Essaouira, Morocco

Distant Guide Marrakesh’s unpretentious alter ego

Hello! Looks like you're in search of predictable travel destinations and thirsting for somewhere authentic and different. Well, congrats on taking the plunge. Whether it’s your first venture to Africa or not, you’ll find Essaouira is unlike anywhere else.


Quieter than its better-known big sister, Marrakesh, and less chaotic than Casablanca or Fez, Essaouira rewards adventurous travelers with an impressive walled medina, authentic souks, fantastic eco tours, superb cuisine and hair-raising water sports all on a micro budget. Who knows, Essaouira may charm you to put down semi-permanent roots for a while in this timeless yet satisfyingly progressive city where Arab, Berber, European and African cultures sit comfortably together.

Quick Tips

See

From horseback riding by the beach, to reveling in the peaceful authenticity of the fishing port, to haggling your way around the souk - you won’t run out of things to do in Essaouira. 

Do

Spend your days wandering around the walled medina, take a kitesurfing lesson, stroll by the Ramparts that are rich in history, and learn how argan oil is made in Essaouira. 


Eat

You’ll find everything from cheap eats to high-end cuisine, and the culinary experience is as diverse and varied as its locals. Try everything from tasty tagines to high-end Asian cuisine, the restaurants will have you coming back for more. 


Stay

There is a wide range of accommodation options at Essaouira. Luxurious hotels, cozy riads, hostels, authentic Airbnbs..You’ll find it all. 

Plan

Flights & Transport

It’s difficult to gauge the best time to book flights for the most competitive price. Generally the optimal time to book is 3-6 months before your departure. From the international airport at Marrakesh or Casablanca, take the local bus to Essaouira (2.5 hours and 6 hours respectively). It’s a great way to mix with local and see the country while someone else does the driving. Recommended booking websites and bus


Accommodations

Although we advise you to book some of your hotels and trips before you depart, it’s always good to keep some things spontaneous. Allow yourself the flexibility (and the budget!) to go on an exciting adventure perhaps spending a few days in Marrakesh at the start or end of your visit. You’ll want to participate in local water sports, perhaps with a local tutor, and there’s no better way to see the countryside than on a horse-riding trip. 


There are plenty lodging options available in Marrakesh and Essaouira including local riads, hotels, guest houses, Airbnb and B&Bs but it is advisable to book in advance.


Insurance & Passport

Travel insurance doesn’t cost a lot, but it can mean the difference between enjoying your adventure or returning home early. Give yourself peace of mind by taking out a basic policy and remember to inform your insurance company if you plan to do some adventure sports such as windsurfing and kitesurfing from the beach at Essaouira


Tourist visas are not required for stays of less than 90 days in Morocco. You must have a passport that is valid for the duration of your trip. For longer trips, refer to the Embassy of Morocco government website. 


Checklist

A few months before your trip is the best time to secure your flights, tours and accommodations. Take a look at our hotel and activity recommendations for each location and book now to ensure your trip is exactly what you want it to be! This way, you’ll save a lot of time and stress. Plus, you’ll avoid the disappointment of your favorite places and activities being sold out.

Tips

Adapters

Moroccan power outlets require a two-pin plug which does not match typical US plugs. Get an international power adapter which converts your US plugs to fit any other power sockets in the world. Also, the voltage in Morocco is also much stronger (220v compared to 110v in the USA). Check your appliances, laptop, camera charger etc to make sure they are dual voltage. If not, you will need a power converter to transform the current to suit your electrical appliances (such as hairdryers) to avoid “frying” them.


Currency

Moroccan dirham. 


Landmarks

  • Make sure to dress modestly at Essaouira. 

  • Always haggle your way through the markets. 

  • Check out the old mansions at the old Jewish Quarter. 

  • Our main tip for visiting Essaouira is to simply just be there. Wander around the souks, walk across city walls, and mingle with the locals. 

Packing

• Traveling light is always ideal especially for the tropical heat of Africa. Cotton and natural fibers are generally cooler than man made or synthetic materials. A good place to shop for suitable clothing is at a camping or outdoor sports shop before you leave. Roll your clothes to save space and avoid creases.

 • Choose your footwear wisely. Bring a pair of sports shoes or sneakers for walking – you’ll be doing quite a lot! Pack flip flops for the beach.

 • Try to blend in as much as possible. Flashy outfits might make you stand out as a tourist and attract unwanted attention from vendors. 

• Pack your shampoo, toothpaste and any other liquids in Ziploc bags in case they spill in transit. However, these are items you can always acquire once you’re in Morocco.

 • Don’t forget your sunscreen, aftersun, hat and sunglasses. The sun is quite intense in Morocco, so protect your eyes and skin.

 • You’re going to encounter some beautiful beaches, so make sure you pack your swimming gear

. • Remember your camera, charger, memory card and power adapter. Be well equipped to capture all of the beautiful sites when exploring the island


Apps

• Morocco - Travel Guide & Offline Map | Morocco offline map, attractions, and restaurant suggestions

• Splitwise | eliminates the headache of bill splitting & a must for group travel

• Tripadvisor | a favorite resource for finding off-the-beaten-path restaurants and things to do. However, all reviews are subjective, so don’t obsess over scores

• Whatsapp | free text messaging to other Whatsapp users

• NobelApp | make cheap calls locally and back home


Transit Booking Sites

• skyscanner.com | easy to use website for finding low air fares

• google.com/flights | helpful fare prediction technology

• CTM buses | for traveling between the airport and Essaouira

• www.oncf.ma/ | official website to book train tickets online 

• https://www.suntransfers.com/airports/morocco | Morocco airport shuttle service

• https://www.taxismaroc.com/en/ | find taxis and car hires



Tipping

Tipping is usually expected in Morocco for the most simple of services - taxi drives, waiters, parking attendants, your guide...etc. Make sure to tip at least 10% at restaurants and around 20 dirhams to your guides. 

Itinerary

Day 1 

Arrival

Welcome to North Africa! Your adventure starts when you touch down in Marrakesh Menara Airport, probably after a long overnight flight.

Morning

It’s easy to get a bus or taxi into the city and get your first taste of Moroccan lifestyle. Frenetic, colorful, loud and dusty are just some of the words that will fill your mind as you drink in the scene! Most Moroccans speak English and are more than happy to help.

Afternoon

Start your Moroccan adventure at the bustling Plaza el Fna, the heart of the city. This UNESCO world heritage site is the beautiful mix of culture, food, color, and art. Stroll around the square and admire the majestic Koutoubia Mosque.


Take a break to stop by a terrace cafe overlooking the Plaza el Fna, order a cup of tea or orange juice and let time go by enjoying the passing of people. Continue walking through the labyrinth of Zocos next to Plaza el Fna. You can find Moroccan clothes, food, crafts, jewelry and countless other interesting products in the souk. 


Evening

FOOD AND FUN


 After dark, temperatures are pleasant. Al fresco dining is not popular in this hot and noisy city, but look for a restaurant with tables that allow you to people watch as you eat. You may even get your first taste of Chaabi or Berber music on ancient instruments, accompanied by a belly dancer in upmarket restaurants



Day 2 

Morning

TRANSFER TO ESSOUIRA 

Head to the bus station and catch the bus or taxi to Essaouira (see details in the Travel section below). The trips takes around 2.5 hours and is a good chance to see the local countryside and Moroccan lifestyle.


 On arrival in Essaouira, drop your bags at your hotel and accept a traditional welcome drink of mint tea. This popular herb produces a refreshing hot drink to counter dehydration. Traditionally poured into the glass from a great height to aerate it, the tea is sweet and delicious so try it – refusal can be offensive to your host! Dive in the pool to freshen up and shake off travel lethargy. 



Afternoon

SEE THE LOCAL SIGHTS 

Essaouira is very walkable, having being laid out Vauban-style in the 18th century. Whether you are staying on the beach or in the Medina, you can easily explore on foot. Familiarize yourself with the layout of this livable 18th century fortified city by strolling through the narrow lanes of the walled Medina (Old Town). Step into the souk and you turn back the clock 500 years with ramshackle stalls piled high with pyramids of colorful and fragrant spices. Clothing (mainly Arabic dish dashes), leather belts and bags, household goods, local produce and carpets line the narrow crowded alleyways. It’s hard to remember your 


Head down to the historic UNESCO-listed port for a late lunch where you can choose some freshly caught fish such as sardines or large shrimp at the fish market. Then take it to one of the nearby stallholders who will prepare and cook the fish for you and serve it with bread, olives and salad. It’s so tasty and delicious! Price for cooking is by weight. Make sure you haggle over the price (as a rule of thumb start at half of the requested price and meet in the middle).


 Continue your exploration with a walk around the ramparts that surround the city and once kept marauders and invaders out of the old sea port. Perhaps head to the beach to see what’s going on and watch the surfers and kite surfers battling




Evening

LOCAL DINING 

Many riads offer the option to dine with the family, so take up the offer for your first night. It’s a very cheap and easy way to get to meet locals who will be happy to answer questions and give advice on where to go and what to see. As a plus, the food is home cooked and delicious, particularly the couscous and slow cooked tagines which are medium spicy and deliciously saucy.



Day 3 

Morning

Enjoy a leisurely breakfast which usually consists of delicious Moroccan baguettes with olive oil or butter and jam. Tea is the national drink, so be prepared to enjoy it frequently. 


The beach calls, so rent some water sports equipment, a wetsuit and dive in. The Atlantic waters are cold even during Summer and the incessant surf makes it impractical to swim. However, the breeze makes Essaouira Beach perfect for all types of surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing. If you need some basic lessons, locals will be happy to negotiate a price and help you find your balance. Alternatively make enquiries at the windsurfing center on Moulay Bouzerktoun and take lessons at this world class windsurfing hotspot. Kitesurfing rentals and lessons are also available right on the beach (ask for Youssef!)


 The sandy beach at Essaouira is beautiful and firm for walking, so make time to stroll along the water’s edge and enjoy a 6km walk along the beach with the wind in your hair and the sun on your back. Make sure you always put on plenty of SPF50 sun cream. 


Afternoon

If you head south about 4km you will reach Borj el Baroud and the ruined remains of the fort complete with cannons that is slowly being reclaimed by the sea.


 Seek shade from the heat of the day (from around 1-4pm) starting with a laidback lunch perhaps at one of the cafes on the streets around the Medina. A cheap and tasty option is harira, a traditional soup made of lamb, lentils and chick peas livened up with red turmeric, cayenne and ginger. Explore the narrow shady streets of Essaouira. Behind the windowless mud walls are local dwellings with just a door in the wall. Peek through and you will see beautiful courtyards, often with tinkling fountains, and rooms with verandahs built around in a square.



Evening

Alternatively, visit some of the 19th century forts that remain around Essaouira. Admire the synagogues in the old Jewish Quarter of the Kasbah and perhaps check out the books at the famous Josef Sebag bookstore. The town has attracted many artists, musicians and writers including Hammad Berrada and Jimi Hendrix. Orson Welles apparently directed his production of Othello on the ramparts above the book shop and paid his cast in fish when his budget ran out! 


After dark, treat yourself to a meal at one of the upscale restaurants on Rue de la Skala where ex-pats gather for drinks at the terrace bar and diners are treated to live local music.



Day 4 

Today is a good time to explore beyond Essaouira. Rent a bicycle or scooter and head to the village of Diabat, or take a taxi for the 3km journey. Some companies such as the Ranch de Diabat offer hotel pickup. 



Morning

ARRIVAL IN DIABAT

 "The paradise of the earth is on the backs of horses" ... this old Arabic proverb is apt for Diabat. 6 km south of Essaouira, this peaceful village made famous by the visit of Jimi Hendrix in the 70s, offers a beautiful overview of Essaouira and its bay. The magnificent beach beyond the cord of dunes which border it invites you to long walks on foot or on horseback.



Afternoon

 EXPLORE LIKE A LOCAL

 Zouine-Cheval is a reputable horseback riding tour company offering a range of treks and rides around the area. Choose the length of ride according to your ability as you can get saddle-sore if you’re not used to riding. The company also offers camel rides and dromedary tours for a truly Moroccan experience.


 Head out exploring the countryside, beach and dunes and see traditional villages with your local guide. Rides last anything from one hour to a full day and the handsome Berber horses are extremely well trained. 


If you still have some time left, you can walk through the village and pass by an old bridge, the eucalyptus forest, a fisherman village, and the ruins of the palace of the Black Sultan. 



Evening

SIT BACK AND RELAX


Relax back at your accommodation by stargazing from the rooftop terrace or enjoy a swim beneath the stars to ease tired muscles after your ride. You may enjoy chatting with your local hosts if you are staying in family-run accommodation, or head out to a local bar to meet with other travelers. 


Day 5 

Morning

Head to a local hammam for an authentic spa treatment which will leave your skin vibrant and tingling but beautifully exfoliated and cleansed. Men and women have separate hammams and you need to buy your own loofah and soap when you arrive. You will spend time sitting in a series of hot and steamy rooms before lying on a bed and being scrubbed from top-to-toe. It is nothing like the pampering spa treatments offered in western spas – but it is definitely a must-do that


Afternoon

EXPLORE HISTORY & CULTURE


 After lunch, head to some of the cultural attractions that may have caught your eye on previous visits. Visit the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah Museum on Rue Laalouj Derb which offers local exhibits in a charming building for just a few dirham. Learn the history of the town, the port and its fortress and see local musical instruments. Be warned – signs are mostly in Arabic and French so you may need a dictionary or a local interpreter! 


The Galerie la Kasbah and the Galerie l'arbre Bleu are excellent places to find local crafts and souvenirs as well as artworks, collages, lacquer work and jewelry. 



Evening

 ENJOY A FANTASTIC DINNER


 Head to the Riad el Baraka, a hip local dining establishment with a bar for socializing with new friends beneath a huge fig tree. It has several dining rooms in the former Jewish school. The food is mainly Moroccan, the atmosphere is friendly and the music is lively. Alternatively, try Riad le Grande Large – a hotel restaurant serving affordable fish and Moroccan dishes.



Day 6 

Morning

For your final day, book yourself a place on an eco walking tour. It starts with a bus journey out of the city and lasts around four hours. You’ll encounter some of the off-thebeaten-path countryside and nature around Essaouira, explore the Argan Woods and dune forests and sit down for mint tea in a real Berber village. The emphasis is on the unique ecosystem around Essaouira.



Afternoon

 The trip also includes a traditional meal with a Moroccan family. Expect to sit on a cushion on the floor around a low table. Many dishes are vegetarian or have a small amount of meat, which is a luxury item here. Couscous and a stew of vegetables are the most likely foods you will be offered.


Evening

End the day back in the souk, exploring the Grain Market which once traded in slaves. Pick up some handmade gifts such as woodwork, inlaid boxes and spices to support the local economy and remind you of your fantastic adventure. There may even be time for one last sunset walk along the ramparts overlooking the surging Atlantic Sea. It makes a great finale to your stay in Essaouira.


Day 7 

Morning

RETURN TO THE 21ST CENTURY!


Book your bus back to Marrakesh with plenty of time to check in for your flight home. Your head will be full of memories, people and the unique experiences you have encountered during your visit to Morocco. No doubt you will promise to return again soon. Next time, will you choose to spend longer in Marrakesh with its markets and minarets, or return to the stunning beach and eco-friendly surroundings of Essaouira? 


Emelryn Vebs Dichoso