, we thought it would be a better choice. Little did we know he would be calling us back around the time we were meant to depart to tell us he was having car troubles and our trip just continually got pushed back. A few more hours passed and we decided to stay in Fes for the night at this amazing Riad we had found on booking.com , Riad Dar Tafilalet. We decided we would make our way early to the bus station and just go in the morning. Our guide, Mustafa felt so bad that he met us at Riad Dar Tafilalet and paid for our room and promised we would leave the first thing in the morning.
We finally set out as planned the following morning with Mustafa after we spent the evening getting massages and visiting the Hammam. He took us on some back roads leading north out-of-town with some amazing views of the mountains. Free roaming goats and sheep were on the side of the road the majority of the trip. Everything was so alive and green. The road however was small two lane road that had huge holes everywhere. We stopped briefly at a gas station where we found wild peacocks just roaming around the gas station. We also thought a large group of school children was going to climb in the car with us so we sped rapidly out of there. Our Dar we had booked had canceled our reservation and with Mustafa’s help he called them to figure out what had happened and as we neared Chefchaouen we found out we no longer had a place to stay that evening. Mustafa and the man running the Dar made a few quick phone calls and found a last-minute place to stay for us at the same price we had been planning to spend thankfully or we would’ve had to pay so much more. He dropped us off and after getting settled we set out to explore the town and grab some lunch.
Immediately we headed into the Medina and found some great buys on the way to the main square, Plaza Uta el-Hammam, but we bargained for a while with the shop owner refusing to pay his prices. In the end he truly was the only shop with the style purses we had fallen in love with. We found the ATM and set out to find a cheap place to eat. Plaza Uta el-Hammam is covered in restaurants but truly they are all the same. In fact they might all be owned by the same person. I couldn’t be sure. But they did have a cheap lunch menu so we refueled and grabbed a Coke and made some friends with the locals working. We set out after lunch to get some Henna done – and we found some for just 2 Euros! But you know you get what you pay for and it wasn’t the best but we had a blast with the ladies doing it and with our new friend Ali. We met him after the Henna artists got in an argument over who was going to draw on us. He sorted them out and mostly calmed them down but it was pretty entertaining to watch. Ali showed us around a few shops and told us the best places to look for a few things and volunteered himself to show us around later and take us to one of the few places that served alcohol.
We set out wandering the narrow small streets of this bright blue city to do some shopping and take some pictures. Chefchaouen is where I really got a hold on my bargaining skills while shopping. I would probably say I over did it on the shopping but we found some really great things! I got a smaller sized Moroccan Wedding Rug, a number of pillowcases and of course we found a ton of purses. We sat in a Moroccan Rug shop and learned about the different details and stitching that go into rug making and how to learn if we were looking at a quality rug or not. It was free to listen so why not? We also made our way to La Botica de la Abuela Aladdin which was full of handmade soaps, local spices and some really cute straw purses. Everything was so cheap in there! We got a ton of gifts for friends and for ourselves of course. We snuck up to the rooftop of a nearby restaurant to take some pictures of the city below.
Loaded down with our purchases we decided to head back to our room and drop things off. My ankle has been hurt multiple times and was acting up so while I rested it Christie headed up a mountain for a beautiful sunset view from an old Spanish Mosque. We freshened up and set out to find something for dinner that wasn’t Moroccan. We had our fill of tajine all week and just really needed a break. We found a nearby cheap pizza place and decided to try it. Honestly, it was terrible. We finished up and headed to meet our friend Ali in Plaza Uta el-Hammam and he lead us to the only tapas bar in town to have wine and beers and hang out. We spent the evening with him and his friend in the Tapas bar and Ali volunteered to help us find a ride back the following day.
We did feel pretty weary at this makeshift plan of getting back to Fes that we had but we decided to go with it. Until the following morning. When our hotel offered to help us find a ride. We basically went back and forth between the hotel and Ali until we got the ride the cheapest we could. But once we made our way with Ali to our ride we were a little fearful and a lot full of regret. We arrived to a beat up old Mercedes and a mostly toothless old Berber man. We laughed nervously and hoped for the best. I tried to sleep for most of the ride but when it got down to the narrow two lane road and the car regularly started veering off I started to get a little scared. Christie woke up to our driver basically playing chicken with the drivers driving opposite of us until they pulled aside for him. We started to notice signs for Fes in other directions but just hoped he was taking us down the same road that Mustafa had driven us and we weren’t the latest installment in the Taken franchise. Apparently along the ride he had made plans for us to take a taxi from just outside the city back to our riad because he just dropped us off at a traffic circle and went on his way.
Our adrenaline running high we were thankful to have made it back, but also we were pumped we had made the trip in private taxis for so cheap! Like I said before they are normally 140 Euros each way and we spent 40 Euros on the ride back and that was it! So what if we gambled our safety and well-being? We would’ve spent 280 Euros, so we had saved 240 Euros even losing out on our bus tickets.
After all the missteps and poor choices on our part the trip to Chefchaouen was amazing! I do wish we had the extra day just because I loved that little town, but we saw a great amount for the time we were there. Below, there is some info for you on the sites of Chefchaouen you shouldn’t miss out on when you visit and some tips about how to get there.
Things to know for your 36 hours in Chefchaouen
Honestly Chefchaouen is so small that spending 36 hours there isn’t unreasonable and you can see pretty much everything you’d like to see.
How to get to Chefchaouen:
- By Bus: You can access Chefchaouen by bus from Fes, Menkes, Tangier, Casablanca, and Tatouen. Here’s their website if you want to check out time tables. Buses are by far the cheapest option but can take a longer time to arrive. I personally have not had any issues but I have heard many stores of travelers being robbed, especially on the night train. If this is the method that you choose, be alert. Here’s some tips on pickpockets for you to read up on as well.
- Private Taxis: These are an option but an expensive one. The cost for one way can run you up to 140 Euros from Fes. You can most likely take a Private Taxi from any of the cities listed above. I would not recommend coming from Marrakech unless you have pre-hired a tour guide. The distance is so far and so expensive.
- Renting a Car: The police in Morocco are known for stopping tourists and threatening them with tickets or arrests unless they are paid off. It’s not an option I would recommend after driving the length of the country and seeing with my own eyes just how many police stops there were. However it does give you the freedom to stop and see other places along the way. It’s likely cheaper than a private taxi as well.
- Tour Guide: Nearly ever riad, hotel, or hostel you stay in will have tours they offer in groups. There’s ton of independent groups as well you can find online such as Fes 4×4 Excursions which we used for our adventure into the Sahara. It’s usually a decent price but I find it to be a little more structured when in a group.
What to See:
- Plaza Uta el-Hammam: This is the main square of Chefchaouen, the heart of the medina. It’s covered with cafes, souvenir shops, henna artists, musicians and more. This is where the Grand Mosque is located. We couldn’t go inside because you have to be male and of the Muslim faith but it was a beautiful site even from the outside.
- A picture perfect alley in all shades of blue: Just wandering outside of the plaza you’ll start to see every shade of blue imaginable and adorable flower pots lining the walls. I heard a lot of different variations of why the town was painted while I was there. The stories ranged from mosquito repellent to religious reasons, I couldn’t tell you which was true , but I’m sure glad they did it.
- Spanish Mosque: It’s quite a climb up a mountainous road but once you reach it, you’ll have the most fantastic view of the city. Head up at sunset to avoid some of the crowds. The mosque only dates back to 1920 so the really special part of the trek is the view.
- Ras el’Ma: This is the river that runs into the town but there is a waterfall you can find with just a small trek outside the town. Here you’ll find local Rif women doing their laundry as they have done for generations. It’s a fun, unique and free experience.
- Aladdin Restaurant: Located in the plaza, have a quick stop at least for a drink and a snack on the roof to overlook the whole town!
- La Botica De La Abuela Aladdin: It’s a great little shop full of homemade soaps, tons of spices, bags, and more. Their products are super affordable and make great gifts or souvenirs.
- Cascade D’Akchour: If you’re staying a little longer, this waterfall is a beautiful day trip to take. Summer is the better season to go as you can take a dip! It’s around 45 minutes away but you’ll see the waterfall and God’s Bridge while you’re there.
Shopping in Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen is the place to shop. I found the best prices here easily. The selection is smaller because it’s a smaller town but it’s much easier to bargain on prices. I found things here I found nowhere else in Morocco. I am not even sure how I fit all the things I bought in my bags. Below, I’ve listed some of the things to be on the look out for in Chefchaouen if you’re on a budget and you still want to shop.
- Moroccan Rugs, Pillow Covers, Textiles: I know this is a given. I know you are also thinking I can’t afford a huge rug. I don’t even know how I would get it home. There are affordable rugs of all sizes here. Every other textile I bought in other cites was smaller and at least double if not triple the price. If only I had known. Moroccan Wedding Rugs are super trendy right now. I found a decent sized one for $40 after a serious bargain with a shop owner. I left the shop and he stopped me when I passed by again with a lower offer. Not only that, it folded up in fit in my carry on sized Cabin Max book bag. We even found pillow covers for 7 Euros. Obviously, if you have extra money to spend you can also find some real quality rugs in shops
- Pottery: The selection is handcrafted and beautiful. You’ll find it for much cheaper here than it the cities. I will say it is a challenge to get back with only a carry on so keep that in mind.
- Soaps, Oils, Perfumes: SO CHEAP HERE. BUY THEM UP. They smell great, they work great, and you can easily fit these things inside shoes in your carry on.
- Jewelry: It may not be the best quality but it makes for great and cheap gifts.
- Leather Bags and Purses: We found the coolest purses made from Moroccan rug scraps. There’s tons of fun leather bags all over Morocco but the bags here were the cheapest I found. There were a ton of different merchants with small leather wallets for 5 Euros too but I am willing to bet if we had explored more we could have found them for cheaper.