The first recommendation I’d give anyone that goes to Morocco is not to trust Moroccan ways to measure time. The bus ticket cashier at Rabat station told us the drive to Chefchaouen would only take two hours but, as my friends and I were already getting used to hearing that, we weren’t surprised that it was a six-hour trip.
So, if you ever find yourself in the same situation, have faith that after dozens of small towns and melon farms, you’ll arrive at the region of the Rif, and go across the mountain range reaching Chefchaouen probably a little before midnight. You won’t be able to appreciate the famous blue townscape until the next morning, but for sure you’ll still catch some of the market stands open.
Chefchaouen, or Chaouen, as the locals abbreviate it, was originally built as a fortress against the Portuguese invasion in the 15th century. Later on, it became a refuge for Muslims and Jews exiles from Spain after the Inquisition drove them away in that same century.
We stayed in a fantastic little hotel called Dar al Machichi that I’d recommend if your budget is low. It’s clean, close to the medina, and the guy in the reception speaks any language you can imagine.
First thing the next morning, we went to explore the town. The outskirts of Chefchaouen are the most trendy area, where the international restaurants, biggest hotels, and boutiques are. But to see the true charm of the town, we had to adventure into the narrow passages of the medina.
This old part of the city still preserves its original medieval Moroccan style combined with Andalusian architecture, as it remained isolated from the rest of Morocco and closed to foreigners until 1920 when Spain proclaimed it as its protectorate. And while all its Jewish population left in 1948, Chefchaouen still conserves their most symbolic heritage: the variety of shades of blue in its walls, a reminder of God in Heaven. These blue walls contrast with hundreds of leather merchandise and Berber woven products with the most intense dyes, making this place the most colorful town in Morocco.
We found our way out of the blue labyrinth of stairs, tunnels, and stores, and got to Plaza Uta el-Hammam. Here is the widest variety of street food, local craft shops, souvenirs, and the city’s main attractions: the Andalusian gardens, the Kasbah, and the Grand Mosque; all dating from the 15 century.
Later on, we walked up uphill following the recommendation of a seller and got to the waterfall of Ras Elma. It’s not as impressive as we pictured it, but while all the European tourist shop in downtown, here’s where you’re most likely to find the local people of the medina having a swim where summers get up to 30ºC.
While I wish we had stayed there for days, 24 hours is a perfect time to visit the highlights of Chefchaouen without any rush. You can get anywhere without the need of a car; the weather is not as hot as other parts of Morocco, and there’s always people that will offer you help if they notice you need a hand finding your way in their tangled blue maze.
No wonder why locals call this hidden place The Blue Pearl of Morocco.