After three weeks in Morocco it was finally time to get out of the city and head into nature! We had decided in Marrakech that instead of renting a car to go into the Atlas mountains, we would instead go up north into the Rif mountains, staying in the Chefchaouen, the Blue City of Morocco.
Chefchaouen ended up being our favorite place in Morocco. You probably know Chefchaouen is known as the blue city of Morocco because all the buildings are painted blue. That’s pretty much what we went into it knowing. We thought there would be some nice mountains and some good couscous.
What we didn’t expect was to find a place full of gorgeous hikes, stunning mountains and waterfalls, and a really relaxed vibe.
Hiking around Chefchaouen
There are tons of hikes around Chefchaouen, and there’s a huge variety of difficulty and scenery. Some of the hikes literally leave right from town, where as others you’ll have to hire a cab to take you out into the countryside.
This was an amazing hike. You’ve got to grab a taxi for a ~45 minute ride into the nearby town of Akschour. The second half of this drive is amazing, my favorite part was the return trip at sunset.
Once you arrive in Akshour you have the choice of two hikes. One you follow the main trail to the left which will take you on a long hike up to the waterfall. The other option you go right toward the beginning of the trail and it will take you on a breathtaking hike up and over a huge land bridge called God’s Bridge.
We got there early, did the ~5-6 hour waterfall hike, and then didn’t want to miss out on God’s Bridge so despite being exhausted we turned it up a notch and booked it through the trail in a race to beat the sunset.
Akshour Waterfall Hike
If you decide you want to do the waterfall hike you’ll go through a gorgeous canyon on the way up. The infamous Mediterranean climate is actually even better at the altitude that the Rif mountains are at. During June while we were there there were endless fields of blossoming pink flowers on any trees that lined the riverbed. This was really interesting because you could spot a body of water from miles away by the bright pink flowers.
I’ve seen a ton of waterfalls all over the world, many are actually quite similar, and some stand out as unique. The Akshour waterfall is definitely a one-of-a-kind waterfall.
It has this crazy tree root/soil/sediment coating built up that the water flows down instead of dropping straight off a cliff. You can see in the picture at the bottom of the waterfall what looks to be rock, but it’s actually roots drooping down.
You can hop around on the rocks to get into a little cave behind the waterfall. We actually bumped into some friends having a picnic in the cave that we had met in Fes a few days prior. I’d definitely recommend bringing some food so you can sit down and have a great time there!
There’s also a really nice pond that the waterfall is flowing into that you can go swimming in. It’s a really nice chilly temperature so it feels incredibly refreshing. I have to warn you though, we did see a water snake swimming around in there. Most water snakes are incredibly venomous so be warned!
God’s Bridge Hike
Like I said the first hike we set out on was the waterfall hike because we were told that the God’s Bridge hike is only ~1.5 hours round trip and we had come to spend more time than that. After finishing the waterfall hike we actually went all the way back to the parking lot ready to catch a cab before deciding we really didn’t want to miss our chance to see God’s Bridge.
We turned around a headed back up the trail, this time for a significantly more steep climb. It didn’t help that we were rushing to beat the sunset so we were pretty much running up a steep hill. It’s a great hike though, you’re ascending above a canyon with a river flowing down it, and those signature pink trees look like little bonsai trees from above.
As we got near the top we came across a skittish local guy that seemed to be keeping a close eye on us. We were on a part of the trail that had flattened out heading toward another steep ascent. We had a pretty good feeling what was going on, and shortly after starting the next leg of the hill it was confirmed. We were walking up on a gigantic cannabis field, the first one that we saw in the infamous Rif mountains.
We didn’t want to cause any trouble with the guy so we kept going up the hill. Finally arriving at the top of the hike there’s a great platform that hangs out over the top of the river, which seems to be ~800 feet below.
There was an absolutely epic fireplace and unofficial campsite at the top, so if you have a tent and are looking for one of the best places to camp out, definitely bring it along!
God’s Bridge is the stone gap on the bottom of the photo. It actually looks kind of small from this angle, but I assure you it’s anything but small. It passes straight through to continue on through the canyon, the hole is the same size as the height of the gap you see!
The full hike goes down around on the right side of the photo, over the top of God’s Bridge, and then back down to the left on the trail that you can see. It then follows the river right back to the start of the hike.
We were really pressed for time because our cab was waiting to take us back before dark so we turned back at the platform. The estimates of ~90 minutes for the full hike is definitely not sufficient, I’d guess it should actually take ~3 hours or more if you are taking your time up that steep hill.
If you do decide to turn back after the platform just be careful, our legs were like Jello after a full day of hiking and there are some fatally steep cliffs just inches off the edge of the narrow path. Be super careful and take it slow if you find yourself going back down the steep way!
Hikes directly from Chefchaouen
Don’t get me wrong, the Akshour hikes were amazing. For me the best part of Morocco. But you don’t have to take a cab 45 minutes out of town to do some great hikes in Chefchaouen. Here are the different hiking options based on intensity.
Easy – Hike to the Spanish Mosque
From the square you walk to the east side of town toward the river. You’ll cross a bridge and immediately find yourself at the entrance of the hike. Just start walking up the stairs straight across from the bridge, go to the right, and you’ll find yourself there in ~10-15 minutes.
This is the perfect place to go for sunset, and it’s where you can take the classic blue city photo:
Medium/Difficult – Hike up Rocky Canyon on the way to the Spanish Mosque
This is tough to judge the difficulty. It’s somewhere between a climb and a hike. I would rank it as difficult if you aren’t comfortable with unstable ground, and easy/medium if you are.
To get to this one you start the same trail that takes you to the Spanish Mosque, about 5 minutes up you’ll see what looks to be a never ending landslide of giant boulders coming from way up in the mountains.
I should note that this technically is not a tourist trail… at all. You can climb up to the top of the huge cliff immediately to the left, but be warned that there are local drug dealers hanging out up there. I started to climb up it and was greeted by a young man who told me he’s doing business, and I’m not allowed.
But that was fine, instead we kept crawling up the boulders which honestly would have been an absolutely amazing hike if you had the time to go all the way up. It quite literally seemed like an endless river of boulders.
We had just done the Akshour hikes the day before so we were looking to have a relaxing day. We went up about 500 meters and sat down to enjoy the view and have a snack. This is a view that you won’t see in photos much, it’s way off the tourist trail!
If you do end up doing this hike just be careful. This is anything but an official trail and the boulders on the trail slip easily and tumble fast. I accidently sent a ~20lb boulder rolling down the hill toward the actual walking path. Thankfully nobody was there but if they were it could have been a really bad outcome.
The Hash Hike
This one again leaves from the same path to get to the Spanish Mosque. Basically you go up to where you would turn right to get to the mosque, but instead you keep walking straight/left. You’ll likely come across some young local boys that will offer to guide you through the mountains. They’ll likely offer you tours of cannabis farms as well.
We turned this down, figuring we’d be able to see as much as we wanted to from the path. We had also heard stories of people who went up on these farm tours, and then the Moroccan hustler came out of their guide. They would say that they owed all sorts of money for getting the special tour. This is uncomfortable when the touts try to pull these scams on you in the middle of the city, but if it happens in the middle of a farm a few miles from anyone who would bother to help it’s downright terrifying.
We carried on up the mountain, winding through some really great bush filled with those incredible pink flowers!
This part of the trail is pretty flat. You’ll keep walking through this lower ground on a windy trail going up and down little hills but nothing big. Then you’ll start to ascend a bit bigger hill which pretty much sets the pace for the rest of the hike. After some time you’ll come across a fence in the middle of the path that looks like you aren’t supposed to cross. We were told by locals that it’s still totally fine to go through, but you need to go around the fence to the left.
Then you’ll come up on an actual gravel road/path that you’ll walk on the rest of the way up. After maybe an hour on the road you start to come up on the endless fields of cannabis that the Rif mountains are not-at-all-secretly known for.
It’s a pretty crazy sight seeing all that cannabis growing in never ending fields!
This photo of the Blu City is from about 3/4 of the way up we went. You could actually go much further, one of my friends did the full loop that would have gone back to Chefchaouen by going up and around the mountains on the right. I believe the full hike is a 2 day endeavor, but from what he said it was incredible.
I would definitely recommend this hike for someone looking for a bit of adventure and a curiosity about the legal cultivation of cannabis!
Getting to Chefchaouen
There are a few different ways to get to Chefchaouen. The best option will depend on where you’ll be coming from, your budget, and your tolerance for long bus/train rides.
Getting to Chefchaouen from Marrakech or Fes
If you’re starting your trip in Morocco’s capital city then you’ve got a few options to get to Chefchaouen:
- Take a 9 hour, 150 dirham bus to Fes where you can either stay for some time and enjoy the city, or immediately take another 4.5 hour bus via the CTM bus company to Chefchaouen
- Take an 8 hour, ~311 dirham train to Fes, then take the 4.5 hour bus to Chefchaouen
- Catch a flight to Fes, then take the 4.5 hour CTM bus to Chefchaouen
Getting to Chefchaouen from Tangier
If you’re taking the ferry over from Spain, or flying in from somewhere in Europe then starting in Tangier might be the place you’ll be starting your trip out.
There’s really only two ways to get from Tangier to Chefchaouen:
- Take a 2:15 minute bus from Tangier straight to Chefchaouen
- Hire a private cab in Tangier to take you direct
Normally I’d say it’s crazy to take a private car when there’s a cheap 2 hour bus, but this trip is pretty wild, and the private taxis really aren’t that expensive. If you’ve got some people to split the cab with it might be reasonable for you to hire one.
Where to stay in Chefchaouen
We stayed in a riad on the edge of the square. After seeing some of the places that other travelers were staying at I wouldn’t be too worried, they all look super cool. Every building in Chefchaouen is similar architecture and super cool. I would definitely recommend staying near the square though so that when you’re looking for food you don’t have to go too far.
There’s a fancy hotel at the top of the hill that is supposed to have an amazing view, although I didn’t get a chance to see it. Maybe you can check it out and let me know how it was!