After the heat of the Sahara desert, we changed our travel plans slightly and headed to the coast. Essaouira is cooler and fresher, and will give you a big contrast in climate and atmosphere to the heat of Ouarzazate or the hustle and bustle of Marrakech.
Changing our travel plans to include Essaouira was the best decision that we made this trip. The refreshing sea air of this hippy hangout was just what I needed to help me to recover from the Tichka Pass across the Atlas Mountains!
I saw Ait Benhaddou yesterday, which was the Game of Thrones film set for Yunkai, the yellow city. Esasouira is the city of Astapor in the Game of Thrones, so this is my second Game of Thrones film set in two days!
How long should I stay in Essaouira?
Essaouira is a safe and small city on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. You can do a day trip to Essaouira from Marrakech. However, do this and you might regret it! It is a wonderful place to hang out, surf or learn Arabic. We stayed for three days, which is a pleasant long weekend. If I had known how amazing this place was, I would have scheduled in at least a week!
When to go to Essaouira
July and August is high season in Essaouira because the Moroccans go there at this time of year to escape the heat of Marrakech. If you go at this time of year, weather will be warm but not too hot, with a fresh sea breeze (between 24-27 degrees). It can be very windy at this time, but good for surf.
If you approach Essaouira by road, you will see local boys shaking keys at you – they want to rent you apartments! But you don’t need to go to them, their prices are high – €30 a night and hotels and roads are much cheaper. Our Moroccan friend told us that these are popular with unmarried couples because they are private and no one will ask for a marriage certificate!
Arriving in Essaouira
When you arrive, don’t be alarmed if a man with a cart appears from no-where and starts to put your luggage in it! He will be taking you to your hotel in the Medina with your luggage, for 20Dh (he might initially ask you for 30Dh or 40Dh, so barter him down!)
Also, call your hostel when you arrive. We are staying at ‘Surf and Chill‘ inside Essaouira Medina, and our driver Abdul called when we arrived outside the Medina gates. The lovely Hasna walked to meet us and greet us at our cab.
Everything is easy to find in Essaouira and you are not as likely to get lost as in Marrakech! Everything you need is inside the Medina and along the sea front (including the seagulls as you can see!)
The salesmen in Essaouira are funny and friendly. They are not pushy and will not grab you like they sometimes do in Marrakech. You will probably be approached by guys selling sunglasses, even though you have got some on!
10 Things to do in Essaouira
1. Stroll around the Medina
The medina is small and easy to navigate. It is the best way to absorb the culture of Essaouira.
2. Visit the Ramparts
The Ramparts and Bastion are the historical monuments of Essaouira. You can go up the ramparts for just 10Dh. These historic places of interest were used for the Game of Thrones film set. In Season 3, Daenerys Targaryen stops at Astapor in the hope of securing her army of unsullied.
3. Fish Market
You must go to the Fish Market – it is so funny. Each of the fish stalls has a different man who will want you to eat there and he will repeatedly tell you his number. You will hear cracking lines including ‘Lovely Jubbly’, ‘English – Fish and Chip, bread and butter!’, ‘See you later Aligatior!’ and ‘You hungry? You full? My number is……’
4. Street Art
Tucked away in the side streets of Essaouira, you will find the most phenomenal street art. Jimi Hendrix loved this place, and it’s easy to see why.
Parousing the souks is part of the fun in Morocco. The Essaouira Souk is not as ‘stressy’ as the Marrakech souk. If you were put off by pushy salesmen in Marrakech, and people touching you, you will find the Essaouira souk much more manageable. We found a whole section just for jewellery!
6. Surf and Chill out on the Beach
At Surf and Chill, you can book a two hour surf lesson with Yousef for just €25. You can also find many places along the streets and the beach for surfing and kite surfing, but make sure you book one that is up on safety!
Follow your surf session with a chill out on the beach, and you can rent a sunbed with a parasol if it takes your fancy.
7. See Gnawa Music
You will see guys in the streets playing Gnawa music for money. If you throw 10-20Dh at them, they will do you your own little performance!
8. Eat Fish Soup and Cous Cous
Fish soup is a speciality of Essaouira as it is on the coast. I had a lovely fish soup at the Medinah restaurant. You can also get a brilliant cous cous at Gnawa restaurant or 4 Seasons of Mogador.
9. Explore the Artesan Markets of Pottery and Marquetry
Morocco is famous for it’s hand painted ceramics. Essaouira also offers the opportunity to see some fantastic Marquetry (wood carving and craft).
10. Horse Riding and Camel Riding
Enjoy a camel ride along the beach. Just be aware that they throw you forwards when they get up. They also spit at you and kick you, so if you are unsure, go for a horse instead!