Guidebooks are great for research: they tell you what you, the traveler, can see and the best ways to go about seeing it. But guidebooks are not exhaustive, and, produced for a broad audience, they rarely share your tastes. If you really want to go somewhere perfect for you, see or do something right up your alley in a place that most don’t even know exists, you’ll need to talk to people. Friends, family, and chance acquaintances all have advice to offer. Some of it will be annoying, much will be ignorable, but every now and then someone tells you about a place like Chefchaouen.
Chefchaouen was in the guidebook, just one page wedged between larger destinations, and it didn’t have much more than a map and a couple of hotels. But my friend had been there, he confirmed the guidebook’s claim that the whole town was painted blue, and he told me I would love just relaxing here. On top of that, he suggested that I stay for the night, explaining that Chefchaouen is a popular tour bus stop on the Tangier-Fes leg, so it could be crowded during the day, but the busses all left long before dark. I decided to go, and I decided to stay for a few days.
The town is nestled in a little rivulet in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco. It actually looks white from the distance of the approaching bus. It takes seven hours through the otherworldly terrain of the Moroccan countryside, which grows greener as the mountains rise. By the time the bus arrives outside of town, you find yourself in a totally different world than Fes. First off, it’s small here, the traffic is light, and, once you get into the tiny medina, nonexistent. Outside of the main square the businesses drop off pretty quickly, leaving a medina full of houses and hanging laundry.
The best way to experience the town? Wander. There’s a perimeter all around, it takes under an hour to cross the whole medina at a leisurely pace, and the city does that thing that Moroccan cities do where no matter what direction you choose, you always end up back in the main square, eventually. I came with no plans, no reservations, and filled three days meeting people in the off hours when the tourist busses we absent. The bright blue alleyways were almost always empty, except for the occasional woman doing laundry, man carrying packages, or child playing. The sounds of life are few and far enough between that they echo around the medina, coherently and constantly, so that even when you are alone, the sounds floating out of houses and courtyards and other alleyways assures you that this place is not abandoned.
Chefchaouen is becoming more popular these days, and it really should be. It’s a picturesque Moroccan mountain village full of friendly people. Unfortunately, as it grows in popularity, some of the peace will be lost, but there are always other villages in the mountains, you just have to keep your ears open to know where to go.