Chefchaouen: I’ve always heard great things about Morocco and knew that I wanted to visit this North African country at some point in my travels. With its diverse landscapes ranging from the rolling dunes of the Sahara to the craggy peaks of the Atlas and Rif mountains, Morocco promises incredible natural scenery. Not to mention iconic cities like Marrakech, Fes, and Casablanca, with an irresistible Arabian vibrancy buzzing through their medinas and souks.
When planning my Moroccan itinerary, the one place that kept coming up in conversations and travel stories was the magical blue city of Chefchaouen, nestled high in the Rif mountains. Perched at over 1500m above sea level, Chefchaouen is famous for its striking cobalt and azure alleyways, walls, and buildings that give it the nickname the “Blue Pearl of Morocco.” Beyond being visually stunning, Chefchaouen also has a laidback vibe, escaping some of the hustle and commercialism of other Moroccan destinations while retaining rich cultural heritage. I was eager to experience the unique charm of this highland mountain town for myself.
Arrival in Chefchaouen
After spending a few beautiful days exploring Tangier and exploring the medina in Tetouan, I caught an early morning bus from the latter city bound for Chefchaouen. The winding mountain road snaked its way up through the Rif mountains, passing Berber villages, green valleys, and terraced farms clinging to the hillsides. Occasionally, there would be scenic viewpoints where I could gaze out over distant snowcapped peaks.
Around 3 hours later, the bus wound through Chefchaouen’s narrow streets until finally reaching the central station. I was immediately struck by the otherworldly blue hue coating every surface. The old town is completely enclosed within tall, whitewashed walls for defense, with five giant wooden doors providing entry points. Beyond the walls, the zigzag of alleyways and plazas spilling with locals going about their daily routines was like something out of a fairy tale.
I checked into a riad hotel in the medina, with beautiful traditional decor, tall wooden doors, and a peaceful central courtyard. After dropping off my bags, I set out to explore the maze of the medina and immerse myself in the magic of Chefchaouen. The cooling mountain air was refreshingly crisp compared to the cities’ heat below.
Chefchaouen: Discovering the Charm of the Medina
Wandering through the twisting alleyways was like stepping back in time. Everything from the buildings to the street signs was painted in various shades of sky blue, creating a hypnotic effect. According to local lore, blue was chosen for its calming influence and to keep flies away from buildings before modern insect repellents existed. Whatever the original reasons, there is no denying the visual impact of Chefchaouen’s unique blue-washed buildings.
Navigating the maze-like lanes required occasional stops to get my bearings, gazing up at the townsfolk in their traditional dress going about daily errands or socializing in the squares. Laundry billowed overhead like waves frozen in time, rippling in the mountain breezes. Around every new turn would be enticing glimpses – an unmarked archway leading to a hidden courtyard garden, craftspeople at work in tiny workshops, and kids playing football in small communal areas.
The medina had a relaxed pace of life that was a welcome change from larger Moroccan cities like Fes and Marrakesh. Locals and travelers greeted each other in the narrow lanes; shops displayed traditional crafts like wool blankets, brass tea sets, and woven baskets. I popped into a cozy cafe to try mint tea with stunning views over the whitewashed rooftops spilling down the mountainside. Breathtaking.
Chefchaouen: Natural Beauty Beyond the Medina
After a morning wandering the medina in a state of relaxed wonder, I decided to head out of town to experience some of Chefchaouen’s natural surroundings. I went up to the mountainside park called Jbel el Kelaali, about a 15-minute hike from the Medina walls. Spread across a pine-clad hillside, the park offered incredible panoramic views stretching for miles across the Rif mountains. I spent a peaceful hour soaking in the scenic vistas, spotting other smaller towns and villages clinging to valleys far below. Returning down the path, I encountered friendly locals walking their goats or collecting pinecones in the forest.
Another highlight was the gorgeous waterfall Akchour Waterfalls, about a 30-minute drive outside Chefchaouen along winding mountain roads. The crashing cascades poured over layers of mossy rocks into shallow pools perfect for swimming. I cooled off in the refreshingly cold water, surrounded by jagged green peaks. Back on the road, I stopped to admire spectacular gorge scenery and local villages perched on impossibly steep mountainsides, showing the resilience of Berber culture.
That evening, I enjoyed a delicious tajine dinner on the rooftop terrace of my riad hotel, watching the sky transform into shades of pink, orange, and purple as the sun dipped behind the Rif mountains. Calls to prayer echoed from minarets floating above the medina below, signs that the day was ending in this picturesque part of Morocco’s verdant north. As night fell, candles and strings of lights illuminated winding paths back to my riad, blurring the lines between the tangible and ethereal qualities that define this enchanting mountain town of Chefchaouen.
Chefchaouen: A Glimpse Into Berber Culture
The following day, I decided to take a guided walk through the medina with a local family Well-versed in the culture and history of Chefchaouen. We stopped off at artisanal workshops to see skilled craftspeople demonstrate weaving traditional wool blankets from scratch using simple wooden looms. Each blanket is lovingly created through elaborately colorful designs symbolic of Berber traditions and daily life.
Nearby, Berber women demonstrated pottery making by shaping and decorating elegant ceramic plates, vases, and tea sets using only their hands. The handicrafts revealed Berber’s artistic talents passed down through generations, with all materials locally sourced from the surrounding mountains. We then ventured into tucked-away corners to visit a traditional bread bakery and herb shop filled with aromatic cures and spices.
My guide provided fascinating insights into Berber customs, language, dress, architecture, and oral history throughout our walk. I learned how Chefchaouen was a refuge for Jews expelled from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition, accounting for its unique blend of Spanish and Moroccan influences. We also stopped to admire the striking Kasbah fortress towering protectively over the medina below, initially constructed for defense against invaders.
The hospitality of residents was evident as friendly greetings were exchanged wherever we walked, a reflection of Berber cultural values emphasizing community and generosity of spirit. By experiencing the medina in this slow, immersive way guided by locals, I gained a much deeper appreciation for Berber culture and traditions that still thrive strongly in this mountain town. Indeed, Chefchaouen provided the perfect introduction to appreciating Morocco’s Amazigh heritage.
Chefchaouen: Into the Mountainside Hamlets
On my final full day in Chefchaouen, I decided to explore beyond the medina walls and experience more of the stunning mountain scenery. I hired a taxi for the day to visit surrounding villages nestled into the lush Rif slopes. Our first stop was the sleepy hamlet of Tamouda, a 10-minute drive uphill from Chefchaouen. Here, mere clusters of homes hugged terraced hillsides cloaked in dense woodlands.
Walking the winding dirt paths, I passed grazing donkeys and family gardens overflowing with bright flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees. Children laughed and played soccer in clearings, waving as our car drove. We continued higher into mountains lush with oak, cork, and pine, the road narrowing to rocky single lanes. Around each hairpin turnwe, new dramatic panoramas unfolded like scrolled paintings.
Our next destination was the Berber village of Bab Taza, perched on a clifftop at 2000m elevation, famed for its sweeping vistas and authentic way of life. Steep stone stairs wound between snug, whitewashed homes topped by red-tiled roofs. Women tended livestock or hung rugs on outdoor lines, while men carved wood or tended plots of vegetables and herbs clinging improbably to sheer mountainsides. An old mosque and maqam (saint’s tomb) in the 15th century added historic character.
We spent a relaxed hour soaking in the pure peace of Bab Taza before beginning the winding descent back to Chefchaouen in the late afternoon. Passing through more tightly clustered hamlets, goats, and donkeys roaming freely on slopes just inches from the cliff’s edge reminded me how people have sustained life here for centuries, relying entirely on the harsh yet bountiful land. By nightfall, fiery shades of tangerine and rose lit the mountains as the sun sank behind jagged peaks, a breathtaking end to an adventure highlighting rural Berber mountain culture. Chefchaouen never ceased to surprise and delight.