Morocco: The Blue City of Chefchaouen

Morocco has been my travel crush for years now. I was intoxicated with the photos of vibrant markets, dusty ancient streets, and hazy desert landscapes.

As we planned, the feedback from others was mixed, usually falling to one extreme or the other. Some were enchanted, soaking up each minute. Others were still angry at their experience with hustlers and confusion. So, we were equal parts apprehensive and excited as we boarded a plane to spend 2 weeks in this country.

From our first few minutes in Morocco, we knew our travels would be just fine. The immigration agent was so excited about our response to the “Where will you be staying?” question that he took the time to give us detailed directions and pro local tips on transport there. While we were still getting over our shock at a friendly border agent, a lady from the next line chimed in with her own advice and encouragement. I wonder if people have any idea how comforting these interactions are to travelers.

Clouds cascading over mountains on the drive to Chefchaouen

So we made our way to the bus station in Tangiers and boarded a taxi van with 4 locals to start on the long and breathtaking drive. Our first destination in Morocco was Chefchaouen, a village tucked away in the mountains and known for its picturesque blue medina (medina = walled part of an old town). There was much debate about whether we should commit to this stop considering its remoteness and the long travel times. But I am so happy we went for it as Chefchaouen was the perfect first dip into Moroccan rhythm. The streets, walls and stairs of the walled Old City are coated in every nuance of blue; from subtle periwinkle to a striking, vivid teal. We have heard all sorts of theories as to why the painting began hundreds of years ago and continues today, and I honestly don’t know the truth. But walking through the narrow streets saturated in these varied hues is from a dream. Each alleyway is a postcard, a visual imprint to return to over and over again.

The whole medina is washed in blue

We arrived during Eid, a very important Muslim holiday. Although we missed the first night when each family slaughters a goat, we did get to see the progression of goat preparation in the days that followed. Every part is eaten somehow, so when we walked past children tending a barrel-turned-grill with a goat head and legs on the menu, we had to check our surprise and appreciate the resourcefulness. Each day strings of meat were added to clotheslines of neighboring rooftops, drying in the arid African climate. If there was any part thrown away, I’m certain that the hundreds of curious cats populating the village would make quick work of it.

While entrancing, Chefchaouen is not bursting with activities. We visited the Kasbah in the center of the medina, the river site where locals wash clothes and socialize, the hilltop with birdseye views of a maze of blue streets, and the marketplaces speckled throughout the medina. Three days was plenty of time to get us tapping our feet to the north African beat. It was great to start in a smaller village before diving into the hustle of the big cities to come. And the serenity of the azure medina started our adventure with a love and enthusiasm for the country we were in.

Deanna Martin

Originally from New England but having spent 10 years in Chicago, I'm a hybrid. A Physician Assistant by profession, I love medicine and most things science-y (not space though, I'm apathetic about space). I also love trees, the ocean, languages, and the vast array of people throughout this breathtaking world of ours.

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