Are We Still in Morocco?
When one reaches Chefchaouen in northern Morocco, they would think they were somewhere along the Aegean Sea in Greece. The blue and white buildings sprawling up the mountain side feel very Mediterranean but for here in Morocco, they are blue for another reason. Chefchaouen has been painted blue for centuries due to the large Jewish community that once lived there. According to tradition, the color blue was associated with heaven so the community that thrived here decided to paint their houses blue in order to be closer with heaven. Jews and Muslims lived side by side in the community with rest of the world mostly shut out. Christians were barred from entering which was punishable by death until the Spanish entered the town in the 1920s. Today, it is a place that welcomes all and has found a nice balance between tourism and authenticity.
After traveling through brown medina after brown medina, this city was a breath of fresh air. The cool blues that spilled out onto the streets covered whoever passed by with tranquility. Traveling down these streets felt more like a dream than reality. If your looking for somewhere to calm your nerves after the bustling of the medinas in Fez or Marrakech, this is the place to do it.
A Photographer’s Dream Come True
Chefcahauen’s streets could not be anymore photogenic. Petite little doors awaited around every corner, while the winding staircases and alleys provided ample photo opportunities. While the medina itself is small, two days are needed to fully appreciate the beauty of this town. It is a great place to throw away your map and get lost as it never takes you long to find your way back. Soon enough you will find your favorite spots and you can begin to snap away. We highly recommend getting up early for photos as the streets are quite empty early morning. This allows you to take the perfect shot!
For skyline views of the city, there are two options. The first is to pay 10 dirham ($1.00) to enter the old Kasbah tower where you can take in the city. The only problem here is that you can”t take a picture of the entire medina.
To do this, one must climb up the hill to the Spanish Mosque (that ended up never being used). The mosque is visible from many points around the city and is well worth the short 15 minute climb. The breeze is nice on a hot day and the views are spectacular. The best part about this option is it’s free!
Climbing Jebel El-Kelaa
Claire recently joked with me that every time I see a mountain top that I have to go climb it… which is completely true. Lurking over Chefchaouen is Jebel El-Kelaa. After eyeing the mountain top for two days I knew I had to climb it before we left. Leaving at around 7:30 am, I embarked out of town and up to the mountain path. The trail itself is not difficult if you are in good shape and should take around 7 hours to complete.
Once you get above the treeline, one gets their first views of Chefchaouen. The views from here, are personally my favorite of Chefchaouen. This is a good spot to take a break before heading up the valley that meets the trail head that actually goes up to the summit. From here, most of the trail up the valley is a road that passes through the peculiar little village of Ain Tissimlane. To my surprise, this little village proved much more interesting that the mountain top itself.
Exploring the Marijuana Fields
From a distance, Ain Tissimlane looks like a small farm town with crops growing up the sides of the mountain. While they do indeed farm here, it is not until you come into the village that you realize this is no ordinary farm town. The plants grown here are marijuana. Sprawling up the the mountain sides left and right were a pot heads dream come true. Some plants grew the size of small Christmas trees and the aroma was quite pleasant throughout this mountain side. It was an oddity to be seen. A spectacle not to be found in my home town New York. Bushels of the stuff were drying on the roof tops waiting to be sold to those down below in town and throughout Morocco. It definitely made for one of my more unusual hiking experiences.
After passing through several marijuana fields, the trail becomes smaller and easier to lose track of. From here the climb became hotter and steeper, forcing me to take a few short breaks in order to get up to the summit. While the views are not spectacular from the top, its definitely worth the time when combined with the marijuana plantations.
From the summit, the town of Chefchaouen looks ever so smaller and quieter from here, and you get views of the entire valley around the city. After a while of relaxation, its all down hill on the way back and takes only about 2 hours to get into town.
Chefchaouen: A MUST Stop Destination in Morocco
So there you have it, blue streets and hash are what define this little city in Morocco. You certainly don’t have to have both of these to enjoy your time here, but to each his own. Claire and I ended up spending 4 nights in this sleepy little town as it was just too cute to leave. Its not a city with sights that you have to bounce around to, but rather a place just to be. Being in Chefchaouen is what makes it great and the locals are happy for you to discover this for yourself as well.
Simply Enjoying the streets of Chefchaouen