Chaouen, also known as Chefchaouen, is a small town in northern Morocco, with about 40,000 inhabitants, but its historic area still has the charm of the small village it once was. It is difficult to forget for its visitors, especially for the color that invades its whitewashed houses: blue in different shades, mainly light blue, which gives it a really picturesque air. On this page we tell you everything you should know about Chaouen if you plan to visit it on your route through Morocco.
Chaouen is located in the north of Morocco, in the heart of the Rif, the mountain range that runs more or less parallel to the Moroccan Mediterranean coast. Therefore, although it is relatively close to the sea (about 45 km as the crow flies), it is also at a considerable altitude: about 600 meters above sea level, which favors a climate of cold winters and mild summers. It is part of the Tangier-Tetouan-Al Hoceima region, and is the capital of its own province.
If you are going to visit other destinations in Morocco before or after coming to Chaouen, here is a list of distances that separate it from the most important cities, to give you an idea:
The location of Chaouen is very peculiar, and is at the origin of its name: it is located at the foot of two mountains (the Tisouka, 2050 masl, and the Megou, 1616 masl), which from the surroundings have the appearance of horns. This is probably why the name Chefchaouen was used to refer to this city, because in Berber it means something like “look at the horns”.
The peculiar orography and location of Chaouen provides extraordinary panoramas and views, and has contributed to preserve almost intact its medina, but it also has a disadvantage: it is not connected to the major transport networks of the country, as it has no railroad or airport (the nearest is the one in Tetouan). Therefore, the only way you can get here is by road.
Unlike other tourist destinations in Morocco, which have their roots in prehistory or antiquity, the history of Chaouen is ‘only’ six centuries old. However, this period is very interesting and important to understand this unique place in the north of the country.
Popular tradition attributes the founding of Chaouen to a great gesture of love: the legend tells of Sultan Moulay Ali Ben Rachid, in love with Zhora, a girl from Vejer de la Frontera (Cadiz, Spain) who had been expelled along with more Muslims from the south of that in the fifteenth century. To give him happiness, he promised to build a village that would remind him of his own, for which he ordered the construction of Chaouen.
The reality, however, seems harsher and more pragmatic: Chaouen was founded in 1471 as a place from which to harass Ceuta and Alcazarquivir, then dominated by the Portuguese. It is true that the population of this small village grew enormously after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain at the end of the 15th century and of the Moors at the beginning of the 17th century, which explains its resemblance to so many villages in southern Spain: perched on the slopes of a hill, narrow streets full of nooks and crannies and impossible slopes, whitewashed houses…
The existence of springs in its territory (Ras al-Ma) soon made it a sacred city for its inhabitants and for other Muslims in the country, being the final destination of many pilgrimages that continue to occur today. This also meant that the residents of Chaouen for a long time zealously guarded their village against foreign visitors, which favored its genuine preservation, almost without substantial modifications in the early days of tourism.
However, following the establishment of the Spanish Protectorate with its capital in Tetouan, the Spanish troops ‘opened’ Chaouen to the outside world, making it known, although not before overcoming fierce opposition. It is no coincidence, therefore, that Chaouen played a prominent role in the Rif War, which led to the proclamation of a short-lived Rif Republic in this area.
In any case, after Morocco’s independence in 1956, Chaouen gradually opened up to foreign tourism, as did most of the country’s monumental destinations, knowing that this industry can bring great benefits to the economy, heritage and local traditions.
Integrating Chaouen in a route through Morocco is a common choice among many tourists who travel through the north of the country, and there is no shortage of reasons. Here are a few that may convince you of this:
The tourist attractions of Chaouen can be arranged according to two main areas: inside the medina, which concentrates much of them, and outside the medina.
The medina, which extends along the slope of the hill where it sits, is home to many of the sights of Chaouen. For example, the following:
Special mention should be made of the Uta el-Hammam Square, where the medina and the new city come together. In addition, it acts as a starting point for many tours of Chaouen and has some attractions in it:
In any case, the real beauty of visiting the medina of Chaouen is to get lost in its corners, climb slopes that lead to humble but centuries-old houses, go down stairs that lead to anonymous squares, turn corners that present you with viewpoints of the Rif, admire flowery balconies and doors with large horseshoe arches, store windows that fill the street with colorful handicrafts…
In addition to all these places of interest located in the charming historic medina, you can take a stroll through the new part of the city. Mainly, by two avenues that will remind the traveler of the period of the Spanish Protectorate in the early twentieth century:
And if you have the possibility to travel outside the city, you will find in the surroundings places of great beauty, especially natural. This is the case of the natural park of Akchour, with its famous Bridge of God, or the Talassemtane National Park, a space full of hiking trails.
Although Chaouen oozes humility in every corner and is visited by many international backpackers, it can also be enjoyed through a premium experience that will allow you to savor every corner of this city in comfort and book unforgettable experiences.
For those looking to immerse themselves in the unique charm of Chaouen without sacrificing comfort and elegance, there are options that stand out:
Lina Ryad & Spa: This riad fuses the best of both worlds by offering a luxurious experience in Chefchaouen. Enjoy breathtaking views of the mountains and the medina, and pamper yourself in its spa, indoor pool and tastefully decorated rooms.
Riad Cherifa: This luxurious riad represents the epitome of the fusion between modernity and Moroccan tradition. Its panoramic terraces, swimming pool and gourmet restaurant invite you to experience Chaouen in a unique way.
However, if you are looking for unparalleled luxury, you may want to consider Fez or the coast of Tetouan. Both locations have resorts and hotels that take the concept of luxury to another level.
And if what you want is a help or simply to have everything done, do not hesitate to contact Chic Morocco: our agency is an expert in travel throughout the country, and in Chaouen in particular, so we have the best suppliers for you to enjoy a simply unique experience.