Morocco is an amazing country. It challenges you, amazes you, stuns you, and brings you through so many other emotions. After time in Tangier, Marrakech, and other areas, like Fes, it’s important to go to other places to get a feel for the less chaotic side of this north African country. After a few days in Marrakech, we were ready for the coast, and we headed to the coastal town of Essaouira (pronounced sah-wee-rah).
It’s easy enough to get to this almost sleepy town from Marrakech. It’s a few hours by bus which includes a 30-minute rest stop with bathrooms (none on the bus) and where you can buy hot food.
If you’ve been to one of the other popular areas, you probably think you have the whole medina navigation thing mastered. Well, just when you think you have Morocco figured out, it laughs in your face and says “Oh really?” We got through Marrakech’s labyrinth without a hitch, yet it took a few times of getting lost in Essaouira’s medina to take my pride down a notch or two.
Where Marrakech’s medina and square are colorful, Essaouira’s is much blander. There are clear areas where the tourists tend to gather and where the locals do their shopping. Street food is abundant. The people watching opportunities are absolutely wonderful. This town shuts down fairly early, and the medina will calm down much earlier than in the big cities up north.
Finding lodging is pretty easy. There are usually people at the bus stop who will offer to rent you a flat. Many of these are in the medina. Having spent a lot of time in the medina, I don’t recommend living there. Especially if you’ve already had experience dealing with the chaos of Morocco. We rented an apartment through AirBNB, and it was perfect! We were in a neighborhood of solid locals, which I absolutely loved. The one down side was being closer to the mosque speakers so you got a little early wakeup call before 6 AM every day as they issued the call to prayer. It was easy enough to fall back asleep, though.
We were here in the off season which meant the beaches were amazingly uncrowded. Most of the people were either locals or Moroccan tourists. The water is chilly, but that didn’t stop Tigger. If you come to the beach with kids, make sure to bring dry clothes because when they finally exit the surf, lips blue from the cold, they’ll want to change into something dry quickly. There are plenty of chaise loungers for rent. Feel free to haggle the price down. They initially wanted to charge me 40 MAD. Since it was low season, I was able to get them to give me the more reasonable price of 15 MAD. Whatever you pay, you get the chair for the whole day.
Essaouira has so much charm in it that it’s easy to see yourself staying longer. Just make sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore the medina’s nooks and crannies. And you’ll want to bring your camera. It is one incredibly photogenic area.
- If you’re staying in the medina, they don’t allow taxis to go inside. You may want to go ahead and pay the guys with carts 10-20 MAD to carry your luggage for you. If going elsewhere, a taxi should only charge you 6 MAD.
- Want a filling meal? Eat at one of the chicken places. You can get a whole chicken, Moroccan salad (no lettuce but a combination of veggies that is quite tasty), French fries, olives, bread, and drinks for 90 MAD total for 2 people. More people add a very small amount to the price.
- When eating where mostly locals go, expect to eat with your hands, especially for things like kebabs, chicken, and fried fish. There will be a small sink in the dining area for you to wash your hands before and after your meal (although usually there’s no soap). Use the squares of paper as towels. You can use your left hand to hold bread and things, but try to make sure that only your right hand brings food to your mouth. If you end up using your left, no worries since you’re a tourist.
- Some toilets are squat and others are the more traditional Western throne style. Rarely, though, will you find toilet paper, so it’s wise to keep some on you.
- The freshest fish is sold near the skala. Look and listen for the flocks of birds near the water’s edge by the medina.
- In Morocco, haggling is part of the culture. I know it’s hard to do sometimes when you consider how low many of the prices already are, but when you just accept the first price. you’re not playing the game. Go ahead and haggle, even if your counter offer is just a bit below their offer. It’s how things are done unless you’re in a store.
- If you tend to get car sick or get motion sickness, you may want to take something for the bus trip. It’s generally not an issue, but there are a couple of stretches that might bother you if you’re sensitive.