Chefchaouen

An overview of Chefchaouen

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.

Get in

map of Chefchaouen

--- Tangier Taxi: 2 Route California, Tangier, Morocco. Private transfers, day trips and excursions to Chefchaouen. More expensive than the public taxis but still well-priced. €99 private day trip to Chefchaouen from Tangier.

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 Dh. This avoids the long uphill walk from the bus station.

The main bus station (  gare routière. ) is a fifteen minute walk from the medina (which is uphill), trough Av. Mohamed V. There are usually a couple of petit taxis waiting for a customer at the entry. Don't pay more than Dh 10 to get to the medina. If it is hot, or, as is very likely, you have just endured a long coach drive to the town, you should seriously consider climbing into one of these taxis. Likewise, coming to Chefchaouen in the middle of the cold season can only make the ascending walkways as punishing as in the summer. With a heavy backpack, the walk up to the hotels of the town can be fairly strenuous!

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 advisable 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 Dh. 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. Recently, 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 originally planned destination.

Get around

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. There is an organisation offereing hiking and cultural tours outside city : Gite Talassemtane Tours for Ecotourism and Hiking in Chefchaoun. the website wwww.gitetalassemtane.com Facebook page : Écotourisme et Randonnées Chefchaouen

See

An alleyway in the medina

Do

A hammam in Chefchaouen

Buy

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.

Leather

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).

Eat

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 dh (drinks not included): they will just serve you very low-quality kofte and harira, for a more than average price.

Drink

Alcohol is not readily available but can be found. Mint tea is prevalent (10 Dh the cup).

As for the whole of Morocco, avoid tap water for safety concerns, and drink bottled water (6 Dh for a cold 1 lt bottle) or drinks (8 Dh for 1/2 lt coke). Never pay more than 10 Dh for a bottle, even in restaurants.

Local breakfast includes milk-coffee (café con leche) and pancakes (baghrir) with honey and olive oil or butter, for 10-15 Dh. 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.

Sleep

A typical doorway

Accommodation can be tight in the peak periods (mid-July to September) so it's advisable to arrive early or book ahead in these periods. A stroll through the medina will reveal dozens of cheap hotels, starting from Dh 40 per night for a single. Many of these hotels have roof terraces.

Stay safe

As Chefchaouen is located on the edge of Morocco's marijuana growing region, touts desperate to extract money from travellers 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.

Travellers 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.

Go next

If you go with a car, you can park at Parador Hotel open-air parking (10 Dhm / day). Very easy to find. Always pay when you leave to avoid paying twice.

Regular buses depart from the long distance bus station (see 'Get Around') to destinations around Morocco:

Grand taxis to Tetouan and Tangier depart from a street just off Plaza Mohammed V.

There will also be rare taxis to Akchour from a taxi stand nearby:

The connection to Oued Laou is probematic, you may need to pay a full taxi (150-200Dh) or go via Tetouan first.

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 5Dh for a piece of luggage, and don't hand anybody big bills: they'll just walk away with them.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, October 26, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.