An Expedition to Chefchaouen: Exploring Morocco’s Blue Pearl

Wonderfully splayed below the rough crests of the Rif region in the northwest corner of Morocco, Chefchaouen is arguably the most visually appealing village in the whole country.  This charming, azure painted community feels like an entity unto itself.  Currently it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Morocco, specifically because of the village’s beautiful blue walls.  Nevertheless, just getting to Chefchaouen represents an adventure in itself due to its remote alpine location.

An Expedition to Chefchaouen: Exploring Morocco’s Blue Pearl

An Expedition to Chefchaouen. I surreptitiously stumbled upon this scenic vista at the top of the village at the perfect time of day: sunset. Sometimes a bit of blind wandering can lead to timely and lucky photo-ops.
An Expedition to Chefchaouen. I surreptitiously stumbled upon this scenic vista at the top of the village at the perfect time of day: sunset. Sometimes a bit of blind wandering can lead to timely and lucky photo-ops.

What Compelled me to Visit Chefchaouen?

Specifically, photos from other travel bloggers capturing Chefchaouen’s blue-washed walls had gripped my attention.  Therefore, on my eight day extravaganza around Morocco, Chefchaouen became a “must see” destination.  Even though getting there required driving almost four hours on mountainous roads, I considered it an adventure worth embarking on.

The photographer in me would be eternally regretting any decision to not go to Chefchaouen. Where else could I walk among a sea of cobalt tucked beneath a series of imposing mountains?  Additionally, the sleep, cobblestoned village is supposed to be one of the most artsy and scenic in all of Morocco, filled with great, one of a kind Berber crafts.

An Expedition to Chefchaouen. Chefchaouen has many native crafts that cannot be found in other parts of Morocco, like wool clothing and woven blankets. The native goat cheese is also a popular item among shoppers.
An Expedition to Chefchaouen. Chefchaouen has many native crafts that cannot be found in other parts of Morocco, like wool clothing and woven blankets. The native goat cheese is also a popular item among shoppers.

Getting to Chefchaouen was an Adventure in Itself

From the ancient Berber and Roman ruins of Fez, I followed my GPS northwards for the four hour drive through the mountains.  My stress level skyrocketed as the roads turned rural and remote, as I feared I was being lead on another treacherous back road only frequented by large trucks and goats.  For certain, breaking down on an obscure road in the middle of Morocco ranked very low on my list of preferred pastimes.

Thankfully other motorists began to pass us containing groups of non-Moroccan looking tourists.  This helped to confirm I was heading in the right direction and on the proper road.  Presumably they were also heading to Chefchaouen.

As I navigated through farms, fields, small towns and valleys, I remained keenly alert to photograph anything remarkable and unique.  To me, the local residents were the most interesting and enchanting.  After checking for traffic ahead and behind me, I would open my window, slow down and try to discreetly shoot at life passing by.

Map to Chefchaouen, Morocco (the "Blue Pearl")
Map to Chefchaouen, Morocco (the “Blue Pearl”)

The closer we became to Chefchaouen, the steeper and narrower the streets turned, challenging my patience.  Adding to the art of driving in Morocco, impatient drivers with no regard to traffic laws provided unwanted obstacles and unnecessary concern.  It’s bad enough propelling a two ton vehicle on streets made for horses, never mind having to avoid cars coming at you from every direction.  Needless to say once I landed in central Chefchaouen, I found a parking spot, ditched the ride and continued on foot.

An Expedition to Chefchaouen. Traveler on the roads outside Chefchaouen. As there is no major airport near the city, it's easiest to fly into Tangier and then drive two hours south to Chefchaouen.
An Expedition to Chefchaouen. As there is no major airport near the city, it’s easiest to fly into Tangier and then drive two hours south to visit the village.
An Expedition to Chefchaouen. These pedestrians outside Chefchaouen appeared very focused on me and my camera. At 35c (95f), covering up is not only a matter of religion, it's also an issue of avoiding sunburn.
An Expedition to Chefchaouen. These pedestrians outside Chefchaouen appeared very focused on me and my camera. At 35c (95f), covering up is not only a matter of religion, it’s also an issue of avoiding sunburn.

Exploring the Chefchaouen Medina

My main task in Chefchaouen was to visit the Medina.  By far this quarter is the most interesting and most blue in the entire city.  From my central parking spot, the stroll to the outer walls of the medina only took a leisurely five minutes.

Once inside, the maze of streets put an immediate smile across my face.  Quaint shops selling colorful crafts sit beside boutiques hawking hand-woven garments.  Outside, a wide array of straw bags hung against a backdrop of cobalt-colored walls.

Almost everywhere I looked, everything was painted in blue.  From doorways to walls, it was almost as if the entire city was dipped in the azure sea.  After having explored many medinas in Morocco, I can say for certain Chefchaouen’s is prettier and more blue than any other I had seen thus far.  Truly it’s an entity onto itself.

Furthermore, the people watching in the medina proved even more interesting than my voyeurism on the roads leading to Chefchaouen.  For example, ladies in tan straw hats with colored pompoms on top sat chatting in full-length gowns.  Often their vibrant attire complimented the hues of the blue walls.

An Expedition to Chefchaouen. The Kef Toghobeit Cave sits near the city and serves as one of the deepest caves in Africa.
An Expedition to Chefchaouen. These bags are handmade by the local Berber people.
An Expedition to Chefchaouen. Another theory as to why the walls are blue, rumors that the Jews painted them blue when they arrived, after having fled from Hitler in the 1930s.
An Expedition to Chefchaouen. Another theory as to why the walls are blue, rumors that the Jews painted them blue when they arrived, after having fled from Hitler in the 1930s.

Where to Watch the Sunset in Chefchaouen

The steepness of the streets in Chefchaouen is not to be taken lightly. As I wandered aimlessly though the medina, my pulse accelerated as sweat soaked through my clothing.  I gladly welcomed this aerobic exercise after having sat in a car for hours.

Higher and higher I climbed until I came across an opening overlooking the entire city.  The outer walls ended, welcoming me with a sweeping vista of Chefchaouen and the backdrop of the Rif mountains at sunset.  Rapidly I reached for my camera and began shooting the jaw-dropping sky.

Really it became a race against the clock as I didn’t want to be stuck trying to find my way back in the dark.  Traveling around as a foreigner at any medina at night in Morocco is not advisable.  Even though chances are low something might happen, I really was not familiar with my surroundings.

S0 after having walked as high as I could to reach the top of the city, I began my descent back down at double speed.  And once I reached the busier, touristy areas of the quarter, I slowed my pace taking a bit of time to observe the interesting shops.  Although my suitcases were already packed to capacity, window shopping is a fun pastime.

An Expedition to Chefchaouen. The blue walls in Chefchaouen are said to symbolize the sky and heaven, a reminder to some to lead a spiritual life.
An Expedition to Chefchaouen. The blue walls are said to symbolize the sky and heaven, a reminder to some to lead a spiritual life.
An Expedition to Chefchaouen. The brown wall seen above serves as the outer wall of the city. Once you exit, head left to take some amazing photos of the entire city.
An Expedition to Chefchaouen. The brown wall seen above serves as the outer wall of the city. Once you exit, head left to take some amazing photos of the entire city.

Heading to my Hotel on the Dark Mountain Roads

Arriving back at my car, then I was tasked with driving for fifteen minutes to our hotel just outside town.  However, this required maneuvering the same treacherous streets, but at night with poor illumination.  The risk of a traffic accident with the crazy drivers was real and apparent.  Plus I knew the drop off the side of the mountain passage would not end well.

Luckily, my GPS led me on a direct course on a rather well-maintained alpine road.  We arrived at the Dar Ba Sidi and Spa around 8pm unscathed and starving.  After checking in, we headed straight to the restaurant for some kefta meatball tagine.  The food helped to calm our nerves and ease our minds, coaxing us into a drowsy state.

Shortly thereafter we went to bed, and woke up almost ten hours later to begin another adventure filled day driving around Morocco.  Although I had only enjoyed Chefchaouen for less than twenty-four hours, the impact of visiting the “blue pearl” would stay with me forever.  The magic and charm of the cobalt colored city had charmed and wooed me.  Unfortunately we had to head back to Casablanca to catch a flight in two days.

An Expedition to Chefchaouen. One theory to why the walls are painted blue is to keep the mosquitos away.
An Expedition to Chefchaouen. One theory to why the walls are painted blue is to keep the mosquitos away.
An Expedition to Chefchaouen. This outside wall of the Chefchaouen medina probably is my favorite color in the entire city. It matches perfectly with the blue-wash.
An Expedition to Chefchaouen. This outside wall of the medina probably is my favorite color in the entire city. It matches perfectly with the blue-wash.

READ MORE ARTICLES ABOUT MOROCCO

A Visit to the Fez Tanneries in Morocco: The Brutal Reality Behind Leather

Sharing My Top Travel Tips for Morocco

True Tales of My Week Driving in Morocco

Marveling at an Ancient Kingdom: Nine Photos of Volubilis that Fascinate

Exploring the Extravaganza that Comprises the Marrakech Medina

My Travel Nightmare: a Tour in Marrakech Gone Awry

Follow:
Matt Weatherbee
Matt Weatherbee

Hi, I’m Matt.  In 2008 I quit my job, sold everything and drove from Boston to Mexico to start a business.  Now I live and work in the Carribean, and spend my free time traveling the globe.  Learn more.

Find me on: Web | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

2 Comments

  1. Mel
    November 18, 2018 / 8:48 am

    we just missed you… We loved Morocco

    • November 18, 2018 / 10:09 am

      I’m sorry we missed you. Yes, Morocco was great!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

[instagram-feed]