Essaouira: Unveiling Morocco's Coastal Gem

Essaouira, located on Morocco’s Atlantic coast between Casablanca and Agadir, is famous for its UNESCO World Heritage-listed medina. This historic area combines Moroccan and European architectural styles, featuring buildings constructed from local stone, painted in white, and decorated with blue shutters and doors. The medina’s fortifications were built in the 18th century under Sultan Mohammed III to protect the town from maritime threats. These walls now offer visitors scenic views of the ocean and have become a popular spot for tourists looking for both history and beauty.

Essaouira, Morocco

Essaouira’s harbor is dotted with traditional wooden fishing boats. These vibrant blue vessels symbolize the local economy and the city’s identity. At dawn, fishermen set out, returning with the ocean’s bounty, which ensures the seafood is as fresh as the morning itself.

Essaouira, Morocco
Rows and rows of the blue fishing boats

This daily cycle of departure and return is a cornerstone of Essaouira’s economic and cultural tapestry. Observing the fishermen as they unload their catch, mend their nets, and prepare for the next voyage offers a glimpse into the maritime traditions that are the lifeblood of this historic city.

Essaouira, Morocco
More blue boats

The ancient ramparts of Essaouira often serve as an impromptu diving board for local youths, who brave the leap into the sea below. Despite ongoing police oversight, which often proves unsuccessful, this activity adds to the spectacle unfolding beside signs that forbid swimming.

Essaouira, Morocco
So much for the sign

In the bustling Medina, cats roam freely, weaving through the streets with effortless grace. Their ubiquitous presence blends seamlessly into the rhythm of urban life, adding a touch of charm to the coastal town.

Essaouira, Morocco
One of the many cats sunning himself

These cats are particularly drawn to the fish market, where the scents of fresh catches lure them. As they sprawl out in the sun, they remain vigilant for any opportunity to snag a tasty snack. I once noticed a cat lounging around a stall, sporting shrimp tail souvenirs on its back as evidence of an earlier feast.

Essaouira, Morocco
A couple cats taking a rest at the fish market

Essaouira’s feline residents are found not only at the fish market but also on rooftops, in alleyways, and curled up on the doorsteps of local shops. Each cat has its own territory, routine, and unique personality.

Essaouira, Morocco
Resting in one of the shops

Walking through the medina, the smell of spices was unmistakable — cumin, saffron, and cinnamon — mingling with the fresh sea air. The market buzzed with activity, a lively backdrop to the colorful displays. A shopkeeper offered me a taste of local argan oil; it had a distinctive, nutty flavor that was both unexpected and pleasing.

Essaouira, Morocco
Exploring the Medina

Browse the local market in Essaouira, where you’ll find an array of spices that showcase the blend of African, Arab, and Mediterranean cultures. You can also pick up olives, native argan oil, and a selection of textiles, pottery, and leather products.

The culinary scene in Essaouira is a delightful fusion of African, Arab, and Mediterranean influences. From casual eateries to formal settings, there’s something for every palate. On my first night, I dined on the rooftop of Restaurant Des Reves Essaouira, located in the heart of the Medina. I enjoyed vegetable tagine—brimming with well-spiced zucchini, carrots, and tomatoes. The rooftop offered stunning views over the city, accompanied by the sounds of a local band playing Traditional Berber music in the background. It was a lovely evening.

Essaouira, Morocco
Vegetable Tangine

The evening in Essaouira brought another memorable experience: my second hammam (also see Discover the World of Moroccan Hammams) . This time, unlike the private session in Casablanca, it was a communal affair shared with a fellow traveler. Embracing this traditional practice requires comfort in one’s skin, and we relaxed together in a simple, peaceful setting. It was a genuine slice of local life, serene and straightforward.

The following day, I stumbled upon the Mandela Society, a cozy restaurant known for its impressive breakfast spread. Despite arriving at opening time, the place quickly filled up, a testament to its popularity. The food was not only delicious but also presented with care and attention to detail, confirming why Mandela Society is a well-known spot.

Essaouira, Morocco
Perfect spot for breakfast

Essaouira’s beaches are also a paradise for the more adventurous, popular for windsurfing and kitesurfing, thanks to the steady wind that sweeps across the coast. This wind has earned Essaouira the nickname ‘the Wind City of Africa.’ Although I didn’t get to try these water sports during my visit, their allure was unmistakable.

Essaouira, Morocco
In the morning before the beach got busy

For something a bit different, one morning, we took a horseback ride on the beach, taking in the sea air. Camel rides are also available, offering a unique experience.

Essaouira, Morocco
My first time riding a horse on the beach

From the leaps from the fortifications to the peaceful walks along the ramparts and the culinary delights along the waterfront, Essaouira offers a unique mixture of experiences. Whether you’re immersing yourself in its historical sites, dining by the sea, or observing both human and feline locals enjoy their day, Essaouira offers a quiet charm that’s sure to win over anyone who visits—it sure did with me.

Essaouira, Morocco

Suggestion on things to do:

1. Stroll the Medina: Take your time walking through the Medina. There’s a lot to see, from crafts to local food.

2. Rampart Views: Don’t skip the ramparts. They offer the best views of the sea, and you might catch the daring locals jumping off.

3. Seafood Dining: Hit a restaurant by the water for some of the freshest seafood you can get.

4. Beach Time: The beaches are great for either action-packed windsurfing or just a day of relaxation in the sand.

5. Morning at the Harbor: Get up early and see the fishermen return with their catch on their blue wooden boats.

6. Cat Watching: The medina and fish market are great for observing the town’s well-loved cats.

7. Café Culture: Enjoy a mint tea or coffee at a local café.

8. Moroccan Cooking Class: Learn how to make traditional Moroccan cuisine with a local cooking class.

9. Sunset at the Sea Walls: Catch a stunning sunset from the sea walls for an unforgettable end to your day.

10. Argan Oil Cooperative Visit: Discover how argan oil is produced at a nearby cooperative.

11. Get up Early: Walk around the Medina when things are just coming to life.

12. Guided City Tour: A local guide can take you to well-known spots and hidden corners alike.

13. Orson Welles Square: For film buffs, visit the square named after the famed director who filmed “Othello” here.

14. Beachside Café: Grab a drink at one of the beachside cafés. It’s the perfect spot to take in the ocean view and maybe even watch the surfers catching waves.

15. Rooftop Dining: For dinner, find a rooftop restaurant. You’ll get amazing views of the city and the medina from up there, especially as the sun starts to set.

16. Gallery Hopping: Spend some time exploring the many galleries scattered throughout the medina. You’ll find a diverse range of art that reflects Essaouira’s vibrant culture.

17. Beach Camel Ride: For a unique experience, book yourself a camel ride along the beach. It’s a memorable way to soak in the coastal scenery and enjoy the tranquility of the ocean.  And, if riding a camel is not your thing, you can always book a horse ride.

18. Hammam Experience: For a relaxing escape, try a traditional hammam. It’s a local spa tradition that’s great for unwinding and recharging.