Essaouira is known as the city of wind although I would call it the city of cats. It is a costal town famous for the nice local and European mix architecture not as chaotic as Marrakech or Fes as well as its very chill vibes. Great place to take it easy and not be harass by vendors.
How much time? People come here as a day trip from Marrakech but if you have a night to spare it’s worth your time because most tourist are day trippers and when they leave town because just lovely and relax. Make sure to go exploring on the morning to avoid the crowds.
Areas of town. Town is not very large. You can split it into four parts:
the medina which is the main attraction
the port area for a panoramic view of the old town and some sea food which is the local specialty
the beach for surfers and summer days
the newer part of town is modern but lacks the local cultural touch so nobody visits here unless they come for spending weeks on an apartment to enjoy their days just relaxing at the beach.
Medina of Essaouira
World Heritage Site by UNESCO. “Essaouira is an outstanding and well preserved example of a mid-18th century fortified seaport town.”
Medina: old town, usually fortified. Nowadays, it’s the historical neighbourhood of a town, known for its remarkable narrow paths like mazes.
The Medina of Essaouira is among the most pleasant of all in Morocco. It is not as chaotic as the others around the country. The architecture really gets the essence of the place all in whites and light colors which makes you feel that nice summer vibes. To complete the picture, shop owners are nowhere as pushy and won’t harass you until you have to run away like it’s done in the rest of the country.
There is no manual on how to explore the medina other than getting lost on its alleys. Just start with the idea that it is a fortress town so there is a limited numbers of entrance gates which connects to the main internal roads then just move forward into smaller roads until you end up on tiny alleys.
Some references points to visit are: the City Walls [map]. The Fish Market [map] for something very local although it scares more than a few but it should be safe. Lastly Rue Boutoil [Taraa Café Area] a restaurant alley with plenty of street performers and nice atmosphere. Ideal for lunch.
The Port itself has not much to offer other than some boats, seagulls and the food. You can buy fresh sea food on the stalls, take it to another guy at the port who will cook whatever you give him. Sounds greats, sounds local, I love this kinda of things but in this case it felt a bit like a tourist trap in my opinion. Not too bad just not really that special feeling of seeing locals doing it too much.
Sqala du Port is a fortress you can climb to get the best panoramic view of the medina. You can get a similar view from outside (free) but I didn’t regret paying the price.
No taxis inside the medina! Every nice hotel is inside the medina. Taxis won’t go inside city walls.
Cart pushers (baggage carriers) You can find cart pushers at the “Bab” (gate) who will try convince you to to let them carry your luggage and guide you to your hotel. If you decide to hire them (I don’t recommend it) make sure to set the price beforehand and have exact money to pay them. After you get to your hotel you will explore on your own so it’s pointless on the guiding side, just hire them if you have a ton of luggage.
GPS Works! You can get to your hotel by yourself. GPS works better than expected even on narrow alleys but if you do get lost just keep walking until you get to a larger street and you will be fine again.
Getting to Essaouira The main way to get here is by bus. There are two stations, one for each bus company. Supratours (map) is right outside the medina. CTM (map) is further away. You will have to take a taxi to one of the city gates (check your hotel location on Google Maps and find the closest gate to it, it will be named as “Bab xxx”) or just ask your hotel which gate to go.
How long? Day trip is a popular option but I don’t recommend it. 1 night is better.
When? Anytime including winter.
Where next? Marrakech or Casablanca if you must for flights.
Dictionary Medina: old town, usually fortified. Nowadays it’s basically the historical neighbourhood of a town. Known for its remarkable narrow paths like mazes. Bab: gate to the enter the medina. Souk: market. Hammam: Turkish bath. Dirham: local currency MAD: symbol code for Moroccan Dirham
Lodging types Riad: moroccan style house with a garden in the middle. Common type of lodging and best one. Must stay at a very nice one at least once. Desert Camp: a series of tent set up on the desert as the Berber people used to lived. Touristic camps are built into the place with infrastructure, cannot move them. Hotels (internationals) are not recommended except for Casablanca. Hook up warning It is illegal to share a hotel room with a person the opposite sex for Moroccan people unless they are married. Hotels ask about married certificate. Foreigners are not affected by this law.
Smoking allowed in-doors At hotels, coffee shops, bars… Be careful choosing a hotel specially in business cities if you mind the smoke.
Alcohol is legal But needs to be bought and drink at one of the few licensed places (important hotels, luxury bars/restaurants). Starting prices: 5 USD for a 330ml beer | 15 USD for a 750ml bottle of wine.
Local food You won’t find pork because of religious reasons. Beef is more common but the prize on red meat goes to lamb which is very tasty and affordable. You can find camel meat in some restaurants. Tagine: stew of spiced meat and/or vegetables served in a shallow earthenware cooking dish with a conical lid. Couscous: crushed durum wheat semolina served with vegetables and or meat on a tigine dish. Kefta: seasoned ground meat. Serve as brochettes or as meatballs on a tagine. Bastilla: sweet, savory meat or fish pie. Mint tea: the most popular tea here.
Dress code Women don’t have to cover their faces but they should not show too much leg (above the knee) shoulder or cleavage. Should not be a problem to wear bikini in most touristic hotels or riads.
Gender differences The local culture won’t apply to you as a tourist. Foreign women just need to mind the dress code and avoid siting on those old coffee shop where only men go. Gay and lesbian As a muslim country it is not accepted. Avoid showing affection in public.
Safety Each town is different but one thing is for sure, the old towns look way more scary than they actually are. Scams If someone offers to guide you to your hotel -specially kids and teenagers- once you arrive to your destination they will try to charge you crazy amounts of money. The point is to make the victim feels they are been helped just with direction and showing the way but once the guiding is done the extortion starts. Just reject these “kind” offers or settle a price beforehand.
Money Moroccan Dirham [MAD] official. Euro [EUR] accepted everywhere. 1 EUR = 10 MAD (standard street rate) Cash only. Hard to find any place to pay with card except hotels.
Be prepared to bargain for almost everything, taxis, tours, guides, products. No need on hotels reservations or restaurants which usually have written price or bus tickets.
Electricity European Plug [Types C = 2 rounded pins] 220V.
Getting to Morocco Flight | Casablanca is the main hub. Marrakech is the better option but harder to find international flights. Ferry | From Tarifa (Spain) to Tanger (Morocco).
Moving around Morocco Trains | Said to be the best option but lacks the infrastructure to connect touristic towns. Buses | Best way. Two main companies: CTM and Supratours. Usually they have separate bus stations. Supratours don’t sell or show online itineraries. CTM do but most people cannot buy the ticket online (without a Moroccan credit card) but you can check the schedule. Buy the ticket in person at the station 24 hours earlier. Tickets sells out for the same day easy. Grand Taxi | It looks like a taxi, takes passengers to other towns. Basically a bus that looks like a taxi. Cannot take passengers within the city. Petit Taxi | The “common” taxi that serves passengers within the city and cannot go further. Won’t go inside the medina. They will drop you off at the wall’s gates where you can find cart pushers who will carry your luggage and guide you to your hotel. Private Driver | 100€ per day which includes car, fuel, driver, his food and his hotel. Same price for a minivan as for a 4×4. Make sure to get the 4×4 which is way more confortable.