Two days in Essaouira, Morocco
After a few days exploring the souks, alleyways and rooftop bars of Marrakesh, we headed to spend two days in Essaouira, a small ‘city’ by the sea, about two hours from Marrakesh. To be honest, our two days in Essaouira weren’t particularly productive. Come on, we were by the sea and this was a holiday. But we relaxed and wandered and explored and saw some camels.
Essaouira is a port city, with a long sandy beach and lots of nice riads and places to stay. It’s also windy. Very very windy. Quite good if you’re a kitesurfer or similar, but less so if you want to lie on a sunlounger and go a nice shade of lobster. This is perhaps why it’s not really become a massive Brit-style holiday resort of full English breakfasts and fish and chips. Which is good, of course.
Two Days in Essaouira Medina
At one end of the bay sits the Medina, similar to the one in Marrakesh, except this time, blue and white. The narrow streets are full of shops selling spices, jewellery, linens and other similar products to Marrakesh, opening out into wide squares with small cafes and restaurants on all sides, with people sitting out drinking coffee and eating their fill of olives and bread.
Between the Medina and the sea stands the thick city wall, complete with canons pointing out to sea. Essaourira was known until 1960 as Mogador and originally built by the Portuguese as a defensive fortress.
Game of Thrones in Essaouira
The harbour and city walls will be recognisable to many people as Astapor, the city where Danyres Targarian finds her Unsullied – her eunoch army. Down by the harbour, we climbed to the top of some of the rapparts where you can see where some of the shots were filmed, made Instagram ready with stepladders to pose and take pictures through the various shaped windows.
In front of the city walls sits the harbour, still an active fishing port. Walking down there, we passed fishermen bringing in boats of fish and cleaning nets. Some have set up stalls, selling fresh fish from boats, as well as sea urchins and oysters.
Along the front is a row of huts where you can buy fresh fish and have them BBQ it for you. We’d read that they used to cheat people on the price, but when we approached one, he immediately explained the price of everything and said he’d weigh it all, tell us the total price and that would be fixed. We chose red snapper, king prawns, squid, sardines, and john dorey, and with bread and olives and soft drinks it came to 200 dirhams, so about $20.
As I said, Essaouira has a long sandy beach which stretches away out of the town. Walking along there during our two days in Essaouira, we saw our first camels. I mean, come on, it’s Morocco, they had to have camels, right? Well in Essaouira you could ride a camel along the beach. We didn’t. They don’t look comfy. You could also ride a horse or a quadbike.
Along the beach there are various cafes and restaurants, and benches to sit on. While sitting on these benches, we were often approached by a man carrying a tray.
Want to buy my happy cakes? He asked
We shook our heads.
But they are happy.
We smiled and refused again.
It’s a hash cake! he said, picking it up to show us.
Yep. We’d noticed that. And the big slabs of weed on his tray. Still didn’t want any.
However, we saw this guy repeatedly, until he was saying
Remember me! I remember you! I have happy cake!
Yes, happy cake man. We remember you……
Essaouira has/had a bit of a reputation as a ‘chill-out’ place, which drew hippies from around the world in the 60s and 70s. There’s a rumour that Jimmy Hendrix’s song ‘Castles made of Sand’ was inspired by the watchtowers of the old walls of Essaouira. While Jimmy Hendrix did visit Essaouira, along with Frank Zappa and Cat Stevens, he came after Castles made of sand was produced.
I bet they went for the happy cakes.
Street Art in Essaouira
The hippy style in Essaouira stretches to its street art. On many of the white walls, people have painted brightly coloured murals of singers and artists. Not in the style of Banksy or the type of street art in Kyiv or Penang, but cool nonetheless.
Nuts and Bolts
How to get to Essaouira from Marrakesh
We travelled to Essaouira on a Supratours coach from their office next to Marrakesh train station. It’s not far from Marrakesh Medina, so we hailed a taxi from the street. Taxis in Marrakesh pick up different passengers at the same time, so even though the taxi had one guy in the front, we put our bags in the boot and jumped in.
We were able to buy our tickets for the next bus, at 10.45. We arrived an hour before, and it looked like we got some of the last tickets. There are buses at 8am, 9am, 10.45, 15.00, 17.00 and 19.00. One thing to note is that you have to book your bags onto the bus 30 minutes before. This involves getting a sticker to stick to your bags. We didn’t know about this, as the sign was in French, and did it late. We had to pay a fine, but it was only 10 dirhams so not a massive problem.
The Supratours bus allocated seats and was air-conditioned and comfortable. Halfway through the journey we stopped at one of those cafes in the middle of nowhere that seem to exist in every country but the UK. There we could use the toilet and get a drink/food from the super speedy staff.
The Supratours bus drops you off at its office which is just outside the Medina. On the way back, we booked the tickets a day in advance, but still couldn’t get on the bus we wanted, so it would perhaps be a better idea to book your return tickets when you arrive.
We took the same Supratours bus back to Marrakesh. Even though we booked it a day in advance, we still couldn’t book the bus we wanted as it was sold out. So probably best to book when you arrive.
The scenery along the way was worth the journey in itself. Outside Marrakesh, the road seemed to go through the desert, with the huge snow-topped Atlas Mountains beyond. Stunning.
The bus cost 80 dirhams per person.
Where to stay for two days in Essaouira, Morocco
Like Marrakesh, on Booking.com Essaouira was full of riads and small hotels with great reviews. Many of them have roof terraces with views out to sea. We stayed in Riad Dar Nor, a very tall raid down one of the many alleyways. Our room was en-suite and comfortable and breakfast was served on the roof. We paid 35 Euros a night.
Where to eat and drink in Essaouira
As with Marrakesh, since Morocco is Muslim, not all places serve alcohol. However, we do love a sundowner. The main sunset spot for us during our two days in Essaouira was Taros, near the harbour. It is laid out over many levels, with a two-level roof terrace overlooking the sea. The sunset views over a bottle of wine were awesome. The only problem was that it was really cold. As I said, Essaouira is windy and it being January, the wind was not warm.
Find out about where to find alcohol in Marrakesh.
Taros also attracted massive seagulls with a taste for olives. One evening we were sitting having a bottle of wine and a huge gull landed on the table next to us, to guzzle the olives that someone had left behind. While swallowing as many as possible, it kept flapping its wings and knocked everything off the table, including a wine glass down onto the terrace below. After it was chased off, it sat on the rooftop with green olive juice strained feathers around its beak.
Another gull nearly managed to have a poo into our bottle of wine at one point. What an aim!
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