Essaouira is 170 kilometres west of Marrakech, and takes around 3 hours to reach by bus. The area has been occupied for thousands of years with evidence of prehistoric settlement, a Phoenician and  Carthaginian trading post, Roman & Berber settlements, it is the site of the burial of Muslim Saint Sidi Mogdoul (after whom the area was named Mogador), and was a Portuguese outpost in the 16th century which fell to the local resistance in 1510. It wasn’t until the 18th century however that the city I am visiting today began to take shape under the rule of Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah.

The city was designed by a French engineer, Theodore Cornut, with the aim of establishing a coastal trading centre close to Marrakech and remained the principal port until the 19th century. The name of the city means “Beautifully Designed”.

The city has earned many myths regarding 20th century icons staying here. Orson Welles directed the 1952 film version of Othello here. Jimi Hendrix was here in 1967. There are stories of Frank Zappa, Cat Stevens and Bob Marley, and these resonate through the city with Reggae, Jazz and Rock being played in the Souks.


The medina is surrounded by mediaeval ramparts. The wind is ever present here, and when the wind and tide are high together, the ocean swells dramatically generating impressive waves that crash into the surrounding rocks.


We have come to Essaouira to relax and get a feel for Morocco before we head out through the High Atlas then north with our guide. One thing that Essaouira taught us immediately on arriving was that you everything is closer than it appears on a map. We got off the Supratours bus and within minutes were in the Medina and then at our Riad. The Map of the Medina makes it seem expansive and labyrinthine like our first experience in Marrakech, but the reality is smaller and quite easy to navigate.

The Medina starts to come alive between 9 & 10am, with the Souks opening, then after 7pm the medina changes – Most restaurants open, the main stalls begin to close and new vendors take over offering goods for the teeming locals, quiet streets become football fields for children, small groups of people stroll, and occasionally you stumble across a food cart. As we are here in the low season, there are not many venues offering live music but there are a few offerings including some Gnaoua (an African Blues).

Essaouira also has many barbers in the Medina who give an excellent shave. When it comes to shopping, Essaouira has a great deal to offer.

There are artist cooperatives throughout the medina who offer hand crafted pieces at set prices. Shopping with collectives avoids bartering but also ensures that the money goes to the artist rather than through middlemen. Sometimes the prices are better than what you get in the souks and sometimes not. We bought some Thuya from La Coopérative artisinale de thuya.

Essaouira has a small museum in the medina, 10 MAD entry, that offers some interesting history of the area as well as special exhibitions, and even though it is all in French, there is a lot that can be learned.

There are many restaurants in the Medina, most offering very similar tourist fare, but we did find a few standouts.

Ess-RoyalCousCousLa Découverte was excellent. The menu is Moroccan influenced and based on locally sourced ingredients. They also have daily specials providing some beautiful alternatives. Every Monday they offer Royal couscous with camel meat which tastes brilliant. It is delicate dish of caramelised onion, olives and camel meat over Couscous. We also tried the Pigeon Pastilla which was delicate and sweet. Rarely have I left a restaurant completely satisfied, but Frederique & Edouard provide an excellent experience. Not only is the food good, but they are wonderful hosts with a great sense of humour.

Triskala offers a limited vegetarian menu that changes daily with stylish music oriented decor where you eat in nooks of various sizes. What sets Triskala apart is their ethos. Most entrees are 25 MAD, mains 50 MAD, and deserts 25 MAD. The portions are large and very tasty, while not standard Moroccan fare it is worth the visit for taste, ambience and wonderful hospitality.

As Essaouira is a fishing town, you can’t go past the fish markets for a lunch. They offer set prices and you get to select the particular fish you want to eat. It is grilled without seasoning so you get to enjoy the taste of the day’s catch. When you enter the markets, hawkers will do everything they can to get you to choose their tent over the others, but don’t worry, everything here is good and the price the same.

Ess-ChwarmaStreet vendors offer Chwarma, Crepes, cream cakes and pastries, boiled Mussels and more. What we tried was excellent quality and quite cheap. There is a good variety of fresh fruit available at great prices- 1kg of strawberries for 20MAD, Bananas 4 MAD, Mandarines 1.5 MAD.

Essaouira is a wonderful place to relax and explore. 5 days here is plenty of time to explore and relax, and by the end you will be very satisfied with the experience.

See Also:

Essouira - Guided Walks

Essouira - Cooking Class

Other Experiences in Morocco:
Marrakech to Imil
The Route of a Thousand Kasbahs
A Walk in the Dades Gorge
A Night at Erg Chebbi, the Sahara
The Middle Atlas

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