The ideal holiday for many people has become an all-inclusive deal on the northern shores of the Mediterranean. A suntan is guaranteed for anyone travelling through the summer months. But they are missing something, because the southern shores of the Mediterranean and beyond have so much more to offer. This is Africa, the ‘dark continent’, because of how inaccessible vast parts of it was years ago. However, there is nothing dark about an increasingly popular destination in North West Morocco: Chefchaouen.
Getting to Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen is quite isolated and difficult to get to. Located in the foothills of the Rif Mountains, its difficult location makes it all the more attractive for adventure-seeking travellers looking to get off the beaten track. The result of this increased popularity hasn’t really resulted in any tourist-filled bus tours, which many will be pleased to hear. There is also no rail connection. In fact, the most common and convenient way is to take a taxi to Chefchaouen. More specifically, either a grand taxi, or a transfer with a private company.
How Much Is a Grand Taxi to Chefchaouen?
Using our grand taxi fare calculator, here are our estimated prices for a taxi to Chefchaouen:
Tangier to Chefchaouen: 700dhs (about €70)
Fes to Chefchaouen: 1200dhs (about €120)
Rabat to Chefchaouen: 1400dhs (about €140)
Casablanca to Chefchaouen: 1795dhs (about €180)
Marrakech to Chefchaouen: 3000dhs (about €300)
These prices do not include a tip, and are to be used only as a guide. You may find you pay more or less, depending on how well you can haggle in Morocco. You also need to take into account other factors, such as the time of day, and any public holidays or celebrations that may be taking place while you are in Morocco.
In addition, there are a small number of companies that offer private transport within Morocco. You can expect to pay slightly more than for a grand taxi, but the vehicles are new, air-conditioned and normally have English-speaking drivers. Find out more about private transport in Morocco.
Chefchaouen is known for its buildings in different shades of blue and is in the Rif Mountains just inland from Tangier, the coastal city at the entrance to the Straits of Gibraltar. Chefchaouen gets its name from the shape of the mountain below which sits, a twin peaked mountain that looks like the two horns of a goat, ‘’ichawen’’ meaning horns in the Berber language.
The Mediterranean countries have things in common and people’s understanding of the name when applied to a style of cuisine think of healthy fruit and vegetables, herbs, spices and olive oil. However few people would ever think of the Northern Mediterranean countries as remotely exotic or mysterious. That is where the all-inclusive holidaymakers of Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey are missing something. A relatively few miles south over the sea and there are plenty of changes. There was a time when the Islamic Moors occupied a large portion of the Iberian Peninsula. They ultimately retreated back on to the African Continent. Today the friendship between Morocco and Spain is reflected by the numbers of Spanish tourists that understand that sunshine is only a small part of an enjoyable holiday. Quite a few head for Chefchaouen and there are many reasons to do so.
While the Atlas Mountains may be the highest in Morocco the Rif Mountains close to the city present a great challenge to trekkers looking for some adventure in pristine wilderness. There are plenty of forests and caves and fewer people to enjoy them than will be found at a similar time of the year in the Atlases. Within the city itself those in love with history and culture will find their days full of different attractions; mosques, museums, palaces and churches. There have been many influences on these lands over time. The Berbers, Romans and more recently French and Spanish settlers have all made an impact to varying extents. Add to this the Moroccans love for trading and cities like Chefchaouen are a sheer delight.
One of the beauties of Chefchaouen is that it is not as crowded as many Moroccan cities. If you go to the Medina as a starting point and work from there. The waterfall to the east is a popular meeting point and just behind on a hill are the ruins of an old mosque. From where you will also get a great view across the city. Alternatively there is a hill to the south of the Medina where the sunsets can be particularly spectacular.
If the main point of your holiday is to hike in the nearby surroundings then there are local guides to help you if you so wish:
- The trail up to the Rif Mountains starts behind the waterfall. It’s best to ignore the offers to buy hash from the locals en route.
- Jebel al-Kalaa is a little more strenuous; it is the peak overlooking the city. It will be a full day so take plenty of water and food; ignore the hash which is everywhere.
- The hike to Azilane is stunning but not for the casual walker but certainly worth it if you want a taste of rural life.
- Talasemtane National Park is a two day adventure. The camp site is at 1800 metres so be prepared for a cold night.
North Africa is known for its souks and certainly you should consider taking back some souvenirs of your visit to Chefchaouen. Leave shopping until the last day but remember your weight limits when you do so. Certainly it would be a mistake not to look at the quality of the leather goods on offer; even get something made to measure though if that is your aim before setting out on your holiday then start it by shopping so time will not be an issue. There are many who learn their trade here before leaving for other cities of Morocco so you are at the real source of the leather industry in Chefchaouen. There are carpets and crafted metalwork and pottery in the souks as well as an excellent range of herbs and spices. It is worth looking at the cuisine that they help to produce during your holiday.
The local cuisine reflects the local produce and the influences on the region over time. These include the Mediterranean as a whole, Berber, Arabic and Andalusian. The local fruit and vegetables play no small role, and wheat for bread and couscous, with plenty of seafood and local meat; goat, mutton, lamb beef and chicken. That is a great starting point because the herbs and spices that you can buy in the souk are also in every kitchen. Spices have been imported for thousands of years and the most popular mixture, ras el hanout uses a blend of 27. It is difficult to prioritise them in order of importance though mint, parsley, coriander, peppermint, marjoram and caraway are common.
Typically a meal opens with a range of hot and cold dishes with a tagine, meat and a selection of vegetable to follow. Alternatively the main meal may be couscous with meat and vegetables. Bread is widely consumed and seasonal fruit is a likely dessert. Alcohol is not regarded as part of a meal in this Islamic country but that does not detract from its quality; sweet mint tea is a great substitute. The way that the tea is poured is even important; pots with large curved spouts do the job nicely.
Perhaps you are not adventurous enough to leave the northern beaches of the Mediterranean? If you are not you are missing a memorable experience that will last far longer than your suntan. Chefchaouen is attracting more people each year and rightly so. It has everything you might want to add mystery and the exotic to your holiday.