Would you believe that there is a town on this earth that is only painted in shades of blue? If you don’t believe me, then you need to visit Morocco and in particular the small hillside town of Chefchaouen. The hot African sun will beat down, but the shades of blue around you will make you feel as though you’re walking from cloud to cloud in the sky!
Blue Pearl of Morocco
Chefchaouen, also known as the Blue Metropolis or Blue Pearl of Morocco, is a medieval little town that has quaint architecture and narrow streets. The reason that all buildings are painted blue has been somewhat lost in the mists of time, but the most common explanation is that many Jewish people fleeing the rise of nazism in Germany arrived in Chefchaouen in the 1930s and started painting their buildings blue, as the color represented peace and security to them.
Gradually, the idea of painting buildings blue spread from the Jewish quarter until the entire town was painted in shades of blue. While some insist that the tradition of painting in blue is Jewish, others argue that it stems from the founding of the city in the 15th century when the town was built around a fort that was used to defend the town from Portuguese invaders.
The beautiful little squares that are common in the town give you the space to sit and look up at the surrounding Rif Mountains. Immediately above the city is a hill that looks like it has two horns, and they give the town its name. The word Chefchaouen means ‘watch the horns’ in a local dialect.
A favorite pastime for tourists is to walk the streets of this unique place. The streets are filled with the smell of exotic spices, incense, flowers and fruits, and wandering around this town while admiring the blue visages that abound will give you a good workout as you climb up and down. There are many souks or marketplaces throughout this ancient town, and you can haggle for beautiful blankets or artwork.
If you love cats, you will adore Chefchaouen! The streets are home to hundreds of cats that are fed by the local people. Not all of them are tame, but against the blue backdrops, you are sure to get some beautiful Kodak moments with your camera.
Place Outa el Hammam
The most famous square in Chefchaouen is called Place Outa el Hammam. This is where you will find the Kasbah Fortress that was built by Moulay Ali Ben Moussa Ben Rached in 1471. This fortress was designed to protect the town from the Portuguese and Spanish invaders, and today it is open to the public with a small entry fee. Climb the towers for a spectacular view over the town or enjoy the small museum and gardens.
The abandoned mosque
For those needing a little exercise, take the 45-minute stroll up to the abandoned mosque that stands above the town on a hilltop. The mosque was built by the Spanish in the 1920s but has since been discontinued. The walk takes one past native Moroccan flora, and the view of Chefchaouen from the mosque is genuinely magnificent. The myriad of blue shades makes for beautiful photographs from this location. While crossing the Ras el’Ma River, watch out for local washer-women using the river — as generations of ladies before them have done — for laundry.
Visit a hammam
Another cultural treat is a visit to a hammam. A hammam is a public bath that will leave you feeling soporific and your skin squeaky-clean. This public bath is an unusual experience for a Westerner, but go to one that is used by the local people rather than one catering to tourists.
You will love the feeling of being scrubbed from head to toe by an attendant and then sitting in a lovely warm, steamy room as you enjoy the pleasures of merely relaxing with your loofah, soap and bucket after bucket of hot water. Take your own loofah, soap and dry undies, as you will be expected to keep your underpants on for the duration of the bath.
Remember that hammams are strictly segregated by sex, so you may not be able to share this experience with your partner. Check the specific hammam, as some are for one sex only. Others have days for ladies and days for men or different times of the day for men and women. Still, it is an experience not to be missed.
Cascades d’Akchour in the Rif Mountains
A trip for the very adventurous would be to the Cascades d’Akchour in the Rif Mountains. Take a taxi to the trail head and then enjoy a 2-3-hour hike into the mountains. The waterfall and its swimming hole are truly magnificent. The trail to the waterfall features some stunning scenery, including a bridge built of local stone called “God’s Bridge.” There are also several small, informal but very touristy Moroccan tea rooms along the route that sell drinks and food, both of which are very welcome.
Chefchaouen should be a must-see on your trip to Morocco. Save a couple of days to explore the area. You will not be sorry.