When most people visit Morocco, their likely destination of choice is usually Marrakech, Fez, Casablanca or even Agadir if they’re looking for an all-inclusive package.
Although definitely on the tourist trail, Essaouira is certainly not one of the busier destinations in Morocco. It’s escaped the curse of overdevelopment and big chain hotels by the wind that constantly batters the city. Whilst undoubtedly beautiful and charming, Essaouira is not a relaxing beach destination by any stretch of the imagination.
Still, I’d highly recommend this coastal town if you’re visiting Morocco. It’s got a bustling medina, beautiful architecture (and door ways!), amazing shopping, a laid-back vibe and some great restaurants.
I spent four days in Essaouira and wanted to share some of my experience, tips and recommendations.
There is a small airport with flights from the UK via Easyjet. You can also get there pretty easily from Marrakech via a private transfer/taxi or using a bus company. Supratours are recommended, we travelled with them Marrakech to Essaouira return and had a good experience. The journey takes around 3 hours with a 20 minute rest stop at a place with clean toilets, a shop and restaurant. Be sure to book tickets ahead as the buses do get full; your hotel or riad should be able to organise this for you.
Things to do
Get lost in the medina
Like a lot of Morrocan cities, Essaouria has a medina, which is the heart of the place. Less bustling and overwhelming than Marrakech medina, wander and let yourself get lost within it.
Put your haggling skills to the test
The shops and stalls within Essaouira medina have so many beautiful things that you can buy; including rugs, crockery, artwork and scarves, amongst others. Where there is no price indicated, you are expected to barter over the price. Bear in mind that vendors are likely to ask for 3 or 4 times more than what they’re looking for initially. Yes it’s uncomfortable but get haggling and be a bit cheeky, it’s how it’s done in Morocco. Be sure to keep a poker face, don’t show how much you love what you’re trying to buy!
Visit the Kasbah Gallery
We stumbled upon this place and were so glad we did. Full of beautiful art pieces and furniture, it’s a great place to escape from the afternoon sun. There’s also a cool roof terrace at the top, which has some pretty good views over Essaouira.
Scale the port
You’ll no doubt have seen photos of the historic port and iconic blue fishing boats on any official Essaouira literature or if you’ve done any research in to the city. Head down there and see it for yourself. For Game of Thrones fans, check out Skala Du Port, which was used in the filming of the series.
Relax by a pool
If you’re planning on staying in the medina, chances are you won’t have a swimming pool. Lucky for you, you can pay a fee to use the gardens and pool of some hotels in the area if you’re looking to relax for a day.
Les Jardins Villa Maroc offers a BBQ lunch and use of their pool for around 25 euros per person.
A cheaper option is to book a day pass for Essaouira Lodge, the hotel that I stayed at (full review coming soon). I think it costs around £12 per person and includes full of use of the pool, a delicious lunch and transfers to/from Essaouira centre. The hotel is around a 15 minute drive inland and the wind is no where near as bad as by the coast, which makes for a lovely environment if you want to relax for the day by a pool.
Watch the world go by over a mint tea
Mint tea is a staple in Morocco. It’s usually served with sugar and is absolutely delicious. You can beat finding a comfy seat outside a restaurant/café in the median, ordering a pot and just watching life happen.
Although we didn’t do so, you can easily book activities such as horse-riding, windsurfing and quad biking whilst you’re there.
Places to eat and drink
Located in the heart of the medina in a cute square, Tara’s a great place to grab a fresh juice and light lunch. The goat’s cheese salad is tasty and filling.
Don’t let La Tolerance’s tiny size put you off, it’s a cosy restaurant serving delicious local food at cheap prices. The lemon, olive and chicken tagine is lovely, as is the traditional mint tea.
Not your typical Moroccan restaurant but great none the less. The vibe is laid back, the interior is cool and they have some great live music on during the evening. Food is a mix of Moroccan and Western, with some veggie options. You seem to be able to sneak in wine to have with your dinner, just be discreet when handing it over. They’ll whisk it off behind the counter and decant it in to a teapot. Or they did for a couple of young ladies whilst we were there.
Had your fill of tagine and couscous? Head to Gusto, an upmarket Italian restaurant situated away from the main part of the city. The restaurant itself is lovely, the food is pretty tasty and they make a good Aperol Spritz.
Leaving the best until last. Be sure to get to Adwak as soon as it opens around 7pm, we arrived 5 minutes after and the restaurant was filled within 15 minutes. Testament to how good this place is. You can choose from different set menus that cost around £7-£11 for three courses. The Moroccan style soup and chocolate cake are particularly good. Probably the best place we ate in Morocco in terms based upon food, ambience and value for money. Staff are rushed off their but friendly.
Essaouira feels very safe and doesn’t attract much trouble. Watch out for the locals hanging around by the port offering drugs and generally hassling you after sundown.
If you’re female, I’d definitely recommend dressing conservatively whilst in Morocco. Although the catcalling and stares weren’t as bad as in Marrakech, there was still a fair amount. Cover your knees, chest and shoulders as much as possible. A light scarf or pashmina is ideal too.
Other things to consider
- OK so it is called the “Windy City” and this may be seem very obvious but it is extremely windy in Essaouira. I’d recommend taking a bobble or head scarf if you have long hair, it gets very annoying when you’re trying to sightsee and take photos but you’re hair’s blowing it to your face.
- There are a lot of beggars within and just outside the medina. Quite a lot of these are children. Although it’s really sad to see, the official advice is not to give money, especially to children, as this can bring shame on their families.
- With regards to tipping, there isn’t really an expected amount. I’d definitely encourage you to leave a generous tip if you received good service; a little goes a long way for most locals in countries like Morocco.