So you booked a trip to Morocco and you’re *considering* maybe going to Essaouira for a day or two, but you’re wondering if it’s really worth the trip from Marrakech. Well we are here to say that
YES, IT MOST DEFINITELY IS.
We spent a weekend in Essaouira at the start of our Morocco trip and we absolutely loved it. We would definitely head back to Morocco, even if it is just to kill time in Essaouira again. So instead of just singing its praises, we will back up this up by giving you 5 reasons you are gonna LOVE this place.
1. Laid-back Atmosphere
Essaouira is a slow-paced, laid back city. Families take in the sun on the beach, which is also transformed into the world’s longest soccer field with games going from daybreak until sunset. The medina offers cool corridors to the hot sun, where locals do their daily shopping and cats flick their tails in the shade. It is a world away from the Marrakech medina – the shop owners are super laid-back and as Essaouira’s smaller medina is intersected by a large avenue running straight through, it is not so likely to get lost within it (which is most likely in Marrakech).
Like many other cities in Morocco, Essaouira is an ancient city that carries monumental remnants of her history to the present day. The city’s bay is protected from winds and currents by the Mogador island and the Iles Purpuraires, and has made it a popular and protected coastal area though the ages. The Berber name for the city translates to “the small fortress”, not least because of the Portuguese fortress, Castelo Real de Mogador, that walls in the city, which was built by the King of Portugal in 1506, and later taken by local Berber resistance. For something like 10 dirham you can visit the fortress and gaze out over the harbour with its million little brilliant-blue boats and swarms of seagulls eyeing the fishermen as they set up stalls with the daily catch in the early afternoon – all from these 400-year-old walls. Oh, and by the way, this fortress is also where Khaleesi set her baby dragons loose to burn down slavers’ bay like the true badass she is. Sigh. (If you are GoT fan, also check out Aït Ben Haddou in South Eastern Morocco)
BEST. SEAFOOD. EVER.
While roaming the markets in the medina, we haphazardly turned a corner into a little seafood bazaar. The smell of fresh fish hit us as we tried to comprehend the amount and sheer diversity of the raw meat on sale. Beyond the classics – seabass, anchovies, tuna, shellfish, etc. – there was also what seemed like anything else you could want. Massive swordfish, flounder, lengthy eels, rays, and, among this wide variety, a very sizeable shark. We blindly pointed to this and that, the trader weighed it, threw it all in a plastic bag, and handed us our change (now dripping in fishy liquid). We then handed the plastic bag to some teenagers who promptly put it on the grill and showed us to some seats on the side. Then we were handed off to the older gentleman who maybe managed the restaurant area, who sat us down and promptly put down some olives, dips and sauces, and that SOFT, SQUISHY MOROCCAN BREAD. Then they brought the fish from the grill in waves, as soon as each batch was done cooking, finishing with the shark steak (we just had to try it). And we sat devouring fresh seafood, dripping in chilli sauce and lemon, sharing a coke, and getting our bread stock continually resupplied, and all of this cost us about £7. Definitely one of our best, most memorable meals ever.
4. The Picture-Perfect Setting
Where Marrakech is often referred to as the pink city, Essaouira is white and blue and is imbued with all the charm that you might expect from a small seaside city. And then it sits on the beautiful blue Atlantic ocean, with islands not too far from its coast, over which you can watch the sunsets. We recommend securing a sea-facing spot at Taros, a popular white and blue bar with multiple levels and platforms on the roof and delicious gin cocktails. The pretty streets, ocean views, street art, historic sites, and lazy atmosphere makes it a paradise for any photographer. And also, evidently, a paradise for cats, who may be found napping on the carpet-sellers’ goods, in the blue shady corners of the medina, or undisturbed in plaza gardens.
5. Easy on the wallet
Value for cash, Morocco is already a pretty good place to travel to if you live in Europe. But Essaouira is quite a bit more affordable than Marrakech. This is really the place you’re gonna want to buy your famous Moroccan leather goods or metal lanterns (also, because of the general relaxed atmosphere of the medina). A 20 minute taxi ride cost us 7 dirham (although we misunderstood and accidentally paid 20…such is life.); food, accommodation, everything is way cheaper than Marrakech!
So, yes. You should definitely go to Essaouira. It is a beautiful, relaxing, friendly coastal city with excellent food and great places to stay. It’s great for just kicking it back under the sunset, medina shopping sprees, or family outings. Fresh fish, a salty sea breeze, the hot Moroccan sun, and mint tea on the beach – we can’t wait to go back to Essaouira.