We visited Essaouira during our eleven day self-guided tour of Morocco, to enjoy a brief respite from the bustling, frenetic chaos of Marrakech. We only had two days in this slow-paced, seaside town but it was exactly what we needed to recharge our batteries and see an alternative side of the country. Essaouira (pronounced Essa-weera) is 175km from Agadir and 185km west of Marrakesh. Supratours run daily buses from Marrakesh; it takes 3 hours and costs 80 MAD one-way (approx £6.70 / €7.50 / $8.20). We walked for around twenty minutes from the bus station to the Old Town. The town cast a good impression on us immediately; it’s a popular spot for locals, tourists and windsurfers alike, with its vibrant, colourful buildings, picturesque port area and 6km sandy beach.
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As we visited in November, it wasn’t exactly beach weather (although we did see some hardcore windsurfers in wet suits!). Even during the summer months, it’s very windy (affectionately known as ‘The wind city of Africa’!) so bear that in mind if you want to go sunbathing.
One of our favourite parts of Essaouira is the old Portuguese ramparts, which provides picturesque views over the fish port and the Atlantic ocean. There are lots of old cannons and cobbled stones, and we lost track of time watching the waves crashing against nearby rocks.
Essaouira’s Medina (Old Town) is much easier to navigate than Marrakesh’s because it’s more compact and is compromised of two main streets; Avenue Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah and Avenue Mohamed Zerktouni. The Medina is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage and contains dozens of stalls selling jewellery, clothes, crockery, spices, food, handicrafts and accessories. The Kasbah area is particularly artistic and offers fabrics, tiles, paintings and ceramics. A lot of the stalls and shops had fixed, advertised prices – it was a relief not having to haggle ferociously like we had in Marrakesh.
The seagulls will lead you to the Citadel, Essaouira’s port area and the stench of fish will let you know when you’ve arrived. The port had a dynamic energy and was fun for people-watching and photography but after a few minutes, I had to duck out and go back to the main streets because the fish smell was overwhelming (in November – imagine what it’d be at the height of summer!). I should add that I have lived by the sea for over ten years of my life, so it wasn’t my first fish market, though it was definitely my smelliest!
There are lots of restaurants and cafes, offering Moroccan food, seafood, fish and general European cuisine. We actually had the best meal of our holiday at Essaouira’s fish market. We headed there at dinnertime and were approached by a waiter, who showed us a wide selection of freshly-caught goodies on offer that evening. My boyfriend and I are normally very hesitant about ordering fish by the kilo, as we know that’s one of the main ways tourists are ripped off while dining out. However this waiter was a genuinely honest and helpful guy. We explained how much we wanted to spend; he showed us how much fish that would get us. We asked him to include a bit more and he updated us on the price. Once agreed, the fish was whisked away to be cooked and we were seated, with bread, salad and a soft drink on the house. The meal was delicious; some parts were grilled and others fried. Salt, pepper and some slices of fresh lemon were all the fish needed to shine.
Essaouira’s patisseries are especially inviting, with delicate cakes constructed with filo pastry, honey, walnuts, pistachio, figs and dates. Patisserie La Bienvenue and Pâtisserie Driss are well worth a visit.
Our time in Essaouira was short and sweet, but I definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a tranquil, laid-back spot in Morocco. Along with wandering around, eating and drinking, there are some fun activities you can try like horse riding, camel riding, cooking classes, sailing tours, quad biking, kite surfing, windsurfing and good ol’ regular surfing. We stayed in this Airbnb, which was clean, comfortable and in a fantastic location. You can get €29 off your first stay with Airbnb by using this referral code.
Have you been to Essaouira? What did you think of it?
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow