Chefchaouen, Morocco – An Insider’s Guide
Visitors to Morocco can find a cool, relaxing reprieve from the bustle of travel in the friendly mountain town of Chefchaouen (often abbreviated as “Chaouen”). Located just a few hours by bus from Tangier and far enough off the beaten track to dissuade many tourists, Chefchaouen is quiet enough for those visitors overwhelmed by the busy medinas of Fez and Marrakech, and has just enough of what is quintessentially Moroccan to be of interest to other travelers looking for something a bit more authentic.
Whether you spend a couple of days wandering the clean medina streets, enjoying a hike through the Rif Mountains, or just want to relax with a book and a fresh mint tea, like most visitors to Chefchaouen, you will walk away having experienced something magical.
What to Do?
Chefchaouen boasts one of the most enjoyable medinas in Morocco. Unlike many medinas in Morocco, the medina of Chefchaouen still houses a large percentage of the city’s residents. As pleasant as it is walking through the old walled city, a stroll up and down through is made more pleasant by the sight of its residents living, for the most part, as they have for the last few hundred years. Unlike the medina of Marrakech or the Kasbahs of Tangier and Rabat, foreigners haven’t really been able to purchase old houses and convert them to upscale riads so many of the local populace still actually lives in the Medina. The people of Chefchaouen are, for the most part, really pleasant and foreigners can stroll through the blue walled medina without being harassed by touts and venders too much. Most of the shop keepers have a relaxed attitude and will not hassle you. Children play in the streets and, unlike Fez, they will generally not ask you for money. If anything, the children of Chefchaouen might ask you to play with them, which is not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
Chefchaouen is one of the best places to look for that really special Moroccan souvenir. One of our favorite place to shop is the Hat Man located toward the top of the medina on the main thoroughfare, Rue Targui, toward the top of the medina. Hand knitted hats are available in many shapes, sizes and various levels of ridiculousness.There is a sign that reads “Hat Man.” You can’t miss it.
For leather goods, we recommend Hassan. He is happy to make anything leather for you and often can make something great within a day or two, depending on how busy he is. You can make your own designer handbag, guitar strap or pretty much anything else you might think of. He is located in the east of the medina, by the large olive tree, before the waterfall. Call ahead to (+212) (0) 650 071 717. (Use the “0″ without +212 within Morocco.)
Ras el Maa
Located outside of the medina walls, to the east, “Ras el Maa” (or “Head of the Water”) is a small, beautiful waterfall. Many locals gather here during the hot months to cool off and, oftentimes, to do laundry. There is a small café nearby to relax with a coffee or tea.
Just off the main square, Place Uta el-Hammam, there are two hammams of interest for those looking for a true Moroccan experience in cleanliness.
The public hammam, used by many of the local men and women, is located just across the square from the large mosque, Jamae Kebir, next to the Pension Castellana. The times allowed for men and women differ and changes regularly. Historically, Chefchaouen, like many other Moroccan cities, had hammams for men and women. Today, many hammams share a space and have separate times for the two genders to bathe. You can expect to pay about 25 dirhams, but you will need to bring plastic sandals, soap, a shower scrub and a towel.
For a more luxurious experience, head to the Art du bien-être (Art of Good Living), located one street west off the Place Uta el-Hammam, behind the mosque. Though not traditional, this is a more upscale “spa” with massages, foot soaks, facials, and exfoliations. This business operates with a local women’s cooperative to create all of their all-natural products. Many of them are for sale in the entryway. Reservations are required for the hammam, though often they are able to accommodate same-day requests. Expect to pay 100 dhs or so for a facial, 150 dhs for a hammam, and 250 dhs or more on a more “full spa” experience.
Chefchaouen sits on the side of the mountain. If you exit the medina and walk uphill, toward the Hotel Parador (one of the largest buildings in the city, you can’t miss it), there is an easily found trail. This trail takes you up the hill toward a beautiful lookout point towering over Chefchaouen and the surrounding mountains. If you want, you can continue back, deeper into the mountains. Remember to pack your water bottles and, if you’re planning on trekking further into the mountains, a bite to eat.
For a longer trek through the Rif, Journey Beyond Travel has a great relationship with Gite Talassemtane who arranges trekking in Chefchaouen. You can feel free to email the founder Fatima at [email protected] or call her directly at (+212) (0) 672 743 347. These guided treks will take you to some beautiful mountainous scenery and you are guaranteed to meet some wonderful people along the way.
For another short hike out of the medina, visit nearby nearby Targa. Located on the hill just south of the medina, this old castle and mosque dates from the 1200s. The Spanish rebuilt the minaret and though the entire mosque has been restored, it is not yet open for worshippers. However, visitors are welcome to climb the minaret and enjoy the views over Chefchaouen and the valley below.
Where to Eat?
Al Kasbah Restaurant
Just off the Place Uta el-Hammam, Al Kasbah has a great atmosphere with plenty of Berber touch and a good selection of Moroccan dishes, including some rif specialities. Try the paella, bastilla, tagine or, of course, couscous. (Lunch and Dinner, Reservations Not Needed.)
Le Lampe Magique
Le Lampe Magique overlooks the Palce Uta el-Hamma. Get a seat on the terrace to enjoy the crowds milling below or in the wonderfully decorated blue-walled interior. Moroccan staples only. The food is better than average, the service can be a little slow, but it is really all about the atmosphere here. (Lunch and Dinner, Reservations Not Needed.)
Located just off Rue Targui, the main thoroughfare of Chaouen’s medina, Restaurant Tissemlal offers many of the traditional Moroccan dishes with a twist. An open kitchen and, on cold nights, a roaring fireplace, add to this restaurants charm. (Lunch and Dinner, Reservations Not Needed.)
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Photos by Milena Boeva on Flickr.
About Our Team: Journey Beyond Travel has a variety of unique itineraries that allow you to experience the real Morocco. Our Eclectic Tour gives you an overview of the country’s highlights in both culture and landscape, while our Imperial Cities Tour takes you to the most inspiring locations including museums, UNESCO sights, and more. We also have various Sahara Desert tours. Enjoy our website, quality articles, and feel free to join us on Facebook and Twitter.