We Es-swear-a You're Going to Love It
Whether you're coming for a day trip from Marrakech or staying for a month or more (like us), this Essaouira travel blog will help you make the most of your stay.
You'll get answers to the questions we asked before coming, learn the travel basics, and discover some things to do, foods to try, and inside tips you won't find anywhere else.
In This Essaouira Travel Blog:
Essaouira (pronounced sah-weh-rah) is a port city of about 80,000 people on Morocco's west coast.
A Moroccan king built the modern city in the mid-1700s. Two hundred years later, hippies discovered it and brought their bohemian and artsy vibe with them. Windsurfers (then kite surfers) followed with their chill attitudes and long hair. Then retirees descended from France with their patisseries and wine.
Today, daily tour groups come from Marrakech to poke around the hotels, arts and craft shops, restaurants, and cafes within the blue-accented, whitewashed buildings of the medina.
Just past the medina's ramparts towards the sea, is a busy working port and a 2-kilometer sandy beach with a promenade strung with seaside restaurants and cafes. Behind the promenade are rows of four-story apartment buildings of the new city.
The Good: Why Visit Essaouira?
- Easy to get around. The town's compact and walkable and the taxi system's better than Uber.
- Chill. The weather's more mellow than in Morocco's interior. The people are, too.
- Super safe. Kids play by themselves on the streets and old women walk alone at night.
The Bad: Why NOT Visit Essaouira?
- The wind. Unless you're a kitesurfer, you'll probably wish the wind would settle down a bit so you can relax on and take some selfies without having crazy hair.
- Not great swimming. The Atlantic waters are cold and rough. I didn't even swim once when we lived there.
- Nothing fancy. Luxury travelers won't find hotels, restaurants, and shops with the opulence of Marrakech.
- Not for digital nomads. Unless you can handle slow internet speeds and want to hang out with French retirees or can speak Arabic, you might find an extended stay in Essaouira lonely and frustrating.
What to Do
For full details and more tips, see our post on things to do in Essaouira.
The Top Tourist Attractions
- Explore the medina. Slightly crumbly whitewashed buildings. Narrow alleyways. Colorful artisanal souvenirs. Unusual smells and flavors.
- Buy argan oil. The world's most expensive cooking oil, which is also used in luxury cosmetics, comes from the UNESCO biosphere reserve near Essaouira.
- Check out the fishing port. The blue boats, cats, and salt-worn fishermen backed by the Sqala du Port are a visual treat (not so nice on the nose, though) and a photographer's playground.
- Souvenir shop. If you missed your chance of buying a carpet in Marrakech, luckily you'll find many shops selling carpets and other handicrafts in Essaouira.
- Go to the beach. Ride camels, horses, or ATVs on it. Walk up and down it. Or lie on it if the wind's calm.
Active, Interactive, and Adventurous Things to Do
- Beach walk to Sidi Kaouki. Get a full dose of beach, dunes, and sea by walking 5 hours along the coast to the next village, having a great meal, and taking a bus or taxi back.
- Learn to kitesurf. You can't stop the wind in Essaouira, so you might as well enjoy it.
- Explore Essaouira's new town. Get a feel for everyday Essaouiran life and a taste of some good lunches and tasty pastries in this local neighborhood behind the beach.
- Travel Back in Time to Had Draa's Sunday Market. This market of camel traders, 20-cent-a-kilo vegetables, and haircut tents is a blast from the past. And a blast to explore.
- Do some Moroccan wine tasting. Visit Val d'Argan winery or do an informal tasting at Riad Zahra.
- Learn to cook. Shop for the spices and ingredients and make local dishes like tajine and briouates.
- Take a road trip down the coast. Rent a car and head to beachside surf towns like Tagazhout and Imsouane.
- Sunset drinks at the beach. Head to the row of businesses at the southern end of the beach to drink beers and watch camels and kite surfers as the sun goes down.
What to Eat
Seafood's the obvious go-to in a fishing town in Essaouira, but we advise against the touristy tradition of buying fish from the market and getting a nearby grill to prepare it. We've come across too many issues with rip-offs, not-so-fresh fish, and poor preparation.
Instead, order your seafood off the menu at a restaurant, whose chefs will know better what's fresh and how to cook it.
Essaouira has some high-quality pastry shops to satisfy all the French retirees. Most aren't in the medina, though. Just Patisserie Driss, but the lady who runs it is so unfriendly we can't endorse it.
Go to El Borj and delight in the pastries at Maison Gourmande, Patisserie Patachou, and Aux Pains du Monde instead.
Wander the safe sidestreets both inside and outside the medina and you can find plenty of cheap but tasty Moroccan food. That's how we found our all-time favorite tagine place, Snack Chamali.
Check out our extended post on Where to Eat in Essaouira: Street Food, Seafood, Cafés, and Restaurants for all our favorites.
Where to Stay in Essaouira
You have two choices for where to stay in Essaouira:
- The medina, or
- The new city area of El Borj
Most of Essaouira's hotels, hostels, and riads are in the medina since it's the historical center and has the highest density of restaurants and souvenir shops.
At first glance, there's not a lot of charm to El Borj's rows of three and four-story apartment blocks. But on closer inspection, you'll appreciate the local restaurants, produce shops, bakeries, cafés, and pastry shops.
It's close to Essaouira's one-and-only Carrefour supermarket and near the main part of the beach for kitesurfing, camel and horse riding, and sunset beer drinking.
Book a Stay Morocco-Style?
For a local Essaouira accommodation booking experience, look for guys standing by the main traffic circles coming into town by Carrefour and by Beach and Friends and waving keys at the passing cars. Those keys are for short-term apartment rentals. It's Morocco's internet-free Airbnb.
How to Get Around Essaouira
Wander anywhere in the medina, up and down the seaside promenade, or through the streets of the new city. Some areas might look or feel dodgy, but everywhere's safe.
Essaouira's shared taxi system is even better than Uber (which doesn't exist in the city).
Taxis are everywhere. Flag one down and the driver will take you anywhere in the city for a fixed rate of only 7dh during the day and 8dh at night. It's that simple and easy.
Or ride a horse carriage! For only 2dh (!!!), the carriages will take you anywhere along the new town's main strip, Avenue Al Aqaba.
The local buses to places we recommend in our post on things to do in and around Essaouira—like Sidi Kaouki, Tagazhout, and the Had Draa market—leave from the Bab Doukkala gate at the northern end of the medina.
Arganier, the Essaouira rental car company our Airbnb host recommended to us, has the most no-fuss system we've experienced. No paperwork, hard selling, inspections, or fuel tank filling… No policies at all! Just 200dh per day, plain and simple.
To book, send them a WhatsApp (+212 667 015736). They'll bring your car to you, you do whatever you want with the car, then they come pick up the keys when you're done. Pay cash before or after your rental, as you prefer.
They speak no English and minimal French but, since so little communication is needed, Google translate is more than enough.
How to Get In and Out
Ryanair and EasyJet have direct flights from Europe to Essaouira's international airport. It's 16km outside of town.
Buses are only 6dh but go infrequently. (See schedule.) Taxis are 150dh.
- Seats can sell out, so it's safest to buy them in advance.
- Taxis between the Marrakech Medina and the bus station should cost 25dh. Good luck negotiating!
- The buses arrive in different locations in Essaouira. CTM is in El Borj and Supratours is a short walk from the medina.
CTM offers a direct bus from Essaouira to Casablanca. It takes 5.5 hours, stops in Safi for 20 minutes, and costs 145dh plus 10dh per bag. The CTM station in Casablanca is near Casa Port train station and the medina.
Alternatively, Supratour sells combo tickets including a bus to Marrakech and train to Casablanca. It costs 190dh and takes 6 to 6.5 hours.
Casablanca's Not So Bad!
Don't rule out flying in or out of Casablanca because of its crappy reputation. We enjoyed the day we spent there.
- Look to stay near the Casa Port train station. This is where the airport train leaves from (50dh, 50 min) and is near the CTM bus station. Riad 91 was a good value.
- Take a taxi to Anfa (less than 30dh with a meter) to check out the ritzy and very-American-feeling beachside mall and promenade.
- For a special treat, consider a 290dh afternoon high tea at the Four Seasons.
- Take a 10dh taxi to the Hassan II Mosque. Beside it is a well-maintained beachside promenade with an outdoor workout area, ideal for getting some exercise before or after your plane ride.
Cash or card?
You'll need cash for most purchases here outside the higher-end restaurants and hotels and the Carrefour supermarket.
How easy is it to communicate?
The Moroccans speak Arabic and Berber. The local ex-pats all speak French. If you speak none of those languages, you'll be ok with English. The level of English isn't as high as in the bigger Moroccan cities, but most know a little bit of it.
How's the weather?
The weather in Essaouira is dry, moderate, and windy all year round.
In the heat of summer (July and August), highs don't exceed 30°C / 86°F and lows are below 20°C / 70°F in the evening, so you'll need a light jacket, especially because of the wind.
In the winter (January and February) highs don't exceed 20°C / 70°F and lows drop to 12°C / 52°F. It feels particularly cold because of the wind and lack of indoor heating.
How easy is it to find alcohol?
While the windy weather may dry out your skin, your throat needn't stay dry in Essaouira. Alcohol's easy to find.
The beachside restaurants all serve liquor and some, but not all restaurants in the medina do. Prices are high for Morocco but similar to Europeans or Americans. At Beach and Friends, for example, a pint of beer costs 50dh. Glasses of Moroccan wine cost about the same.
Only one shop outside the northern walls of the medina and the Carrefour at the southern end of town sell alcohol. Carrefour has by far the biggest selection. The liquor section is separate from the rest of the supermarket, with a slightly shame-inducing back entrance. You can pay for your groceries in the liquor section but can't bring your booze into the grocery section.
What should I wear?
When it's not so cold and windy you need to wear a jacket and pants:
Guys: Plenty of Moroccans have embraced the surfer dude style, so shorts, flip flops, and tank tops by the beach is no issue. Cover your shoulders in town.
Girls: Unless you're lying on the beach, showing bare legs and shoulders is frowned upon. People do it, but you might be stared at.
Can you sunbathe on the beach in Essaouira?
On the odd day that it's not so windy that you'd get covered by sand, many women uncover themselves to sunbathe in their bikinis on the beach. Mostly foreigners, but even the odd Moroccan, too.
Young men play soccer or other sports in just their swimsuits all the time.
If you prefer to be extra respectful, go to the row of beach restaurants at the south end of the beach where there are fenced off areas for tourists to lounge in their bikinis and drink beer.
Is it worth visiting on a day trip from Marrakech?
We wouldn't. Stay at least for one night so you can enjoy dinner and the sunset.
Where can I go to do some work?
L'Atelier is the closest thing Essaouira has to a digital nomad friendly café. "Atelier" means workshop in French, so it makes sense.
When we felt we'd worn out our welcome at L'Atelier, we'd go to Mega Loft, the only other work-friendly option we found in the medina. Closer to our Airbnb in El Borj, our go-to was Maison Gourmande.
Where can I find more local tips and recommendations?
What about my other question you didn't answer?
Please ask us in the comments! Really. We appreciate hearing from you and will do our best to help.