If you have the energy (and enough water) to continue, the viewing platform is the start of many day hikes into the mountains behind Chefchaouen. The track winds up the hillside before evening out and following the valley up to a small village a couple of kilometres away. From there, the main path takes you up to the top of the valley and to villages beyond. We fell in with a group of locals heading to a distant village, but after a couple of hours, left the main path...look out for an arrow on a rock pointing left...it's a scramble through bushes and rocks, but eventually you'll come to a pass just below the mountain that overlooks Chefchaouen. We didn't make it up to the summit, as the path disappeared and we didn't fancy scrambling up a rock face, but from this pass, you can see into the valley behind. Supposedly, there are paths down to the villages you can see below, and you can find transport back to Chefchaouen along the road behind the mountain. Again, we decided against this, as we'd underestimated how long it would take us to get this far, and had no idea how far those villages were, so we turned back...but not before surprising a group of Berber women carrying bags stuffed with green leaves. It would have made a fantastic photo, these women all dressed in traditional clothes, leaves seemingly sprouting from their heads, but I find it awkward taking photos like these, so I just said my salaams and carried on.
Take lots of water and snacks, as the villages in the valley have no shops. Nuts are good, and you can stock up on these from several shops in the souk. In March, snow was still visible on the upper slopes and within easy reach, but it was hot...I can't imagine what it would be like in high summer. Guides are available too (they hang around the cemetery and the hotel, and we had several offers down in the town too), but this short hike was well marked with arrows painted on rocks every 50 metres or so. By the entrance to the campsite, a large map of the Talassemtane National Park shows different routes you could follow.
It would be a shame to come to Chefchaouen and spend all your time in the medina's narrow streets, completely ignoring the Rif Mountains surrounding the town. Even if you don't like hiking, or don't have time for a long expedition, you can still escape the town and climb up to a viewing platform just inside the Talassemtane National Park for fantastic views down to Chefchaouen.
Starting from the medina, your first challenge is to find your way up to the medina walls. A path through a small gate in the walls leads you through a cemetery and up to a large and ugly hotel on a road. Following the road towards the campsite, you pass a driving test centre, which can be classed as an entertainment of sorts, as you can watch several learner drivers being put through their paces in a group lesson. Just beyond the campsite, a sign announces the start of the park, and you continue along the road, looking out for a path elading through the forest on your right. It is quite steep, but after about half an hour, you can easily reach a concrete viewing platform with benches and great views. The path is rough but wide enough for cars, so if you don't have the legs for a trek, you could try to find a driver prepared to bring you up this far.
Ras el Ma (literally "Head of the water") is where a stream appears from the rocks and cascades down below the lower walls of the medina. At one point, there are a couple of mills over the stream, which is a popular place to come in the late afternoon. I don't have any good photos, as I was in a bit of a rush to get up to the Spanish mosque in daylight, and by the time I returned, the cafe overlooking the watery action had closed and it was almost dark.
On the hill opposite the medina, and very visible from many vantage points around town, is a little white structure that looks very much like a church. My guidebook claimed it was a ruined Spanish mosque, but it would appear it has been renovated and whitewashed, and is now a working mosque, albeit a locked one.
There are two ways to climb up here. The easiest route is probably following the road up from Ras el Ma, but if you want to be a bit more adventurous, you can pass underneath the football pitch and pick your own path through a cemetery and up the steeper side of the hill. Either way, go in the late afternoon and you won't be alone...as well as tourists, the mosque attracts local couples who come to take in the views over the medina and beyond at sunset.
Chefchaouen is well known in Morocco and abroad for its narrow alleys with houses painted a deep shade of blue, and it is well worth spending a couple of hours getting lost, quite an easy thing to do. As well as being a maze of streets typical of a Moroccan medina, Chefchaouen is set on a steep slope, so that adds another dimension to it...just when you think you know where you are going, you realise that actually you no idea at all and are either too high up or too low down. Two or three of the main streets leading off the square are filled with hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops (and touts a plenty), but if you take a set of steps up or down and turn a few corners, you can see how Chefchaouen probably used to be...a quiet, inward-looking town. As a general rule, the higher you climb, the quieter it becomes. Cars are of no use in the medina, but a few men zoom around on scooters...however, most shopkeepers stock their shops using donkeys, so don't be surprised to get stuck in a donkey jam.
The architecture at street level isn't amazingly exciting, but that's not really the point of Chefchaouen...you come for the blue streets. But if you can get access to a rooftop (most hotels have terraces, and if not, climb the kasbah tower), the town with its red-tiled roofs looks as if it could be somewhere in Spain. this was part of the Spanish protectorate not so long ago, but even before that, Chefchaouen like many northern towns has had strong connections with the Iberian peninsula, as many refugees fled here from Andalusia in the 15th century.
Built by Moulay Ismail many moons ago, Chefchaouen's kasbah is nowadays a small museum, worth visiting for the building and its gardens more than for the exhibits. Aside from some old black and white photographs showing locals in traditional clothes and the plaza before the souvenir stalls and restaurants invaded, the rest of the exhibits are the standard collection of baskets and jewellery found in 101 other Moroccan museums. Half of the Kasbah is taken over by the Andalusian Studies Centre, which sounds as if it could be interesting, but is off limits to casual visitors.
After looking round the rooms and gardens, try to find the stairs leading to the tower for some of the best views over Chefchaouen.
The centre of Chefchaouen's medina is the Place Outa el Hammam, a longish open space with the orange walls of the Kasbah on one side and a row of tourity restaurants lining the other, a large tree providing shade in the centre. The restaurants aren't amazing in terms of food, but they are great places to stop for a mint tea and to watch the goings on in the place. Unfortunately, some of the restaurant owners are incredibly pushy and rude, with one screaming abuse at us over two days as he saw us walk past his and into a rival restaurant. One cafe at the bottom end of the place was a fairly regular haunt of ours, as the food was good and the drinks always stayed the same price, and it is set slightly away from the other restaurants with a good view of the souk
Even sitting in a cafe or restaurant, you are not immune to being hassled. I didn't mind the lady who sold a type of local prefume in a block as she was friendly, and the man selling nuts was fine. The man who came to sell us a packet of Chinese green tea ("traditional Morocco tea") would not take no for an answer. We were eating at the time, and after several polite refusals, he was still there repeating his spiel, so we just started ignoring him and carrying on our conversation, hoping he'd go away. His next tactic was to start shouting that we were racists and Nazis because we didn't want to buy tea, while the waiters just stood in the background watching. We didn't eat out in the open again after that.
Some of the cafes attract a certain clientele, European visitors as well as locals, all smoking a certain substance, quite openly. Your nose will tell you which cafes these are. Police do parade up and down occasionally, but nobody seems to hide what they're doing.
The Medina is the most important palce to visit once in this beautiful town. Great blue and white houses, unlike other medinas such as the ones in Fès or Tetouan, it's very easy to get around without getting lost, so, don't be afraid.
For more pictures, go to the travelogue.
Found on the main square, Uta el-Hamman in the medina the 17th century Kasbah is probably the only typical activity in my things to do tips that you will find as there are not many museums or monuments to see here (just the living working town itself).
You can enter the Kasbah and the gardens for 1 € (10 dr). What you will find inside aren't the most spectacular things, but it is only a euro and it is pretty and interesting! We enjoyed ourselves taking photos. It is small so you don't need a lot of time to do this activity! Maybe 15-30 mins.
In my General Tips section you can see some photos taken from inside.
Surrounding the town are the mountains by which it gets it name. Well actually, the mountains are called Rif, but the name chaouen or chefchaouen means something like 'look at the peaks' or something similar. I sound vague because there are a couple of different translations but this is the essential meaning.
Anyway, enough of the name stuff; while you are here you may wish to take a hike up the mountain paths. You can go it alone or easily find a guide in the town. It is a great alternative to just walking round the streets day after day if you are staying here for a few days.
Be careful when finding a guide though as everyone will offer but not everyone will be safe, cheap or good. Ask in your hotel if they can recommend a trustworthy person.
Somebody gave me a low rating on this tip and I don't know why as they didn't want to tell me (maybe they just didn't like my face in the photo!!). Anyway, I have added more info since then and I hope you find it useful. I think the person who gave it a low rating is someone who recommended travellers not to trust the guides as they were only out to rob you. My friends did it and had no problems, I suppose you have to be perceptive and make sure you don't pick just anyone on the street offering. I think the people there are more likely to con you before robbing you!!! They really didn't seem the robbing type in general. Just don't take your valuables with you or at least have them secured in a money belt and if you are a group of girls I'd think again (best to be on the safe side).
Along side the Al Kasbah on Plza Uta el-Hammam, you will find the mosque. Of course if you are not a Muslim you CAN NOT enter and it would be impolite to try.
My photo is from my first trip to Chaouen, nowadays it has been restored and repainted, though I kinda liked it the way it was. It looks more bland now. Although it wasn't spectacular before, at least it looked old and historical!
It was originally built in the 1400's.
This is what the main market looked like on my first trip here. As you can see it doesn't look like the most pleasant thing to to while here, but at least it was a cultural experience.
Now in 2007/8 The market is being totally reformed so hopefully from now on it with be pleasant and cultural thing to do.
I do recommend going to visit the markets of Moroccan towns, not just to get some cheap bargains on brand name shoes but to see just how different it is, from the produce to the customs!
Everywhere you go in Chaouen you won't see hardly any dogs but hundreds and hundreds of CATS! They are everywhere. Surprisingly many seem healthy and clean although they are not pets. The only problem is the terrace restaurants are filled with them too, many even jump up beside you while you eat.
Something Not to Do:
My advice is that although they look healthy and clean it is best no to touch them. If you decide to give a cat food in a restaurant be prepared for half the cat population of the town to try it within the next five minutes afterwards.
There are four more cat photos attached. Whether you like cats or not they can certainly add something different to the typical 'doorway' photo.
The town is full of Shops and stalls all selling the same sorts of things. Here are some of the most typical things you can find or may want to buy:
Water pipes and fruit flavoured 'tobacco' (about 6€- 12€ for the smaller ones)
Rugs, mats and covers. Especially the lovely blue ones you see as table cloths or chair covers in many restaurants such as in the photo along side. Prices vary from 10€ to 12€.
herbs and spices (very cheap)
earrings and jewellery in general
shoes (including Moroccan style leather shoes or western models in the market)
This is the main square in the old medina and it is the focal point. At this little square you have 2 banks with ATM machines, dozen resturants, few internet Cafes and few hotels. It has a fountain in the middle with a big tree. It is a pedastrian only zone and you rarely see a car.
The Kasbah and the Grand Mosque are located on this square so It has always been the City Center. If you want to get to any hotel, you'll probably need to know how to get to it starting from this square.
If you head east you'll emmidiatly see Place Al Makhazin which is an extension of Outta Al Hammam. It has few shops selling stuff for tourists and few fruit shops. If you head north east you'll get to Ras Al Maa. If you head west you'll walk through the narrow, busy streets of the Markets until you get to Bab Al Ain.