Chefchaouen (شفشاون, also Chaouen, Chawen or Xaouen) is a gorgeous mountain city in northeastern Morocco.
It's no wonder that tourists flock here — this humble town is the embodiment of almost every Moroccan cliché. The picturesque medina, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Rif Mountains, is filled with white-washed homes with distinctive, powder-blue accents, and the call to prayer rings out of several mosques around the town in chorus. If you've got a few days to relax from the rigors of travel, this is a good place to do it.
Tourism in Chaouen is also driven by its reputation as centre of the marijuana plantations region in North Morocco. Drugs are widespread and somehow tolerated, but touts trying to sell to tourists are also very annoying.
Spanish is the foreign language mostly spoken by the population, while French is the language of higher education.
- 1 Bus station (Gare Routière) (a 15-min walk from the medina, along Av. Mohamed V). There are usually a couple of petit taxis waiting for a customer at the entry, about 10 dirham to get to the medina. Otherwise it's 15 minutes walk uphill.
There are frequent buses from Fez and Tetouan and also from Casablanca, Rabat, Meknes, Tangier and Ceuta. From Tangier, local buses should only cost around 35 dirham; enjoy the sales pitches of vendors who come onto the bus while you wait for more passengers at major stops.
Local buses plying the route from Fez to Tetouan/Tangier stop at Derdara (8 km away), where you can get into one of the frequent grand taxis for 5 dirham. This avoids the long uphill walk from the bus station.
From Meknes Gare Routière the trip is 50 dirham per person. Buses leave Meknes at 05:00, 12:00, and 24:00. The 05:00 bus is direct while the other two buses stop in Dardara, about 8 km away from the city, so you have to take a petit taxi to Chefchaouen from there. The trip by bus takes approximately 4 hr.
Approximate bus timetable to destinations around Morocco:
- Tetouan - five CTM buses at 04:00, 14:15, 15:15, 18:30 and 20:30; 25 dirham, 90 min. Twelve local buses at 06:45, 08:00, 08:15, 08:30, 08:45, 09:45, 11:30, 12:30, 14:45, 16:30, 17:00 and 17:30.
- Tangier - Two CTM buses daily, 15:15 and 20:30 (go to Tetouan first); 45 dirham, 3 hr. Four Nejme Chamal buses daily: 10:00, 14:00, 15:15 and 18:00 and one local bus at 10:45.
- Rabat - one CTM bus at 07:00, 100 dirham, 4½ hr. Five local buses daily: 06:00, 07:30, 08:15, 09:15 and 12:45; 5-5½ hr.
- Casablanca - one CTM bus at 07:00 (goes to Rabat first), 140 dirham, 6 hr. Three local buses: 06:00, 7:30 and 09:00; 100 dirham, 6-6½ hr.
- Meknes - three buses, 06:00, 14:30 and 15:30; 45 dirham, 4 hr.
- Fez - five CTM buses: 8:00, 11:00, 12:00, 14:15 and 23:45; 75 dirham, 4¼ hr. Other companies' bus departs at 07:00, 08:30, 09:30, 11:45 and 12:30.
- Berbered and Ketama - daily buses at 08:00; 20 dirham, 3 hr.
- Oued Laou may have one daily bus
Get to Ceuta by taking the bus through Tetouan to Fnideq and then taking a cab to the border. Ignore touts trying to sell you documents at the border, since they are free at the passport window. No CTM buses go to Ceuta, so you'll have to rely on regional ones. Don't pay more than 5 dirham for a piece of luggage, and don't hand anybody big bills: they'll just walk away with them.
The journey from Tangier to Chefchaouen takes about 2½ hr and takes you down some interesting mountain roads with lots of photo opportunities. There are a small number of companies in Tangier offering well-priced transfers and excursions to Chefchaouen.
There are also grand taxis outside of the Meknes Gare Routière (bus station) that will get you to Chefchaouen by way of Ouezzane. The taxi from Meknes to Ouezzane takes about 2 hr and costs 50 dirham per person in a full taxi (6 passengers). It takes about 2 hr from Ouezzane to Chefchaouen and costs 35 dirham per person in a full taxi. It's possible to travel with fewer than 6 people, though you'll have to pay the full fare for 6 people. These taxi drivers do not seem interested in overcharging tourists, and without negotiation you should be able to pay the standard fare that Moroccan passengers pay.
- 2 Grand taxi stand to Tetouan and Tangier. About 70 dirham per person. At the same time private day trip from Tangier to Chefchaouen will cost about €100.
- 3 Grand taxi stand to Akchour, Oued Laou, Dar Akouba. Taxi to Oued Laou costs 150-200 dirham, otherwise get a bus to Tetouan and hire a taxi from there.
- 4 Grand taxi stand to Bab Taza, Ouezzane.
Chefchaouen is compact and easily walkable. An this is what many people come here for.
If you are looking for sports or peaceful hiking tours, Chefchaouen is the ideal starting point to branch out in the villages and the surrounding mountains of the Rif with a local guide who knows well the region or just by yourself.
If you go to Chefchaouen by car, there are several small car parks on the perimeter of the ancient medina. Car parks are not signposted nor do they have meters, but are tended by people who would claim to be 'guardians'. The going rate seems to be 10 dirham per day—pay when you leave to avoid paying twice.
Also, parking is possible at these specific places:
- 1 Plaza el-Majzen (Ave Hassan II), next to Hotel Parador
- 2 Corner of Rue Jamaa Sebanin and Rue Sidi Ahmed El Ouafi (6 spaces), near the less touristy Bab El Ounsar gate
- 3 Bab El Mahrouk gate (30 spaces), just outside, possibly more further away from the gate
- The medina is the focal point of interest for most visitors to Chefchaouen. Walking around the town with its whitewashed walls, originally decorated in this style by Jewish immigrants, can be a nice change to the hustle and bustle of the cities of Marrakech, Rabat, and Fez.
- 1 Sorgente Ras el-Ma Waterspring (east of the medina). A meeting point for local residents who come to cool off, chat and do their laundry (including carpets on sunny sundays). The café nearby is rather expensive, however it's a nice change from the main square.
- 2 Jemaa Bouzafar mosque. The ruins of an old mosque, on a hill behind the waterfall, overlook the medina and its crumbling tower offers great views of the town.
- 3 Kasbah. Looks quite interesting from the outside, but there isn't much to see inside. The place is well preserved. There's the tower and the prison amongst others that's worth a visit, and the courtyard is green and almost alien amdist the mountain setting. Should only be an option if you're either bored or want to get away from the bustle outside. 60 dirham.
- 4 Viewpoint above the Hotel Atlas. A good viewpoint on the town and the valley, especially on sunsets. It can be reached from the south gate of the medina (Bab el-Ain) by climbing the road coasting the medina on the west side until the east gate (Bab Souk), and then uphill, crossing the old cemetery on a rocky path.
- Take a hike through the scenic Rif Mountains. There is a pathway leading up into the mountains just behind the waterfall frequented by backpackers. Don't mind the vast marijuana plantations; the farmers and goat herders that work them are used to tourists and will either ignore you or try to sell you hash. See "Stay safe" below.
- A strenuous hike up 1 Jebel al-Kalaa (the peak immediately overlooking the town) is fun, but can take up to 9 hours round trip and goes by (and if you're lucky/unlucky, through) big marijuana plantations. The route is not well marked (with white and yellow), and you might have to trail blaze for parts of it if you lose the trail. Start by following the road up the southeastern valley, from where you'll get a good view of town, and look for the markings up the mountain. Bring plenty of water, and some snacks.
- A two-day hike in the 2 Talasemtane national park via Asilane to Akchour also starts up the big mountain on a 4WD track which goes of in the north of Chefchaouen just after the camping site. At the peak at about 1,800 m is a camping site. There maybe snow even until April, so be prepared for cold temperatures. There are at least two water sources on the way up, so you'll not need to carry too much water. It's about 14 km until the gite in Asilane. The 4WD track continues until the next village from where one has to cross over a small valley, continue straight after passing a tomb-house and climb down the small path to the village of Inezgane. From there, a mule treck follows the river more or less closely and the gorgeous mountains, cliffs and breathtaking views. After a while the path goes down to the river over an ancient bridge and continues north, passing a source (although this one might dry up in summer) and eventually leads to the village of Akchour which has another Gite, but also cheaper accommodation. See below for getting back to Chaouen. There are more tracks and gites in the area. It is possible to even hike to Oued Laou at the Mediterranean.
- Do a 1½-hr hike in the mountains towards the 3 The God's bridge (Pond de Dieu). After the dam, the path lies on the right side of the river and goes up the hill quite steep. The bridge was formed by the river floating underground and carving its way over millennia. There seems also be a way down at the river, so one can see the bridge from below. Don't try this in spring though, as after snow-melt or rain the river may be unpassable. To left over the river starts a path towards the cascades.
- Getting there: buses to Akchour leave Chefchaouen bus station at ~08:00, 10:00, 14:00, 17:00; 20-40 dirham. Otherwise take a grand taxi, 150 dirham per taxi. Getting back may be a bit of a hassle, as the grand taxi only runs rarely. On weekends in the afternoon, you may be able to hitch with locals who went there for a weekend trip and will the head back to Tanger. They can drop you at Dar Akouba from where it is easy to get transport back to Chefchoauen.
- Hassan's Workshop (In the eastern medina, between the old olive tree and the waterfall), ☏ . 09:00-18:00-ish. Run by a tremendously approachable man called Hassan, it can be found towards the eastern end of the medina, between the old olive tree and the waterfall. Once you're in the vicinity, just ask for "El Taller de Hassan" and you'll be pointed in the right direction (or call ahead). He speaks fluent Spanish and good English & French, and is totally amenable to any peculiarities or requests you might have. He doesn't look for sales out of his workshop, as he makes good trade through the various local stores and a few overseas bulk buyers, but he enjoys making one-offs, which makes for wonderful craftsmanship, great prices and no hassle.
- Gite Talassemtane Tours. Can organise pottery and gastronomy workshops.
All the usuals are on offer in the medina — carpets, leatherwares, spices, metal wares, etc. If you're a seasoned bargainer you can probably get better prices in Fes or Marrakech, but Chefchaouen is undoubtedly a more pleasant place to shop. You'll also find plenty of hippie-wear aimed at budget travelers and marijuana tourists.
Chaouen is particularly renowned for leather artisans, and there are 4 or 5 workshops dotted through the town, whose goods you can find at many of the local stores and in the larger northern cities. Many of the craftsmen in Fes and Tetouan served their apprenticeships here. The choice in local stores is often limited to bags and purses, so if you're up for it take advantage of the workshops where you can tweak a standard design or come up with something entirely your own, even moving beyond traditional leather into snake, crocodile, lizard and more. They can make pretty much anything, from guitar straps and tobacco pouches, to handbags and jackets. It can take a couple of days to make the more complex designs, so head there on your first day, or have it shipped home (£6 within Europe).
The local specialty is baissara, but you'll also find the usual staples such as tajine (vegetable stew with goat or sheep), harira (tomato soup), kofte (meatballs) and tagras (fish). The Salada Marroqui is a salad of cucumber and tomatoes, while salada variada includes eggs. The region is also well known for olives and olive oil, and for goat cheese, which is sold on display in various shops.
If eating in the medina, avoid restaurants on the Kasbah square (plaza Uta el Hamman) offering tourist menus for 45 dirham (drinks not included): they will just serve you very low-quality kofte and harira, for a more than average price.
Local breakfast includes milk-coffee (café con leche) and pancakes (baghrir) with honey and olive oil or butter, for 10-15 dirham. Good places to have breakfast with the locals are the bar on plaza Hauta, in the Medina, and the bar in front of the Gendarmerie Nationale in av. Mohamed V.
- 1 Assadaa (from Bab el-Ain, take straight up and then left). This little restaurant occupies both sides of the street, with tables on the road, under a tree, and on a roof terrace. Nice tajine and great cheese salad. Lunch for 50 dirham, all included.
- 2 Chez Foad (opposite Granada restaurant). Also do a great fish tajine, and a shrimp tajine, salad and cous-cous are also very good. Great relation quality/price.
- 3 Granada (2 blocks up from the main square). Great fish tajine, great couscous. Mains ~25 dirham.
- 4 Restaurant Populaire Bab Ssour, rue Elkharrazin N°5, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Good food in a quiet room with a most friendly owner. Many languages spoken. Good local cheese. 50 dirham.
- For a sandwich break, head for the local sandwich dealer to the left of Bab el-Ain gate. Chicken, beef or shrimps sandwiches, with olives, salad and sauces, for 25 dirham.
Alcohol is not readily available but can be found. Mint tea is prevalent (6-10 dirham the cup/pot).
Accommodation can be tight in the peak periods (mid-Jul to Sep) so arrive early or book ahead in these periods. A stroll through the medina will reveal dozens of cheap hotels, starting from 40 dirham per night for a single. Many of these hotels have roof terraces.
Hotels that are fully booked will sometimes deliberately over-book and try to move you to another hotel (for a commission), as always avoid touts who may tell you your hotel is closed, not good, hard to find, etc.
- 1 Casa Hassan, ☏ . Popular traveler hotel in the medina, often booked, is wise to call ahead. Breakfast is included. 650/800/1,050 dirham single/double/triple.
- 2 Casa Perleta, Bab Souk- Medina, ☏ . Inside the medina (Bab Souk entrance), freshly renovated. Most rooms have en suite bathrooms. Run by native Spanish speakers. 550 dirham.
- 3 Dar Antonio, 36 calle Garmata, ☏ , , , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Nice guesthouse right in the Medina. Clean and quiet with a great view on the top floors. Hot water on demand. Shared facilities. Not for people with mobility problems. 150/250/375/500 dirham for single/double/triple/quad.
- 4 Dar Echchaouen (near Ras El Ma), ☏ . Single from 490 dirham.
- 5 Dar El Moualim, Rue Hassan I, Derb Sidi Bouchuka. Three apartments in a restored house inside the ancient medina. From 550 dirham.
- 6 Dar Meziana, Rue Zagdud nº7, ☏ . A beautiful riad carefully decorated by the owners, giving each bedroom an individual character full of warmth and beauty. The use of Tadlakt in the bathrooms, hammered copper sinks, beautifully painted wooden ceilings and hand crafted doors, modern glass bricks and crooked windows, Moroccan lamps and carpets all come together to give this riad a totally unique feel. It also has a beautiful roof terrace with the most amazing views over the city, mountains and surrounding countryside. From 650 dirham.
- 7 Dar Rass El Maa. A charming guest house below the spring. From 490 dirham (singles).
- 8 Dar Lbakal Guesthouse, Derb Mfarej Qu. Onssar, ☏ . Guesthouse with a unique interior, a charming and artistic furniture and amazing scenery that you can enjoy while relaxing on the terrace. From 350 dirham.
- 9 Harmony Hotel (in the medina). Good value for solo travellers, who pay less but still get double beds. room 60 dirham per person, 200 dirham double.
- 10 Hotel Andaluz, 1 Rue Sidi Salem, ☏ . A popular little budget hotel with a nice rooftop terrace and cool (occasionally damp if on the ground floor) rooms. It's not far from the main road in the medina, most locals can point the way. There is a shared kitchen and guests can use the washing machine upon request. 120 dirham double.
- 11 Hotel Madrid (right behind the Kasbah). Great service staff, always willing to help. They have maps and can give information on the town. The rooms aren't special, and have the "cheap hotel" feel. They have hot water - and one cannot stress enough the importance of hot water during the cold months! Ask the desk for your TV remote. The lobby is quaint, and enjoying breakfast while listening to the hotel canary sing (it's a real bird - not a euphemism for a lounge singer) or watching English channels on the lobby TV is a great way to start the day. 540 dirham.
- 12 Hotel Hicham, Plaza Outahammam (Located at the entrance of the ancient city of Chefchaouen (plaza Outahammam), next to Al Kasbah), ☏ . It has 7 rooms, very well-decorated and -equipped rooms, and outdoor panoramic terrace to see the mountain views and enjoy a good breakfast and fresh fruit smoothies with a welcome tea. The staff in the hotel are very helpful in advising you on different activities such as excursions, hiking, mountain guides and hammam.
- 13 Hotel Ouarzazate. In the medina is a decent choice with a good location. 60 dirham.
- 14 Hotel Parador, ☏ . From 500 dirham.
- 15 Hostel Aline, Av Sidi Ahmed el Uafi, 2 (on the eastern side of the medina, a bit away from the central square). A nice, clean place; catch it during low season and you'll likely end up with a room to yourself. Amenities include a big terrace with a hammock, laundry service, kitchen, and 24 hour hot water. The staff don't speak much English. About 40 dirham per night per person, breakfast of a loaf of French bread and jam included.
- 16 Hostel Gernika, ☏ . Inside the medina, very clean, luminous rooms. Has shared showers, with lots of hot water. Some rooms ensuite. Some rooms have heating (250 dirham) that is a very nice thing to have during rather humid winter. There is a lovely common room with fireplace and small library. Free Wi-Fi. Breakfast costs 30 dirham and is worth it. Spanish and French spoken. 150/200 dirham (without bathroom/with bathroom).
- 17 Hotel Zerktouni (formerly known as Hostel Sahara), av. Zerktouni (just outside the Medina, near Bab el-Ain, the road on the corner with the Banque Populaire). Check-out: 12:00. Nice and clean, perfect for travelers on a budget, in an interesting building with wooden decorations; the staff speak mostly Spanish, and the reception boy is very kind and enjoys as a painter. The Hostel has a terrace (with rooms facing it).
- 18 Pension Cordoba (north-east of the main medina square), ☏ . Check-out: 12:00. Very friendly staff, nice welcoming rooms and a big and comfy roof terrace. 70 dirham per person.
- 19 Pension la Castellana (next to Bank "Credit Agricole" at the south-western end of Place Outa el Hammam - the main tourist square), ☏ . It has a central courtyard and roof terrace. room 75 dirham per person.
- Definitely avoid Hostel Bab el-Ain, at the entrance of the Medina. It is a dirty place, with cold shower, overvalued (50 dirham/person/night) and a primary destination for touts taking advantage of smoke tourists.
Outside of town
- 20 Auberge Dardara, Road to Bab-Taza and Alhoceima (10 km from Chefchaouen), ☏ . With gastronomic restaurant with local specialities and local farm products. Singles from 490 dirham.
As Chefchaouen is on the edge of Morocco's marijuana growing region, touts desperate to extract money from travelers can be a serious problem. They can often be quite persistent and sometimes even threatening. However, smiling, remaining calm, and politely refusing (repeatedly) will usually work without a problem.
Travelers hiking in the Rif Mountain area close to the town have had stones thrown at them by armed men to scare them away from areas of marijuana production. While most of the growers may ignore you, some may offer to sell to you as well. While many travelers partake in or even come here specifically for the abundance of marijuana (hashish), understand that it is definitely illegal and heavily punishable. The best way to avoid running afoul of any local growers is to hire a sanctioned local guide.
On arriving in Chefchaouen, you may be met by touts at the bus station. These will probably try to take you to some cheap and low-quality hostel in the medina - but it is better to find the place by yourself, because if you arrive with touts, you'll be charged extra so they can get their commission. Touts will then insist that you follow them to their house in the medina, and there try to sell you a stash of dope for 300-500 dirham. Refusing to buy is not contemplated, nor safe, if you end up in such a situation, so just say no from the beginning and don't sympathise nor accept help.
The Souika/Mauretania hostel has many touts which quite aggressively try to get people there. They will claim the hotel you’re looking for is closed or on restoration. Don't trust these at all and insist on going to your planned destination.
As for the whole of Morocco, avoid tap water for safety concerns, and drink bottled water (6 dirham for a cold 1 l bottle) or drinks (8 dirham for 0.5 l Coke).
Re-filling a number of smaller water bottles from a large one then re-selling them is a reasonably common practice, so check the seals carefully.