Essaouira (الصويرة) is a coastal city in Morocco. In addition to the new town, it offers a picturesque medina (old town) surrounded by seawalls and city walls, designed by a French architect in the 18th century, a harbor with fish market, and a long beach with numerous water sports opportunities. Once a hippie hangout, Jimmie Hendrix and Cat Stevens spent some time here. Orson Welles filmed part of his Othello in town; west of the medina there's a square named in his honor.
- A whole grand taxi from Marrakech runs anywhere from about 450dh - 800dh, depending on your negotiating skill, where you are, the mood of the driver, etc. Alternatively, it is about 80dh per place if you wait and take a shared grand taxi (six passengers, leave when full).
- Supratours run coaches from their offices - immediately next door to Marrakech's new train station - to their office in Essaouira - just down the street from the beach and close to the medina entrance at Bab Marrakech. The 2012 price is 70dh per person for standard bus or 100dh per person for the Comfort Plus bus, plus 5dh for each piece of stowed luggage.
- CTM also run a coach service from Marrakech's bus station (or the CTM Offices in the Gueliz, on Zerktouni street) for 75dh (add 5dh per piece of stowed luggage).
- At the bus station it is likely that there will always be "a bus departing to Essaouira now". Unless you've time to kill and are not too bothered by hygiene, it's worth avoiding these other services as they will stop all the way to Essaouira, adding 1.5 h to the journey.
- Otherwise, the coach trip takes about 3 h including a 15 min halfway stop where you'll find snacks and refreshments, and toilet facilities. There are no facilities aboard the coaches.
Please note: tickets are rarely available for the next departing coach. Try and book your tickets the day before, or further in advance during peak travel periods.
The walled centre of town, the Medina, is supposedly restricted to non-motorized vehicles, but this rule is widely ignored in the case of mopeds which are an increasing nuisance. Other than that, there are occasional donkey carts to dodge.
Essaouira is a perfect example of a late 18th century fortified town, with the original canons still in place and where Orson Wells shot his Othello, "The Moor of Venice".
- Stroll through the UNESCO World Heritage Listed medina: check out the fish market at the west end, watch the sunset from the seawall at the Place Moulay Hassan, visit the Scala (wall tower north east of the Place), walk through the markets towards Bab Doukkala at the east end, and check out the artisan's shops near the eastern wall.
- The beach dominates the Essaouirans' leisure time. Although the strong wind and currents makes relaxed tanning and swimming a little difficult at times, it is perfect for kitesurfing and windsurfing. With good winds for most days of the year, Essaouira is a watersports' paradise. The best spots are reported to be Essaouira Bay, Sidi Kaouki, Cape Sim and Mouley Bouzertoune. Equipment can be hired from various hire centres on the beach front. However, this is not the ideal place to learn watersports, particularly kitesurfing. There tends to be a bit of a catch 22 - either its calm and you can't go out because there's no wind or its windy and you can't go out because there is a huge shore break. In addition the water can smell of sewage.
- Dar Sultan: walk south along the beach, cross the shallow river Oued Igrounzer and in the hills to your left you will see the ruins of a once magnificent 18th century palace used by Sultans and Kings. A path leads there; you can still find some old floor mosaics and thankfully the ruins offer some shade.
- The nearby town of Diabat is at the south end of Essaouira's beach, and is allegedly where Jimi Hendrix once spent some time. Even if the stories aren't true, this long, windswept beach with its ruined fort is a fantastic walk. Diabat is an empty, concrete Berber village that is practically devoid of attractions except the Hendrix ruin and a Hendrix Cafe. It's best visited in the early morning via taxi and then return to Essouiara via a short and very romantic walk on the beach past the castle in the sand of Hendrix fame.
- Zouina-cheval, Village of Diabat (Diabat is 3 km from the medina, accessible by taxi). from 8AM to 8PM. Zouina-cheval organizes horse treks and horse rides in the surrounding of Essaouira. The rides are for everybody (beginners, good riders, children) but the treks are recommended to good riders as you spend long hours riding. If you want city breaks and experience the countryside as well as beaches, dunes and traditional village, those rides are for you. The monitor, Najib, is very qualified and very nice. Prices are correct and you don't have to negotiate. from 170dh for 1h to 7150dh for a week.
- Ecotourism…Walking tours, 8 bis rue houmman el fatouaki Médina Essaouira, ☎ . half day. Discover the real Essaouira-Natural Essaouira…on foot. Guided Eco-friendly tours of the amazing countryside around Essaouira. You can discover the Argan Woods, the Thuya Forests, and the unimagined world of the Dunes… take mint tea in a Berber village, and learn the secrets of a unique and irreplaceable ecosystem at your own pace. Price per person per day: half day is 200 DH and full day is 400 DH (including a traditional meal with Moroccan family). Transport from town to the departure point of each walk is included.
- World Music Festival. In June :
Essaouira's craftsmen are renowned for their woodwork and lacquerware. Intricately inlaid boxes, chessboards and curios can be found for good prices in the city's hundreds of shops; however, beware that extensive deforestation is taking place in the area due to these woods not being replanted. Artwork of all kinds can be had here.
Although Essaouira is on the sea, fish are quite expensive. Fishermen sell their catch through the market hall and you can have it cooked at the small stands nearby. Prices are clearly marked by weight on the large pricing board at the end of the fish market stalls, but this seems to make little difference to the chances of being hustled. Sample price: 5 DH for pack of fresh sardines (10 one of them) in fish market. Carefully evaluate how much you are being charged. A cheaper option is to buy Harira (a spicy soup) for 2-5dh or a sandwich (i.e. at Blue facade for 10-20dh, walking at the street from fish stands to the Medina). There are many reasonable restaurants and cafes on the main streets and squares. Upscale restaurants worth a mention are Taros (2, rue de la Skala Tel: 044 47 64 07) which combines a French-Moroccan restaurant, a gallery and a terrace bar with live local music and "5" (rue Youssef el fassi) for its elegant ex-pat vibe.
- La Triskalla, Rue Touahen (in the Medina), ☎ . Restaurant (excellent Vegetarian food and Fish), Creperie, Galerie. Cosy environment in an old Riad, friendly service. Free internet for customers (WiFi + PC available).
- Patisserie Driss, 10 rue El Hajjali (close to the main square). A great place for cakes and snacks.
- Fish Market, Essaouira local market. If you are a fish enthusiast, you cannot miss the food in the market. Buy your fish (cheap, shrimps are 50dh/kilo, sardines 5dh/6, etc) take it to the small kitchen / restaurant and let them cook it for you. They add salad, olives and bread for 25dh. Really fun, cheap and good food! (The food here is NOT cheap - see cautionary tale above) buy the fish + 25dh for the baking.
- La Decouverte, 8 bis, rue Houmman el Fatouaki, ☎ . If you are tired of tagines, disappointed by Italian-Moroccan pasta, give La Decouverte a try. A French couple cook in a Moroccan style but with a French twist. Nice atmosphere, good prices. Go for it mains 50dh - 80dh.
- La Licorne, 26 rue scala, ☎ , fax: +212 24 47 59 71, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A great place in Essaouira for a romantic dinner, or between friends, and for all of you who like to enjoy Moroccan dishes along with one of the country's finest wines. mains 160dh.
- Riad El Baraka, 113, rue Mohammed El-Qorry, e-mail: email@example.com. Set in a former Jewish school, this hip place has several dining rooms and a bar set around a large courtyard in the shade of a huge fig tree. The food is mainly Moroccan with some Middle Eastern and Jewish influences, the decor cool, and there’s live music by local bands at weekends.
- La Cantina, 66 Rue Boutouil, ☎ . If you're fed up by tajines and couscous, this Mexican food restaurant will be your oasis. ~70dh.
- Shyadma's Vegan Food, 20, Rue Laalouj - Place El Khayma. Lovely vegan/vegetarian spot in the middle of Place El Khayma, a less visited place with many restaurants. Shyadma's is tiny, but everything is made from seasonal vegetables and fruits from the nearby market. You will most likely have to wait 15-20 minutes for your grub, but it's well worth the wait. If you call this Moroccan slow food, you will be very right. A refreshing delight for foodies, especially vegetarians and vegans!
Mint tea is available for about 6dh all over town, or for free if you are invited in by any carpet salesman who will assure you you are entering "just for a look."
Some of the hotels have licensed bars, but it's hard to beat the terrace bar of the Taros (2 Rue de la Skala) for its view over the lively Place Moulay el Hassan and the harbour.
An off-license, the only one in town, can be found outside of Bab Doukkala on the Boulevard al Massira, to the right. Just inside this gate is the "black market" for alcohol on religious holidays and at night. Just ask the boys selling loose cigarettes!
Locals can be seen quite openly, if discreetly, to roll joints and smoke hashish outside cafes in the harbour and the people are generally very relaxed. It is highly illegal though and not recommended unless you're feeling very safe about it!
- Il Mare, 43, Rue Yaman. Has a nice terrace with a view over the sea and the bastion where you can have a drink.
If arriving by bus, local women will surround you as you exit offering discount Riads or accommodation in their homes for as little as 150dnr (can be negotiated down to 75), though you will not get a view of the ocean for this. There are many hotel options available so feel free to bypass them. You can always return to the bus station and they will still be there.
- Essaouira Wind Palace, 15, Avenue l'istiqlal (Essaouira Medina), ☎ , fax: +212 5 24 47 21 37, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14h00, check-out: 12h00. A few meters from the port, the beach, Skala, the place and the souks. Restored in authentic Arab-Andalusian style.
- Dar 91, 91 rue Chbanat (Essaouira Medina), e-mail: email@example.com. Private, self-contained house with its own roof terraces, in the walled old town. The house is a chilled-out and authentic ‘home from home’, which is let out as a whole, rather than ‘by the room’.
- Dar Lazuli (firstname.lastname@example.org), 7 Moussa ben Noussaire (Essaouira Medina, 2 mins from beach). 200-year-old riad. £60 per night.
- Dar Leila, Essaouira Medina, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Restored, staffed riad sleeping up to 10 in the heart of the medina. It has 5 beds, 3 baths and a secluded roof terrace. Breakfast included, other meals available. Minimum 2 people per reservation. From £500 per week.
- Dar Zahira, Medina Essaouira. Relaxed retreat hidden in one of the medina's narrow alleys. The small riad is built around a courtyard and sleeps a maximum of 6 persons. The house can be rented as a whole. Breakfast is served every morning. Wi-Fi available.
- Hotel Orson Welles, rue al akaba n°19 borj 1 Essaouira (The hotel is near to beach 4 minutes walking.), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: noon, check-out: noon. Good hotel and good price with free parking facing the hotel. 400 Drh for double room with breakfast.
- Riad de la Mer, 7-9 Rue Khalid Ben Oualid, Kasbah, ☎ . Very large 18th century riad, retaining original features and character. Stunning views of the ocean, centrally located just off the main square, 5 minutes from the beach. Sleeps 10. Think Villa Maroc, but smaller (and cheaper!) £47.50.
- Riad des Deux Rives, Medina of Essaouira, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. An 18th-century riad. Double: €60, suite: €90.
- Riad Lunetoile, 191, Rue Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah (Essaouira Medina), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 200-year-old family home with a beautiful terrace giving a breathtaking view of the Atlantic ocean, the bay and Diabet in the distance, as well as a lovely panoramic view of the rooftops and streets of the Medina. from €35, see website or call for special offers.
- Riad Malaika, 17 Rue Zayanne, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. This former Moroccan home has been beautifully restored and converted and is in the center of town. The staff is extremely hospitable and courteous. It has a beautiful terrace rooftop perfect for private lounging. Rooms are charming and run from 500dh to 1000dh, including breakfast (discounts available in the low season and for longer stays).
- Hotel Smara, 26 Rue de la Skala, ☎ . One of the cheapest (and therefore most popular) hotels in town, so you may need to book ahead during peak season. The spartan roof terrace has nice views over the cannons used in the opening sequence of Orson Welles Othello. Caution The hotel is very cheap and popular with lovely views from the terrace, but unless you want to experience cold showers and non-flush toilets, consider paying a bit more and staying somewhere else. Singles / doubles with shared bath start from Dh 47 / Dh 96.
- Sofitel Thalassa Mogador, ☎ . Right on the beach, it will be happy to indulge your every whim, for a hefty price. Luxury suites are also available and there is a Sofitel-branded health spa next door for those in urgent need of a hydrotherapy session and facial. Singles / doubles start at Dh 1400 / Dh 1850 during low season but can rocket up to Dh 1890 / Dh 2430 during the peak new year period..
- Riad Bab Essaouira, 35 biss, bd my Abd Errahmane Eddakhil (5 mn walk from the big square Moulay Hassan), ☎ . Check-in: 8H00, check-out: 12H00. 4 ensuite accommodations in a designed riad with sub-Saharan African vibes. 2 roof terraces with a fantastic ocean view at 360. Dinner on site on request and concierge service. €85.
- Hotel Argana, Bab Doukkala. Rooms are clean. Toilets outside. Not for honeymooners, but rather for people who just need clean and (quite) quiet place to sleep. Nice grandma at Reception. Singles / doubles with shared bath start from Dh 47 / Dh 96; hshower 5 DH..
- Hotel Bab Doukkala, Bab Doukkala. Cheap and quiet hotel in the center. Prices are negotiable - no plain tariffs. One traveller paid 80 DH for one night in room with bathroom outside and no window. It gets a little colder (February) in the night in there - ocean is close. negotiable.
- Hostel Green milk, 26 rue ceuta. Previously Blue milk. This hostel in the Medina is a bit hidden but worth the search effort. Door numbered 26 with little 'why not!' graffiti on the arch next to it. Good vibe. 50-60 Dh/bed.
- Dar Nafoura-Mogador, 30 rue Ibn Khaldoun (Medina), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Dh 460 to 730 (2005).
Avoid the space cake dealers and do not let them fool you into thinking that it is ok for tourists to use small amounts of cannabis.
- Agadir – The modern resort city with its beaches.