“You’re going to Chefchaouen? You’ll love Chefchaouen.”
So I was told.
Needless to say, I was excited to explore this Moroccan gem, set amongst the majestic Rif ranges in the north of the country. The charm struck me as the bus weaved its way slowly towards the city, my eyes widening at the blue buildings dotting the hills in the distance.
The city itself is the laid-back traveler’s dream, and a regular stop on the tourist trail. Hours can be spent lazily meandering through the ancient medina. You can get lost in the bright-blued alleys, making your way to another, through another, and then another again. You find yourself in a constant state of dizziness, spinning to take in the downright prettiness of the city’s streets.
At the centre of the Medina is the Plaza Uta el-Hammam. Here you’ll find the ochre Kasbah and the city’s Grand Mosque, surrounded by cafés, restaurants and shopping galore. A few have some great terraces where you can kick back with a tea, coffee, or a pastilla — a mouthwatering Moroccan meat pie stuffed with lamb or chicken and sprinkled with icing sugar, cinnamon and almonds. Need I say more? Ask your guesthouse for some recommendations and they’ll be sure to point you in the right direction. La Lampe Magique just off the main square was a favorite for me; its multi-level terrace is the perfect place to take in Chefchaouen’s charm from above.
There are also some great day trips to take outside the city and into the wilderness. Companies in town can help arrange guided tours through the Rif mountains, but an easy solo trip is to the Akchour Waterfalls and surroundings.
Akchour is about a 45-minute ride out of town. You can arrange a car through your accommodation for the day, or take a public shared taxi. When you arrive you can veer to your right, and walk towards God’s Bridge — a beautiful natural formation — or veer left and make a beeline for the waterfalls. The well-established path to the falls runs alongside crystal clear waters and will have you crisscrossing the valley up, down and across the river. There a few local swimming spots along the way if you need a rest. The surrounding open mountains are a beautiful contrast to the walls of blue you were likely wandering through just hours before. After around a two hour hike — not too treacherous, but warranting a decent pair of a shoes — you’ll arrive at the base of the falls.
The green, contrasted against the red and the clear blue of the water, makes the spot a well-deserved reward. If you’re game, you can take a dip in the natural pool; the clearest of clear water welcomes adventurous spirits with open arms. It’s a little chilly, but a relieving way to end the trek. Or you can just sit back on a rock and admire the kaleidoscopic sphere of color surrounding the area.
For those on a shorter schedule, the walk up to the Spanish Mosque, which sits atop a hill, is a must-do. The view over the city is one hundred percent Instagram-worthy, the colors as beautiful from a distance as they are close up. On your way up or down, be sure to pass by the city’s small waterfalls, where locals come to wash and dry clothes and carpets.
And, if all this walking has made you feel like you need a good shower, why not take the traditional route and head towards the local Hammam? For an authentic experience head to Chefchaouen’s public Hammam, and take part in an important tradition in Moroccan history, culture and everyday life. If (like I was) you’re a little unsure of how it all works, do some reading beforehand; soon you’ll be venturing confidently off into the medina, black soap and exfoliation gloves in hand. The women working there are lovely and friendly; the language barrier was a little difficult for us, but our mix of English, French, Spanish and small amounts of Arabic — along with a big smile — got us through. We left feeling well-and-truly scrubbed clean from head to toe, our skin now baby-soft, our hair shiny from shampoo. For those up for it, It’s definitely a memorable experience, and a way to immerse yourself in Moroccan life and culture.
When I arrived, I was told, “Everybody loves Chefchaouen.” After three weeks of seeing its fusion of colour, nature, history and artsy charm for myself, I challenge anybody not to fall for this quaint, blue-hued beauty.