When you think of Morocco, you are probably thinking about crowds of people, chaos and pushy vendors. Not exactly a destination you have in mind for a relaxed sun and beach holiday. But that’s where you go wrong. Also for a relaxed holiday with sun and beaches you can head to Morocco. With a more than 1800 kilometer long coastline there are enough places where you can find a lovely beach. Moroccans themselves often opt for the coastal town Agadir, but personally I did not really like this place. Yes, it has one of the longest beaches in Morocco and a pretty beach promenade, but the streets of Agadir did not have much charm. We stayed for one day and quickly continued our trip to Essaouira. This is such a great city! Wide beach, a modern promenade, an old medina full with colorful alleys and almost no pushy vendors bothering you. Sure, I still have to come back to Morocco to explore it more, but Essaouira is already one of my favorite cities in Morocco. I spent 5 days here and I collected this list with 10 tips.
1. Wander around in the blue and white medina
The old walled medina (Arabic word for city) is the biggest attraction of Essaouira. This is what makes this city so charming. The medina is built in the eighteenth century. Sultan Mohammed Ben Abdellah wanted to turn Essaouira into an important port city. And his plan worked, Essaouira became a stop on the trading route Timbuktu – Europe. Eventually Casablanca took over the role of important port city and Essaouira turned into a relaxed fishing town.
Relaxed and tranquil are actually the best words to describe Essaouira nowadays. The vendors do not bother the tourists too much and it is not that busy. So ditch that list of to-dos and discover this city with no plan and just wander around the medina. Walk over the souk, wander into the alleys, take a look inside one of the carpet or spices stores, walk along the wall and make a stop for a cup of sweet mint tea. Blue and white are the colors that dominate the medina, which made me think of cities in Portugal. During the Middle Ages the city was actually shortly run by the Portuguese and they named it Mogador. A name that remained for quite a long time, it was changed to Essaouira in sixties.
2. Take a nice long beach walk
Essaouira is known as the Windy City and is therefore attractive for water sports. During my preparation I read that lying on the beach would not be an option. The wind would constantly throw sand in your face. And indeed, the wind is an undeniable fact. My body and hair was covered in sand, but just take a good shower after a day at the beach and you’re good. Also, the nice thing about the wind was that the temperature in Essaouira was quite nice. It was not too hot. At the beach you can rent a bed and sun umbrella or you can bring your own towel to sit on.
Extra tips for the beach:
- Unfortunately I saw quite some plastic waste at the beach. This is not only polluting the beach, it can also have deadly consequences for animals. My proposal: why not combine a long beach walk with picking up plastic waste? There are enough trash bins at the promenade to throw it away.
- There are quite some men riding around on horses or camels at the beach who offer rides to tourists. Are you an animal lover? Then do not climb onto the back of these animals, especially when the animal is looking poorly treated or tired. Do not use animals as entertainment.
- There is also another type of men walking around at the beach: the one with the plates with happy cookies. They like to walk up to young people, because they like to get high right? Luckily they are not pushy at all. When you say no, they easily walk away.
3. Book a hotel with a pool
Lying in a bikini at the beach in Morocco is personally for me a no go. Enough tourists do it, but I think this is not showing any respect for local culture. Morocco is for the most part a Muslim country and even though not every Moroccan woman is wearing a hijab (head scarve), I most definitely did not see any local women walking around in bikinis. The best thing to do is when you want to sunbath and go for a swim is to book a hotel with a pool. However, there are not much hotels in Essaouira that have a pool. We chose hotel Cote Ocean Mogador with a great location at the Mohammed V promenade.
4. Watching boats at the fisher port
I have to admit, I was not a huge fan of the fishing port. I do eat fish, I hated the smell and filleting fish on the street is not my cup of tea. But what I did like about the fishing port were the characteristic boats. They have a lovely deep blue color and are a nice contract with the brown colors of the city walls and towers.
5. Get active: take a lesson surfing or supping
Wind is part of Essaouira and the water sports are grateful for it. Every day the sea is filled with professionals doing their thing, but also as a beginner you are in the right place. There are plenty of stores where they offer surfing lessons for beginners. My boyfriend followed a lesson and he loved it. The two of us also tried out Stand Up Paddling and that was quite the challenge I can see. The tide was pretty strong which made it easy to drift without noticing it.
Surfing lesson (2 hours) for 1 person cost us 275 Dirham (25 euros). Rent of 2 Stand Up Paddle boards cost us 165 Dirham (15 euros).
6. Fall in love with an iconic city view: Skala du Port
Are you looking for the best view at the walled medina? Then I recommend going to Skala du Port. This old watch tower gives you an amazing view – through a sky filled with sea gulls – at walled Essaouira. This is also the place where you can find the ‘hole in the wall’ view, the most iconic view of the city. They even installed a special stepladder so that everyone can take that iconic shot. One note: in contrast to what I read online there was a different entrance fee for international visitors. Locals pay 10 Dirham (around 90 euro cents), international visitors pay more: 60 Dirham (around 5,50 euros). This is probably the new price after the reconstruction they did in the summer of 2018.
7. Walk the wall: Skala de la Ville
Now you have taken a look at the walls outside the walled city, it is time to take a walk on the wall. For this you should go to Skala de la Ville. There is no entrance fee and that is why it is extremely popular with organized tourist groups. What also might play a role in its popularity: this was a filming location for Game of Thrones. Unfortunately our timing could have been better, we visited Skala de la Ville just as a couple of organized tours were entering.
8. Love for Essaouira’s cats
It is hard not to notice it: the large amount of street cats. They are practically everywhere, sleeping in the sun and enjoying every bit of attention from tourists. They are probably more active in the morning when the new fish arrives in the port. A perfect moment for the cats to haunt for the pieces that no one wants. In general the cats looked pretty healthy and I think they are often fed by locals. I even saw a small cat house in the streets of the medina. One thing is for sure, there is a lot of love for Essaouira’s cats, from locals and tourists.
9. Spot street art in the souk
Attention to all street art lovers, also in Essaouira there are quite some works you can see. A lot of it I saw in the side alleys of the main Souk street. It was striking to see that the paint was often flaked and you really have to use your imagination to imagine how the works used to look like. I think the salty sea wind has something to do with this. Street art itself is already something temporary as it can get painted over, but in Essaouira they disappear a lot quicker.
10. Get a sunset drink at Cafe Taros
Feeling like ordering a beer or a glass of wine? This is not always easy in Morocco as a lot of restaurant do not have an alcohol license or alcohol is pretty expensive. Still feeling like drinking a beer? Then you need to get yourself to a rooftop bar (because there drinking alcohol is less visible for the general public). The most popular place to have a drink is Café Taros, close to the fisher port. Price for a beer is still quite high (around 4 euros), but still I think it is a nice place for sunset drinks.
And these were my 10 tips for Essaouira. I really enjoyed this city very much, it was so relaxing. And I did not even talk about the food yet. After 14 years of being a vegetarian, I switched to vegan this summer and I was not sure whether Morocco was going to be vegan proof. But luckily this turned out not to be a problem at all, because there were plenty of vegan restaurants in Essaouira and Marrakech. But more on that in the next blog post.
Have you ever been to Essaouira?