Essaouira city guide: surfing and shopping mecca
Apparently Essaouira is a Moroccan city for beginners. The city has a beautiful medina with narrow little streets filled with color and craftsmanship. It has great food and plenty of bars and restaurants. It has all the charm (and maybe even more) you would imagine of Moroccan villages. All of that, but no madness! Sounds pretty good, right? No absolute madness doesn’t mean that a little guidance could be unwanted. So hereby a few must see and do’s in and around Essaouira. May you fall in love too…
Get lost in the medina
There’s no way around it. You will get lost in the medina. But nothing wrong with that, cause this maze is one exciting place to get lost in. The colors, the smells, the sights… it’s a feast for the senses. The food market is an attraction on itself. Packed with locals snooping around for the best dates, olives, veggies, or meats, you can just take a seat on the sidewalk and watch this play take place. It’s a beautiful sight during the midday prayer, when all the shops close and all the men gather in front of the mosque to pray. Make sure to bring an extra suitcase, cause even the strongest person will succumb to all the treasures on shelf.
Visit the fish market in the harbor
I know I said there was no madness, but maybe there is a little bit. Cause hey, we’re still in Morocco right? Early in the morning the fish market is mental. Boats coming in and out of the harbor, people yelling to sell their best fish and seagulls yelling even harder. Proper madness and I love it. This is the perfect place for lunch. Since behind the big boats, there are little restaurants selling their morning catch. Pick your seafood and they throw in on the grill… it really doesn’t get any fresher than that. Do put some closed shoes on!
Surfing in Essaouira
If you go to Essaouira and you’re done with shopping, go to the beach. The beginning of it might not be the prettiest, but the further you’ll go the better it gets. At the far end of the beach there are a few surf schools if you’re up for a bit of action. The best one I can recommend is Bouj Sports. Book a lesson here with Yassine, great teacher of both surfing and kite surfing. How often do you find that?! (For those who have no idea what I’m talking about… there’s a little rivalry between the surfers and kiters). If the waves won’t work in Essaouira, there are a few other spots around. Try Moulay Bouzerktoun (beach break) or Sidi Kaouki (beach and reef break) or ask Yassine for his secret spot (I’m not allowed to tell you more…). All of those spots are very uncrowded!
If an afternoon of surfing fun isn’t enough for you and you’re interested in a week of surfing in Essaouira, check out Karma Surf Retreat.
Getting pampered at a hammam
You can’t have been to Morocco and not have at least once experienced a hammam. This traditional Moroccan bathing house is comparable to a sauna, but it includes a washing and scrubbing ritual. For those who fully like to experience a proper hammam, go to one of the traditional ones outside the medina. These don’t necessarily cater to tourists, so be aware you are in for quite the experience (if you’re afraid of nudity, then maybe don’t take your chances). If it’s pure pampering you’re looking for than the hammam at Azur Spa is a gem!
Eat a lot in one of the many good restaurants
Spider crab gratin, doesn’t that just sound heavenly?! You’ll find it at restaurant La Table Madada. The restaurant looks absolutely beautiful in an old carob bean warehouse, the wine tastes great and the menu will make you drool. Madada is a bit more upscale, but if you’re up for a fancy night out, this place is definitely a highlight.
When you’re looking for something a bit more low key, then Loft Cafe or La Licorne would be great options. At The Loft you’ll eat beautiful fresh fish and local products, one dish even better than the other. The guys working here are incredibly friendly and the place has such a nice relaxing vibe. Keep room for dessert, cause their saffran creme brulee can’t be missed!
On the other end La Licorne looks like a true 1001 night fairytale. The food here is amazing, whether you try the Tabouleh, the chickpea salad or the Lamb Tajine. They really know how to prepare all those traditional Moroccan dishes. Definitely worth a try!
Sleep at Riad Dar Adul
When you are looking for a beautiful tranquil riad in the busyness of the medina than Dar Adul is your golden ticket. This colorful riad has charming unique rooms and a beautiful rooftop overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Location wise this riad is ideal since you’re close to both the beach front, the medina and the many bars and restaurants around.
Have sundowners at Taros
Lots of the riads will have beautiful rooftop terraces overlooking the medina or the Atlantic Ocean. However, one of the best spots in town to watch the sun go down with a drink in your hand is Taros. On weekends there’s live music, and the great mix of both locals and tourists makes this such a gem.
Although Marrakech these days seems to become more popular and popular, Essaouira is a Moroccan city that shouldn’t be forgotten. Only a three hour drive from Marrakech, they are easily combined for some Moroccan adventures. Enjoy the relaxed vibe in Essaouira with its incredibly friendly people, good restaurants, great shopping and of course the playground of the ocean.
Photos by: M. Barends©