Chefchouen, Morocco: The Blue Pearl

Chefchouen (shef-sh-oww-EN) has recently become THE destination of Morocco. Known as the Blue City or the Blue Pearl, this magical little town is painted entirely in shades of blue. Which means that it is every photographers dream locale for a chance to become #instafamous. Chefchouen sits in the Rif mountains, approximately three hours northwest of Fez. I read about it years ago after seeing dreamy photos of the brightly hued narrow alleys, and decided then that if I ever visited Morocco, I would have to make a stop in Chefchouen. So, even though we only had three days in the country, we decided to use one of them to take a day trip to Chefchouen.

Blue city aside, the drive to visit is stunning on its own. A meandering three hours from Fez, the drive is quiet and comfortable, passing by farms and small villages the whole way. We hired a driver to take us, and we were glad we did ($150 for an entire day; worth it if you're short on time). My favorite surprise was that we happened to be in Morocco when all the wildflowers were in bloom. Meaning that every field we passed was absolutely brimming with yellow and orange poppies. From a distance, it looked like someone had taken a highlighter and scribbled orange and green swaths across the mountains. The yellow flowers mixed in with the green fields made the hills look neon green. So beautiful!

Chefchouen did not disappoint on the color front. In the medina, every wall is painted in various shades of aqua, turquoise, royal blue, and white. Like Fez, Chefchouen is a pedestrian city with no cars or motorcycles. The city center is very quiet, aside from the sounds of tourists chatting and children playing. Because Chefchouen is on the side of a mountain, all of the streets are sloping and hilly. This not only makes it fun to explore, but much easier to find your way around. You can always orient yourself based on the location of the mountain.

We arrived in Chefchouen around noon, which ended up not being ideal. It was very hot (nearly 90 degrees) and the sun was high in the sky, meaning the alleys gave little shade. From a photography standpoint, this also meant that there were harsh shadows and high contrasts in most of my photos. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes it harder to see just how blue everything is. Photography tip: visit in the morning or evening for glowing alleys and less sweat. 

Chefchouen sits relatively far north, so the locals actually speak Spanish in addition to Arabic and French. But, since it's also a major tourist destination, most people speak English as well. Since Chefchouen is such a hotspot, the streets are filled with shops selling trinkets and souvenirs. Rugs, dyes, spices, and clothing line the narrow alleys. The center of the medina is filled with restaurants geared towards tourists, with salespeople trying to push you into patronizing their respective cafes. We visited one of the restaurants that seemed more appealing than its neighbors, but the food was lackluster. Similar to Fez, all of the best cooks work for the riads and not the restaurants. If you are able, try to have a meal at a riad rather than being sucked in by the free wifi and proximity of the tourist restaurants.

Ultimately, the draw of Chefchouen is simply the uniqueness of the blue city center. The only activities are wandering the streets and visiting the shops (which isn't a bad thing necessarily). We spent three hours walking around, and by the end had seen most of the main part of the city, eaten lunch, and shopped around. If you're planning a visit, you probably won't need more than one day to see everything. There are some beautiful hikes in the mountains nearby though, so if you do stay longer than a day, use the opportunity to take a hike. With all that in mind, I am very happy we decided to visit. We had the perfect amount of time to get a taste of the city (and A LOT of photos, haha). It was a long day, but I was very happy with our Blue City experience. 

PS - Happy fathers day, Dad! I love you!
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