A week before the 2020 pandemic went into full worldwide effect, I was leisurely strolling through the streets of Chefchaouen, Morocco. I was relaxed and in my happy place, travelling, exploring, discovering. It was a week later, on this same trip, that everything would change for everyone, everywhere. Until I write about our experience of being stuck in Morocco, I'm just going to write about my time spent in Chefchaouen.
I'm trying to think of what I would say to someone who asks me if they should make the trip to Chefchaouen while visiting Morocco. You will read that it's an Instagrammers dream. They say Chefchaouen is unlike any city you’ve seen before and it's on many a bucket list of places to see before you die.
Here's what I thought.
It's not really that unique. I mean, sure, it's beautiful but there a quite a few other villages around the world that are blue. There is Jodhpur in India, all blue. Burano in Italy, all blue. Juzcar in Spain, all blue. How about Santorini in Greece. Not all blue but white and blue. Guatape in Colombia, all kinds of crazy colors. You get what I mean. But do you need to add it to your Moroccan itinerary? Well, If you have the time, yes. Do it. It's a beautiful charming village with lots of interesting history. It's irresistibly photogenic which is what I think many people travel for these days. It's definitely less frenetic than in other cities such as Marrakech and Fes.
Let me say what you may experience that I haven't read in other blog posts.
It's touristy. Very touristy. On the more popular streets like Callejon El Asri, you will see lines of Instagrammers waiting to take their "look at me in my flowy dress with my cute hat on" pictures. It's definitely an influencer-perfect spot. I'm no different. I'm out there taking pictures and posting them as well. But I'm trying to get a feel for the city. I'm soaking up that feeling that I'm constantly chasing. That feeling of "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore". It seems like so many of these selfie picture takers are there just to get one more picture of themselves in a beautiful place rather than discovering and appreciating being in another part of the world that is different from home. It's not a negative thing I suppose. It's possible that the surge in popularity by social media has helped jump-start the economy.
It's much easier getting here if you're able to hire a driver and maybe even a guide. Otherwise, you will be taking a bus from the major cities. (CTM is the bus service).
The village is small. It perfect for a day trip. It doesn't have many attractions aside from the blue walls, the Kasbah (once a prison and now a museum and the only thing that isn't blue) and the medina, all which can be explored fully in a few hours. I would suggest at least staying one night.
You've come this far, might as well relax.
The village becomes mysterious and much quieter when all the day-trippers leave. It's especially quiet midweek. On Sundays, all the locals bring their families out to enjoy their own beautiful city.
To get this village to myself, I would get up early and stroll through the empty streets before the buses arrived. It was just me and the locals. You get a chance to see how life really is before the rush of tourists. Women cleaning their stoops. Men wheeling carts of vegetables up a blue alley. Kids rushing to school. People setting up their colorful displays of popular souvenirs. Dozens of cats looking for a meal.
Several times I was told by young men that I was going the wrong way. How did they know where I was going? I was trying to get lost. That was my plan. I want to see what's down and around every corner. They can be persistent though. "Lady, this is the wrong way. Please follow me and I will show you where it is". I only assume "it" is one of those Instagram streets and that they would ask for money once they brought me there.
It's a very safe town, so I felt very comfortable walking the streets by myself. Unlike Fes, that isn't a place you want to walk alone at night.
You won't find alcohol here. You're most likely aware that Morocco is a Muslim nation. Tourists are allowed to drink indoors at their hotel bar and a few tourist areas. You can bring your own alcohol into the country in limited amounts. Hitting up the dutyfree at the airport is a good idea. That's what we did. You can also find alcohol sold in some supermarkets, like Carefour, in separate rooms in the store. There are no large supermarkets in Chefchaouen, so If you like a beer or a glass of wine at the end of the day, you won't find it here.
If you want to smoke Kif (finely chopped marijuana and indigenous tobacco) well, Chefchaouen is the smoking capital. Most of the men in my group had men approach them and whisper to them, aking if they wanted Kif. They all said no every time and the men would walk away. It's illegal but apparently commonplace. From what I researched, It's 10 years in prison if found smoking it. Seems a bit extreme. You might get out of it if you offer to pay a fine on the spot. Who knows how much that might be? I also read that tourists are sometimes made examples of for smoking Kif. I can only assume what that would mean.
Good luck, if that's your thing.
Moroccans are extremely gracious and welcoming. You will always be welcomed with a big production of the pouring of mint tea, everywhere you go. I always felt bad because I'm not a fan of hot tea on a hot day or any day for that matter. (This is where the cold glass of white wine would come in nicely). But I felt it was rude to not accept it because it's such a proud and visually beautiful custom. Hopefully, you will make up for my lack of enthusiasm over horrid tea.
Cats. Oh my goodness, the cats! There are so many cats! Unfortunately, the village reeks of cat piss and shit. There are cats on every stoop. Under every bush. In every box that's been thrown away. On every roof. In every crevasse. It's just how it is. If you're a cat lover, I assume you'll be fine. I think you know how if feel.
So is Chefchaouen a place I would recommend? I'll ask you this. Do you want to see every painted shade of blue known to man? Periwinkle, cobalt, sky, royal, turquoise, cyan, azure, tiffany blue? You'll see it here. Do you want to see some of the most beautiful and mysterious doors and alleys in the world? Do you want to see the most vibrant and interesting wares for sale? Do you want to hear the call to prayer echo off the Rif Mountains? Do you want to leave your version of Kansas and get lost in an ancient city?
Of course you do.