What to Do in Essaouira
Emerging from the mountainous drive from Imsouane and arriving in the Haouz region you will reach the bustling port of Essaouira. This city is a fusion of Moroccan tradition with a modern artistic twist, it has been developed by a growing artistic community and you will find artisans and hippies tucked away in the winding streets.
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What to Do in Essaouira
There is a special charm about Essaouira that you don’t find in the medinas of larger cities in Morocco. The vibe is much more relaxed and carefree and you won’t experience the hassle you may find in Marrakech or Fez. The colours you may expect from a Moroccan medina are all here but you will find much more variety.
Essaouria’s artisans have created unique cafes and shops, and you will find live music playing on the streets.
The medina is a maze of little streets and has a Venice feel to it, with some of the alleys opening out next to the ocean. The fortified walls around the old city were used for the filming of Game of Thrones for the scenes of Astapor.
The medina has a distinctly Medieval feel to it and is a UNESCO World Heritage listed.
The beaches of Essaouira are rarely crowded, there is a strong wind that sweeps along the coast so it is a prime spot for water sports like windsurfing and kitesurfing rather than sun worshipers, walk along the front and stop off at one of the hotels for a cool beer at sunset. There are many options to spend your evenings at rooftop bars and restaurants
If you search forum posts and reviews for Essaouira you will more than likely find Taro, a restaurant with a great rooftop terrace offering views across the city. Stay into the night for live music. If you are looking for something ground level head to Ocean Vagabond for top-rated food and live entertainment beachside.
Shopping in Essaouira
If you have dreamed of diving into Moroccan souks and finding exotic treasures to take home then Essaouira is the place to do it. The medina is a treasure trove of artistic creations with traditional Moroccan pottery, shoes, leather bags, vintage jewelry, paintings, and crafts.
Head out in the morning to catch the shops opening, it is lucky for the shop’s first customer of the day to buy something so they will be more likely to haggle for a great bargain.
You will also find artists wandering the streets selling their paintings, many of them are not worth the bargaining but you will find some real gems.
I bought a beautiful piece of art from one of these wandering artists who had used colourful feathers to make an intricate profile of a woman, something unique that I will treasure forever!
Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah Museum
Sidi Mohammed is a small museum and one that some say isn’t worth the price for that reason. That said however there aren’t a lot of museums to check out on this coastal route around Morocco therefore it’s a nice different way to spend a few hours.
What to Eat in Essaouira
Food in Morocco is excellent (as you’ve hopefully already realised!) and it is available cheap and fresh everywhere.
Essaouira is no exception and the arty hippy vibe brings something new to what is available.
When exploring the streets of the medina be sure to grab street food, you will find little Moroccan pastries such as pastillas stuffed with meat, thin noodles, and vegetables, or sweet chicken versions sprinkled with icing sugar.
Sample a few of the small sweet nutty pastries, covered in honey, or grab a huge delicious crepe folded and filled with Nutella.
There are also fresh juice stalls hidden in corners, slurp on a freshly squeezed orange juice or try my personal favourite, an avocado milkshake, known as avocado fruits sec, this is avocado blended with milk and dates and served with a fresh fruit garnish, utterly delicious!
Being a coastal city you also cannot travel to Essaouira without eating fish at the port, similar to Imsouane the fishing boats arrive in front of you and you order fish to be BBQ’d by the street, but in Essaouira you will find a bigger variety of fish and lots of delicious calamari. If you wander through the port you will see every type of seafood you could imagine in the fish market, you can buy fresh oysters from a stall for very little money, eat them immediately with lemon.
If you need a break from exploring the shops in the medina, rest your feet at Three Little Birds, this cute little cafe is where you will find all the arty shops and beautiful craftsmen in the medina. Take a seat on a squashy Berber style cushion and order a sugar cane juice for a freshly squeezed yummy delight.
Where to Stay
There are many hotels in Essaouira but to experience the full charm you must stay within the medina. Les Matins Bleus is a charming hotel that was converted from Mogador’s first primary school. Rooms are individually designed and each has its own private courtyard and ensuite bathroom. The building itself is riad style with a shared central courtyard, brightly painted and filled with lush plants.
Rooms start at $35 USD per night for 2 people inclusive of breakfast in the on-site restaurant.
Be aware that the medina is closed to cars so you will need to park your car at a nearby car park, there will be parking attendants nearby to help you find a space. It is expected to pay them 5dh for this ‘service’ plus the overnight parking charge of 10dh ($1 USD).
I struggled to find any hostels in Essaouira but there are plenty of hotels and ones that are as little as $15 a night too, however they will be quite basic.
How Long to Spend
Essaouira is such a bustling vibrant city that you need a few days to really dive in and enjoy yourself, for this I recommend 3 nights stay. It will give you enough time to enjoy traditional sights and partake in a little nightlife.
If you decide to take the trip to Taroudant in one day without stopping off, you will appreciate the time spent immersing yourself in Essaouira before tackling the long journey.
This is the part of the journey that is tricky and long if you haven’t hired a car. To get from Essaouria to Taroudant you will need to travel back to Agadir and take another transport option to Taroudant. If this is your option take the Souk to Surf Essaouira bus to Agadir, it leaves at 2.30 pm and arrives around 6 pm.
However, buses from Agadir to Taroudant are infrequent so you will need to stop overnight. You can stay in Agadir but if you’d prefer to see somewhere different head to Tamraght or Imi Ouaddar, 20 minutes from Agadir. It does mean you’ll then need to head back into Agadir the next day to catch the bus from Inezgane station but it will make the stop over more interesting. Find the bus company times and book online here.
The alternative is to take a taxi from Agadir to Taroudant, but this is pricey, costing from 750 to 950 dirhams ($75-100 USD) depending on the time of departure.
If you choose to stop off along the way to Taroudant there are some great options to check out depending how far along the road you want to travel.
L’ane Vert Eco Lodge: This mini resort is tucked away in the tiny village of Tafedna, between Essaouria and Imsouane. Functioning as an eco-lodge and almost entirely energy sustainable, this little piece of paradise is a great place to slip into your itinerary. There are a variety of room options from Backpacker Bungalows to tents and lodges, prices start from $10 per night to $75 per night.
The on-site restaurant is also something really special, their in house chef prepares dishes you would expect at the finest city restaurants, she has also written her own cookbook if you wish to take inspiration home with you.
Chernaki Surf Experience: Not long before you get to Taghazout you will reach the sprawling village of Imi Ouaddar and find this homestyle villa run by Belgian surf enthusiast, photographer, and all-round creative, Maxime.
The villa is stylishly designed and feels like a huge private home, you are welcomed like family and encouraged to join for drinks while relaxing by the pool. Rooms start from $50 per night for a private double room for 2 people including breakfast, there are also dormitory rooms available if you prefer. Take advantage of yoga classes on the rooftop as a wonderful way to end your day.
The Yogi Surfer: A newly built boutique hostel/hotel just past Taghazout off the main road in the hills of Tamraght, this stylish residence is built riad style around a central atrium with rooms circling around the edges.
Accommodation is comfortably luxurious and there is a wonderful pool and yoga shala on the rooftop, offering views across the nearby banana plantations.
A private double room for 2 people starts at $80 per night. But dorms are available too.
Meals are also well worth joining, with pre-dinner drinks and canapes served every evening.
Anything you’d add to the list of what to do in Essaouira? Let me know in the comments below.
Post written by Natalie Collins
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