Morocco’s labyrinth of Blue: Chefchaouen
Excited I’m putting on my new shoes bought on the local Thursday market of Chefchaouen. Oops, two left shoes! This came at no surprise as the market existed out of piles of things, shoes included. I went back, the shoe salesman was still there, he laughed about the incident, and then took off on a 15-minute market exploration in search for the right right shoe. Shoe found and everybody happy for only 800 Dirham (9 euro! I bet I could have got it for 5 but the price was fair enough don’t you think?). This is hospitality in Chefchaouen, a blue mystic mountain town in the Rif region of Morocco.
What a contrast of culture!
After nine months of imagining what’s ‘on the other side’ I couldn’t deal with my curiosity anymore. Morocco, it had to be explored! A half an hour boat drive from tidy Tarifa, I arrived in a com-plete-ly different, slightly chaotic developing world. When you think Spain is lively on the street, multiply by 10 and you have what comes close to the Moroccan street scene. Food-stables, trading people, vendor-men walking 1000 miles, herds of goats trying to cross the traffic madness, Arabian berber music, donkeys, men domination, and traffic without traffic rules. My curiosity was drawn to Chefchaouen, because its blue and that’s my favourite colour. Chefchaouen is 109 km south from Tangier harbour, slightly off the beaten track.
Chefchaouen (locally called “Chaouen” meaning “horns”) is close enough to Spain to experience the pure essence of a Maroccon Medina town without too much travelling, and too many other travellers around. The town is as blue as it can get. In addition to eternal blue skies, its buildings, stairways, taxi’s, and even the cats’ eyes are in locally called ‘Chefchaouen blue.’ It’s a very relaxed, happy, genuine place. The technology age didn’t seem to have arrived here yet. It is simply about being outside, gathering, interaction and absorbing what’s happening in the streets. The young help the eldery for a stroll through town. Kids play on the street. East of town the youth meets up and women wash the clothes in the river. Locals are happy to make a friendly chat without pushing you to buy something. Although, Chefchaouen is THE place to score special hand-made crafts that are hard to find elsewhere, and definetely not for these prices. Woven coats, blankets, hats, ceramics, jewellery, custom leather bags, wallets, shoes, and soaps, spices, herbs, thees. All amazingly beautiful and amazingly cheap.
If you’re allergic to cats you better re-consider your travel destination. They are every-where. There are more cats than women on the streets in Chefchaouen. Moroccon traditional life is more than present here and women spend most time at home taking care of the family. The woman you do see wear an interesting combination of colourful fleeceblankets, towels as scarfs, socks in flipsflops, a strawhead, while carrying tons of things. Deep respect.
A few times per day the prayer calls from the minarets dominates the hussle and bussle of the marketplace, which is basically the whole town, a marketplace. Sticks are put in front of blankets and factories (meaning shop = closed), donkeys are parked, and djellabas (hooded longsleave unisex coat dresses) dressed men are off to one of their five daily prayers. These moments the town turns quite and allows for more beauty to be observed. Chefchaouen is surrounded by some stunning mountains. If you’re up for some hiking or climbing, go out and explore this place!
TTT (Thoughtful Travel Take-aways):
- Local travel vocabulary. Besides Moroccon Arab and Berber dialects most locals speak few words of Spanish and/or French. Chefchouean people are quite welcoming. For an even warmer welcome and respect make an effort with these handy Moroccon travel words:
Yes = jeh
no = La
Thank you= Choukran
Enough= Saffi /Barraka
Goodday= Selaam Alaykum
- Must try local dishes. Olives and Goatcheese are a local specialty, try some! Baissara (Healthy energy bean soup). Then ofcourse you have the other delicious dishes like Tajine. Food still tastes pure and not processed.
- Give what you value. Bargaining is common practice. However, the prices given are already more than reasonable (indication hand-made woolen beany 300 Dirham / 2,50 euro) . Pay what you’re happy to give. They need it more than you do.
- Dress modestly. Morroco is still a men’s country. Legs and shoulders are considered private so better dress like that, especially women. Besides an occasional ‘do you want a Marrocon husband?’, I felt supersafe and relaxed, as opposed to the more touristy Marrakesh and Essaouira .
- Alcohol is not done and not served in the sight of a Mosque. It is disrespectful to ask someone (outside of hotel). In some restaurants you can bring your own which you can buy in the only bar in town, which is outside the Medina.
- Special day of the week is Friday. It is the important day for family and prayers. People are dressed up nicely, and less shops are open. Thursday is the day of the local market. Just follow the dozens of women with shopping cars and you’ll end up there.
- Chefchouean is not for those with less mobility. It’s got steps and steepness all over!
DIY Tarifa to Chefchaouen
- When to go to Chefchaouen? All year round is ok. Summer is hot. Oktober-March is more quiet and peaceful.
- How to go to from Tarifa to Chefchaouen? There are two ferries: FRS and Intershipping. Both go 4x daily. More in highseason. Intershipping is slightly cheaper and less touristy. A return trip is between 60 -70 euro’s, depending on buzyness. The departure you would need to reserve outside lowseason. The return ticket you can leave open. You can either take a taxi (2,5 hours, 350DH/30 euro) which leave from the Ferry or you can enquire with your hotel. Many hotels do pick ups from the ferry. Or you can take a bus (45DH/4euro, 4 hours). CTM is the best bus company and has 1 bus daily ( so match your ferry!).
- Where to stay in Chefchaouen? I stayed in Riad Assilah which was super nice. Location was perfect in the middle of the Medina. Big breakfast included and good value. They can arrange pick-up from Tangier ferry (handy if you’re more than 1). Check Flipkey for local holiday houses.
- Cost of travel weekendtrip Tarifa to Chefchaouen? Ferry + transfers to Chefchauen +Hotel + food I spent 150 euro’s for 2nights/3days. The ferry s the most expensive part. Descent hotels you can find as from 5 euro per night. Food is about 7,50 per day. This was not a budget trip, nor a luxury one. You can go as cheap as 50 euro’s for a weekend.
- Other useful tip. You need to have your passport stamped at the boat. This will be checked upon arrival. The line gets very long so go right away or at the end.