Essaouira is a beautiful coastal town in Eastern Morocco, very easily accessible from nearby cities, like Marrakesh or Casablanca. Surprisingly, its climate is much milder than in the rest of the country, so if you are looking for an escape from the scorching Moroccan heat, Essaouira is a great choice! Even in the summer, the high temperature averages are well below 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). When I got there, early may, Essaouira was immersed in fog and it was only around 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit), while in Marrakesh - 32 degrees Celsius. Also, the town has a different, colonial, old-European feel. Less chaotic and more relaxing than Marrakesh, with amazing architecture and many beautiful local shops with hand made craft items, should be visited for at least day or two during your stay in Marrakesh.
How to get to Essaouira
The cheapest and the best option is to get from Marrakesh by bus. There are two companies: Supratous and that run services between Marrakesh and Essaouira for only 70 MAD one way (6.30 EUR/8.50 USD) + 5 MAD for a piece of luggage. Supratour office is located near the main train station in Marrakesh. There are several buses a day, a few in the morning almost every hour and then less frequently. It is necessary to book the tickets a day before as when they are sold out you can't go. However, there's another option, you can take a taxi for a reasonable price (after bargaining of course). If you travel alone, you can wait for more tourists, they come to the station all the time, so it's easy to join some of them and rent a taxi together. Taxi for 4 persons should cost not more than 700 MAD. The journey takes about 2.5 hours with a short stop at a cafe.
Accommodation in Essaouira
Accommodation in Essaouira, as in all Morocco is cheap and affordable, however you won't find hostels here. It doesn't really matter as you can find an amazing double-bed room in a nice hotel in the old part of the city for only around 10 EUR/14 USD. Breakfast will usually be included and the building will be beautidully decorated, typical oriental Moroccan style, it will be a real pleasure to stay there. High rank, luxurious, typical western-style hotels are also available but I would recommend one of those in the old town as you can feel the atmosphere of the place much better.
What to see in Essaouira
Old town - Medina
Essaouira is an unbelievably mixed town where many cultures met, so even a simple walk in a street in the medina (old town) will be an attraction in itself. Morocco is full of colors, fragrances, raw, fresh products, craft artists and little winding alleys. Every city that I visited in Morocco seemed to have a different color. Essauira is mainly white with beautiful details, like wooden window shutters painted in bright blue or doors in orange/red. Like in any town in Morocco, Essaouira boasts magnificent hand made local items, like beautifully decorated plates, clay dishes, lamps, carpets as well as premium quality herbs, spices fruit and vegetables. I just loved peaches from there, the best I have ever tried. The restaurant are also wonderful, with typical oriental ornaments and exquisite, delicious Moroccan food. You must try lamb tagine!
Essaouira seems to have less con artists, hustlers and all kind of swindlers that you can meet in Morocco (especially in Marrakesh). However, they can be annoying. You just have to completely ignore them when they are trying to sell you some marijuana, offer a taxi or want to show you where your hotel is. You will pay for everything! So, not to spoil your mood in this beautiful place, just say, politely but firmly: no, thank you and ignore the fact that they might keep following you and offering some discounts.
Architecture and History
In the middle ages, Essaouira was a Muslim town, and, after the Portuguese invasion it was seized and fell under the control of Portugal. At that time, the fortress Castelo Real was built there, however it was destroyed in the eighteenth century. During the sixteenth century many other powers, like England, France and the Netherlands tried to colonize the region. Thus, in Essaouira you can admire Portugese and French style buildings, Dutch canons along the original city walls, typical oriental narrow streets with markets and even Jewish quarters.
The harbor and the citadel
Right next to the old medina, when you exit the town via one of the gates of the city walls, you will reach the harbour and the eighteenth century citadel. All the walls are original and their construction began in the seventeenth century. You can enter the citadel for a small fee of 10 MAD, go to the top and admire magnificent views over the town, the sea and the harbor. Notice the original, blue boats moored at the seafront. They are simply beautiful. What's interesting is the insane number of seagulls in Essaouira that are not afraid of anything and proudly pose for the photos.
The beach attracts many people to just spend a lazy afternoon lying on the golden sand. It's maybe not as spectacular as in the tropics or Mediterranean Sea, however it has its charm, and, you can ride a camel on it. What might really surprise you is that you might think you are in Africa so the sea is warm all year round. You couldn't be more wrong! I was there in may, and the sea was still freezing. If you want to swim in Essaouira, you must wait until summer.
Near the sea, there are some restaurants that serve delicious sea food for a real good price. Ignore the fact that the staff is a bit pushy, don't choose the first restaurant offered to you, make your own decision. You can have a great, premium quality meal for around 10 EUR/14 USD and, still, you can bargain!
Essaouria beyond the old town
Like in all developing countries (for example India), the contrast between the brand new, flawless hotels, restored old town and the rest of the town can be quite strong and overwhelming. Poverty and sad, crumbling buildings are easily noticeable as well as the ubiquitous rubbish in the streets. However, let this not discourage you to visit a place like Morocco. It's been one of the most amazing trips of my life. Full of color and adventure. Just prepare yourself for what you will see, and if you look for a quite and lazy holidays at the hotel swimming pool, it's better for you to opt for Spain or France.
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