The best things to do in Essaouira
Are you looking for a coastal getaway in Morocco? Away from mass tourism and the hectic lifestyle of the major cities of Fes and Marrakech? The charming town of Essaouira fits the bill perfectly. Essaouira offers fantastic beaches, authentic culinary experiences, gentle Moroccan charm and just enough sophistication to make this an exclusive destination. Read on for the best things to do in Essaouira.
Essaouira doesn’t have an international airport so you’ll need to put a little more effort into travelling here. This is a huge benefit in protecting it from the mass tourism many of us try to avoid. Even so, it’s readily accessible from Marrakech and Agadir. In only a couple of hours on the road you’ll land in this charming Moroccan town.
The best things to do in Essaouira
Shopping in the Medina
Essaouira’s medina offers a relaxed atmosphere in direct contrast with the hectic hustle and bustle of the souq cities like Fes.
Here, you can wander the bright yet narrow alleys of the spice and jewellery souqs and browse at your leisure. Shop owners are more than willing to talk about their wares without much pressure to buy, making for a more relaxed experience. That said, the lack of a hard sell makes haggling a little more difficult and you’re unlikely to get a great reduction on the initial price quoted.
Below the Portuguese ramparts in Skala de la Ville are many artisan studios. The traditional artisans here work mainly in wood carving from thuya wood and it’s said the exquisite work here is the finest in Morocco. You’ll find painters and potters and stone masons too and spending some time to watch them work is fascinating, offering you an opportunity to gain an insight to their craft.
Fantastic sea views from the Portuguese ramparts
The Portuguese ramparts of Essaouira are home to a collection of 18th century cannon. The ramparts offer fantastic sea views of the rocky cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean dramatically boiling below. You’ll no doubt find yourself sitting for a while, high above the ocean below, mesmerised by the ever crashing waves.
An authentic culinary experience
For us, one of the major attractions of travelling to faraway lands is to indulge in local cuisines. We seek out the opportunity to try authentic foods in authentic settings. I don’t mean the contrived restaurants that are full of tourists either. These usually offer menus that suit the western palette and at a price that suits the western wallet. For a truly authentic culinary experience, head to the fishing harbour of Essaouira.
Explore more: a wonderful dining experience in Essaouira
Essaouira offers 10km of sweeping sands to the south of the town. For sun worshippers, there are sun loungers for hire nearer the town but if you’re seeking some solitude, head a short way south along the beach and you’re sure to find a quiet secluded spot for lazing away a day on your beach mat with a good book.
If you’re after something a little more active, there’s no shortage of beach activities. Take an exhilarating horse ride along the beach or for speed junkies, hire a quad bike for an hour. If that’s all a little too active, you can take a more leisurely camel ride, which is sure to loosen up your back after all that sunbathing.
Essaouira is a great spot for water sports and if you’re a keen surfer the waves are ideal. Bring your own board or hire equipment along the promenade. You’ll find hire shops with jet skis, surf boards, windsurfing and kitesurfing equipment.
If you’ve never tried any of these activities but would like to give it a go, you can even take some lessons from the local experts. They’ll offer tuition for the complete novice up to the more advanced who’d just like a refresher course.
If you’re simply not into surfing or just not brave enough, grab a friend and play air surfing along the beach. That’s what we did.
Afternoon tea on the promenade
Hey we’re Brits so what else would you expect? For us, one of the best things to do in Essaouira was having afternoon tea along the promenade. When your exhausted after all that exercise, or just needing to get out of the sun and have a refreshing drink, the promenade has a wide selection of sophisticated cafés to choose from. Try the local beverage of choice, Moroccan mint tea which you may see listed on the menu as Berber Whisky. You’re even able to indulge in a glass of chilled rosé. And why the devil not?
Sunset stroll along the beach
At the end of the day, the beach is a great place to watch the sun go down. And the sunsets here are just spectacular. Of all the things to do in Essaouira, this has to be the best way to end your day.
When we visited Essaouira, we were won over by how much is packed into such a small town without it feeling in anyway overcrowded or spoilt by mass tourism. Our days were filled with exploring the cool medina, relaxing and enjoying the beaches. Whilst we did much more than this list of the things to do in Essaouira, these were the highlights for us!
Essaouira is a unique destination in Morocco. Whether you have a day or a week, it’s a charming town that will leave you with lasting, romantic memories of the exotic and vibrant country of Morocco. If you’re looking for a coastal getaway in Morocco, it’s difficult to beat Essaouira.
Are planning on taking your own car into Morocco? Here is the detailed border process so you know what to expect.
Accommodation in Essaouira
There’s no shortage of hotels and riads in Essaouira. We try to camp in our vehicle for the majority of our travels and Essaouira is low on quality campsites. There is one campsite a little to the south of the town but it’s little more than a car park. If you’re looking for a campsite that has great facilities and willing to be some way out of town, then Camping des Oliviers has been recommended to us many times by fellow overlanders. It’s a 15 mile / 24 km drive so not convenient if you want to visit Essaouira for a few days.
Failing that, there is a camperstop at the southern end of the beach, marked on the map below. There are no facilities so make sure you’re stocked up with water and your toilet doesn’t need emptying in a hurry.
How to get to Essaouria
The easiest way to get to Essaouira is by road. If you’re driving your own vehicle you have the flexibility to go when you please, and stay as long as you like. The map below shows the route from the main tourist destinations in Morocco.
Driving distances and journey time
Marrakech to Essaouira: 111 miles/ 177 km and 2 hours driving
Casablanca to Essaouira: (via Marrakech for the fastest route) 242 miles/ 388 km and 4 hours driving
Agadir to Essaouira: 116 miles/ 184 km and 3 hours driving
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