An overview of Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen (شفشاون, also Chaouen, Chawen or Xaouen) is a gorgeous mountain city in northeastern Morocco. It's no wonder that tourists flock here — this humble town is the embodiment of almost every Moroccan cliché. The picturesque medina, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Rif Mountains, is filled with white-washed homes with distinctive, powder-blue accents, and the call to prayer rings out of several mosques around the town in chorus. If you've got a few days to relax from the rigors of travel, this is a good place to do it.
Tourism in Chaouen is also driven by its reputation as centre of the marijuana plantations region in North Morocco. Drugs are widespread and somehow tolerated, but touts trying to sell to tourists are also very annoying.
Spanish is the foreign language mostly spoken by the population, while French is the language of higher education.
The main bus station is a fifteen minute walk from the medina (which is uphill), trough Av. Mohamed V. There are usually a couple of petit taxis waiting for a customer at the entry. Don't pay more than Dh 10 to get to the medina. If it is hot, or, as is very likely, you have just endured a long coach drive to the town, you should seriously consider climbing into one of these taxis. Likewise, coming to Chefchaouen in the middle of the cold season can only make the ascending walkways as punishing as in the summer. With a heavy backpack, the walk up to the hotels of the town can be fairly strenuous!
On arriving in Chefchaouen, you may be met by touts at the bus station. These will probably try to take you to some cheap and low-quality hostel in the medina - but it is advisable to find the place by yourself, because if you arrive with touts, you'll be charged extra so they can get their commission. Touts will then insist that you follow them to their house in the medina, and there try to sell you a stash of dope for 300-500 Dh. Refusing to buy is not contemplated, nor safe, if you end up in such a situation, so just say no from the beginning and don't sympathise nor accept help.
There are plenty of petit taxis to ferry you around the outer town (they are not metered, agree on a price before you start your trip), but most of the town is walkable, and the medina can only be traversed on foot.
- Chaouen Rural, ☎ +1 212 6 72 74 33 47, . Organizes interesting trips to the rural part of the Chaouen province, customized according to your interests. If you're interested in food they may send you to El Bellouta where you'll have a few meals with a local family.
- The Ashour Waterfalls lie 30min by car and 2,5 hours by foot from the town. A taxi drive would cost 400 Dh.
An alleyway in the medina
- The medina (maps:  ) is the focal point of interest for most visitors to Chefchaouen. Walking around the town with its whitewashed walls, originally decorated in this style by Jewish immigrants, can be a nice change to the hustle and bustle of the cities of Marrakech, Rabat, and Fez.
- The waterfall (Ras el Maa) to the east of the medina is a meeting point for local residents who come to cool off, chat and do their laundry (including carpets on sunny sundays). The café nearby is rather expensive, however it's a nice change from the main square.
- The ruins of an old mosque (Jemaa Bouzafar), on a hill behind the waterfall, overlook the medina and its crumbling tower offers great views of the town.
- The Kasbah. Looks quite interesting from the outside, but there isn't much to see inside. The place is well preserved. There's the tower and the prison amongst others that's worth a visit, and the courtyard is green and almost alien amdist the mountain setting. Should only be an option if you're either bored or want to get away from the bustle outside. 20 MAD.
- The hill of the Hotel Atlas is a good viewpoint on the town and the valley, especially on sunsets. It can be reached from the south gate of the medina (Bab el-Ain) by climbing the road coasting the medina on the west side until the east gate (Bab Souk), and then uphill, crossing the old cemetery on a rocky path.
- Take a hike through the scenic Rif Mountains. There is a pathway leading up into the mountains just behind the waterfall frequented by backpackers. Don't mind the vast marijuana plantations; the farmers and goat herders that work them are used to tourists and will either ignore you or try to sell you hash. See "Stay safe" below.
- A strenuous hike up Jebel al-Kalaa (the peak immediately overlooking the town) is fun, but can take up to 9 hours round trip and goes by (and if you're lucky/unlucky, through) big marijuana plantations. The route is not well marked (with white and yellow), and you might have to trail blaze for parts of it if you lose the trail. Start by following the road up the southeastern valley, from where you'll get a good view of town, and look for the markings up the mountain. Bring plenty of water, and some snacks.
All the usuals are on offer in the medina — carpets, leatherwares, spices, metal wares, etc. If you're a seasoned bargainer you can probably get better prices in Fes or Marrakech, but Chefchaouen is undoubtedly a more pleasant place to shop. You'll also find plenty of hippie-wear aimed at budget travelers and marijuana tourists.
Chaouen is particularly renowned for leather artisans, and there are 4 or 5 workshops dotted through the town, whose goods you can find at many of the local stores and in the larger northern cities. Many of the craftsmen in Fes and Tetouan served their apprenticeships here. The choice in local stores is often limited to bags and purses, so if you're up for it take advantage of the workshops where you can tweak a standard design or come up with something entirely your own, even moving beyond traditional leather into snake, crocodile, lizard and more. They can make pretty much anything, from guitar straps and tobacco pouches, to handbags and jackets. It can take a couple of days to make the more complex designs, so head there on your first day, or have it shipped home (£6 within Europe).
- Hassan's Workshop, (In the eastern medina, between the old olive tree and the waterfall), ☎ +212 065 00717. 9-6ish. Run by a tremendously approachable man called Hassan, it can be found towards the eastern end of the medina, between the old olive tree and the waterfall. Once you're in the vicinity, just ask for "El Taller de Hassan" and you'll be pointed in the right direction (or call ahead). He speaks fluent Spanish and good English & French, and is totally amenable to any peculiarities or requests you might have. He doesn't look for sales out of his workshop, as he makes good trade through the various local stores and a few overseas bulk buyers, but he enjoys making one-off's, which makes for wonderful craftsmanship, great prices and no hassle. Variable prices.
The local specialty is baissara, but you'll also find the usual staples such as tajine (vegetable stew with goat or sheep), harira (tomato soup), kofte (meatballs) and tagras (fish). The Salada Marroqui is a salad of cucumber and tomatoes, while salada variada includes eggs. The region is also well known for olives and olive oil, and for goat cheese, which is sold on display in various shops.
If eating in the medina, avoid restaurants on the Kasbah square (plaza Uta el Hamman) offering tourist menus for 45 dh (drinks not included): they will just serve you very low-quality kofte and harira, for a more than average price.
- Assadaa, (from Bab el-Ain, take straight up and then left). This little restaurant occupies both sides of the street, with tables on the road, under a tree, and on a roof terrace. Nice tajine and great cheese salad lunch for 50Dh, all included.
- Granada, (2 blocks up from the main square). Great fish tajine, great couscous. Mains ~ 25 Dh.
- Chez Chouen, (opposite Granada). Also do a great fish tajine, and a shrimp tajine that's more Spanish than Moroccan, but great nonetheless.
- For a sandwich break, head for the local sandwich dealer on the left of Bab el-Ain gate. Chicken, beef or shrimps sandwiches, with olives, salad and sauces, for 25Dh
- Auberge Dardara, (At 9km from Chefchaouen (Road to Bab-Taza and alhoceima), ☎ 00 212 539 77 07 07 ([email protected]), . ) Gastronomic Restaurant with local specialities and local farm product
Alcohol is not readily available but can be found. Mint tea is prevalent (5 Dh the cup).
As for the whole of Morocco, avoid tap water for safety concerns, and drink bottle water (6 Dh for a cold 1 lt bottle) or drinks (8 Dh for 1/2 lt coke). Never pay more than 10 Dh for a bottle, even in restaurants.
Local breakfast includes milk-coffee (café con leche) and pancakes (baghrir) with honey and olive oil or butter, for 10-15 Dh. Good places to have breakfast with the locals are the bar on plaza Hauta, in the Medina, and the bar in front of the Gendarmerie Nationale in av. Mohamed V.
Accommodation can be tight in the peak periods (mid-July to September) so it's advisable to arrive early or book ahead in these periods. A stroll through the medina will reveal dozens of cheap hotels, starting from Dh 40 per night for a single. Many of these hotels have roof terraces.
- Hostal Sahara, av. Zerktouni (just outside the Medina, near Bab el-Ain, the road on the corner with the Banque Populaire). checkout: 12:00. Nice and clean, perfect for travelers on a budget, in an interesting building with wooden decorations; the staff speak mostly Spanish, and the reception boy is very kind and enjoys as a painter. The Hostel has a terrace (with rooms facing it); hot shower for 8 Dh 30 Dh for person in a double.
- Hostal Aline, Av Sidi Ahmed el Uafi, 2 (on the eastern side of the medina, a bit away from the central square). A nice, clean place; catch it during low season and you'll likely end up with a room to yourself. Amenities include a big terrace with a hammock, laundry service, kitchen, and 24 hour hot water. The staff don't speak much English. About 40Dh per night per person, breakfast of a loaf of french bread and jam included.
- Pension la Castellana (room Dh 75 per person) has a central courtyard and roof terrace. It is located next to Bank "Credit Agricole" at the south-western end of Place Outa el Hammam - the main tourist square.
- Hotel Andaluz, 1 Rue Sidi Salem (in the medina), ☎ +212 39-986034. A popular little budget hotel with a nice rooftop terrace and cool (occasionally damp if on the ground floor) rooms. It's not far from the main road in the medina, most locals can point the way.
- Hostal Gernika. Inside the medina, very clean, luminous rooms. Has shared showers, with lots of hot water. Some rooms ensuite. Spanish and French spoken. 150 DH/200 DH (Without bathroom/ With bathroom).
- Hotel Madrid, (right behind the Kasbah, just before Hotel Parador if you're coming from the bus station). Great service staff, always willing to help. They have maps and can give information on the town. The rooms aren't special, and have the "cheap hotel" feel. They have hot water - and one cannot stress enough the importance of hot water during the cold months! Ask the desk for your TV remote. The lobby is quaint, and enjoying breakfast while listening to the hotel canary sing (it's a real bird - not a euphemism for a lounge singer) or watching English channels on the lobby TV is a great way to start the day. 200-400 MAD/night for a single depending on the season.
- Dar Rass El Maa, . A charming Guest House below the water source. 490 DH+ (Singles).
- Auberge Dardara, ☎ 039 77 07 07, . At 9km from Chefchaouen (Road to Bab-Taza and alhoceima) 490 DH+ (Singles).
- Dar Echchaouen. Near the Medina and Ras El Ma. 490 DH+ (Singles).
- Casa Hassan, ☎ +212 39 986153, . Popular traveler hotel in the medina, often booked, is wise to call ahead. Breakfast is included. Dh 650/800/1050 single/double/triple.
- Casa Perleta, Bab Souk- Medina, ☎ 00212-59988979, . Inside the medina (Bab Souk entrance), freshly renovated. Most rooms have en suite bathrooms. Run by native Spanish speakers. 550dh.
- Dar Meziana, Rue Zagdud nº7, ☎ +21239987806, . A beautiful riad carefully decorated by the owners themselves, giving each bedroom an individual character full of warmth and beauty. The use of Tadlakt in the bathrooms, hammered copper sinks, beautifully painted wooden ceilings and hand crafted doors, modern glass bricks and crooked windows, Moroccan lamps and carpets all come together to give this riad a totally unique feel. It also has a beautiful roof terrace with the most amazing views over the city, mountains and surrounding countryside.
- Auberge Dardara, Route Nationale 2 from Chefchaouen-Alhoceima (At 10km from Chefchaouen (Road to Bab-Taza and alhoceima), ☎ 00 212 539 77 07 07 ([email protected]), . ) Gastronomic Restaurant with local specialities and local farm product +490 DH.
- Hotel Hicham, Plaza Outahammam (Located at the entrance of the ancient city of Chefchaouen (plaza Outahammam), next to Al Kasbah), ☎ 00212 642 88 13 70 ([email protected]), . It has 7 rooms, very well decorated and equipped rooms, and outdoor panoramic terrace to see the mountain views and enjoy a good breakfast and fresh fruit smoothies with a Welcome Tea. The friendly staff in the Hotel are very helpful in advising you on different activities such as excursions, hiking, mountain guides, hammam, etc.
Definitely avoid Hostel Bab el-Ain, at the entrance of the Medina. It is a dirty place, with cold shower, overvalued (50 Dh/person/night) and a primary destination for touts taking advantage of smoke tourists.
As Chefchaouen is located on the edge of Morocco's marijuana growing region, touts desperate to extract money from travelers can be a serious problem. They can often be quite persistent and sometimes even threatening. However, smiling, remaining calm, and politely refusing (repeatedly) will usually work without a problem.
Travelers hiking in the Rif Mountain area close to the town have had stones thrown at them by armed men to scare them away from areas of marijuana production. While most of the growers may ignore you, some may offer to sell to you as well. While many travelers partake in or even come here specifically for the abundance of marijuana (hashish), understand that it is definitely illegal and heavily punishable. The best way to avoid running afoul of any local growers is to hire a sanctioned local guide.
If you go with a car, you can park at Parador Hotel open-air parking (10 Dhm / day). Very easy to find. Always pay when you leave to avoid paying twice.
Regular buses depart from the long distance bus station (see 'Get Around') to destinations around Morocco:
- Tetouan - hourly buses until 18:00; Dh 15, 90 minutes.
- Tangier - two buses daily; Dh 27, 3 hours. CTM bus once daily at 15:10, Dh 40.
- Rabat - four buses daily, the last at 13:00; Dh 50, 4 hours.
- Casablanca - three morning buses, the last at 9:00; Dh 60, 5.5 hours.
- Meknes - three buses, the last at 15:30; Dh 45, 4 hours.
- Fez - four buses, both CTM and local: 8:30, 11:15, 13:00, 15:15; Dh 70 for CTM, 4 hours.
- Berbered and Ketama - daily buses at 08:00; Dh 20, 3 hours.
Grand taxis to Tetouan and Tangier depart from a street just off Plaza Mohammed V.
Get to Ceuta by taking the bus through Tetouan to Fnideq and then taking a cab to the border. Ignore touts trying to sell you documents at the border, since they are free at the passport window. No CTM buses go to Ceuta, so you'll have to rely on regional ones. Don't pay more than 5Dh for a piece of luggage, and don't hand anybody big bills: they'll just walk away with them.
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