9 Things to do in Essaouira, Morocco
Two and a half hours drive southwest of Marrakesh, on the Atlantic coast, lies the windy port city of Essaouira. “Sweera” as the locals call it, has a distinct charm and laid-back feel compared to other cities in Morocco. The city has a vibrant soul that captivates your senses and enchants you with its raw sense of organized chaos.
Although the medieval medina (city center) may be small, it boasts all of the vibrant culture that Morocco has to offer while maintaining a laid-back vibe. The medina is surrounded by massive stone walls (known as “ramparts”) built by the Portuguese, and lovely souks (small shops) line the medina’s streets filled with handcrafted goods and spices. On the outskirts of the white washed medina, a bustling fishing harbor connects the city to the sea.
Apart from the medina, Essaouira boasts a dreamy 6 mile long (10 k) beach, with consistent wind, and foamy waves lapping onto everchanging dunes. The sand blasting winds make Essaouira a haven for kite surfers, windsurfers, and beginner surfers alike. Because of the winds and cold atlantic waters in the winter months, it is not ideal for swimmers or sunbathing.
Essaouira is the perfect place to dip your toes into all this enchanting country has to offer.
It’s a great escape from the hustle and bustle of Fez or Marrakesh. It is also an ideal spot to try out a new sport, along with being a relaxing getaway to enjoy the rich sights and culture of Morocco.
What to do in Essaouira
Explore the medina and souks(shops)
The medina, although small, is big enough to feed your shopping needs while still being manageable to navigate. The antique white-washed walls of the medina are lined with souks offering rugs, lamps, leather goods, jewelry, and various other handicrafts. We found the shopkeepers in Essaouira to be far more pleasant and less aggressive than those in the bigger cities. This made our shopping experience far more enjoyable.
**Helpful Hint** Make sure you barter with the shop keepers as this is custom in Morocco unless prices are marked on items.
There are two main walking streets inside the medina that intersect in the middle, with the majority of the souks along these two roads. Don’t be afraid to get lost and wander down one of the many side streets; you never know what hidden gems you may find. The city is small enough that you will eventually make it to the outer walls or main streets and be able to find your bearings again.
There is also a large food market inside the medina filled with fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat. It is by far the cheapest and best place to get your meat and produce in the city. Fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices come cheap, and you can get a whole chicken for around $4 dollars as fresh as they come. (quite literally, as we were able to choose a live chicken and have it chopped and ready for dinner within 5 minutes).
Learn to kitesurf, surf, or windsurf
The windy city of Africa doesn’t disappoint when it comes to watersports. With a large beach and constant wind, “Sweera” is the perfect place for wind or kite surfing whether you are looking to learn, or already an avid lover of the sport. There are numerous schools that will provide lessons and equipment rentals.
In the winter months when the waves are larger, it is also a good spot for surfers and the sandy bay offers the perfect beginner waters. Whatever watersport it may be, the beaches of Essaouira are a paradise for the adventure lover.
Enjoy the view from the ramparts
The massive stone walls that separate the medina from the Atlantic Ocean were built by the Portuguese. Today they are the perfect place for a stroll with fantastic views of the seafront and crashing waves on the rocks below. The impressive walls, with cannons still intact, offer the perfect photo-op and showcase the rich history of the city. The ramparts were also used in the filming of Game of Thrones where Daenerys acquired her army of unsullied.
Explore the beaches and ruins by horse or camel
If you’re looking for a thrilling activity on land, take a horse ride along the beach and through the ruined castle to the south of the city. These tours cater to your needs from a light walk down the beach, to a full-blown gallop chasing the wind and waves. You can arrange an hour ride or a few days trek depending on your ability and time frame. For people who enjoy taking life slow and a good cushion under their bum, there are plenty of men with camels hanging out on the beach eager to take you for a walk through the dunes.
Visit an Argan oil Co-op
The Souss plain in Morocco is host to an endemic tree known as the Argan tree. The kernels from the fruit of this tree are dried, ground, and squeezed by hand to produce a rich oil used for culinary and cosmetic purposes.
Rich in vitamin C and E, it’s a natural moisturizer for skin and hair that has been used by the Berber people for generations. It is commonly used as a main ingredient in Moroccan soaps, lotions, and hair care. A staple in the Moroccan lifestyle, it is now considered a luxury beauty product around the world.
There are numerous female-run Co-ops around Essaouira that produce the oil and will show you the tedious process from start to finish. Many of these co-ops give the women who work there a stable income to support their families. They are created to support and empower women in a county that typically puts them in the shadow.
Take a stroll through the fish market and enjoy a fresh-caught meal
Essaouira is a fishing town at heart, and it shows when you head down to the vibrant port and fish market. In the early morning, the fishermen come back with their catch, their bounty is then cleaned and sold during the day at the lively market on the port.
There is a wide variety of seafood sold here, from deep-sea fish and eels, sharks and marlin, to oysters and clams. You can purchase your fish and have it cooked at one of the small stalls at the market, or take it to a restaurant and have it grilled for a small fee.
Even if you are not looking to buy any seafood, the market is a vibrant spot that is fantastic for photography and people watching. It is also a great way to see what kind of sea life thrives in the Atlantic waters nearby.
The fleet of small fishing boats mixed with the salty smells of the market, the sound of the pesky seagulls swarming the scraps of fish, and the overall bustling atmosphere make for an exciting outing that is not to be missed on your visit to Essaouira.
Visit the Had Dra market
30 km from Essaouira on the way to Marrakesh, one of the largest outdoor markets in Morocco is held each Sunday. This market is a hub for many of the surrounding villages and men travel from all over to do business in the mess of tents and souks.
The market has an enormous range of stalls offering everything from livestock, fresh produce, dried spices, to building supplies and industrial plastics. You can also find a huge range of secondhand items such as nets, ropes, and farming equipment. And let’s not forget the shops selling cheap Chinese goods.
Of course, you can also find the more traditional goods like natural soaps and products for Hammam, as well as clothing and hand-woven rugs and shoes.
The market is pure raw chaos. It is a great way to get out of the touristic shopping centers of the medinas in the cities and experience an authentic insight on the way Moroccans purchase their goods and do business. It’s loud, smelly, and full of animals and people. If you are a market lover like me, you won’t want to miss the Sunday Had Dra Market.
Relax at the hammam
A hammam is a weekly tradition for Moroccan’s and used to be the means of a good shower. Now, it is a social event for both men and women in the community at the local spa. It is essentially a hangout place to unwind and chat with friends.
There are local hammams all around the medina that are separated by gender. Or if you’re looking for something a little more private and relaxing, visit one of the spas across the city for a more personal experience. You can even add in a massage or facial after your scrub down.
Enjoy a world music festival
For three days in the summer, the medina of Essaouira transforms into a melting pot of traditional North African culture, mixed with soulful world beats. Traditional Gnaoua musicians from northern Africa fill the streets with their mystical tunes. The sounds of soul unite to bring a music festival bursting with culture including international musicians playing jazz, blues, reggae, and hip-hop. The musicians collaborate jams mixing traditional tunes from around the world. It’s a soulful experience uniting people through beats and sounds while still keeping true to the traditional ways of the Gnaoua beat.
Essaouira: The Moroccan Windy City
Essaouira is by far our favorite city in Morocco. It has such a laid-back vibe compared to other cities within Morocco and there are plenty of things to do. The medina was easy to navigate and we found the community quite welcoming and friendly.
The beach was incredible as well. An average day would include kitesurfing in the morning followed by lunch and drinks at a local restaurant overlooking the ocean.
If you are interested in taking a relaxing vacation to Morocco, then Essaouira might just be the perfect place for you.
It is one of those places I’d highly recommend, that ticks all the boxes for a Moroccan getaway.