When visiting Morocco, you absolutely must visit the beautiful seaside town of Essaouira. This port of the Atlantic Ocean held up a big strategic significance for a long time and a stronghold, overseeing the port was built in here. There were many civilian and pirate homes build and now Essaouira is a tourist location with well-maintained fishing traditions and touristy infrastructure. The biggest extraordinary of Essaouira is everything about fishing – the big amount of fresh fish and fresh seafood. The medina of Essaouira still holds up the spirit of the one you may read about in the folk tales of One Thousand and One Nights.
The stronghold of Essaouira. There are numerous riads overlooking the ocean and the stronghold itself.
How to reach Essaouira
Usually, Essaouira is chosen as a part of 1 – 3 days long sightseeing tour of Morocco. You might find a full route of when you arrive to Agadir and departure from Marrakech in the article “Morocco by car”. There are tours of Essaouira available from Agadir and Marrakech, as well as simple busses with regular timetables. There is a bus stop right next to Bab Doukkala – the medina gates of Essaouira.
Bab Doukkala – the Gate of Essaouira. This is where the city begins. There is a huge contrast right here, with a market right next to it which is more of a local, than touristy place, and a specialized alcohol store nearby.
When you travel by car, keep in mind that you can not cross medina like that. You will have to leave the car parked before the medina starts. The parking lot itself does not cost a fortune – an official parking lot right in front of the Bab Doukkala gates will cost you around 3 euros per 24 hours. You might also find “free” parking nearby, but then you will have to deal with the local “guards” who will require you to pay. You might get away with paying just a couple of dirhams, or you will be asked to pay much more that in the official parking lot.
The medina of Essaouira is surrounded by a wall and has narrow little streets inside with no car traffic whatsoever. You may leave the car on the side of this, Moulay Youssef street, or in the official, legally guarded parking lot a little further away. You can see the Bab Doukkala gate in the distance which leads to Mohamed Zerktouni street, leading to the port.
If you travel by car, you will pass through some incredible locations, which includes the mountain ranges, serpentines, olive tree and argan tree woods. Even through the distance itself is not that big, around 180 kilometers, you will have to drive for around 5 hours, because of the roads and the mountains. It is advisable to leave Agadir in the morning and visit Taghazout, the surfers’ paradise, on the way.
Below you can see the map of all the places worth visiting in Essaouira and Morocco in general, including some riads, recommended to stay at while visiting Essaouira.
If you happen to reach Essaouira at night time, it is advisable to stay near the medina, because of the complexity of the narrow streets inside the medina. We recommend a great place to spend the night – El Kasbah Souiria riad. It will be hardly possible to find a riad to stay at inside the medina at night, knowing that it is already difficult to navigate there during the day.
Riad El Kasbah Souiria behind the Essaouira medina wall. There is an abundance of decorations, luxury and colors, same as everywhere in Morocco. You will see dozens of riads just like this one all over Essaouira. The windows to the outside are quite small, the bigger ones used to face the inside patios of riads. The rooms itself in riads are usually smaller than in hotels, because of the construction situation, since riads are usually set up in the towers rather in simple buildings.
Where to stay while in Essaouira
The best choice of where to spend the night, in our opinion, is a riad. Riad is a traditional Moroccan house with a well in the middle, which helps the light to come through to the inside. The windows are usually facing the inside of the riad and in the bottom of the well there is usually lots of greenery, some trees or bushes. That is definitely a place which is very pleasant to enjoy a calm evening. The roof terrace is an even bigger advantage of a riad. Even though almost all the buildings in Essaouira are of a similar height, there are some terraces that are slightly higher up, which offer a much better view.
The best and most luxurious riads are those facing the Atlantic Ocean and close to the stronghold. You can enjoy a breathtaking view of the ocean and the Essaouira itself from the terrace of the riad Dar Al Bahar. The price of a night’s stay in here is slightly higher than everywhere else, and it will cost around 25 euros per night per person to stay here. We found a fantastic riad right next to it – Riad La Rose Des Vents. Sadly, we could not find it on Booking.com. but maybe that is exactly the reason why we found some rooms available there. The price is pretty typical as for Morocco – 15 euros per night per person.
First rays of sunlight above Essaouira.
We chose to go by the flow and search for a riad to spend the night at on the spot, rather than booking a place in advance. This kind of search is also a great chance to get to know the city and the medina of Essaouira. We walked through many little narrow streets and saw some incredible spots. In one narrow street we walked into a hammam for locals with a strong scent of burning firewood, strolled through some streets that were not wider than one meter.
You may find some recommended riads to spend the night in the map of Morocco below. We assembled this map in advance with some best quality for the best price places.
What to eat in Essaouira
Essaouira is a city on the coast of Atlantic Ocean which naturally offers a wide variety of fresh fish and seafood. Every morning you can see the fishermen coming back to the shore with some fresh catch of the day. The main selling place and a spot to find the freshest produce is the port. There is also a market right in the center of the city, which you can see marked in the map below. While looking for fresh fish and seafood in this market, however, you might need a little more experience and well-trained eye.
Wild oysters are smaller than usual, but they are simply amazing. The first of the many tastings of fresh seafood right in the market. It cost us 7 dirhams.
Moroccan vendors, sadly, feel perfectly normal selling old fish for tourists. You have to be careful and alert and recognize an old langouste or other seafood. That is the reason why frozen fish and seafood is not advisable to buy and to eat, since a buyer has no idea when and how it was frozen.
It is much safer to buy fresh fish or seafood from vendors who specialize in a certain type of produce. Those who have a wide variety of different products usually have less fresh produce. While looking for fresh fish you should look at its eyes – fish eyes, not only the vendor’s eyes. If the eyes of a fish are sunken – it is not that fresh anymore.
You might get the chance to cook your own food, including fresh fish in the riads you stay at. The selected hotels usually do not offer small in-room kitchens, which is different from Agadir’s modern hotels, because of the small size of rooms here in Essaouira, there is no more space left to fit a kitchen there. However, since riad is usually a family business, you should be able to get the permission of the owners to use the main riad’s kitchen quite easily. It is actually even better that the in-room kitchens, since main riad’s kitchen usually has a more powerful stove. In Agadir, the electric stove of the hotel’s in-room kitchen was so weak that we weren’t quite able to cook a fish properly.
In riad La Rose Des Vents we agreed with the owners on the usage of the main kitchen, got some tagine dishes, fresh vegetables and even some useful cooking tips.
The owner of the riad lent us some tagine dishes and we used it to make an amazing fish stew. The thick clay bottom of the dish reduces the heat and distributes the temperature equally inside. Ell is a perfect choice for a fish tagine, either the sea eel or the simple eel. It costs around 7 euros for a good eel. You can also use goatfish or angler.
We marinated the fish for about an hour in a simple mixture of lemon, salt, black pepper, a little bit of oil, parsley, coriander leaves, ginger powder and chili pepper powder.
We put a little parsley, chopped tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and bell pepper at the bottom of tagine dish. On top of that, we place the marinated fish and put the tagine dish on a high heat for about an hour.
Essaouira is a perfect place to make other seafood, like langouste, the king of the crustacean. In the restaurant, it is usually grilled at it loses all the taste, but if you add some butter and cheese to it, it will turn out to be a culinary masterpiece.
It is a little difficult to find langouste in the market at even straightly from the fishermen, as if the restaurant chefs buy it all before you, but you can buy fresh uncooked langouste straight from the restaurant and cook it yourself. It will cost you around 35 euros per kilogram. The people at the restaurant are not that willing to sell it, but you might get a deal later in the evening, when they are already tired. You should be careful if you want to buy a fresh langouste, and it is advisable to look at it’s long moustache, which should be moving – that indicates that langouste is alive and fresh.
If you are not wiling to get your hands dirty or you are not an enthusiastic cook, you might go to the port restaurants and taste some fish there. As mentioned before, always be careful when choosing fish which will be used to your own meal. There were some fish on the ice which did not look fresh anymore, and even though it is usually far fresher than in the market, you want it to be on the highest level possible. Here in the port there is so much fish that is so fresh and simply sparkles, so you definitely can choose it yourself.
As mentioned before, always look at the eyes and always agree on the price before the fish is cooked. They might pretend to be ‘deaf’ when you ask them about the prices in the beginning, but it is simply their tactics. Do not give up and insist on agreeing on the price in advance, otherwise you might get the check that will make your jaw go way down. A large plate of fish and seafood might even cost you around 70 euros.
While on the street, you should not be scared to try the street food, especially if you see some locals eating it. Fried sardines that we tried were awesome, fresh and cheap.
The view from the terrace of the riad La Rose Des Vents adds up to any meal and make the experience incredible.
In the market, when buying fresh fish, ask for it to be cleaned, and when buying an octopus, ask for it to be beaten – it will cost you about 0.5 euro and will make the cooking way easier.
What to see in Essaouira
At night, the life of Essaouira changes the place ant moves to the promenade – a wide, well-lit promenade with beach right next to it.
The promenade of Essaouira is quite empty during the day, but it comes to life at dusk.
The stronghold of Essaouira is not that impressive and practically integrates into the city, with some riads and narrow streets right next to it. What gives it some charm is the lined-up cannons and the view to the Atlantic Ocean’s riffs. You will be able to see similar views from the terraces of riads, which proves that it is not a must-see.
The fishing port, on the other hand, is a must-see. The smell is not the most pleasant, but the abundance of fish is simply impressive. At the same time, you will be able to taste some fresh oysters and other delicacies. The oysters are served very simply – opened and drizzled with freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Fishing port of Essaouira. There are hundreds of little blue boats in the port.
What to buy in Essaouira
There are a lot of argan fields around Essaouira. You can buy argan oil and many products of it almost anywhere in the city. According to the locals, it is advisable to buy argan products straight from the cooperatives, even if it is a little more expensive, it is surely a quality product. When you buy it from small shops, the date of expiration is much closer than when you buy it from the cooperatives. You can find argan oil for cooking, which is known for its nutty flavor and is perfect for salads, and argan oil for cosmetics, which is known for its fast absorbance.
When you buy the oil in the cooperatives, you will see clearly, which is the oil for cosmetics and which is for cooking. Usually cosmetic oil is sold by women.
We got a great cosmetic and culinary argan oil from the owners of riad La Rose Des Vents. The argan oil is made out of these nuts, as shown in the picture. In the past, these nuts with its husk used to be fed to the goats and later on taken out of their excrement. Nowadays, the goats climbing the Argan trees are more of a tool to attract the tourists.
The city of Essaouira is like a big market. Here you can buy some local clothing, scarfs, metal products, lamps, spice. Just as in any market, never forget to bargain – often, you can buy an item for half or even one third of the price. If you want to buy a piece for a good price, you have to take the wheel. No rush, ask what the price is, even when the vendors try to ignore you and start offering their own items, trying to take the wheel back from you. Don’t give up when you hear a price that you are not happy with, don’t show sadness and so. It is best to think, what price would be good enough for you and don’t give up until you reach the desired price. If the vendor stops ant lowering the price, start walking away – usually the price starts plummeting down very fast. If it does not – maybe that is what the price is supposed to be.
It is pretty easy to navigate through Essaouira and the medina is quite compact. Here you can see Mohamed Zerktauni street that starts at Bab Doukkala gate. It is like the center of the city and you can see Mohamed El Qorry street emerging also. Parallel to Zerktauni street lays the Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellax street. There is a market all around.