Essaouira is our sort of place: chill, not very touristic, but with lots of authentic details.
The city is one of the most relaxed and most relaxing destinations in Morocco. Essaouira is a different world. The influence of diverse cultures (Portuguese, Berber, Jewish, French, Dutch) can be seen and felt everywhere. This is a city with a mix of everything: rich history, tourist friendly locals (which is completely different to the rest of Morocco), great food, amazing details and perfect seaside location. Plus, there are just a few visitors.
- 1 day trip booked at the riad: 15 EUR/pers
- Portuguese fort entrance fee: 1 EUR/pers
- Lunch and drinks: 12 EUR/pers
- Essaouira old town map
The food in Essaouira
After seven days in Morocco, we were so sick of tagines, couscous and mint tea. We were desperate to find an European-style terrace. We managed to find Taros, a pub with delicious food, good music, alcohol, decent prices and a one million dollar view. If you head to Essaouira, Taros Pub would be a good place to stop for a break.
What to wear in Essaouira
Essaouira has a free Bohemian atmosphere. But Morocco is still an Islamic country. Adopting a convertible style is a necessity for women. I have seen ladies wearing reveling clothes, but they have attracted a lot of unfriendly looks. Personally, I did not feel comfortable, and I chose wider clothes and long skirts.
Swimwear at the beach? it is possible but only in certain areas in front of resorts. On the main beach, which is the closest to the Medina, I’ve only seen men sunbathing while the women were completely covered.
Where and how
Essaouira is placed on the Atlantic Coast, at approximately 3 hours from Marrakech. We could get to Essaouira , either by using local public transport or by purchasing a day trip from the local tour operators. The cost of the excursion varies between 15-30 EUR (because it depends both on the negotiation skills and on the demand for the trip on that particular day). We preferred booking a one day trip instead of using the local transportation. It was way more comfortable and it was stress free.
The trip transportation is done with mini vans. The standard route offers two additional stops: one to see some ‘acrobatic’ goats feeding directly from the argan trees and the second one to see how the argan oil is made.
A bit about the Argan
The argan tree is endemic to Morocco, which means that it is found growing naturally only in this country and nowhere else in the world. The argan oil is so precious and unique that many locals call it Moroccan gold. Traditionally, the argan has been processed by the region’s women. The craft of making the oil is passed down from mothers to daughters and is a pillar of their culture, community and economy. Currently the women work in different cooperatives, which are spread all over the region between Essaouira and Agadir.
We visited Coopérative Marjana and we were showed how the argan oil and some other different products are made. The whole process takes long and is very meticulous: to get one liter of argan oil, thirty kilograms of argan fruit is needed. Plus at least 20 hours of hard work, all done manually.
We tasted and tested some argan products (beauty and food). The oil alone was delicious but the honey, almond and argan oil mix was even better. This mix is called at Coopérative Marjana: Moroccan Nutella.
After visiting the Argan oil factory, our next and last stop was in Essaouria, near the walls of the old town (medina). The reception committee consists of people who offer their guiding services. The city’s medina is not very large so there is no need for them. A big bonus point for this city is not having pushy guides as nobody insisted on getting a deal with us.
What to do and what to see in Essaouira
Essaouira with her Medina, is a Moroccan jewel. It is an UNESCO heritage site. Essaouira is an example of a 18th century fortified town, being dominated by Portuguese influences, with typical Moorish and Portuguese architecture. The city was the first port in Morocco connecting the country with the rest of the world. Essaouria is rich in culture, architecture, and character.
We have enjoyed the time spent in this city so we have some suggestions on how to make the most of it. Here is our list of the top things we enjoyed doing and seeing in Essaouira:
Check out the Portuguese fortifications
We climbed the Portuguese fortifications (Skala) and we had a good view of both the city’s Medina and of the small islands that protect the city banks. The military defensive wall designed by a French architect in the mid-18th century is the perfect location to start discovering the city.
After that, we took a short walk from the harbor to the medina, on the water’s edge, stopping at the swamp near the entrance to the old town. For me, the view of the Portuguese Fort is picture perfect. For my favorite geek, this was another Game of Thrones shooting location. I have no clue about GoT, I take everything for granted, but if you have doubts, this is Mihai’s proof: where Denerys Targaryen purchased her army
Look for the blue boats
We found the boats in the harbour, close to the Portuguese fortifications. If you google the city, you will get lots of pictures with them. However, this wonderful color hue is not an accident or a tourism marketing idea. The blue that covers each fishing boat and also decorates the old towns windows is the results of centuries of traditions. The hue is obtained from the shells found on the Purple Islands that protect Essaouira from the sea and they have a spiritual value.
Find the harbor
Fishing is a major industry in Morocco – and Essaouira is its center. We visited the harbor in the morning, having the opportunity to see the fishermen returning from the sea as well as the agitation from the fish market. The smell is not the nicest, but the place gives the chance to feel the harbor’s vibes: the Moroccan spirit and the regular life: locals fixing the fishing nets or building traditional boats.
Explore the Medina
We loved wandering through Essaouria’s medina. The town’s name means “little picture” in Arabic, and it’s a dream location, with a vibrant blue-and-white “medina” (inner walled city), enclosed by imposing stone gates (“Babs”). We wandered around Essaouira’s narrow streets, whitewashed walls and local markets.
It’s easy to walk through the old city of Essaouira. The medina is small and the grid pattern helps in not getting lost. Several large streets that cut through the whole medina can be used for orientation – just walk until you reach one and you’ll know where you are. In theory no traffic is allowed within the fortifications, although there might be some motorbike and donkey encounters.
The streets are narrow and have beautiful details hidden away in them, much like the rest of Morocco. We found wandering around the streets to be one of our favorite things to do in Essaouira. To Mihais despair, we spent countless hours taking photos of local markets and blue doors.
The souks (markets) of Essaouira are much smaller in comparison to the mazes you can find in other tourist hubs but offer almost all of the same merchandise. The shop-keeps have adapted to the attitude of the city and are nowhere near as aggressive as in the rest of Morocco.
Relax at the beach
After we finished exploring the city’s medina, we headed for the beach to relax and see the sunset. The sand is similar to the one in the desert: golden and very soft. But the water seemed more suitable for sports because the wind is strong enough on the coast. The sandy stretch offers some of the touristy services you might expect – surfing, kiteboarding and windsurfing. It seems like almost any beach until you see the camels being led across it.
To sum up, Essaouira is a must if you go to Morocco. This place is a lovely balance between traditional Moroccan town and coastal holiday resort. The hippy vibes, the relaxed atmosphere, the history, landscapes and the people are all good reasons to go there. This is our favorite Moroccan city and even now we feel like making another trip just to return to Essaouira.
Until next time,