If you’re planning a trip to Essaouira, you are in for a treat. Essaouira has a little bit of everything – from rich history and cultural heritage to sandy beaches and mesmerising sunsets. Before you embark on your journey, here are six things to know before going to Essaouira, to make the most out of your visit.
- Essaouira’s unique charm
- Exploring the Medina
- Language and Communication
- Dress Code
- Beaches and Coastal Adventures
- Transportation and Getting Around
- Safety Tips and Precautions
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Is it worth it to go to Essaouira?
- How do you get to Essaouira from Marrakech?
- How many days should you spend in Essaouira?
- What’s the best time of the year to visit Essaouira?
- Can you swim at the beach in Essaouira?
- Where are the best places to stay in Essaouira?
- Where are the best places to eat in Essaouira?
Essaouira’s unique charm
Essaouira, formerly known as the Port of Timbuktu and Mogador, is a captivating Moroccan city that has won the hearts of many travellers.
Essaouira’s history traces back to the Phoenicians but most of the town’s medina and fortifications were constructed in the 18th century.
The architectural design was made by French architect Théodore Cornut, and as a result, Essaouira is a perfect fusion of Moroccan and European styles.
The city has been home to Amazigh (or Berber), African, Arab, and European populations, as well as Jewish communities.
Essaouira offers plenty of arts and live music events and festivals. It has a bustling arts scene and bohemian atmosphere.
Each year, the city hosts the Gnaoua Festival, an annual event deeply rooted in local culture. The festival brings a city to life with eclectic music, traditions, vibrant colours, and a sensory overload.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Essaouira became a magnet for renowned musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, Essaouira is renowned for its bustling fishing port.
Its photogenic wooden blue boats are a sight to behold.
A visit to the Skala du Port, a fort overlooking the medina (and featured in Game of Thrones), is a must during your stay in Essaouira.
Plan your visit later in the day, when there are fewer tourists and the lighting is ideal for capturing photos. From here, you will enjoy a stunning panoramic view of the old medina.
The views across the Atlantic Ocean from the Skala du Port ramparts are equally breathtaking.
Essaouira’s windy climate has earned it the nickname ‘Windy City’.
Consistent winds and sandy beaches attract surfers from around the world, making it a popular destination for water sports enthusiasts.
Exploring the Medina
Bab Marrakech, Bab Sbaa, and Bab Doukkala are the three primary entrances to the medina of Essaouira.
To truly immerse yourself in the city’s rich history, I recommend joining a 4-hour private city tour. This guided experience not only covers the major historical sites but also unveils the lesser-known attractions that make Essaouira so special.
While wandering through the old medina, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah Museum (161 Avenue Mohamed Zafzaf, Essaouira 44000), Moroccan treasure trove of antiquated musical instruments, armaments, ceremonial artefacts, traditional attire, jewellery and embroidery.
No trip to Essaouira would be complete without immersing yourself in the lively souks and shops.
Strolling along the two primary streets, Avenue Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah and Avenue Mohamed Zerktouni, you’ll find an array of colourful blankets, rugs, wooden handicrafts, and trinkets.
End your day with a delightful culinary experience at one of the nearby restaurants, renowned for their fresh seafood.
Guided tours, such as the 4-h private city tour, provide valuable insight and a deeper understanding of the city’s rich history, vibrant culture and natural beauty.
Local guides can take you off the beaten path and introduce you to local traditions, food, and customs that are not easily accessible to tourists.
Consider Tours by Locals if you want to customise your tour according to your interests, preferences, and time constraints. You can work with your guide to create a personalised itinerary.
A relaxed approach to bartering sets Essaouira apart from other cities in Morocco. You can immerse yourself in the pleasure of shopping without feeling overwhelmed or pressured.
Language and Communication
In Essaouira, the primary languages spoken are French and Arabic, while English is also widely understood. To make communication a breeze, consider bringing a Moroccan Arabic phrasebook which contains essential words and phrases you may need to interact with locals.
For those seeking constant data access, I recommend purchasing a local SIM card to stay connected throughout your trip.
The Moroccan Dirham (MAD) is the official currency in Morocco. You’ll find numerous ATMs situated in the square between the Medina and Port, close to Place Moulay Hassan.
Av. l’Istiqlal, one of the main streets in Medina, is an ideal location for currency exchange. It’s always a good idea to carry some cash with you as not all establishments in Essaouira accept credit cards.
When visiting Essaouira, it’s important to dress modestly, especially when exploring the medina. Morocco is a Muslim country and respectful attire is appreciated.
When visiting mosques, consider wearing trousers or maxi skirts with a long or 3/4 sleeved blouse or shirt.
Beaches and Coastal Adventures
A visit to Essaouira’s main beach, situated opposite the southern city gate at Bab Sbaa, is a must during your trip. The beach offers a perfect spot to relax and enjoy water sports, such as kite surfing.
For a more secluded beach experience, consider visiting Plage Tagharte, a portion of the beach in Essaouira. You you can enjoy horse and camel rides here, although it can become quite sandy when the wind picks up.
Transportation and Getting Around
Essaouira is easy to navigate on foot, with the medina being small enough to explore from one end to the other. If you need a taxi to get around Essaouira (outside the Medina), you’ll find them easily available.
Safety Tips and Precautions
While Essaouira is generally considered a safe destination, it’s always wise to take precautions during your visit. Avoid walking alone at night, especially in poorly lit areas or near the beach. Be aware of pickpockets in crowded areas.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it worth it to go to Essaouira?
Essaouira is a fascinating destination with rich cultural heritage and history. Being a bustling hub for artists and musicians has shaped its unique character. It offers stunning ocean views, vibrant markets, and plenty of cultural experiences. This vibrant Moroccan city is well worth the trip.
How do you get to Essaouira from Marrakech?
Private transfer: One of the most convenient ways to get to Essaouira is to book a private transfer.
You can do so online or through your hotel or a travel agency. Prices typically range from 1000 to 1,700 MAD one way depending on the number of passengers, the type of vehicle, the time of day and the season (duration: around 2.5 hours).
Shared taxi: Shared taxis or ‘grand taxis’ leave from the Marrakech bus station. The cost per person typically starts at 600 MAD (duration: around 2.5 hours).
Rent a car: If you prefer to drive yourself, there are many car rental options available in Marrakech (duration: around 2.5 hours).
How many days should you spend in Essaouira?
I would recommend at least two days in Essaouira to explore it at a more leisurely pace and have the chance to take a day trip from Essaouira to the village of Dalat, Sidi Mbark or the nearby town of Sidi Kaouki and the UNESCO historic site of the Argan Forest.
Paradise Valley, El Jadida, and Taghazout are also excellent options for a day excursion from Essaouira. El Jadida is a coastal town famous for its grand Portuguese fortifications and distinct architecture. Taghazout offers a cool surfing atmosphere and is one of Morocco’s premier surfing destinations.
If you’re on a tight schedule, one day will suffice to explore the main sights and landmarks of Essaouira’s medina, including the Skala de la Ville, the fishing port, the Jewish quarter and the Moulay Hassan Square.
What’s the best time of the year to visit Essaouira?
The climate of Essaouira is quite mild and cool most of the year.
The cold current that flows along the Atlantic coast of Morocco lowers the summer temperatures. Even in July and August, the temperature rarely rises above 23 degrees Celsius.
Although Essaouira is an excellent year-round destination, I recommend visiting in the spring (March to May) or fall (September to November), when there are fewer tourists (especially during Ramadan), and you can explore the town in a more relaxed way.
Can you swim at the beach in Essaouira?
Swimming is possible at the beach in Essaouira, although you should be aware that the waters of the Atlantic Ocean can be chilly. The weather is also extremely windy, making swimming challenging.
Strong currents at Plage Safi to the north can be dangerous.
Where are the best places to stay in Essaouira?
Essaouira offers a wide range of accommodation options, from budget-friendly to deluxe.
For budget-conscious travellers, hostels in Essaouira are an excellent choice. But for those seeking a more luxurious and comfortable experience, Essaouira boasts a fantastic selection of riads, guesthouses, and hotels.
Some recommended riads and guest houses in Essaouira are: Dar Beida, Riad Dar Maya, Madaga Mogador, and Dar Al Bahar.
Experience a stylish getaway at Dar Beida, a trendy four-bedroom house tucked away near the Skala de la Ville. This charming mansion with an artistic flair offers a blend of bohemian and funky furniture and art pieces. Named by the New York Times ‘a glowing Pop Art cavern’, Dar Beida offers a one-of-a-kind accommodation experience.
Riad Dar Maya
Step into a world of tranquillity and elegance at Riad Dar Maya, a beautifully restored riad transformed into a boutique hotel. This centrally located property features a rooftop terrace, a hot tub and a cosy library. Guests can enjoy a soothing steam bath or indulge in a rejuvenating massage treatment at an additional charge.
Enjoy a comfortable retreat in Madada Mogador, a boutique hotel offering stylish interiors, superb level of service and tastefully decorated rooms with a sea view. Some rooms come with private balconies, deep tubs and log fires.
Dar al Bahar
Enjoy your stay at a budget-friendly guest house Dar al Bahar, conveniently situated near the Skala de la Ville in Essaouira. This family-run property offers stunning ocean views from its cosy rooftop terrace and a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
Where are the best places to eat in Essaouira?
Essaouira’s dining options range from traditional Moroccan cuisine to seafood restaurants and cafes. Make sure to try tagines and couscous – two classics of Moroccan cuisine.
For a more immersive culinary experience, consider joining the Essaouira guided tour where you’ll learn about the city’s history, local lifestyle, and traditional food.
Some recommended restaurants to visit include Mandala Society, Triskala Cafe, Restaurant Les Alizés, and Umia, each offering unique atmospheres and delicious dishes to satisfy your taste buds.
Experience the ultimate haven for coffee connoisseurs and vegetarians. Indulge in a culinary journey that combines delectable meat-free meals at Mandala Society.
Enjoy a perfect combination of Instagram-worthy decor and exceptional gastronomy at Triskala Cafe. Their smoked sardine tart is exceptional.
Restaurant Les Alizés
Discover the essence of Moroccan cuisine as you savour exquisite and authentic meals at Restaurant Les Alizes. Don’t miss out on freshly made couscous, with vegetables or fish.
Get ready to treat your senses to a one-of-a-kind dining experience at Umia, a modern and stylish restaurant located in the heart of Essaouira’s medina. With a focus on using the freshest local ingredients, including seafood straight from the Atlantic Ocean. Don’t miss out on their heavenly chocolate mousse.
Please leave your comments and share your own experiences in Essaouira below.
And be sure to check out my other article: 6 best things to do while visiting Essaouira. It’s packed with tips and recommendations to make the most out of your trip to this enchanting Moroccan destination.