Chefchaouen is a small city in the Rif Mountains in the northern part of Morocco. Its name comes from “Look at the horns”, a reference to the two mountain peaks between which this town is located. Chefchaouen is best known for its blue walls in the medina, or old part of the city, which are so picturesque and give a calm and cool ambiance to the town; it is a photographer’s dream! The medina of Chaouen is very hilly – be prepared to walk around and up and down many steps!
Chefchaouen is sometimes difficult for foreigners to pronounce – haha, what to do with all of those vowels?! To help you, know that both “ch” sounds are actually the “sh” sound, pronounced like “ch’ in chute. There are 3 syllables, the first is “chef”… well, like “chef” for food. Then the second syllable is “cha” which is pronounced like “sha”. And finally the third syllable of “uen” is pronounced like “win”. If you want to be a cool Morocco Local Insider, then refer to this town just as many Moroccans do, and call it “Chaouen”.
Chaouen is also well-known for the area’s mild-flavored goat cheese, and many local restaurants will serve it as part of a salad.
How to Get to Chefchaouen, Morocco / How to Travel Onward from Chefchaouen, Morocco
If you want to travel to Chefchaouen, or if you want to travel from Chaouen, the Morocco’s Blue City of Chefchaouen is accessible by:
- PRIVATE TRANSPORTATION
- PUBLIC TAXI
- There is no airport in Chefchaouen.
- The closest airport to Chefchaouen is Tetouan’s Sania Ramel Airport.
- You may also see the name of Tetouan’s airport written as Saniat R’mel. The airport code (IATA) for Tetouan’s airport is TTU.
- Sania Ramel Airport is located approximately 42 miles / 68 kilometers from Chefchaouen. It takes about 1.5 hours to drive between Chaouen and Tetouan’s airport.
- Currently only 3 airlines operate in and out of Sania Ramel Airport in Tetouan with limited service: Royal Air Maroc (domestic flights / connecting flights), Ryanair (select cities in France and Spain) and TUI fly (Brussels).
- The next closest airport to Chefchaouen is Tangier’s Ibn Battouta Airport. The airport code (IATA) for Tangier’s airport is TNG.
- Ibn Battouta Airport is located approximately 75 miles / 120 kilometers from Chefchaouen. It takes about 2.5 hours to drive between Chaouen and Tangier’s airport.
- Ibn Battouta Airport is larger than Sania Ramel, which means that you will find more options for flights. Currently, 8 airlines fly in and out of Tangier’s Ibn Battouta Airport: Royal Air Maroc (domestic and international), Air Nostrum, Vueling, Ryanair, TUI fly, Air Arabia, TAP Air Portugal and Corendon.
- There is no train station in Chaouen, so you cannot take the train to or from Chefchaouen.
- Chaouen is served by several bus companies. However, if you choose to travel by bus, we recommend to travel with CTM.
Approximate Drive-times from Chefchaouen to Popular Destinations in Morocco
Below are approximate one-way and direct drive-times from Chaouen to other popular destinations in Morocco. You’ll want to allow more time if you plan to stop along the way, if there is road construction, or in case of inclement weather.
Chefchaouen -> Casablanca: 5-6 hours
Chefchaouen -> Essaouira: 9 hours
Chefchaouen -> Fes: 3.5-4 hours
Chefchaouen -> Marrakech: 8 hours
Chefchaouen -> Rabat: 5 hours
Chefchaouen -> Tangier: 2.5 hours
Chefchaouen -> Tetouan: 1.5 hours
Brief History of Chefchaouen, Morocco
Compared to other cities in Morocco, Chefchaouen does not have as rich of a detailed history.
Chefchaouen was first established in 1471 under the Idrissi Dynasty as a base from which to defend against the Portuguese trying to take control of the north, especially the coastal areas.
Its population grew after the fall of Granada and the Reconquest of Spain in 1492, when expelled Jews and Muslims made their way to this area.
Chefchaouen stayed fairly independent, even wanting to become a separate entity from the rest of Morocco, until the Spanish arrived in the early 1920’s. The Riffians managed to hold them back for several years until Spain finally managed to take over Chefchaouen. Spain then maintained control of this area until Morocco gained its independence in 1956.
Main Sights to Visit / What to Do in Chefchaouen, Morocco
Compared to some other cities in Morocco such as Marrakech, Chaouen doesn’t have as many sites to visit inside the city.
Here is what we recommend to visit in Chefchaouen:
- The main draw of Chefchaouen is the color blue of the painted walls in the medina – you will see many shades of blue in Chefchaouen, ranging from a sort of icy light blue to a deeper blue.
- The heart of Chaouen is Ute Hammam Square, named after all of the Moroccan bath-houses, or “hammams”, which used to line the square. Now it is full of casual restaurants and cafes which makes it a great place to relax.
- Ras el Ma is at the edge of the medina. It features an outdoor laundry area for locals, as well as some casual snack stands where, if the weather is warm enough, you can cool off
- For a great view of the medina and mountains, make your way toward the Spanish Mosque – it is especially beautiful at sunset! If you do happen to travel to Chaouen during high season for tourism, then make sure to arrive early to stake your place, particularly if you want to take photos.
Honorable mentions for recommended places to visit in Chefchaouen are:
- Bordering Ute Hammam Plaza is the kasbah whose construction was first started in the 15th century. Climb to the rooftop for some nice views of the medina. The kasbah of Chefchaouen also has a nice garden and houses the Ethnographic Museum.
- While non-Muslims can’t enter the Grand Mosque of Chefchaouen, they can view the octagonal minaret which is quite unique.
- There are hiking path just outside of the medina, but for your safety, please don’t venture too far into fields. This area is known for illegal cannabis production, so it’s better to stay closer to town!
Handicrafts and other traditional Moroccan artisanal items from Chefchaouen
In Chefchaouen you will find some simple handicrafts. These include a red-striped “fouta” which is a piece of cloth that can be used for bread-baking or to tie around a woman’s front bottom half, partly like an apron, partly for decoration and sometimes for modesty. You will also find hand-woven straw hats decorated with colorful pom-poms which are great to protect from the sun. Both the fouta and the straw hat are very popular with locals – this is not just a handicraft made for tourists to buy!
Suggested Day Trips from Chefchaouen
Though it is a very popular destination in Morocco, Chaouen isn’t often used as a base for traveling around the area. Usually 2 nights in Chefchaouen are enough to immerse yourself in this calm blue city.
However, if you do find yourself with some extra time in Morocco’s Blue City and want to explore more of the local area, you could choose to visit:
- Akchour for hiking. This is best for intermediate-level hikers or those without any mobility issues, especially if you want to make it to “God’ Bridge”. To stay safe and comfortable, make sure to bring water and wear appropriate clothing and shoes.
- Tetoutan – Fnideq – M’diq for cool white-washed buildings and a view of the Mediterranean.
- Ouezzane for its green painted medina. Ouezzane is a pretty small but charming town known as one of the spiritual destinations for Sufism.
Recommended Private Tours from Chefchaouen
Because of its somewhat remote location, very few, if any, tours start from Chefchaouen. However, Morocco’s Blue City can easily be included as part of a private Morocco tour from Tangier or a private tour of Morocco starting really anywhere else in Morocco.
Here are our top 3 recommended Morocco private tours which include Chefchaouen:
- For travelers who come to Morocco but plan to make just a few cities as their main home and hub, this excellent 3-day private tour from Fes to Chefchaouen fits the bill!
- And if you have just a couple more days to discover Morocco and Chefchaouen is a “must visit”, then why not try this 7-day private Moroccan tour to discover the North of Morocco? Bonus – you’ll get to spend more time in Chaouen!
- If you’re fortunate enough to have a lot of vacation time and want to have a relaxed time while discovering the best destinations in Morocco, including Chaouen, then book this 15-day private tour of Morocco from Casablanca.
This post is just one of a series of Moroccan city destination guides by Morocco Local Insider.