Essaouira is one of those small towns in Morocco you hear people say how much they loved, yet you don’t get to know much about it. That is until you get there. And once there, you see why people love it! Essaouira’s medina may be small, but that means it’s perfect for exploring without fear of getting lost! It’s a gem with its small shop-lined streets full of colourful blankets and rugs, wooden handicrafts, and delicious food shaded by the tall whitewashed buildings for which this town is known.
I was in Morocco to spend some time with my boyfriend. We had spent the previous four days in Morocco’s stunning Atlas Mountains but I certainly did not want to miss visiting the pretty city of Essaouira, even though it took us a good 4 hours in our rental car. Unfortunately, my boyfriend doesn’t really like long car trips and was in fact a bit grumpy when we finally made it to Essaouira!
Nonetheless, he quickly perked up when we arrived at our Airbnb apartment and were welcomed by our host Fouad with a delicious Moroccan tagine and great hospitality. Fouad also invited us to his restaurant located right in the heart of the medina. We took up his offer the following day and although we opted for spaghetti, rather than some more expensive Moroccan dish, Fouad still insisted that we were not to pay for the mint tea, coffee and after dinner sweets that were provided to us on the house! True Moroccan hospitality!
In my opinion, Essaouira is not one of those towns you go to sightsee and check your “things to do” list. In fact, do a “things to do in Essaouira” Google search and you won’t find much. Essaouira is more relaxed and in order to enjoy it, you just have to experience it as if you had nothing to do and go with the flow. Walking up and down the beach and the main streets in the medina is the thing to do in Essaouira. Everyone does it, especially at night.
Essaouira is a small town so you can pretty much go everywhere on foot, especially in the medina, but if you insist on using a taxi, then you will find them everywhere. Flag one down and the driver will take you anywhere in the city for a fixed rate of only 7 dirhams during the day and 8 dirhams at night. It’s that simple and easy. In fact, that’s what we did on more than one occasion, although I did a lot of walking too!
One of the places we wanted to visit in Essaouira was the old port that looks like it has been operating in the same manner for hundreds of years. It’s all very manual. Especially in the morning, when the daily market takes place, a visit is really recommended. Then you watch fishermen bring their catch ashore and repair their nets. The sky is full of screaming seagulls and the cats are also looking to get a bite. And beyond the active labour, the port is a very colourful setting of blue boats, colorful flags, brown fortress stones, and more.
The city walls and the citadel are another top attraction of Essaouira and a must see if you are visiting this coastal city. The citadel dates back to the Portuguese colonial era. I would have loved to climb up to the top for a fantastic view of the medina but unfortunately it was closed as some restoration works are going on. Despite this, the photo opportunities of the fortress are unique and the fishing port with its famous blue boats make your travel photography perfect!
Just a stone throw’s away from the old port are the fortress walls of the medina. The medina is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site since it’s a great example of a late 18th-century fortified town. The fortress walls are built right at the edge of the sea, on top of the rock formations, and border the entire medina all the way inland. And as you walk on the walls by the sea, you can hear the sound of the waves crashing with a strong force against the rocks. The view is beautiful, particularly at sunset, and I dare to say very dynamic thanks to the thousands, yes, thousands of seagulls flying all over the place.
The medina, which is essentially the area within the old walls of the city, is the main place tourists visit and is full of shops and stalls. Essaouira’s medina may be small, but that means it’s perfect for exploring without fear of getting lost! There are still enough streets to keep you wandering for a few hours but it’s by no means confusing or hard to navigate, unlike the one in Marrakech or in other large Moroccan cities. There are rugs for sale, clothes, furniture, bags, shoes, plus everything else!
Best of all, the sellers are all very nice. They will jump on you as soon as you linger for a few seconds or look with your hands rather than your eyes but they are not extremely pushy. I had read that there is no bartering in Essaouira and everything has a set written price but this isn’t true. I only bought a few bits and looked at a few more bits and the prices being quoted did decrease as I bartered or walked away so keep this in mind. However, it’s done in a friendly way and it’s also all part of the culture so enjoy it! Generally, the rule is, if there is a written price, that’s the price. If there is no price, bartering can be done.
My favourite thing to do in the medina was just wander through the various neighborhoods, admiring the ornate and evocative doorways, exploring the winding alleyways and simply following my way around the city walls. The souk area is also great, with lots of food stalls, very affordable crafts stands, and activity.
And while in the medina, make sure you make your way up to the ramparts, the most impressive part of the old fortifications, also called Scala de la Kasbah. There are dozens of old cannons from the 16th century to the early 18-hundreds lined up, pointing out over the Atlantic Ocean. If you watched Game of Thrones, this sight might be familiar.
The approximately 5 km long Essaouira Beach is another highlight of this holiday destination. Especially for windsurfers and kite surfers, the sea in front of the coastal town is a popular surfing spot. So in case you are looking for a place to surf in Morocco, Essaouira is the place to be. Hanging out at the beach and enjoying the idyllic setting, especially at sunset, is also very enjoyable. However, please note that the town is also known as the windy city because well, it is very windy! So keep this in mind especially in the colder months as the wind will create a chill. However, it’s likely there will be blue skies so that’s fine!
Is Essaouira worth visiting on a day trip from Marrakech? Definitely, although I recommend staying at least for one night so you can enjoy dinner and the sunset. Oh, and make sure you keep your eyes peeled for goats in trees as you get close to Essaouira. This is because the goats love to eat the nuts that grow high up on Morocco’s famous argan trees.