Visit the port city of Essaouira, Morocco for great seafood, beautiful beaches and local art.
Visiting Morocco on a small group tour with Intrepid Travel was a great way to experience a lot of the country in a short amount of time. For me, the convenience of having all accommodations and in-country travel arranged, plus a mix of planned activities and free time takes the stress out of travel planning. The tour takes care of the major historic and cultural spots, which gives me time to get research the things I'm specifically interested in. It's one of my preferred ways to travel especially when I'm going solo!
We travelled for 15 days through Morocco starting in Casablanca and stopped in Rabat, Meknes, Volubilis, Fes (where I tried a camel burger), Midelt, we took a camel ride to an overnight in a Sahara Camp, then went on to Todra Gorge, Ait Benhaddou, Aroumd, Essaouira and ended in Marrakech. A lot of area covered in 15 days!
A bit about Essaouria
Essaouira is a working port city on the Atlantic coast in western Morocco, in north Africa. The Medina of Essaouira, formerly known as Mogador, is a fortified town that has been listed as a World Heritage Site with UNESCO. Inside the walled city are the Kasbah and Mellah (the old Jewish quarter).
The medina doesn't allow vehicles but is very walkable and laid out in sort of a grid pattern interspersed with little alleyways. Some people say the grid with main streets running northeast to southwest makes it easier to navigate, but I managed to get turned around a few times! I'm not the best with directions, and the narrow alleys with tall walls on either side of similar colours did not have a lot of signage and was a challenge but I always found my way back to the main streets.
Essaouira was the penultimate stop on this tour, and after days of cold weather and mildly heated accommodations it felt freeing to ditch the coats and revel in the sunshine and warmth of the coast.
The mild temperature makes it a good year-round destination with the temperature ranging from around 10C in the winter and getting to around 28C in the summer on average. I was visiting in early January and it was warm enough for short sleeves during the day and a light sweater in the evening.
Things to do in Essaouira
Besides being a fishing port, there are a plethora of things to do while visiting Essaouira.
The beaches may not be the best for swimmers and sun seekers but sometimes called with Windy City of Africa due to the winds coming off the Atlantic, it's a great spot for water sports including surfing, wind surfing, and kite surfing.
The area has many art galleries for interesting and unique pieces from local artists. The galleries and art shops were easy to find off the main streets and had a wide array of price points.
The small carts and shops nestled along the streets and alleys are full of local goods for browsing and shopping. Whether you are looking for a decorative souvenir, a hat to block the sun during your stay or a gift, there's so much to choose from, and you'll meet some lovely local people along the way.
If you're looking for some relaxation, indulge in a visit to a hamman for a local-style bath or a massage. The spa services might be on a main street or tucked away in a side street, so keep your eyes peeled for the sign.
Relax and soak up the sun with some food or drink from a food stall or restaurant.
Stroll through the fish market to see the daily catch and immerse yourself in some local culture.
Head to the beach in the evening to watch the sunset.
There's quite a range of places to stay while on the coast and where you choose depends on your preferred style of travel, how long you are going to be there and the amenities you are looking for.
For short stays there are low-rise hotels close to the beach, small boutique hotels, and riads, or if you want a bit more luxury there are a few higher-end hotels. If you are staying a bit longer or are travelling with a family you may want to look for apartments and suites with a kitchen and other amenities. You'll definitely find beautiful decor and unique places to stay at any price point. What you won't find, based on my time there, is a large, high-rise hotel chain.
We stayed at a local riad with 14 rooms, each uniquely decorated with Moroccan art throughout and located around a centre courtyard where breakfast was served. Close to the medina and the beach, it was safe, so easy to get around and had good wifi!
I don't know if I would have made it all the way to Essaouira if I was travelling on my own instead of with a small group tour, and I'm so happy I didn't miss out! A laid back vibe, safe and easy to get around, and great food, Essaouira is not to be overlooked when planning a trip to Morocco.