Essaouira has to be Morocco’s most laid back beach town and luckily, only a short 2-hour drive from Marrakesh. When I asked my local friend to help me plan my Morocco vacation, she suggested this sleepy seaport town. At first I didn’t know what to make of it because it’s not a resort town dotted with luxury hotels that one would expect. However, the chill atmosphere there provided a much needed respite from the bustling city. It felt very much like a backpackers’ haven.
I decided on a short 2-day trip to Essaouira, leaving Marrakesh at 9am and returning the next day at 3pm. This turned out to be just enough time to sample what the town had to offer in short period. Essaouira is known for ocean sports such as kite surfing, so if you are into that, then you’ll need a few more days. I booked my own private transfer through my friend’s recommendation with Hiba Tours, which cost 160 euros or approximately 190 dollars. The car ride was comfortable and Jamal, the driver and owner, was very professional and friendly. There are cheaper alternatives such as buses and shared cars; however, I did not mind paying more for convenience.
After checking into the Villa Quieta, I took a 5-minute cab ride to Skala de Port, the main center of town. I noticed right away the friendlier and nonchalant attitude of the locals as compared to Marrakesh. Most are going about their business and do not generally mind tourists. This is different from Marrakesh where you are constantly asked to pay… even for a photo. I wandered along the seaport admiring the famous blue boats that are synonymous with this town. As seagulls flew around trying to catch scraps from the fish market, it made for beautiful dynamic photos. I was lucky to witness local fisherman unloading their treasures, sparkling sardines, to the market and to see local women bargain for their meal that day. The sights, sounds, smells and attitude are very different from the city…it felt like I had landed into people’s daily lives and caught a glimpse of the actions. A fun fact if you are a Games of Thrones fan, the show filmed Daenery Targaryen’s acquisition of the Unsullied soldiers here, so you’ll be able to visit places showcased on the series.
An hour later, my stomach was growling so I walked toward the seafood shacks that lined the port streets. Since it was Ramadan, only one seafood shack was opened. It’s not a tourist friendly activity as you will have to barter in French for the price of the seafood. It is almost guaranteed that you’ll be ripped off, but it still made for an interesting experience. I knew I had grossly overpaid for my lunch, but I was very hungry so stomach won over brain. I selected a few sardines, squids and sea urchins for the restaurant to grill and proceeded to share a table with another tourist. The experience was great until I left. One restaurant staff kept aggressively demanding more money from me even though I already paid the crazy inflated sea food price before sitting down. As I sped away, I felt as if I was being chased by the menacing vendor, which soured the whole experience for me. Maybe because I was eating solo so people felt they could take advantage of me. This could be different if you travel with others.
I was agitated from the experience because I felt genuinely unsettled for the first time. These things happen more often than not in Morocco…so I had to remind myself to let it slide. I then wandered around the medina and city center for the next few hours in relative peace. What a contrast from one bad apple!
As I admired the view from the ramparts, I met a fellow traveler from London and his friend from Marrakesh who became great company for the rest of the day. The best part of traveling solo is meeting great people from around the world in the most unexpected ways. We decided to take a 30-minute walk to the Ocean Vagabond restaurant to laze away the afternoon. Ocean Vagabond was highly recommended by my friend for good reasons, the outdoor patio is shaded and has lounge chairs and beds for you to relax comfortably. As we waited for the sun to set over the ocean, I could not help but smile at the stillness of my state of mind…a rare occurrence in this overstimulated world.
For dinner, I checked out a new riad, Salut Maroc, that has live music and sweeping views of the ocean and ramparts from their terrace. The service and food were excellent and the interior is a mix of trendy Moroccan aesthetic mashed together by a mad hatter. Somehow, it works and becomes a visual feast. Dinner with acoustic indie music was a perfect way to unwind from the day’s activities.
After checking out of the hotel the next day, I made my way to Sidi Mohammed Ben Andallah Museum. Half of the fun is trying to find this museum housed in a 19th century mansion in the medina. This small museum has a nicely curated collection of artifacts, weapons, pottery, jewelry representing the history of the region. It was a good escape for 20 minutes and cost 10 dirhams. Not wanting to repeat the same experience for fresh seafood from the day before, I went to Chez Jeanrot Chalet de la Plage, another recommendation, for lunch. The restaurant is located on the beach around the corner from the port entrance with a beautiful terrace overlooking the ocean. The prices are reasonable by western standards in a very customer friendly space. I chatted with fellow travelers and sampled the expertly grilled sardines and fresh sea urchins, the two items you must eat in Essaouira. A fellow diner summed the dining experience up nicely… “sometimes you just don’t want the hassle for lunch”.
Walking along the beach and watching families hanging out and children competing in impromptu soccer matches reminded me that no matter where we are, we are all alike. People just want to spend time with their loved ones and unwind after a long day. This is the essence of Essaouira.
Places to See: Skala du Port, the Citadel, Skala de la Kasbah, Ramparts, Fish Market, Medina, Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah Museum
Places to Eat:
Marrakesh to/from Essaouira Transfer: Hiba Tours or What’s App +212 673 598443
Special thanks to Zach Idrissi of the Amani Hotel Appart for his recommendations.