Whenever I see an Instagram photo of Morocco’s Blue City, I turn a bit green, as in green with envy. The wildly colorful town in the Rif Mountains of Northern Morocco offers photographers a windfall of image possibilities, and I didn’t get enough. I arrived during a rain storm, and while the weather cleared in the evening, my itinerary only gave me a few hours more in the morning. I found the inviting maze-like warren of winding pathways captivating, and I’d love to return.
Is the town really painted blue?
Yes. Chefchaouen is truly blue on blue, perhaps fifty shades of blue. The streets, alleyways, and doors dazzle, not In a sparkling manner, but as if you entered Sapphire City instead of Emerald City from Oz. Think hues of azure blue, ice blue, electric blue, cobalt blue, cornflower blue, robin’s egg blue, and sometimes accents of white. (Similar in many ways to Santorini, but blue instead of white, and surrounded by mountains instead of the sea.)
After a welcoming and warming cup of mint tea, the custom in Morocco, I headed out. But, I didn’t know which way to turn. The good news is you honestly can’t go wrong. Understand however, the village lies on a sharp incline. Be prepared to climb up and down many slanted walkways and stairs. It’s easy to lose your breath and your way. Fortunately, plenty of shop owners and residents help you with directions.
Why is everything blue?
The answer remains widely debated, as no one knows for sure. The historical reason dates back to 1494 when Jews were expelled from Spain, and many fled to Morroco. They established a community in Chefchaouen and brought their tradition of painting buildings blue. The Sephardi Jewish believed that blue is the color of the sky and divinity, so the blue buildings were to remind them of God.
The second theory is that the blue color keeps flies and mosquitos away. I can’t tell if that works because I didn’t visit in warm weather.
Others say that blue feels cooler and calm, reminding the residents of soothing water.
Whatever the reason, the charming Blue City attracts tourists, and, of course, that helps the local economy. The remote location would be easy to bypass, but the out of the way ‘blue pearl of Morocco’ becomes a welcome addition to many itineraries.
What to do in Chefchaouen
Getting lost in the back streets while shopping in the old medina, the walled area, ranks as the number one activity. Many artisans live here and own galleries, hoping to sell their paintings, metalcraft, textiles, rugs, leather goods, and decorative accessories. Of course, you will also find numerous souvenir shops.
Taking photos certainly draws many visitors. As you wander along, you feel a sense of magic and curiosity – what’s around the next corner? I’m fond of shooting doors, and Chefchaouen overwhelmed me with opportunities.
In the old city’s main square, you’ll find the mud-brick 15th-century Kasbah, a fortress, and a dungeon. A courtyard lies hidden within the Kasbah, as well as a a small museum. I didn’t go in as I heard the displays lacked English explanations, nor did I have time to climb to the top of the tower for panoramic views.
If you are willing to hike about 30 minutes up to the top of the hill overlooking the town, you’ll come to the old Spanish Mosque. I understand it offers a good sunset location; however, I also skipped this due to the rain. I did, however, stop at a lower overlook just outside of the village.
Many restaurants serving traditional Moroccan food are based around the main square or Kasbah. Take your pick! I ate a tasty meal at Bab Ssour.
Chefchaouen may be a summer-dominated tourist attraction, but it doesn’t draw huge crowds, especially in the evening and early morning after day-trippers leave. The isolated town would be ideal for a 2-day getaway. I highly recommend Al Khalifa Hotel; the owner was most helpful and the rooms are very nice. If you are into hiking, you can find many nearby trails.
Getting to Chefchaouen
Driving to Chefchaouen from:
Casablanca – approximately four hours.
Tangier – about two hours
Fez – about three and a half hours