Your guide to Essaouira : The hipster city of Morocco
Friday, April 12, 2019
by Rime Baba
Essaouira, or as locals call it “Swera” is the windy hipster city of Morocco. Known for its chill vibes, if the rush in Marrakech overwhelmed you, or the sellers and taxis there started testing your patience, run to Essaouira. It’s basically a laid-back version of Marrakech.
When to visit?
The best time to visit Essaouira would be between March and May. You want to avoid a few days in June when the Gnaoua Music Festival takes place, unless of course you are interested in attending it . The city is rather crowded during those days and the prices much higher. Even in the summer the city is quite cool and fresh due to the constant wind flow that the city is famous for.
Where is it located?
Essaouira is located on the south Atlantic coast of Morocco, about 2H30 from Marrakech by taxi or bus.
What to do in Essaouira?
Explore the medina:
Essaouira’s medina is the small and car free area of the city, which makes walking around the blue streets and getting lost the most satisfying feeling ever.
Along the streets, are lined colorful shops, displaying all sorts of products. Essaouira is known for being an artistic city, you will find the beautiful chef d’oeuvres the locals are selling. You can find interesting wood crafted sculptures, beautiful rugs in all sizes and shapes, silver jewelry, and all sorts of souvenirs.
What’s great there, is that the prices are much more reasonable than anywhere else in Morocco. The vast majority of the shops, has the prices displayed clearly, which reduces the chances of being scammed as a tourist.
Do not miss the little art galleries hidden in the streets showcasing the most original paintings, and who knows, maybe you will find the gem you were looking for to hang in your living room .
Go spice shopping:
Always in the medina, you can go spice shopping, you will find over there many herbalists along every alley. I would not recommend using the weird mixtures with weird names such as “contre le mauvais oeil “which literally means it’s going to protect you from evil eye. Consuming those substances can be dangerous, because for all we know it could be toxic. There are though a few experts who will be glad to explain to you what is in each mixture and what it is used for. For the most passionate ones, will even tell you the mechanism of each plant and what conditions it can help.
Extra tip: If you want medicinal plants go for shops selling their products in closed jars , you have more chances of getting fresh and active ingredients .
Get your argan oil sample
Needless to say that the product Morocco is most famous for is Argan oil, and the south of Morocco is where it comes from. On your way to Essaouira you will certainly notice the Argan trees. If you want to get your sample of Argan oil or its derivatives , pay a visit to the local cooperatives in Essaouira , you can find in the Medina the “Cooperative Essaouira Bio” an eco-friendly ethical organization, which makes and sells Argan oil derived products. You will find everything from the Moroccan version of peanut butter to skin care products .Their cosmetics are divine and you can get them for a fraction of what you would pay anywhere else in the world .
You will find in the shops, samples of oils and butters you can taste to know what to buy.
Recommendations: the Amloutella, a chocolate based Amlou paste.
Amlou is the Moroccan version of peanut butter, a mixture of Argan oil, almonds and honey sold in jars or bottles. You can use it a spread and it is delicious. All around the medina, you will see this device called Rha:
This is how the magic happens, this is what women actually use to extract the Argan oil out of the Argan fruit. A very interesting process to watch.
Visit the iconic fish markets:
Essaouira is famous for its variety and abundance of seafood for the best prices.
Discover the city’s two fish markets, the first one being by the harbor, where the fishermen display the catch of the day on wooden tables. The second one is an indoor market located in the heart of the medina.
To enjoy the food there, you have two options, you can check the restaurants by the beach, they offer various dishes, typical fish restaurants nothing special about them. For a greater memorable experience, walk around the harbor, have some oysters and sea urchins, for less than a dollar a piece, then pick your own fish and you can take it to the small shops in the fish market who will grill it or fry it for you for a very small fee.
The place where you sit is not the fanciest there is, it’s more like a street food display, but you will have the best fish you ever had in your entire life for the cheapest price. We were three hungry souls, and $20, we ate more fish than we ever had.
Tip: When opting for the second option, do not forget to tip the fisherman who will clean and cut your fish for you, 10 Dirhams should be enough ($1 equals approximately 9 to 10 Dirhams).
The paradise for beach lovers
Enjoy Essaouira’s picturesque beach. Taking the strong wind, swimming would not be an option during March April, unless you are lucky enough to find high temperatures.
You can rent a chair, or just lay on your towel and relax. If you are a surf lover, you will be glad to know that there are many spots where you can rent all the material you need and enjoy Essaouira’s waves. If you are a beginner or a newbie, there are places where you can take surfing classes.
Do not skip Essaouira’s Skala:
Essaouira is protected by the “Skala du port” built in the 18th century as barrier from seafronts. It is Essaouira’s most famous monument, a great spot for pictures, listening to the waves, and watching sunset and the changing colors of the sky.
Fact : Skala is the real life Astapor, if you are a fan of Game of Thrones, that is where the epic scene of the Khaleesi getting the unsullied army took place.
Where to stay:
In Essaouira, whether you are looking for a five-star hotel, a Riad or just a regular hostel, you will be served.
Our recommendations: Riad Lunetoile and Green Milk Hostel.