What to Do Chefchaouen. And bedbugs…
Chefchaouen is another of my highlights in Morocco. It is a stunningly pretty place surrounded by the natural beauty of the Rif mountains. In fact, the only negative of my 3 day stay was getting bitten by bedbugs (more on that further down). Otherwise it was perfection and the kind of place where I wish Lissette had been with me. If you’re travelling as a couple it doesn’t get more romantic than Chefchaouen.
So why is everything painted blue in Chefchaouen? It’s because when the Sephardi Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 they came here and brought their tradition of painting their houses blue with them. They’ve been doing it ever since, even though the Jews left in 1945 (most going to Israel after WWII). I had locals tell me that the colour also repels mosquitos.
Chefchaouen is a place where the best thing to do is wander. It’s very photogenic. I think I took about a million photos. It’s really one of the prettiest towns I’ve seen anywhere (along with Guanajuato in Mexico). Some photos.
Apart from just wondering around, there are two things you should do in town:
- Walk up to the Spanish Mosque. It’s what everyone does. From there you’ll have fantastic views of the city.
- Go to the Kasbah, the fortress in town. There’s a botanical garden within its walls, a ethnographic museum, and a tower which you can climb for great views.
Besides being a pretty and very clean town (even outside the Medina), it has relaxed, friendly people. I had been told by a guide in Marrakech that the people in Chefchaouen were friendly. Well, he was right. They are.
I’ll also remember Chefchaouen for getting bitten by bedbugs at Hotel Koutoubia. I woke up the first morning, turned around – and right there on my sheets was a dead bedbug. I picked it up with toilet paper and brought it down to the reception. The manager seemed surprised, saying that they’d had bedbug experiences in the past but only in the summer. They switched my room. Less helpful was the other manager who insisted that they had never had bedbugs and the cleaning lady who insinuated that maybe I had brought the bedbug with me.
The hotel gets very good reviews. I know bedbugs are an issue in Morocco, I also know that even the nicest, best maintained hotel can experience bedbugs. That’s fine – but my feeling when it comes to bedbugs is that I would never again stay in the same place where I had that experience (because I would be paranoid) and that I could never recommend that place to others. So Hotel Koutoubia is a “no” for me.
Want to hear another nightmare hotel story from Chefchaouen? Have a look at our friend Ric’s story.
Related: Fez or Marrakech?
So where to stay in Chefchaouen? I recommend the Casa Sabila or La Petite Chefchaouen. Both are a little more upmarket than Hotel Koutoubia. But as I found out, you get what you pay for.
I enjoyed restaurant Sinsibad. Great views and really good Spaghetti (sorry, I was about 4 weeks into my Morocco trip and sick of Tajine). The best views are at restaurant La Lampe Magique but the food is average and prices high – but go for a tea and enjoy the views over the Kasbah. The best Moroccan food I had was at a small place called Café Restaurant Sofia which has an all-female staff and good prices. I had my best tajine experience in Morocco there.
Chefchaouen is a bit far from the major cities (the closest ones being Tangier and Fez). I took the CTM bus from Fez which took 4 ½ hours. From Tangier it is a little over 3 hours to Chefchaouen. Note that the buses are comfortable and the whole process is very well organized. The only negative is that Moroccan buses don’t have toilets (you get a toilet stop at about the halfway mark of your trip). You can also take a private transfer from Fez. It’s not expensive plus the you get to stop and see some highlights along the way.
If you have limited time you can do this day trip from Fez. I’ll be honest: 8 hours (back and forth from Fez) for 4 hours of sightseeing is not my kind of travel. But if you don’t have much time in Morocco and want to see Chefchaouen then this tour is recommended. It gets excellent reviews and is great value for money.
Related: The Ultimate guide to Surviving Morocco
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Interesting story behind the blue coloured walls. I always wondered why large parts of the Mediterranean and North Africa painted their houses this way.
Anita @ No Particular Place to Go
OMG- Bedbugs were one of my biggest fears during the time we traveled full-time and I can imagine your dismay/disgust/anger at finding your hotel room with an infestation. We totally missed out on seeing Chefchaouen and I loved reading about your impressions of the city as well as learning about why it is painted blue. If I make a return visit (I have a couple of friends who’d love to go with me) I think Chefchaouen would be my starting point. Your photos are beautiful!
I think it’s a great starting point, although it takes a bus ride from Fez or Tangier. It’s a relaxed place and people friendly. I would for sure come back with Lissette.
I had bedbugs earlier in 2018 and in comparison this was nothing. Wasn’t even traumatized this time. I guess you get used to things 🙂
I think Chefchaouen is the perfect place to hand out with friends. You’d have a great time.
I really enjoyed chefchouen too. I stayed 4 nights, which was perfect for me. I recommend Dar Onsar, on Airbnb. Not fancy, shared bathroom, but very clean, bed not too hard (like the one I’m sitting on now in Casablanca, ugh, a fricking rock is softer) and it has a nice rooftop to enjoy.
I’ve been here 3 weeks and I’ve eaten Moroccan food 3 times, blah! Too boring and soft, like you mentioned. The best thing I ate in chefchouen was a smoothie called Zaazaa – avocado smoothie with apple, kiwi, banana, raspberries, dates, wheat germ(?) and a drizzle of chocolate…for only 10 dirhams. I had 3 in one day, Oh So Good! For those interested… The smoothie shop is across to the right from Bab Ssour, Google maps will take you.
Knock on wood, so far I’m bug free. Sorry to hear of your troubles, they’re a massive pain to get rid of in a hotel.
What do you think of Casablanca and that Mosque? Curious, not sure I should bother with a post on Casablanca…
Thanks for the Airbnb recommendation as well as the smoothie tip. That sounds really good.
Agree about the pain of getting rid of them. The cleaning lady at the hotel was showing me her spray while saying “no bugs”. Anyone who knows anything about bedbugs knows a spray won’t do anything – or if it IS strong enough to kill living bedbugs (never mind hatchlings) it’s probably dangerous for humans to be touching or sleeping on. Just left me with the impression they didn’t really know what they were dealing with or being serious about the remedy.
Enjoying Morocco so far Paula?
I’m loving Morocco! I cannot say Casablanca tugs at my heartstrings, but I did like Rabat. I just arrived today and will get to mosque tomorrow, so I’ll let you know. I can tell that my 2 full days here are 1 1/2 too long.
Yeah, it sounds like the hotel has no idea what they’re dealing with. The hotel I worked at, it took a year! Yes that long, having hotel rooms sprayed, matress tossed, rugs pulled to kill the bastards.
Great to hear Paula! Yes, Casablanca nothing that special but I walked 45 minutes through the market area and not one person turned to talk to me. I thought I had been teleported to another country! Enjoy the rest of your time.
wow! Looks a LOT like Jodhpur, doesnt it? Wonderful blues! 🙂
As for bedbugs…. eek! Touch wood I dont think I’ve ever experienced them somehow. Fleas on the other hand…. I agree, cant recommend a hotel with that experience
With all your exotic travels through India Andrew I’m surprised you’ve never had a bedbug experience. I’ve had 2 in my life and they both happened in 2018…
Not experienced fleas though…
I am guessing you are not recommending Hotel Koutoubia. Hopefully will be here in April!
Apart from the bedbug incident they were all nice people. But you can’t just ignore a bedbug incident and I found that they had a “too relaxed” attitude about it all. So no, I would not recommend.
Sunday . January 20
Thanks for the photography and especially for the bit of history about the blue color. The color is striking . I had to research the Sephardic Jews, and the short note I read said,
“In the narrower ethnic definition, a Sephardi Jew is a Jew descended from the Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula in the late 15th century, immediately prior to the issuance of the Alhambra Decree of 1492 by order of the Catholic Monarchs in Spain, and the decree of 1496 in Portugal by order of King Manuel I.” My husband and I have been to the Alhambra in Granada.
I had to also look up the definition of tagine to which Paul referred.
You are a roving reporter/photographer. Judy
Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment Judy and for adding a bit of context to the history. We’ve been to Sevilla (incredible!) and will be back to Spain in the next year or so. Granada is at the top of our list. The architecture in Sevilla and Granada actually pre-date the highlights in Morocco and are more impressive. The Muslim rule in the 8th century actually originated from present date Syria. People refer to the Moors which is a generalized term for Muslims from Northern Africa. But it was interesting to me that the original Muslim conquerers of Southern Spain where from much further East. That’s the reason why Southern Spain actually pre-dates most of Northern Africa in it’s Muslim architecture.
Ah, Frank, you made it three or four weeks in Morocco before you got tired of tagine? What a trouper! While I have great respect for Morocco and the Moroccans, and their culture and traditions, the food is not high on my list. I’d say I started to get the picture on about my second tagine. And that was, what, five years ago?
Just to be clear, we are in Morocco now, in Essaouira. We love Morocco! But I find the food a bit… bland. Especially coming from the heavy tapas culture of Sevilla!
It was a few years ago that we were in Chefchaouen (Moroccans must love vowels, they use so many of them, and all in the same name), but I still remember how exquisit it was. Thanks for the blog, sorry about the bedbugs, and we’re looking forward to tales of your next adventure!
I totally agree Paul. Bland is often the word I used. In fact, between the tagines and the Couscous with chicken (the dishes one consistently finds on a menu) I often felt I was eating baby food because of the soft consistency. After a while it also bothered me not having “fresh” vegetables…everything was this overcooked mush.
Somehow I had pictured Moroccan food to be like Middle Eastern food, with different spices and flavoring. Again, found the spicing bland. Not a fan.
Ewe! Bedbugs! I hope you cleaned, sprayed, heated your suitcases. I think you can leave them in a hot car trunk and that will kill any hitch hiking bedbugs. Just gross! Thanks for telling us!
Luckily I hadn’t unpacked my main suitcase and everything that I had was far from the bed. But anything that was unpacked was washed and I also cleaned my bags and suitcase. No problems after that.
Strikingly beautiful place, a photographer’s paradise. Will remember to stay clear of the bed bug infested hotel 🙂
It really is Gilda. And there is also hiking in the area (I know you guys like a hike). Wonderful geography.