Chefchaouen – also referred to as the “Blue Pearl” of Morocco – is single-handedly responsible for inspiring many people to visit Morocco. Photos of Chefchaouen‘s blue-washed streets have been splashed all over Instagram and other social media sites in recent years, drawing people from all corners of the globe to visit this beautiful little city for themselves.
And while I do think Chefchaouen is 100% worth visiting, I also think there are a lot of things the dreamy blue Instagram photos don't tell you about Morocco's Blue City.
Note: Chefchaouen is also sometimes written as Chefchaouene, or just referred to as simply “Chaouen.” All three mean the same place, though!
10 things to know about visiting Chefchaouen
Based on my own two visits, here are some things you need to know before visiting Chefchaouen!
1. It's not close to much
Chefchaouen is a city of fewer than 50,000 people in a rural province in northern Morocco. While the town has become a popular tourist stop, it's not actually that convenient to get to.
Chefchaouen is hours away from the nearest large cities – 2 hours (one-way) from Tangier, 3.5 hours from Fes, and 4 hours from Rabat. (And those are the driving times on paper; in reality, the drives often take longer!)
It's not really “on the way” to anything, either, meaning that if you want to visit Chefchaouen, you have to be intentional about it and put in some effort. (This also means that you really should stay at least one night in Chefchaouen since you're probably going out of your way to visit in the first place.)
2. Chefchaouen is in the mountains
When most people think of Morocco, they think of the desert, or the red-hued souks of Marrakech, peppered with palm trees and baking in the sun. But one of the things that might surprise you about Morocco is that the landscapes are SO varied.
And Chefchaouen actually sits up in the Rif Mountains in northern Morocco. It's a striking location, with mountains rising up above Chefchaouen's main square.
Thanks to its location 2,000 feet up in the mountains, Chefchaouen has weather that can feel very different than the weather in cities just a few hours away. It might be sunny and hot in Fes or Meknes, but it could still be cool and cloudy in Chefchaouen – especially during the winter months!
I've been to Chefchaouen twice in the winter months (once in February and once in March), and both times needed some extra layers. On my second trip it actually rained for half a day, too, and got down close to freezing at night.
No matter when you're visiting, be sure to check the weather forecast for Chefchaouen before your trip and pack accordingly.
3. Be prepared for lots of steps
Since Chefchaouen is built into the foothills of the Rif Mountains, you can expect to find a fair amount of steps and steep-ish inclines within the old medina especially. The streets in the medina are a maze-like mix of cobbled alleys and concrete steps – this is definitely NOT an accessible place to visit.
And note that if you're staying overnight in Chefchaouen within the medina, there likely won't be a way to get a car or van through the narrow streets to drop you off at your hotel or riad. Porters will usually be able to transport your main luggage for you, but you'll have to walk to your hotel. (And, from the main entrances into the medina, walking to your hotel will mostly likely mean walking mildly uphill for 10-ish minutes.)
So pack good shoes, and be prepared for some stairs.
4. There's not a lot to DO in Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen is a town that so many people dream of visiting. But here's something all the Instagram captions probably don't tell you: there's not actually a lot to DO in Chefchaouen.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the town is a lovely place to relax for a day or two. But if you're the type of person who likes to get out and do as much as possible when you travel, you might find yourself bored after 1-2 days in Chefchaouen.
The main things to do in Chefchaouen include:
- Wandering the blue-washed streets of the old medina
- Shopping in the souks for handicrafts, djellabas, art work, and more
- Visiting the kasbah in the main square, which has a small museum and great views from inside the main tower (entry is 60 dirhams)
- Hiking/walking to the Spanish Mosque (1.25 miles from the medina) to watch the sunset
- Enjoying a tea at a cafe along the Fouara River
- People-watching in Plaza Uta el Hamman, the main square (but don't photograph people unless you ask permission first)
We also spent time just relaxing on the rooftop terrace of our riad, reveling in the lack of pressure to do anything else.
5. You will probably get lost in the medina
There are two main parts to Chefchaouen: the “New City,” and the old medina. The walled medina here dates back to the mid-1400s, and is the famous part of the city with all the blue streets and doors.
But it's still a Moroccan medina with meandering streets – meaning the likelihood of you getting turned around or lost is very high!
While I did find that my Google Maps app worked fairly well to show me where I was in Chefchaouen, I wouldn't necessarily rely on it. Instead, just embrace the fact that you might get a little lost and enjoy being surprised by what you stumble across.
The Chefchaouen medina isn't that big, and if you walk downhill for long enough, you'll either get spit out in the old town's main square, or find yourself near the river just outside of the medina.
6. Yes, it really is that blue
Whenever I share photos of Chefchaouen on social media, I almost always have someone asking if the town really is THAT blue. After all, it's easy to snap photos of a few blue doorways and make it look like the whole town looks like that on Instagram, even if if doesn't.
But in the case of Chefchaouen, the old medina really IS that blue. The photos aren't lying.
There are several stories of why the old city was painted blue in the first place. These stories include it being a color that repels bugs like mosquitos, or a color that just reminded locals of the color of the sea.
But the most common story told is that part of the town was originally painted blue by Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal who settled here after fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Blue is a holy color in Judaism, and the story goes that the paint color eventually just spread beyond the Jewish neighborhood.
Today, the blue is certainly maintained because of tourism rather than for any religious reasons. Locals lay the blue paint on thick (quite literally!), and I actually think there were more blue staircases and alleyways in 2023 than when I first visited in 2019.
7. It's definitely not a secret anymore
There certainly was a time when Chefchaouen was relatively unknown to tourists in Morocco. But with the advent of Instagram and travel blogs, the secret definitely got out.
These days, Chefchaouen can definitely feel touristy, especially during the high season (which in Morocco is generally March-June and September-October). You'll find the main streets clogged with tour groups during the mid-morning hours, and photographers and influencers doing photo shoots at all the popular painted staircases.
There are even a handful of spots now set up with props that charge a small fee for photos. (Like the private courtyard at 192 Hassan 1 that's marked on Google Maps as “Pic photos IG” that charges 5 dirhams (50 cents US) to pose with various props for photos.)
BUT, Chefchaouen still feels remarkably laid back, and you can easily get away from the tour groups by simply exploring away from the main streets. We found so many side alleys and beautiful doorways that we had all to ourselves*.
*Just remember, though, that normal people LIVE behind those beautiful courtyards and doorways. Be mindful and respectful when taking photos, and if you encounter a closed gate or doorway, definitely don't enter it! Don't be that annoying tourist who infringes on someone's privacy just to get an Instagram shot.
8. You'll meet lots of stray cats
Along with the blue doorways and staircases, the other thing you've probably seen lots of photos of are cats in Chefchaouen. Chefchaouen has a LOT of stray cats – in fact, you could probably argue that it has a problem with stray cats.
I LOVE cats, but will admit that Chefchaouen has (in my personal opinion) some of the unhealthiest-looking kitties in Morocco. We saw plenty that were not only very thin, but also visibly ill.
Locals throughout Morocco do often feed stray cats (we saw many in Chefchaouen being fed small fish from the nearby river), but they don't generally keep them as indoor pets, and getting them spayed/neutered is not common.
So just be aware that you'll see a LOT of cats here, and will have to watch where you step on the streets sometimes to avoid cat poop.
9. Brush up on your Spanish
While Moroccan Arabic and indigenous Berber are the official languages of Morocco, roughly half the country also speaks French (due to most of Morocco being a French protectorate from 1912-1956), and most people who work in tourism speak very good English.
But in Chefchaouen, the language you're likely to hear the most after Arabic is actually Spanish!
And this is because of northern Morocco's proximity to and ties to Andalusia and Spain. While most of Morocco was a French protectorate from 1912-1956, northern Morocco was actually a Spanish protectorate during that same period.
So today, you're more likely to find locals in Chefchaouen who speak Spanish as their second language as opposed to French.
10. It's 100% worth it
The last thing to know is that I personally think Chefchaouen is 100% worth visiting. Yes, it takes a while to get to, and yes, it can feel touristy at times. But it really does live up to the hype and the Instagram photos.
If you're able to add it into your Morocco itinerary (or book a tour that includes a stop here), I'd say you definitely should!
Visiting Chefchaouen FAQs
Here are a few more practical questions you might have about visiting Chefchaouen, Morocco.
How do you get to Chefchaouen?
Chefchaouen was a stop on the Morocco tour(s) that I took, meaning I got there via private transport both times I visited. (My first 1-night visit was on Intrepid Travel's Morocco Uncovered tour, and my second 2-night visit was as part of Intrepid's Premium Morocco In-Depth tour.)
If you're traveling independently, though, the easiest way to get to Chefchaouen is by bus or taxi if you're not renting a car. The CTM buses are a good option from either Tangier or Fes, or you could hire a taxi in Tangier if you have a little more money to spend.
Where to stay in Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen is more than just its medina, but staying inside the medina is more convenient for exploring and just more charming. I recommend staying at a riad (guesthouse). Some to consider include:
- Hotel Riad Cherifa – The top-rated riad in Chefchaouen
- Lina Ryad & Spa – A more modern version of a riad
- Casa Perleta – Has a nice terrace and was recommended by Lonely Planet
- Riad Hicham – A very charming large riad with an excellent restaurant just off the main square
How many days do you need in Chefchaouen?
While I said earlier that there isn't a ton to actually DO in Chefchaouen, I still recommend allowing more than just a few hours in this mountain town. I think you should at least stay overnight for one night, but 2 nights in Chefchaouen would be even better.
With 2 nights (meaning at least 1 full day), you'll have time to explore all the nooks and crannies of the town and still have time to relax. Sitting on the terrace of our riad at sunset, listening to everything happening in the square below, was one of my favorite things in Chefchaouen.
Is Chefchaouen safe?
Chefchaouen is regarded as quite a safe destination in Morocco, and in my personal experience (as a white female traveler) I never felt unsafe there on either of my two visits*.
The main thing to look out for are people offering you hashish. Before the town opened to and became popular with tourists, Chefchaouen was known for cultivating hash and marijuana. Cannabis production and consumption is illegal in Morocco, though, so if someone asks if you'd like to buy hashish, simply say no and they aren't likely to continue bothering you.
*Note that while Chefchaouen is safe from a crime perspective, it's worth mentioning that Morocco is not the safest destination for the LGBTQ+ community. Same-sex relationships and sexual activity are criminalized in Morocco – though it's worth noting that platonic affection (such as holding hands) is very common and accepted between Moroccan men.
What is the best time to visit Chefchaouen?
The high travel season in Morocco is generally from March through May, and then from September-October. However, since Chefchaouen is up in the mountains and experiences cooler summers than many other parts of Morocco, the city can also be busy with locals from June-August.
I recommend visiting in the off-season (i.e. the winter) if you want to avoid the crowds. My first visit in February was very quiet (if a bit cold), and it also didn't feel too busy on my second visit in March.
Is Chefchaouen on your travel wish-list?