So much of what we see about the Arab world in movies and media does a great disservice to the beauty of its land and its people. Furthermore, North Africa is a part of diverse Arab cultures that are so rich, both in the beauty of its geography and the character of its people; yet, it’s so often overshadowed by the more well-known Arab countries of the Middle East.
During October 2016 in Columbus, OH, I met the man that would become my husband. He’s a soft-spoken, Arab American with a kind heart and a charming love for his home country, and in 2017, he introduced me to the magic of Morocco. I fell in love. Morocco has an allure that cannot be denied.
This post will be the first in a series I’m calling “Visit Morocco.” Each post will explore a new city, all of which I have personally visited.
I’m starting with Chefchaouen for one simple reason: not enough people know about it! You’ll find it on the internet, but this special city needs to be on every travelers bucket list. Images of its majestic medina, nestled in a valley of the Rif Mountains, show cobblestone streets and traditional housing painted from top to bottom with vibrant blue paint. As you can image, this is the root of it’s name, The Blue Pearl or The Blue City.
You might be wondering, why blue? The reasons vary by opinion, but honestly, why not blue? It’s stunning. According to some, it’s because the blue keeps the mosquitos away.
Others say it’s just a great way to attract tourists, but regardless, it works. The blue is as breathtaking as it appears in theses simple photos taken with an iphone.
Chaouen, as my husband and all Moroccans call it, is also a hot spot for shopping. The streets are lined with small shops owned by the citizens and full of handmade treasures…
Woven blankets, clay pottery, aromatic spices in giant burlap bags, and fine leather goods are just a few of great finds you can take home. The region is also known for excellent olive oil and honey. The guy to our left here was sleeping on the job, but give him a break…it was Ramadan in June. 🙂
If you’re looking for something a little more kitsch to take home as a souvenir, there is no shortage of blue door magnets and keychains. I even have a blue door key hanger in my kitchen that’s functioning as a colorful oven mitten holder.
Where Should You Stay?
Finding a place to lay your head in The Blue Pearl is easy. There is no shortage of vibrantly decorated hotels. Every stay has a traditional, uniquely Moroccan aesthetic. We chose a suite with a view. Hotel Al-Khalifa was beautiful, quiet, and placed perfectly on the hill, overlooking the valley. With rooftop access, you can have a sweet glass of Moroccan tea with a breathtaking view.
If you prefer to be in the heart of the medina, there are some amazing places to stay down in the valley as well. Here is a list of the top three locations that we considered:
Hotel Parador is a 4-star hotel in the old medina of Chaouen. The location is perfection, and the beautiful pool is a great selling point. Their website also offers “Things to Do” that include the best of the sites.
Dar Yakout is a riad with a terrace for breakfast with a view. Honestly, when it comes to Chaouen, a good view is everything. The interior and exterior is everything you expect from Morocco, and it’s perfect for a lone traveler or a group.
Interested in something a little more luxurious? Dar Ba Sidi & Spa is a literal haven. Located just outside of the old medina, this 5-star hotel has everything you could possibly want: pool, privacy, grand rooms with traditional decor, excellent food, spa treatments, and exclusivity.
Search results from booking.com offer an excellent selection of hotels, riads, and apartments available in and around Chaouen.
Lastly, but certainly not least, you have to venture out of the medina and into the beautiful surrounding nature. The Rif Mountains are home to hiking trails that almost anyone can do with plenty of breathtaking scenery, but what you really want to to see are the upper and lower Akchour waterfalls.
You can enjoy a nice meal with Moroccan tea at the base of the waterfall (a signature dining experience you’ll find in low-flow water in other parts of Morocco’s touristic areas).
Hiking to the upper waterfall will likely take you between 4-6 hours. It isn’t an exceptionally difficult hike, and you can book a guide (recommended) to lead the way. Beware, the guides are good at this….you gotta keep up. 🙂 Don’t worry; they will accommodate you with a smile and make sure you enjoy every moment of the hike.
Join Me for Part 2: Kénitra
Part two of this series, Visit Morocco, covers the beautiful city of Kénitra. Unless you’re very familiar with Morocco, you’ve likely never heard of it. Kénitra, just roughly 30 minutes north of Rabat (Morocco’s capital city), is a coastal city with beautiful beaches. It’s known for an abundance of fish (some of the best fish markets in the country) and a beautiful forest.