Last Updated: 2021-02-25
Navigating a sprawling, labyrinthine Moroccan medina is a fascinating challenge even for well-seasoned travelers.
Lucky for us, the Medina of Chefchaouen is relatively small. Even if you lose your way a couple of times, if you keep a couple of tips in mind you can successfully explore it in a single morning.
I always recommend staying in Chefchaouen for at least three days. Every street has a unique aura that is worth savoring. Despite its small size, many travelers choose to spend several days here to drink in the otherworldly beauty of Chefchaouen.
I hope that this article on what to see in Chefchaouen will help you to find your way as you enjoy wandering through this captivating medina. It’s definitely worth it.
Let’s get started!
Before Entering the Medina
There are two main parking areas on arrival in Chaouen: Plaza El Makhzen (where the Hotel Parador is located), at the northern end of the medina, and Plaza Mohammed V (see A below), in the south, just a five-minute walk from the medina.
Although the first option might seem more efficient to some, we’ll take the road less travelled, as it’ll allow us to have a more enjoyable and leisurely tour of the medina.
Our starting point is the largest public space in the new part of the city. It’s surrounded by gardens and crowned by the Moulay Ali Ben Rachid Mosque (which, as usual, is not accessible to non-Muslims). On Tuesday or Thursday, a very picturesque market is organized in the square itself.
This square connects with Bab el Ain, one of the 7 gates of the medina, through Boulevard Mohammed V. This is the most common access point, and is usually lined with street vendors selling locally-grown vegetables and fruits.
Wandering the Medina
A stroll through the Medina of Chefchaouen is like living a fairy tale: the walls, doors, windows, furniture… everything is a different shade of blue, and around every corner is another unique little world of whimsical beauty.
We’ll more than likely end up going back and forth, around and around, marveling at the amazing scenes of everyday life in the blue city. We’ll probably fill up our phone’s memory with pictures. And as you can guess, more than likely we’ll end up getting lost.
The good news is this is a small medina, so getting lost is all part of the fun. Sooner or later we’ll run into Plaza Uta el Hamman, since most of the streets lead there. Chefchaouen is probably the best place to get lost in all of Morocco. So feel free to take my instructions with a grain of salt.
After we enter the only option is to head to the left. Once we pass the threshold, we’ll have the option to go straight, along the wall of the medina, or to turn right. We’ll take the first option.
After walking for a few minutes, on our left we see another of Chefchaouen’s gates, the Bab el Souk, and if we turn right here we’ll come across the El Souk Mosque, characteristic for its octagonal minaret and its combination of whites and blues.
As we leave the mosque and the wall behind, at the second crossroads we take the street on the right that leads to one of the most famous points of interest in this medina.
El Haouta Square
The array of blue tones of this spacious plaza is lined with terraces where you can sip tea and watch the locals who continually arrive at the fountain in the middle of the square to fill their jugs with water for drinking and washing.
It’s as picturesque as it is curious. Although in the past the fountains were one of the pillars of the medina and practically the only way to provide water to its citizens, nowadays the vast majority of houses have running water.
As far as I can tell, people still draw water from the fountain in part to keep a family tradition, and in part to save a few dirhams on the monthly water bill.
Our next stop is the main square of the medina, and the favorite meeting place for the citizens of Chefchaouen.
Uta el Hamman Square
We cross El Haouta square and leave via the opposite street from where we came in. As soon as possible we turn left and keep following the alleyway until we run into this scene:
A tall cedar in the center of the square overlooks shops, bars and restaurants. This is the most common place for both tourists and locals to stop to enjoy the scenery, to rest, to have some tea or get a bite to eat.
From here we can see the minaret of the great mosque with its exposed brick whose large loudspeakers sound out the call to prayer.
The most fascinating thing is the number and variety of everyday scenes that take place here. One that always brings a smile to my face is a group of six old friends making a superhuman effort to all sit on the same bench, defying the laws of physics.
On the opposite side of the restaurants in the square is this little frequented place, probably because the medina has so many charming open spaces that few visitors want to sacrifice some of the time they have inside a building.
Big mistake. The Kasbah is a magical place. It’s also the historical heart of the city. So, if you want to get a feel for the spirit of the medina you really have to visit the Kasbah.
It has a quaint schedule. There is only one gentleman working at the entrance and, of course, he has to leave his post from time to time for personal matters such as praying and eating. So, if no one’s there just wait a moment and he’ll be back.
Make sure to check out the central garden, the old jail cells, and the towers which offer a breath-taking panoramic view of the city.
The Ethnographic Museum is also located here. There are many different exhibitions that highlight the cultural development of Chefchaouen and the surrounding area. Also interesting is its central courtyard, with a large hanging lamp as its centerpiece.
Our next stop, probably more than any other place in Chefchaouen, will take us back to the medieval past. To get there, we take the street to the right of the citadel (looking at it from the square).
When we reach the end we take the street to the left, and we walk along it parallel to the wall, until we see the riverbed. Then, we cross a small bridge and continue upwards with the riverbed on our left.
Ras el Maa Waterfall
Despite its location in a remote and hidden area at the foot of the mountains, there is one primary reason for the existence of Chefchaouen: water. Water that quenches the thirst of man and beast. Water that paints the hillsides with green. Water that powers the grain mills. Generations of people have enjoyed the benefits and the beauty of these waterfalls.
A kaleidoscope of brightly colored clothes and Arabian carpets drying in the sun is the first impression of the age-old scene of local city dwellers coming out to do their laundry near the falls.
Although it’s a shame to reduce an entire city to a few places, if we don’t have enough time to drink in the spirit of a place, a checklist of the main sites is our best option. At this point, we have basically checked all the boxes for Chefchaouen.
Now is when the real fun starts. We’ve seen the main sites around the edge of the medina. Now, we can take a pleasant downhill stroll from the waterfalls along the Hassan I avenue. Make sure to take your time exploring the alleyways off to the side.
Some of the most charming little places are along the narrow streets off of this avenue.
The Plaza Zaituna is at the beginning of the avenue and is named after a large olive tree (zaituna means olive in Arabic) that is hundred of years old.
There is also this charming entrance to a private house in the middle of the route on the right-hand side, where we can take a picture for 5 dirhams. Chefchaouen is so full of places that you can take pictures of for free, but this place is exceptionally well kept and unique. So, it’s up to you if you want to pay the small fee or to just enjoy a free look with your eyes.
Near the end of the avenue, on the right, is a cornflower blue staircase with brightly-colored pots on both sides. This is El-Asri Alley, one of the most sought after selfie backgrounds in all of Morocco.
What to Do in the Medina of Chefchaouen
I could go on talking about other points of interest, but I don’t want to paint the picture of a series of charming points connected by a necessary but boring route. Chefchaouen is a magical place. You never know what unique vignette awaits you around the next corner.
If you love photography, you’ll find new material every few steps, such as an ancient door or a picturesque scene at a public oven.
If you accept the challenge, you can try to catalog the wide range of blue tones. Pro tip: if the floor is painted blue it means it means it’s a deadend, which is where you can find some real gems.
If you are animal lovers, you will be amazed by the large number of cats you’ll find playing in its blue streets, each one more photogenic than the last.
If you like to buy handicrafts, Chefchaouen is the ideal place, since there is a variety of quality products on offer at a lower price than in other parts of the country.
The Icing on the Cake: Bouzaafer Mosque
In the late afternoon, head to the Bouzaafer Mosque. From this lookout point, the whole Medina of Chaouen becomes a postcard at sunset, and progressively the sunlight disappears and passes the baton to the lights of the medina.
It’s easy to get to as long as you have comfortable shoes because the terrain is somewhat uneven. With the waterfall as our starting point, we cross the bridge that leads to a stone path built on the side of the mountain.
We’ll have to walk for about 25 minutes up a mild slope to reach the mosque, but it’s definitely worth it.
Panorama of Chefchaouen, click to enlarge
One final recommendation: go early, since it’s usually a very busy place and the best vantage points fill up quickly.
Feel free to refer to this article as often as necessary. Each visit to the medina will give you more reasons to fall in love with it. Much love to all and see you in the next post!
If you want to know more about the city, check out our Chefchaouen guide.