Surrounded by the serenity of the mountains, Chefchaouen is the quintessential destination for tourists hoping to get a glimpse of the vibrant blue city with photo ops around every corner.
The beautiful, blue-clad city nicknamed “The Blue Pearl of Morocco” is nestled in the picturesque Rif Mountains North of Morocco. We arrived early in the morning and were welcomed by the glorious view of the city’s iconic blue hues after a long, spiralling bus ride from the city of Meknes. The city, famous for being the bluest city on Earth, was believed to have originated from the early Jewish settlers who had fled to the city during World War II. The colour has long been of cultural significance to Judaism, symbolizing divinity, the sky and the sea. Today, the city walls are collectively maintained by the residents due to Chefchaouen’s rise in popularity over the years as travellers worldwide flood the city for its photogenic blue streets.
We were up early to allow enough time to wander aimlessly through Chefchaouen’s small medina. Compared to the other cities we have travelled to in Morocco, we were surprised by the cleanliness of the streets and the residents’ efforts to upkeep their home’s exteriors. From the colourful plant pots outside of homes, to vibrant artworks and wall murals, every accent was meticulously selected to pop against the solid blue walls and pebble roads for a visually stimulating art walk through the quaint town. We spent the day exploring the city on foot while getting lost in the maze-like labyrinth before settling back in our hotel for biscuits and a pot of hot mint tea.
The city wakes up around nine every morning as the local merchants begin setting up stands throughout the main roads in the medina. By noon, the bustling, car-free streets will already be filled with the clamour of merchants and bargaining tourists. You can find anything from hand-woven Moroccan rugs, to handmade soaps, leather purses, traditional djellaba and souvenirs. Lining the busy streets are blue-clad traditional riads, or Moroccan guest houses and European style cafes offering light snacks, mint tea and coffees for tired travellers yearning for a place to rest. The town took on an European influence from the city’s earlier days, with streets following a similar, European town vibe with decorative elements like grape vines and European style street lamps throughout.
We made a quick stop at a nearby rug shop, drawn by the vibrant Moroccan rugs hung against the solid blue walls. These traditional rugs are hand-woven with either sheep or camel hair by the Beni Ourain, a tribe from the Middle Atlas Mountains in Morocco. The vibrant rugs are perhaps the most loved souvenir option for tourists, each costing anywhere between $50USD to $200USD depending on the size and intricacy. The design comes in an assortment of colours and traditional patterns with symbols and motifs that represent Moroccan cultural beliefs.
The Chefchaouen Kasbah is situated in the heart of the bustling medina square where travellers would gather for lunch and dinner at one of the many restaurants lining the street. The Kasbah, or castle, was originally built as a defensive fortress in 1417 by Mulay Ali Ben Mussa Ben Rached, the founder of Chefchaouen. The restored fortress has since been transformed into a serene garden and museum showcasing some of the city’s history and art works by local artisans.
After touring the museum segment of the property, we ventured into one of the many high towers of the fortress for a photo op of the surrounding landscape. The serenity of the mountains was a breath of fresh air compared to our previous big-city stops. We sat in the tower to soak in the view before heading back to the square in search for a quick bite.
One of our favourite things to do while travelling is to see how the locals live. The residents of Chefchaouen has long been accustomed to the growing tourism industry in Morocco over the last few years. The people, however, live a quiet lifestyle amongst their tight-knit community and tend to distance themselves from the city’s more tourist-ridden neighbourhoods. During the day, we often see children playing soccer in the walkways by their homes. As we walk further into the outskirts of town, we were greeted by local bakers firing up stone ovens for bread, fishermen selling fresh sardines, and produce stands catering to the locals.
The people of Morocco has been co-existing with feral cats for hundreds of thousands of years. The abundance of street cats that wander the city are collectively brought up by the people who reside there. As we explored the residential neighbourhood, we often witnessed heartwarming interactions of locals caring for street cats as their own.
A couple of days is all you need to explore the city. Our visit was completed with a hike to the popular Spanish Mosque on top of a nearby mountain, where you can enjoy an unobstructed view of the blue-clad city with sunrise as the backdrop. The unique charm of the blue city is definitely one-of-a-kind, making it one of the most memorable destinations we have travelled to in recent years. After all, who wouldn’t want to visit the place ranked as the sixth most beautiful city in the world?
Photography by Sam Lin