COVID empties Morocco’s ‘blue pearl’ tourist town

When COVID-19 hit Morocco, the mountainous town of Chefchaouen was one of the few that registered no cases. The picturesque town, its facades painted in distinctive hues of blue, shut its small population off from the world, and kept the virus out for months.

Now, as the country cautiously reopens and tries to resuscitate its struggling economy, Chefchaouen stands subdued, deserted by the tourists who have long been its lifeblood.

During the Christmas and New Year holidays, the majority of the city’s visitors were local tourists instead of the European and Chinese tourists who usually throng the narrow streets. Shop owners who typically sell rugs, woollen coats and souvenirs struggled to find clients.

As a night curfew came into force across the country to prevent large gatherings during the holiday season, restaurants in the usually bustling main plaza by the historic Kasbah had to turn away clientele to close up early.

In the Middle Ages, the town was populated by Moriscos, or Moors, fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Today, it is known as the Blue Pearl of Morocco, and is one of the top destinations in the kingdom, often experiencing overcrowding and hotels booked to capacity.

Its laid-back vibe, brilliant blue alleyways, sweeping mountainous landscape and hiking trails have long attracted tourists, especially from Spain and China, whose citizens enjoy visa-free travel to Morocco.

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