Visiting Chefchaouen: Everything you need to know

Visiting Chefchaouen has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in my travels. The city is stunningly beautiful, an amazingly affordable travel destination, and has one of the most lively backpacker communities I’ve ever encountered. It definitely belongs in any visitor’s perfect itinerary.

I’ll start the guide with a quick run down of everything you’ll need to know before visiting Chefchaouen, and then go into detail on everything the city has to offer, including:

  • Getting to Chefchaouen
  • When to visit
  • Where to stay
  • Where to eat
  • How to spend your time
  • A quick guide on how to go shopping without getting scammed

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Chefchaouen Quick Facts

How long to stay: 3 days to indefinitely (people always end up staying longer than intended)

How to get there: Catch a bus from pretty much any major hub like Tangier, Fes, Tetouan, or Rabat.

Why you should go: Rest and relaxation, hiking, meeting travelers, culture

Best hostel in town: Aline hostel

Is it safe for women? 2.5/5. You’ll be safe, but will put up with a fair bit of harassment.

Is it good for digital nomads? 3/5. Aline hostel has wifi good enough for Skype meetings, but wifi cafes aren’t plentiful here.

Average daily budget: USD 10-20

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Why you should Visit Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen is a city unlike any other. Known for its iconic blue buildings and colorful textiles, visiting Chefchaouen is an amazing way to explore culture, nature, and a break from the fast pace of travel life.

First of all, Chefchaouen is one of the best places to acquaint yourself with Berber culture. The Berbers are Morocco’s original inhabitants, but have largely lived as minorities in the mountains and desert regions dating back to the first Arab conquests. The Berbers are who people imagine when they think of Morocco’s loose-robed desert nomads or goat herders. Many rug salespeople or weavers are originally from the desert and come to Chefchaouen to sell their family’s work. Speaking with them is a great way to learn about a different side of Moroccan culture. 

Chefchaouen is also nestled into the Atlas mountains, and anybody who enjoys rock climbing and hiking will have the time of their life exploring the peaks just outside the city. If you’re not much of an outdoors person, you’ll still love the sunshine and fresh air.

Finally, visiting Chefchaouen is the perfect way to restore your energy without sacrificing any of the wonders of backpacking. Because so many of what this city has to offer involves meandering around town, chilling out with other backpackers, and wandering through nature, Chefchaouen is the perfect place to get away from the overstuffed itineraries we often feel pressured to meet in bigger cities. Being there will feel like a vacation.

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How to get to Chefchaouen

The major transit hubs closest to Chefchaouen are Fes, Tangier, Tetouan or Rabat. Since there are no train stations there, the best way to travel is either by bus or taxi. Check out the full article on transportation for a better breakdown of the difference between taxis, buses and local buses.

From Rabat or Casablanca, it will take you about 4 hours to get to Chefchaouen by bus. It should cost you around 140-170 dirham for a ticket, but bear in mind that these buses often fill up in advance. It’s worth going to the bus station a day before you hope to depart to pick up a ticket.

From Fes, the bus journey will take about 2 hours and cost you around 50-75 dirham. This bus line also tends to fill up, so booking in advance is a good idea.

From Tangier, the bus journey will take you around an hour and cost you about 50 dirham. Entering through Tangier and exiting through Fes are probably some of the most popular ways of traveling through Chefchaouen.

Coming from Tangier, it is also popular to catch a grand taxi. If you have 5-7 people, this option can be relatively cost effective, but otherwise I recommend against it. The 30 minute ride will cost you about 600 dirham as a flat fare for the car (grand taxi drivers generally operate on fixed rates for popular tourist routes, so don’t expect to be able to haggle it down unless you’re with an actual Moroccan person) but be warned, these small sedans are probably not equipped to take more than a few backpacks if you intend on filling every seat. One thing I can guarantee about grand taxi rides–they get cozy.

From Tetouan, you can catch an hour and a half long local bus ride for about 20 dirham, or a CTM bus with prices similar to Tangier’s. I don’t recommend going through Tetouan at night unless you’re stranded in Tangier, because it is one of the few Moroccan cities that actually can get a bit dangerous, especially for women.

Getting out of Chefchaouen is just as easy. There is one central bus station where you can book a ticket to any of the major transit hubs. Multiple buses run to Rabat, Fes and Tangier every day. Once again, I recommend doing so in advance to avoid being stranded by filled up buses.

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When to Visit Chefchaouen

There is no bad time to visit Chefchaouen. That being said, the city does experience definite extremes. By nature of being in Morocco, it can be incredibly hot here. Even through October, expect to be wearing light, loose clothing during the day to fight the heat. So if you’re going to feel uncomfortable (bearing in mind that you’ll need to dress conservatively) it’s best not to go in the summer.

That being said, it can also get incredibly cold during the winter. Chefchaouen is fairly high in the mountains and I’ve seen it get snowy around December. It won’t be anything unbearable (Unless you’re a California kid like me) but it’s important to plan for the cold nights.

Hotels and hostels in Chefchaouen

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Where you stay in Chefchaouen will be really important for shaping your experience there. Because being in the city involves so much down time, you’ll probably want to opt for a place with good social spaces and outdoor terraces.

Chefchaouen has several hotels, but I really do recommend staying in a hostel here. They’re largely very cheap and because of the relatively simple amenities that Morocco generally offers, hostels are largely just as nice as hotels, aside from the lack of a private room.

Aline Hostel

If you’re a first timer wondering where to stay in Chefchaouen, then Aline is one of the best places to go. It’s a proper Moroccan home converted into a hostel, with three floors and plenty of lounge space. It has an amazing rooftop with couches and great views (the photo above was taken from the hostel’s terrace) and offers a free breakfast in the morning.

Every time I have visited, I’ve found great people staying here and the hostel does a good job of maintaining plenty of social spaces. It has a full kitchen, decent wifi, and friendly staff. (they also sometimes take on volunteers to help at reception in exchange for lodging).

Aline’s only drawback is that it is not located inside the medina, so you will need to take a short 5 minute walk to get to the old city. It will usually run you about 6-10 US dollars per night. Aline does have a curfew, but the city doesn’t really stay lively too late at night so you won’t miss out by following it.

Casa Amina

This place is great if you’re looking to dip your toes into hostel life without fully taking the plunge. It’s one of the best places to stay in Chefchaouen, with two terraces and a relatively central location.

They offer private rooms for about 12 US dollars per bed, but maintain hostel-like social spaces. So if Aline’s large bunk bed dorms aren’t for you, then check this place out. They do have decent wifi, but don’t offer free breakfast. Casa Amina has no curfew, so if you’re a night owl then this may be a good option for you.

The best restaurants in Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen is a great place to get some traditional Moroccan cuisine. There are plenty of great restaurants around the town’s main square, including several with beautiful terrace views.

Chefchaouen has plenty of cheap food if you shop at the vegetable market near the city center (just down the hill from Aline hostel) and I highly recommend taking advantage of it. But if you’re looking for ready-made dining, here are my recommendations:

Best upscale traditional dining

Aladdin Restaurant: This restaurant is located right in the heart of Chefchaouen’s medina and offers a beautiful interior, multi-level terrace, and unique menu filled with not only the every day favorites like tagines, but also more unique dishes that are harder to find. Waiters here usually speak English or French, and they offer menus in multiple languages.

Aladdin is probably the most tourist-equipped restaurant in town and is considered fairly expensive, with a meal setting you back 75-100 for an entree.

Best cheap traditional food

The majority of restaurants lining the medina’s main square are fairly interchangeable in terms of price and menu, but on specific one does stand out. It’s located at the very end of the square to your right (the last restaurant you will pass as you move away from Aladdin) and it’s particularly cheap and has a good menu, including vegetarian options.

What makes this specific location stand out is that the staff are generally very respectful. Especially traveling as a woman, it can be difficult to make a choice with all the people harassing you to sit and eat. This restaurant’s staff will let you peruse their menu and dine in peace. They also have an excellent terrace space with traditional couches and an excellent view.

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Best vegetarian or vegan options

Aladdin Restaurant (again): I’ve got to give a special shoutout to this restaurant for being one of the only places where vegetarians can sample some particular Moroccan delicacies. Pastilla is a stuffed meat pastry dish usually served on special occasions, but Aladdin makes a vegetarian variant of it and serves it daily.

Fair warning, they make them in advance so on busy days they might run out, but it’s definitely worth coming here to try it.

Best snack food

Chez Aziz: Located right at the exit of the medina’s lower wall, Chez Aziz has an assortment of cheap foods including pastries, pizzas, sandwiches, fries, and juice.

While it’s a fine place to grab a quick meal, the reasons Chez Aziz is on this list are its juices. Especially during the hot days, popping in here for a cold juice can be a life saver, and they have some of the most delicious combinations I’ve ever seen.

A local favorite is zazaa, a pineapple and avocado blend with fruit chunks on top. If you’re looking for something a bit lighter, I recommend the avocado almond juice (it’s seriously addicting) This place also serves their fries with a unique green sauce that is seriously delicious. 30 dirham will get you a juice and fries here.

The top things to do in Chefchaouen

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Finally, the part you’ve all been waiting for!

Visiting Chefchaouen is a real experience and there are so many things to do there. There is of course the incredible food options, which, like most Moroccan cuisine, will impress any first time visitor. It’s also an experience in and of itself to walk around and explore the medina, as it has some of the most interesting and photogenic alleyways in the world. But if you’re looking for more of an activity, try some of these:

Hike to the mosque on the hill

If you look up into the mountains behind the city, you’ll notice a mosque overlooking the area. From the river area, it takes about 15-20 minutes to head up the well-worn trail. It’s a great place to see a bird’s eye view of the city, but it’s also the best place to watch sunrises and sunsets. I definitely recommend making the trek at least once.

This is also a popular trail to follow to get to the mountains behind the city, where you can easily spend a day climbing the peak or bouldering.

Visit Akchour and the God’s Bridge

This is one of the most popular day activities in  Chefchaouen. Akchour is a gorgeous waterfall (pictured) where you can swim, snack, sunbathe and relax. The God’s Bridge is in the same area as Akchour and is an impressive rock archway over a swimming hole.

The hike to these sites is relatively strenuous in places and crosses multiple streams, so come prepared with plenty of water, snacks, and shoes that can handle some water.

Any grand taxi driver in Chefchaouen can take you to the trail head (It’s not really within walking distance of the village, unfortunately) for about 200 dirham. It’s a full day trip but well worth it for anybody who loves nature or needs a break from life in the medina. You won’t see this anywhere else.

Go shopping

Chefchaouen is the perfect place to get exposed to the wide variety of crafts that Moroccan people produce and to find souvenirs and gifts.

There is a soap shop behind Restaurant Aladdin that sells amazing scented goods. Textile shops line most streets, and several stores sell packets of dye that make great paints.

But even if you’re not there to buy, spending time exploring the different wares is one of the top things to do in Chefchaouen.

The village has a large population of Berbers who have come to Chefchaouen from the South to sell blankets and rugs. I highly recommend asking a shopkeeper to explain to you the meanings of the different rug patterns and the tribal origins of different styles, as it’s a truly amazing and meaningful art form. If you don’t plan to buy anything, be sure to leave the shopkeeper a tip for his trouble. You’ll learn so much by speaking to the different shopkeepers.

Hit the bar

Chefchaouen is technically a dry city, but there are two bars that sell beer and wine. One is at the entrance to the medina in the hotel Paradiso. The other is a bit shadier and sits at the bottom of this hill past pizza mandala. It has an easily identifiable green door. 

The bars here are mainly frequented by locals, and it’s definitely not recommended that you linger here if you’re a woman, but the shadier one will let you buy beers and bottles of wine to go, so it’s pretty easy to send somebody to pick up drinks for the whole hostel.

You can expect to pay 35-50 dirham for a beer and 120 dirham for a bottle of wine.

Go for a swim

You can pay 100 dirham to use the pool at hotel Paradiso for a day. Having a swim and a few Casablanca beers is an excellent way to beat the heat or take a break form normal life in Morocco, if you’ve been there awhile. It’s relatively expensive by Moroccan standards, but is a fun way to treat yourself.

Smoke

This is the number one pastime of many visitors in Chefchaouen. It’s still a great city to enjoy if you’re not big on hash, but the hash tourism culture is pretty inescapable. Most people find the goods by hiking up the mountain past the mosque and waiting for a local to invite them to see “the farm”. If you follow them, they’ll show you the whole process of how they prepare the hash and let you buy as much as you want.

If you do choose to partake, bear a few things in mind: First, anything you get from salespeople in the medina will likely be much lower quality and far more expensive than what you can get from the farms. Second, the hash trade here is very much illegal, so be sure to be respectful of the locals and not go asking around for hash in crowded places. It’s easy enough to find on the mountain that there is no need to rope people from the city into it.

It’s worth noting that while selling hash may be illegal, most hostels, including Aline, don’t care if you smoke on the terrace. In fact, it’s almost a guarantee that somebody will be lighting up.

Don’t forget to relax

This is a big reason I strongly recommend staying at one of the backpacker hostels with a rooftop—there will always be something going on. People will be strumming guitars, playing cards, smoking hash, making juice (Aline hostel’s kitchen has a juicer!) and sunbathing on the couches all day long. If you’re into camp crafts like friendship bracelets, this is a perfect place to bust those out!

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Shopping in Chefchaouen

One of the top things to do in Chefchaouen is shop for souvenirs, but it’s also a city notorious for its smooth salespeople. To help you avoid overpaying, here’s a quick guide to what you should aim for when you negotiate:

  • A medium-sized rug (1x2m) should cost 150-250 dollars. Pay attention to the colors, as some dyes, especially the saffron-based yellows, are much more expensive.
  • A small cactus silk blanket should cost 100-150
  • A large cactus silk blanket should cost 150-200
  • A small yarn blanket should cost 100-150
  • A large yarn blanket should cost 150-200
  • A thick winter blanket should cost around 200-250 dirham
  • A berber wedding blanket should cost 100-150 usd
  • A wind sock should cost 20-50 dirham

To get these prices, you’re going to need to haggle with shopkeepers. Don’t be afraid to play the long game and negotiate for something you really want over the course of several days.

When buying textiles especially, try to only buy from shops that have proper looms in them. That way, you know your money is going to the people who did the labor to make the goods.

 

There you have it! Everything you need to know to have a great visit in Chefchaouen. It’s one of Morocco’s most vibrant cities, and an absolute can’t miss for any visitor.

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