Morocco,  Recent

A Letter from the Rif: Adventures in Tetouan and Chefchaouen

We discover Tetouan and Chefchaouen in Part One of our Morocco trip.

Our route takes us through the north-western part of the Rif region in Morocco:

As much as I’m keen to continue a bit further east along the Mediterranean coast, we planned some much needed time out in Chefchaouen.

Contents

Tanger Med

Our first port of call (in the most literal sense) was Tanger Med, where our ferry from Italy docked. As travelling on the open seas can be unpredictable timing-wise, we opted to spend the night at a hotel conveniently located inside the ferry port.

Tanger Med is a huge, modern port which was completed in 2007. It is of enormous significance being the largest port in both Africa and the Mediterranean (in term of the amount of containers handled).

When travelling via ferry to Morocco, note that Tanger Med is about 45 minutes from Tangier. Apart from small villages and a huge port, there isn’t much around. Tangier itself has a port which you can get a ferry to from Tarifa, Spain.

Inside the terminal, we were able to pick up cash at one of multiple ATMs and buy SIM cards. There are three mobile providers in Morocco: Orange, Inwi and Telecom (IAM). Telecom has the best network coverage and Orange has the worst. They all have similar offers for data packages which you can check online. We paid 100 Dh (10 euro) for 10 Gb data.

We booked in at the ONOMO Hotel. Having read online that it is extremely difficult to find, we asked at the information point where the hotel was. After asking another three more people and the last person showing us the way, we eventually found it (it’s upstairs; there are absolutely no signs!).

The hotel itself is a bit odd. There was hardly anyone around most of the time and when we got there, most of the lights were off, so it was very dark. The rooms are musty but clean enough. I can’t say it was the best first impression of Morocco but we did appreciate not having to get immediately on a bus. At 50 Euros, it was certainly overpriced but that’s what you pay for convenience.

After two days of ferry food, our first priority was getting something to eat. We were helpfully informed on check-in that the hotel has a restaurant. However, there was no one around and it looked closed at about 7pm. On Google Maps we found something called “Handmade Restaurant” which has good reviews and is just on the hill opposite.

Heading off in that direction, we discovered on the way a small van selling food. We decided to try out the street food instead. It turned out to be a great decision and we got to try our first Moroccan soup: Baissara!

Bissara is a creamy bean soup topped with olive oil which you can season with cayenne and cumin. Served with heaps of bread, it makes a great meal. Apparently, it’s traditionally eaten to break the fast during Ramadan.

We also got our first taste of just how cheap Morocco is, as we bought soup for ourselves and a few kids that were hanging around looking hungry. The soup guy didn’t even want to take 50 dirham (5 euro) for 6 soups and atay (tea).

Tanger Med to Tangier

We were helpfully informed from various sources that there is a big blue bus that goes to Tangier. The next morning we headed early to the bus stop and got in a tiny white minibus which took the scenic route along the beautiful coast. For 2 of us, the price was only 30 Dh and we got dropped off exactly where we needed to be! I imagine the big blue bus is more pricey but also probably airconditioned and more comfortable in summer.

There is train station in the port but, at the time of writing (October 2023) trains are not running to the city.

Tangier is a large city of almost 1 million residents. We opted not to stay here as we’re not so into big cities. It looks modern, with nice pleasant gardens and a good road system – but that’s all I can tell you!

We picked our hire car up and then headed to our next destination: Tetouan. It was a straightforward drive of about 1 hour. The highways are really good. The traffic is a bit mental on the smaller streets inside the city.

Tetouan

Tetouan is a small city with a beautiful historic centre. It seems a bit of a shame that it gets nowhere near as much attention as it’s popular neighbour, Chefchaouen. If you’re looking for a less-touristy vibe, then I’d definitely recommend it as they are similar cities. Both are situated close to mountains and have lots of tiny, colourful streets to explore. Tetouan is much larger, having an extended modern part, whereas Chefchaouen is more of a large town.

The author standing on a rooftop in Tetouan with the distinctive green and white buildings in the background characteristic of Tetouan

Whilst Chefchaouen is known as the ‘Blue Pearl’, Tetouan has a green and white theme running through it. You can see the old Spanish-style buildings have their doors and shutters painted a beautiful jade. Tetouan is also a UNESCO world heritage site:

“It is one of the smallest of the Moroccan medinas but indisputably the most complete and the majority of its buildings have remained untouched by subsequent outside influences. .”

(UNESCO website)

Things to do in Tetouan

  • Get lost in the medina. This is a must for every Moroccan city really!
  • Climb up to the top of the hill. Don’t do it in the wind! It was very windy whilst we were there and you just end up with dust in your eyes.
  • Eat at Snack Chatt. It was the best place we ate in Tetouan! They have varying tagines each day, as well as Harira, another famous Moroccan soup, and sandwiches (Bocadillo).
  • Go to the coast. I don’t really recommend this in winter to be honest. The beach was not very clean (lots of plastic sadly) and most things were closed.

Tetouan to Chefchaouen (Chaouen) via Oued Laou

After our short stay in Tetouan, it was time to migrate to our home for the next month: Chefchaouen. We opted to take the scenic route along the coast (about 2.5 hours drive).

We made a stop in a small coastal town called Oued Laou. People there were very friendly and helped up to find a spot that served breakfast. There’s not much there but it made a good rest point!

After Oued Laou, the road goes in-land. There is some very impressive scenery, including an enormous river-gorge. The landscape around is dry and scrubby with reddish soil and rocks. We made a few stops to look at the gorge and take photos.

Chefchaouen is located quite high up in the mountains. In summer, it’s a popular place to retreat to as it’s not as warm as the lower parts of Morocco. We parked our car on top of the hill (20 dinar per day, 600 in total). We negotiated the price as normally it’s 20 per day and 20 per night.

On arrival, we met our AirBnb guy Redouan (Radu) who is super chilled. The apartment we’re staying is lovely; 3 floors with a large roof terrace and amazing views. The interior is tastefully decorated with colourful tiles and Moroccan furniture. It’s very comfortable and a great place for a month.

Chefchaouen is a touristy town; it’s incredibly popular because of it’s ‘instagrammable’ blue streets. However, in November it’s relatively quiet. There are still tourists there but it doesn’t feel flooded with them. We were certainly glad to stay here for a longer period!

The alleyways of Chefchaouen are famous for being painted blue. Vendors display their wares on the narrow streets.

Chefchaouen is a very laid-back town. People are relaxed and friendly. It is a great place to spend some time.

Things to do in Chefchaouen

  • Watch the sunset from the Spanish Mosque. This a popular viewpoint above the city.
  • Wander around… the old city is sizeable and has many beautiful hidden corners to discover!
  • Hike Jebel El Kelah. You can’t miss it – it’s huge mountain above Chefchaouen. At 1616m high, it’s at a reasonable elevation and offers some great views of the city. You will notice all around are marujuana farms and most likely you will encounter people trying to take you to visit theirs! Make sure to bring plenty of food and water with you; there aren’t any shops or restaurants on the route. I’m sure you could always ask a farmer but it’s always better to be prepared.
  • Visit the Kasbah (castle). Entrance is 60Dh per person for foreigners. Inside the castle walls is a beautiful garden. There are a few exhibits with information (in French and Arabic only) and some old photographs. The main attraction is the tower which offers breathtaking views of Chefchaouen on all sides.

Things to do nearby Chefchaouen

Visit Akchour Waterfalls

This is a great day trip from Chefchaouen which I’d say is a must-see. The drive alone has some exceptional views of the rock formations in the valley. We also witnessed a rather violent donkey fight/possible romance on the road!

Getting to Akchour Waterfalls
  • By car – Akchour is located about 50 minutes from Chefchaouen. The roads are fine and it’s a really nice drive! We managed to pick up three sets of hitchhikers on the way: an elderly man, 3 children and finally FOUR women and a baby (not sure how they all fit).
  • Hitchhiking is clearly an option – see above.
  • Tour from Chefchaouen – there are plenty of tour companies that offer services from Chefchaouen.
Other info for visiting Akchour Waterfalls

The waterfalls are reached by following an out-and-back trail along the river. There are two main ones to see – simply named the small waterfall and the big waterfall. The small one is closer and only about 45 mins walk from the entrance.

There is a car park at the entrance. Parking is 10 Dh; there’s no other entrance fee. There are shops and restaurants all along the river and even as far as the big waterfall (about 6 km walk) so there’s really no need to bring anything!

The big waterfall was mostly dry whilst we were there, despite there having been rain recently. Unfortunately, it appears climate change has strongly affected the area. We were told that ten years ago, the waterfall was very impressive; you can still see the deep basin which must have been full of water at that time. Now it’s dry rock with tables and chairs on. I wonder how long it will be before the whole valley is dry.

The other attraction to see is God’s bridge, which is a rock formation shaped like a bridge. It’s reached by a shorter trail than the big waterfall. We didn’t have chance to go and see God’s bridge but I’m sure it’s worth it! Had we had time, it appears to be possible to make a loop encompassing everything – we would definitely have given this a go but didn’t arrive until the afternoon. Here’s the possible route on AllTrails – I’d love to hear about it if you complete it!

I imagine in high season the area is quite crowded with tourists. It’s a beautiful spot with lots of places to sit, eat and drink or swim in the river. In November however it wasn’t really busy. The walk itself is not particularly challenging but it’s worth having good footwear.

Where to have dinner near Akhour Waterfalls

I enthusiastically recommend Restaurant La Vida for an evening meal. Not only is the food outstanding, it has the most excellent views of the valley. It’s located about 10 minutes from Akchour, on the road back to Chefchaouen.

Best Places to Eat in Chefchaouen

Best local restaurant

Snack Shokri – amazing food for a great price. They always have something different on – various tagines and couscous, fish, meat and chicken. The lentil and bean soups are very good!

Best Baisarra

Baisarra Ansara – this shop is run by a guy who just makes amazing Baisarra and atay (Moroccan mint tea). It’s thick, full of flavour and costs nothing. Definitely go here!

Best place for CAKE

Pain Chaouen. They have a huge range of very delicious snacks, in case you didn’t get enough sugar already from the atay

High End

For a fancy meal, Triana is the place to go. They have a modern restaurant serving both Moroccan and European cuisine. It’s very tastefully decorated and an enjoyable place to have a meal. Prices match the style: we paid 500 Dh for a meal (50 Euro); literally 10 times as much as the local places. We thought it was worth the price tag though for the quality of the food and experience.


Questions? Comments? Feedback? Get in touch via the comments below or write to me on Facebook (Hopelessly Nomantic), Instagram (Hopelessly_Nomantic) or Twitter (HopelesNomantic)!

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