Essaouira is a charming little town in Morocco, located 180 kilometers (110 miles) west of Marrakesh, on the Atlantic coast, by the sea. A lot of tourists leave Marrakesh early in the morning, they go to Essaouira and spend the day there, and then they go back to where they come from in the evening. Why not but I suggest not to do it, because it means having to rush to see the most of Essaouira in one day. And Essaouira deserves more than one day, probably two or three. Here are a few things to do in Essaouira but before that, some facts about the city!
History of Essaouira
Essaouira, formerly called Mogador, was a city occupied by the Portuguese, who built a fortress and ramparts. But the Moroccan king Mohammed III is the one who really allowed Essaouira to go through its peak of popularity from 1760. Essaouira was the biggest commercial port in Morocco until 1844, when the city was bombarded by the French Navy. For the past twenty years, Essaouira is regaining popularity, especially thanks to tourism.
Description of Essaouira
Essaouira is a lot smaller and a lot quieter than Marrakech, you can feel it as soon as you get there. The cost of living is also much lower! There are a lot less scams from locals, it feels good! Actually when you buy something, you don’t really need to bargain because they display prices! That’s cool!
Essaouira is a calm and relaxing town. We’re by the sea and the atmosphere is nice. There are few tourists (although you can still spot numerous Spanish tourists). Unlike most Moroccan cities, the temperatures are not extreme, even in the summer (about 25°C/77°F). However, people sometimes call Essaouira the windy city because the wind is strong, the ocean currents too, and the waves are imposing!
Like in Marrakesh, Essaouira, which means the well designed, has its medina. It’s the old city surrounded by ramparts where motorized vehicles are not allowed to come. Therefore you can peacefully wander in the narrow streets, all pedestrianized and colorful. We also take time to watch the souks, cafés, restaurants, blacksmiths, jewelers, carpenters, the art galleries, bookstores, groceries… We feel like we’re walking in a blue city. The houses are white with blue shutters, the boats at the port are blue, the decoration is blue… Still, it’s very beautiful!
What to do in Essaouira?
The Essaouira port
You cannot go to Essaouira and not go see its port. It was built in the 18th century, and it was one of the most important trading centers of Morocco. Gold, spices, slaves, etc… were transiting there. To this day, Essaouira mostly lives off fishing. The hustle and bustle is insane at the port, and it looks like a show whenever you go there : the fish market, the trawlers, the guys selling sardines…
From 3 to 5pm, the fishermen come back with the catch of the day : sardines, sea breams, crustaceans… They sell everything they have, and they manage to get rid of their catch really fast! Watch the show, the sellers negotiating… It’s interesting but quite noisy! Add to this hubbub the noise of the seagulls and all the stray cats looking for leftovers!
For your information, it’s possible to buy your fish, and sellers a little bit further will cook it for you in front of you. It’s 25 dirhams (2 euros). Add an extra 25 dirhams and they’ll add salad, olives and bread.
The Essaouira ramparts
Like in Marrakesh, the ramparts in Essaouira surround the medina. The ramparts were built in the 18th century with the help of French architect Theodore Cornut. He was inspired by the ramparts of a French city called Saint Malo. The ramparts were built to defend Essaouira from sea invaders. You cannot miss the Sqala de la Kasbah and its 19 cannons lined up along the sea wall. The Game of Thrones fans will recognize the setting. We can see it in season 3, when Daenerys meets the Unsullied army at Astapor.
The medina in Essaouira
The medina in Essaouira is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2001. It’s really nice to wander in the narrow streets of the medina in Essaouira. You’ll see many storekeepers there, especially cabinetmakers. They’re known in the area for their boats built of wood. Essaouira is also known for its very high-quality argan oil, cause the argan only grows in this area of Morocco.
Once again, you’ll notice blue is the dominant color in Essaouira. Don’t miss Moulay Hassan square and its cafés where the locals sit at the terrace, have a mint tea, and watch people passing by for hours.
The beach in Essaouira
You’re by the sea, therefore you have to go to the beach! Be careful though, it’s very windy there! Now you know! You’ll quickly realize Essaouira is surfers’ and kite-surfers’ paradise! They’re numerous there, and they love Essaouira! Indeed, the waves are impressive! For your information, it’s possible to rent a surf there, and they also give lessons if needed. Here are a few activities : a kite-surf lesson, a surf lesson, a horse ride, a dromadery ride, a quad bike tour… You have plenty of options!
I honestly liked my visit to Essaouira. It changed from the hustle and bustle in Marrakesh. Essaouira is a lot quieter, the locals are more relaxed, and they don’t want to scam you. If you go to Marrakesh, I suggest you to go see Essaouira, which is only three hours away by car! Here a few tips now!
How to get to Essaouira?
For your information, there are direct flights to Essaouira from several European cities! Click here to check the latest flight prices! If you’re already in Morocco, the easiest way to get there is by bus. From Marrakesh, two bus companies go to Essaouira : CTM and Supratours. I took the Supatours bus and I paid 80 dirhams (7.50€). It was a three hours bus ride and the bus stops at the entrance of the medina! It’s perfect! From what I heard, the CTM bus stops a little bit further and you have to take a taxi to go to the medina… From Agadir or Casablanca, the bus is still the best option.
How long should you stay in Essaouira?
I recommend to stay two or three days in Essaouira. It gives you some time to discover and wander in the city. If you’re in a hurry, click here to go on a day trip to Essaouira from Marrakesh.
Where to stay in Essaouira?
There are many options! For the backpackers traveling on a budget, there are a few nice hostels, especially the Essaouira Youth Hostel or the Chill Art Hostel. I think it’s better to stay in a riad since you’re in Morocco. There’s the Riad Inna, the Riad Lunetoile, the Dar Ness or the Riad Chbanate. If you’re looking for something more top of the range, the Ocean Mogador Hotel is a good one.
How to get around in Essaouira?
The city is small, it’s easy to explore Essaouira by foot! If you wanna leave the medina and go further, you can still walk, or take a taxi. They all have the same flat rate, 7 dirhams (less than one euro).
Essaouira travel tips
- Traveling soon? Check out my travel resources page!
- Don’t travel without a travel insurance! Here’s why buy a travel insurance!
- Want a tailor-made trip to Morocco? Get a free quote here!
- Click here to see a few cool things to do in Essaouira.
- If needed, get a Morocco guidebook
- Always use a VPN when traveling. I use ExpressVPN and I love it. Here’s why you should use a VPN when traveling.
- Watch out for seagulls, one of them shitted on me (fortunately on my arm!).