Chefchaouen was established in 1471 by Moorish and Jewish refugees who fled the Reconquista of Spain. The city served as a sanctuary again, when Hitler drove Jews from their homes in the 1930s. Until 1948, which marked the creation of Israel, many Jewish families lived in Chefchaouen happily among their neighbors: Muslim and native Berber families.
Chefchaouen isn’t a tourist town, per se, as it’s relatively difficult to visit due to the surrounding Rif mountainscape. Nonetheless, the city is strikingly beautiful, full of character, and covered in hues of blue paint. Historically, Chefchaouen is a sanctuary of cultures and religions coexisting harmoniously. Its egalitarian roots make it a great place for vacationers from around the globe.
I asked this question of locals multiple times and received just as many answers, which only make the pervasive color seem more mysterious. I heard that Jewish refugees painted the town vivid shades of blue because, in Judaism, blue represents sky, heaven, and spiritual awareness. I also heard that blue paint keeps mosquitos away and helps keep houses cool in summer.
Even after Jewish refugees largely departed in 1948, bright blue hues remained the city’s unofficial color code. Each spring, Chefchaouen villagers apply a new coat of blue paint to keep the city’s history alive. The local government even supplies paintbrushes to assist with the effort.
To get to Chefchaouen, fly into Tangier, and drive 3 hours to your destination. Or Fly into Casablanca, and drive 5 hours. Whichever option you chose, be prepared for an exciting road trip. If you travel near evening, there will beautiful sunset photos to capture along the way.
Travel Blue Pathways
Chefchaouen is a small city with narrow corridors and roads. Traveling the blue pathways became one of my favorite activities for what to do in Morocco. If you get lost, you won’t stay that way for long. The narrow streets will soon lead you to some familiar sights and sounds.
The Medina is the old part of the city. There is a heavy Andalusian influence in the architecture here, with red tile roofs capping bright blue buildings. If you’re interested in historical architecture, this one of your best options for what to do in Morocco.
In the heart of the Medina is Plaza Uta El-Hammam, which serves as a central hub for cafes and restaurants in this part of town. The rooftop restaurant Aladin is a trendy lunch spot that serves traditional Moroccan cuisine. Combine an architectural and culinary adventure in one trip.
The plaza is host to the Kasbah and Grande Mosque. Built in the 15th century by the son of Ali Ben Rachid, who founded the village, the Mosque is known for its octagonal-shaped tower. It provides another great glimpse into Morocco’s architectural past.
The walled fortress of the Kasbah is home to a beautiful, secret garden. Near the garden is the Ethnographic Museum. This is a great place to relax, take in nature, and spend a few hours learning about the culture of the Rif Mountains, which provide stunning backdrops to the city.
To attain knowledge that only locals can provide, take a guided tour. You can learn the history the majestic walls and gates that surround the town, see signs of early life in the city by visiting the old flour mill, and enjoy the Medina’s ancient, beautiful, natural water spring.
Shopping is one of this beautiful, blue city’s biggest tourist attractions. It may not be have the grand scale of Marrakech, but Chefchaouen has a mesmerizing, traditional souk. Leather products are popularly purchased here, as are a number of other artisanal products.
Beyond the blue streets, approximately 30 minutes from the center of the city, is a short hike that leads to a stunning view of waterfalls. Take a dip in the rock pools below, or admire the falls from above. If you love natural beauty, this is a great option for what to do in Morocco.
Just a 30-minute hike from the city is the famous Spanish Mosque. This is a great place to watch the sun rise above the blue buildings. You can also take in panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Bring your best camera; the scenery is truly beautiful here.
For an even greater closeup with nature, you can hike in the Rif mountains, and admire the city from above. Less known than the Atlas mountains but just as beautiful, these peaks rise to 1,981 m (6,500 ft) above the Mediterranean, and boast some of the best hiking routes in Africa.
If you’re staying in Morocco for a while, you’ll probably eat your share of tagine ― a traditional Moroccan dish that is a stew of spiced meat and vegetables. The best Tagine I had in Morocco was at BB Ssour in Chefchaouen ― mom-and-pop restaurant tucked away in an unassuming alley. The food was mind-blowingly good, and the tables appeared to seat plenty of internationals. So, the secret is out!
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