Chefchaouen: The blue city at the heart of the world’s hash trade

More than 80,000 people work in Chefchaouen’s hash industry and it’s such a beautiful place to relax

Maybe you haven’t heard of a charming little city called Chefchaouen in Morocco. But if you’re interested in travel, have an Instagram or use Pinterest, there is a good chance you have seen pictures from this blue town at some point.

Before I visited Chefchaouen, I had pinned some of these snaps without really looking at where they were taken. At first, I thought it might be Jodhpur, India – another blue town I visited years ago. But when I decided to go to Morocco recently and did a search, Chefchaouen was in nearly every photo and blog post. I became obsessed. As I scrolled through the images, I saw that this was nothing like the Indian town I visited, but a truly surreal place on another level.

It almost looked to good to be true.

The blue city of Chefchaouen in Morocco – Rachel Jones
The blue city of Chefchaouen in Morocco – Rachel Jones

I went without huge expectations just in case it didn’t live up to its expectations or the images I’d seen were highly edited, but in the end, it exceeded them massively.

The moment I entered the town and started walking around, I had a feeling of awe. I had never seen anything like this. Every wall, set of stairs, shop, house, and even pathways were the same shade of blue. There were flowers of bright colours in terracotta pots that popped with the turquoise background. The antique doors with metal studs stood out against the azul walls surrounding them. There wasn’t an inch that was ugly here.

Many travellers who visit Morocco decide to skip Chefchaouen because it’s in the middle of nowhere. It is absolutely worth getting a taxi to take you here though. When I booked my flights from London, I knew I wanted to find the budget carriers and fly into Fez but out of Marrakech. I used Kiwi.com to book my flights and paid just 30 euro to Morocco and 80 euro back to London.

I chose to fly into Fez because that was the closest airport to Chefchaouen. We wanted to get the drive over with, so we took an airport taxi north straight to Chefchaouen and would see Fez on our way back down. It was $80 – a fair price but nearly as much as my flights.

One of the local trades is manufacturing hand-woven baskets Chefchaouen in Morocco – Rachel Jones
One of the local trades is manufacturing hand-woven baskets – Rachel Jones

The town is walled in like a fortress on a hill and it has a unique history. It was a safe haven for Jewish people leaving Spain during the 1400s. The Spanish continued to occupy this land until the 1950s and it was totally closed off to tourists. This is why they speak Spanish here. Now, the Spanish have left and the Jewish people have mostly moved to Israel. There is a lot more to the story, so if you’re going to visit, I highly recommend researching it. It gives you more of a connection to this town if you know more about its complicated past.

In the sixties and seventies hippies began to visit for a reason I’ll soon explain, and these days, although it’s a tourist attraction that is quickly gathering momentum, it is by no means mainstream.

So, why is it blue? It’s not been verified but there are theories. One is that the Jewish people painted it blue as a reminder of their faith in God, Heaven, and the skies. Others claim that it simply reduces the temperature and keeps away mosquitos.

Knowing I wanted to take a lot of photos, I brought extra SD cards and batteries, but it wasn’t enough. Every nook and cranny here is cute; every door is photogenic. The stairs, the walls, the little houses … You’ll want a photo every few seconds. For me, the best experience of Chefchaouen was exploring every little narrow alley I could find. Unlike Fez or Marrakesh, I couldn’t get lost. It didn’t take long to reach the edge of town and I could just turn back and go another way.

Other than taking photos, there are a few things to do here. One is to visit the little waterfall just on the outskirt of the medina. It is called Ras el Maa. To me, it looked a little small and I didn’t bother walking all the way out to it. Shopping for rugs and baskets is very popular, as it is in much of Morocco. Outside the hustle and bustle of the big cities, people are friendlier here and negotiating prices was a lot less stressful than Marrakesh.

You’ll want to try Moroccan food of course! The medina is very small so there aren’t a lot of options and I didn’t have a meal worth speaking about, unfortunately. You could also visit a hamman – a traditional bath in which the women at the spa will scrub and massage you until you’re squeaky clean.

There are a number of theories why Chefchaouen was painted blue – Rachel Jones
There are a number of theories about why Chefchaouen was painted blue – Rachel Jones

There is one other thing people like to do here, which is illegal but very popular with tourists – go on a hash tour. This is why the hippies started come here years ago. Apparently, the best hash in the world comes from Morocco … And guess where in Morocco? That’s right, the Rif Mountains that surround Chefchaouen.

More than 800,000 people in Morocco work in the hash industry and more than half of the world’s hash comes from the country, but it’s not legal yet. That doesn’t stop locals from taking tourists out to their workshops and farms. You won’t see a tour for this in Lonely Planet, but you’ll surely be offered it from the locals. The town is incredibly safe, there is zero hassle compared to the big cities and everyone is very laid back… maybe because they’re all stoned (just a guess). I couldn’t share about Chefchaouen without mentioning this, as hash is a big part of life and tourism here.

We stayed outside the town at Auberge Dardara to have some quiet and an outdoor swimming pool. It is only ten minutes from town in a five dollar taxi. We had also read that it had the best restaurant in the area and after nearly two weeks in Morocco, their rabbit and fig tagine was hands down my favourite meal in the country. If you want to stay inside the city, you can look into Lina Riad. It’s the nicest hotel there and we stopped by to peek inside. It’s very pretty and has a small inside pool.

Chefchaouen was by far my favourite place in Morocco and probably the best place I’ve been to shoot photos. I loved this blue city, and I’m willing to bet you will too. While there isn’t a lot to “do” in Chefchaouen, the happy vibes and awe of the beauty mean you really must visit.