Recently we rented an apartment in Essaouira in a complex across the road from the beach. As it was off season we managed to get a pretty good price and it gave us the chance to have some downtime. It turned out to be a good choice, as we found Essaouira a great place to chill out.
Essaouira is situated on the west Atlantic coast only 2 hours drive from Marrakech so it is a perfect addition to a visit to Marrakech a few days of the city then a few days chilling by the sea before heading home. The weather is really mild while we were there it was roughly 20 degrees Celsius but it is also well known for its’ wind so some days it is not the perfect beach destination.
As it’s so close it is also a good day trip from Marrakech. The bus arrives late morning and disgorge their load of tourists who are either bundled off for a guided tour of the medina and the fish markets. Lunch at the medina before its time to get back on the bus for the ride back to Marrakech. Or the less structured day trips give you the chance to explore the Medina and Port by yourself, then have a walk along the beach front which stretches for a few kilometres with European style restaurants dotted along the length at regular intervals.
Essaouira is well known for its’ fish varieties so you can buy fish from the wharf market and then pay a small price for one of the small restaurants nearby to cook it. Alternatively there are a large number of restaurants closer to the medina where you pick your fish from their stands and then watch as they cook it for you. They all charge the same price but often the stands on the end will block you from actually going to any of the others so sometimes you may need to be a bit forceful to get past them to check the other vendors.
Within the medina there are hundreds of small stores selling all sorts of wares from Safi pottery, locally woven rugs and clothing, jewellery, paintings, wooden items, spices, and metalware. As there are lots of tourists the sellers are quite relaxed, however haggling is a local tradition.
Lots of holiday makers spend a few days and try out some of the outdoor activities that Essaouira is famous for. There’s a number of surf schools along the beach who teach and hire out all the gear that you need for surfing, kite boarding, wind surfing, kayaking and stand up paddling. There’s also no shortage of quad bike hire shops who offer tours starting at €30 for 1 hour up to a full day tour along the coast to Sidi Kakouri. There’s a few places to visit such as the old Portuguese Fort, Diabat (famous for Jimi Hendrix’s visit back in 1968) there’s also ruins of an old palace nearby and of course the beaches. Other outdoor pursuits of course are the camel tours and horse rides. Ron checked them all out while we were there and found Palma Quad to have really well maintained vehicles and excellent safety equipment you can read about his tour here.
Camel tours cost about €15 per hour and travel along the beach to the old fort, returning along the dunes with the longer tours to Diabat and beyond. Rental horses cost about the same. There’s lots of different companies to choose from with the larger companies with online bookings offering more “authentic” travel packages (well a chance to dress up if you’d call that authentic) at a higher premium. We watched many of the companies on the beach before heading off with one group who treated their animals well. Camel riding is not as glamorous as it looks from the ground and definitely an experience. You can read about our ‘Hump Day’ experience here.
Essaouira is also a great place to do a cooking class, Michele was fortunate enough to find a great class run by a local woman in her home. The classes were reasonably priced, very informal and great fun you can see about it here.
There’s no shortage of accommodation in Essaouira with lots of authentic Riads and smaller hotels within the medina. Outside the medina there are larger western style hotels along the beachfront, smaller local hotels and Riads scattered throughout the surrounding suburbs. There’s no need to worry if you haven’t booked a room, as on every street corner there’s someone jangling keys offering rooms for rent at local apartment blocks and Riads. In the surrounding countryside and Diabat there are also Riads, upmarket resorts and camping grounds.
One thing we enjoyed watching in Essaouira is the daily procession of caravans and Winnebagos of all sizes. They begin at the medina end and eventually make their way to the parking bay at the southern end of Essaouira in time for sunset over the beach. The parking bay is quite well situated close to a number of cafes and restaurants.
As for nightlife in Essaouira a few of the restaurants offer live music after dark and a number of restaurants serve alcohol. Being a Muslim country alcohol isn’t served at every restaurant but those that do charge a higher premium for food. However, if you are after alcohol it is available at the local Carrefour at a reasonable price.
The month in Essaouira flashed by but by the end the local camel guides greeted us every morning as we headed off for breakfast at Café Panoramique, where the staff knew how we had our coffee. Even a few of the local vendors knew us and chatted whenever they saw us. We really enjoyed our time there and it is definitely on our list of places to return if we ever make it back to Morocco.
If you want a good idea of what to do with your time in Essaouira we used this ebook by fellow blogger Lynn who is an expert on the area. You can purchase it here