Chefchaouen, also known as Chaouen, is a small town located in the Rif Mountains of northwest Morocco. It is famous for its distinctive blue-painted buildings and its picturesque location in the mountains. Chefchaouen was originally a small fortress built by the Berbers in the 15th century but was later taken over by the Spanish in the 20th century. Today, it is a popular tourist destination known for its relaxed atmosphere, beautiful scenery, and unique architecture.
Chefchaouen dates back to the 15th century when the Berbers founded it as a small fortress to defend against the Portuguese and Spanish invaders. The town was strategically located on the main trade route between Tetouan and Fez.
In the 17th century, Chefchaouen became a haven for Moriscos (Muslims who converted to Christianity but were later expelled from Spain), who settled in the town and brought with them their Andalusian architectural style, which influenced the distinctive blue-painted buildings that Chefchaouen is now famous for.
During the early 20th century, the Spanish colonized Morocco and took control of Chefchaouen, which became part of the Spanish protectorate of Morocco. The Spanish influence is still evident in the town’s architecture and culture.
After Morocco gained independence from France in 1956, Chefchaouen became a popular destination for hippies and backpackers who were drawn to its bohemian atmosphere and picturesque surroundings. Today, it is a popular tourist destination and one of the most photographed towns in Morocco.
Here are some of the main attractions to see in Chefchaouen:
- The Blue City: Chefchaouen is famous for its blue-painted buildings, which give the town a unique and charming atmosphere. Take a stroll through the narrow streets and alleyways to experience the blue city up close.
- Kasbah Museum: Located in the heart of the medina, the Kasbah Museum is housed in an 18th-century fortress and features exhibits on the history and culture of the region.
- Plaza Uta el-Hammam: This bustling square is the center of Chefchaouen and is surrounded by cafes and restaurants. It’s a great place to people-watch and soak up the atmosphere.
- Waterfalls of Akchour: A short drive from Chefchaouen, the Waterfalls of Akchour are a series of cascading waterfalls set in a beautiful natural environment.
- Spanish Mosque: Located on a hill overlooking the town, the Spanish Mosque offers panoramic views of Chefchaouen and the surrounding countryside.
- Talassemtane National Park: This stunning national park is located just outside of Chefchaouen and offers hiking trails, picnic areas, and scenic views of the Rif Mountains.
- Souks and Markets: Chefchaouen’s markets are a great place to buy local handicrafts, including textiles, pottery, and jewelry.
There’s something fantastic about camels that you never really understand until standing right in front of one. They’re big, over 6′ tall at the shoulders, and nearly 2/3 of a ton. They’re smart, remember kindness, and enjoy an affectionate scratch or pet (think of them as really big dogs with saddles). They’re also surprisingly photogenic and often will look right into the camera, ready for their closeup.
Riding a camel takes no experience at all. Their size and feel resemble sitting on a felt-covered, substantial couch. Unlike the jarring up-down ride of a horse, the camel gently sways from side to side when it walks and never seems to be in a hurry. You also don’t have to steer a camel. Camels are pack animals and will follow the camel guide, who usually walks on foot in front.
If you think riding a camel is easy, you’d be right. It’s getting onto it is the adventure. You don’t mount a camel like you do a horse. The camels start by sitting down until you get in the saddle. That’s when the fun begins. Then, as the camel stands, its back legs straighten first, pitching the rider forward, then the front legs straighten, pitching the rider back. Then, when it kneels, it’s the same process in reverse. So remember, saddle up, lean back, then lean forward.
Ghost Tour of Fez
Over fourteen centuries have passed since the founding of Fez. One of the largest labyrinth cities in the world, the city has seen dynasties rise and fall, foreign invasion, conquest, bloody rebellion, and liberation. It’s an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, colored with hope, and tinted with blood. Guided tours of Fez focus on today and the city’s historical monuments and highlights, overlooking its colorful and sometimes dark past.
Now, for the first time in Morocco, SaharaTrek offers its exclusive guided Ghost Tour of Fez. Starting after dinner and just before sunset, you’ll get rare access to the places and stories left out of the tourist brochures.
The tour starts before sunset with a look inside the abandoned Glaoui Palace. Once a sprawling complex of twelve houses, hammams, Qur’anic schools, stables, a cemetery, and extensive gardens, it was the base of power for the Glaoui family. As powerful as they were brutal, the Glaouis’ ambition knew no bounds. They became the enforcers for the French during the occupation (1907-1956) and conspired to overthrow Sultan Mohammed V. After Moroccan independence, the blood-soaked Glaoui family was erased from history, and their multiple palaces were seized and left to rot.
As the sun sets, you’ll be driven to the hills overlooking Fez as the call to prayer echoes from a hundred mosques before heading down into the Madina. You’ll venture by foot, following your guide down the narrow, dark alleys before arriving at the Slave Market.
Slavery was abolished in Morocco in 1925, but its shadow still lingers in the Fez Medina at the Slave Market. During the day, they auction animal hides from the tannery in the market. In the afternoon, it’s a market for used clothes. But it’s when the market is empty at night that you can faintly hear the wails of despair from enslaved Christians taken by the Barbary Pirates or the sub-Saharan Africans brought over the Salt Road.
A short 2 hours after the tour starts and the darkest of the night has set in, you’ll be guided back to your Raid for the rest of the evening.
Taste of Morocco
Here’s a joke: What do Moroccans call traditional Moroccan food? Answer: Food! And traditional Moroccan food is everywhere you go, surrounding you with the smells and tastes of the exotic. With our Taste of Morocco, you’ll experience the adventure that is Moroccan street food. In Marrakech and Fez, your tour guide will not only show you the sites of Moroccan culture and history, feeding your curiosity and desire for adventure. But also stop by the small shops and workingman’s cafes where you’ll get to sample the local delicacies feeding your stomach simultaneously. Think of it as a city-wide roving buffet that can easily replace a sit-down lunch.
As you tour the cities, keep your eyes (and noses) on the lookout for some of the specialties Morocco offers, and you’ll regret missing them.
- Shebbakia: pasta ribbons with hot honey and grilled sesame seeds, commonly found during Ramadan.
- Briouats: sweet filo pastry with a savory filling, like a miniature pasilla.
- Briouats au miel: sweet filo pastry envelopes filled with nuts and honey.
- M’hencha: almond-filled pastry coils, often covered in honey or syrup.
- Cornes de gazelle: marzipan-filled, banana-shaped pastry horns.
- Pastilla: sweet pigeon or chicken pie with cinnamon and filo pastry (a specialty of Fes).
- M’laoui: flat griddle bread from dough sprinkled with oil, rolled out, and folded several times.
- Bissara: thick beans soup, usually served with olive oil and cumin.
- Olives: come in numerous varieties,
- Almonds, walnuts, and dates.
- Bread: almost always round like a cake and tears easily by hand. It’s usually homemade and cooked in the public oven.
- Khlea: small pieces of beef or lamb marinated in light spices, then dried in the sun (gueddid) before being cooked and preserved in fat for up to 2 years. Still a homemade staple in rural areas, these days, many Moroccan families resort to buying it as it is so readily available everywhere.