Essaouira was the last stop on my 10 day tour through southern Morocco with Intrepid Travel. We’d been hiking in the Atlas Mountains, visited Morocco’s most famous Kasbah, spent the night camping in the Sahara Desert, enjoyed a night in a gorgeous Riad oasis and finally made our way to the coast.
I’ve always loved the ocean and arriving in the sea side city of Essaouira was an amazing way to finish off a wonderful trip. I found it more relaxed. I found Essaouira refreshing. Maybe because of the time I’d spent traversing mountain and desert landscapes. Or maybe because the beauty of the ocean and city made me feel rejuvenated after such a long journey.
Whatever the reason, my group was afforded 2 full days here, longer than any other place we’d stopped at thus far. It had been a whirlwind trip with a much needed vacation in Essaouira at the end. From my brief visit, here’s what I loved most about the city and why you should too.
1. The Harbor
Essaouria is located right on the ocean and as such, has a beautiful harbor. In the mornings you’ll see fishermen returning with the morning catch and a fish market pops up along the docks. You’ll find brilliant blue wooden boats by the dozen floating around the harbor, one of Essaouira’s most famous icons.
As you enter/exit the port you’ll have to walk under the Harbour Scala, a sandstone archway attached to Skala du Port. When exiting the port look up at the beautifully crafted Arabic inscriptions along with The Islamic Crescent (3 crescent moons), the Star of David (to represent the Jewish community) and the Shell of St James.
2. Skala du Port & Fort Wall
There’s an 18th century fort located right at the harbor front and is one of the most famous landmarks in Essaouira. It was built in 1769 with the main function of protecting Essaouira’s port. Shaped like a giant “L” , you can climb the corner tower for amazing 360° view of the ocean, fort walls, port and even the medina. Canons can be found lining the ocean side wall and you can watch the action of the fish market below on the port side. The cost for entry is 10 dH.
While exploring the medina you may notice a fort wall along the western edge. This too is lined with canons aimed out at the ocean and was built to protect the city. It’s free to wander here and the fort wall offers beautiful views of the ocean.
3. The Beach
There’s no shortage of beach space in Essaouira. Stretching endlessly along the west end of the city, you can go for a walk, camel ride, horseback ride or simply throw down a beach towel. Watch the kite surfers fly through the air and take a dip in the shallow ocean water.
4. Ride a Camel
What’s a trip to Morocco without a camel ride? Sure you can do this most anywhere in Morocco but Essaouira’s prime beach front location means that you can have your camel safari right on the beach!
To find your ride, just head to the beach and search for camels. There’s always a few men with camels willing to offer you a ride.
5. The Medina
The medina in Essaouria is beautiful and so different from the one in neighboring Marrakech. With gorgeous old architecture, white washed buildings, winding narrow streets and an old fort wall surrounding the entire place, this medina is much cleaner and less chaotic than the one in Marrakech. Take a wander and enjoy getting lost down the narrow alley ways and secluded squares.
6. The Shopping
As with any medina, there is shopping to be had. Morocco has some of the best shopping in terms of quality house hold wears you’d actually want to have in your home. From rugs to ceramics to pillow cases, you can find it all in the medina.
If you’re staying locally in a hostel or Air BnB where you’re cooking your own food, the medina is the place to get all your fresh meats and produce.
7. Horseback Riding
Have you ever fantasized about riding a beautiful horse on a gorgeous beach? You can do that in Essaouira! To make things even more authentic, most of the horses in Morocco are either Arabian, Barb or a combination of the 2 – the Arab-Barb horse. While the Arabian has its roots in northern Africa, the Barb horse is purely Moroccan.
8. Kite Surfing
Known as the best location in Morocco to kite surf, Essaouira has this sport in spades. It’s always windy down by the ocean but the waves are too small for surfing. So kite surfing has become the water sport of choice and beginners to advanced are welcome. There are a few kite surfing companies with offices in the medina who offer lessons and provide the equipment.
9. The Fresh Sea Food
Not much explanation needed here! Given that Essaouira is located right on the ocean and has a vibrant and active fish market, you can bet your seafood dinner will be fresh.
One tip that my guide gave me was to avoid the pop up stalls right down at the harbor. They advertise that you can pick your own fresh fish from the display case but, back in the kitchen, they swap it out for a an older fish. Go to the restaurants in the medina instead.
10. The Views
Head to the top of the fort or one of the restaurants in prime location overlooking the harbor and you’re in for a treat. You’ll spot white washed buildings and blue roof tops covering the medina in one direction and the endless beach with the fort and harbor in the other.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Essaouria and found it to be one of my favorite spots in Morocco. With the fresh ocean air, delicious sea food, beautiful medina with great shopping, a historic old fort and lots of outdoor adventure options, Essaouira is a city not to be missed.