Essaouira. (Essa-weera) A name unfamiliar to most except those die hard Morocco lovers. Casablanca. Fez. Marrakesh.Tangier, all more well known. Maybe just Casablanca and Marrakesh stand out to the non Africa traveler. But the name Essaouira is almost whispered to you. “You must go to Essaouira. It is so nice” The word is spoken with a reverence by everyone who advises you to make time in this windy north-west African port town, with it’s ramparts headed by a Genoese built citadel guarded by dutch cannons, its city walls still guarding its innards, and winding colorful lanes full of Arab/Berber and Haratin/Gnawa traders from the coast, the city and the desert. You will experience Morocco here, with more room to breathe it in compared to the famous sistren.
Spending time in the cacophony that is Marrakech city can be a glorious experience, or one that leaves you looking to escape! Even somewhere in between will leave you with a sense of calm when you approach the sun soaked coastal town of Essaouira. (pronounced Essa-weera/es-sweera) The old walled city (the medina) is now a UNESCO world heritage site and is a place that regardless of the amount of “outsiders”, you can feel the richness of culture and history with each step.
From the Phoenicians to the Carthaginians to Berber kings in the middle ages, “Mogador” as it was once called has been a desired port. in the 1500s the Portuguese decided on a port (since ruined) that didn’t last and the French tried in vain to control the area in the time between 1629-1631, but it wasn’t until the 1760s that Sultan Muhammed III charged french prisoner and engineer Theodore Cornout with redesigning a modern town, and under the charge of the sultan the town became an important maritime trading center and cultural hub through the 1800’s.
Today it is an artists town. Fishing still thrives and local merchants abound, but this is know Africa wide as an artisans colony. With wind and kite surfing quite popular here, there is an international following as well as a constant supply of what westerners call “hippies”. One of the highlights of Africa is here every year in the Gnaoua World Music Festival that draws up to a half a million people every June to this little coastal town over 4 days.
Approaching the old city, wide plazas narrow down to tiny lanes and tunnels. Souqs (shops) abounds and street vendors at every turn. Finding a land mark is essential in order not to spend extra time lost in a seeming maze of human activity from music, to incense, to a myriad of foodstuffs, moving carts, tourists and touts calling out to you or those around you. The vast majority do not have nefarious leanings but will play the long game to separate you from the contents of your wallet as in almost any developing world market town.
Keeping a smile and a sense of calm ensures you keep your wits about you, never to commit unless totally sure of an item, and only to accept the “tea” when serious about negotiations. Unless just buying the tea for refreshment! Oh how sweet it is!
Riads, or the old style homes built around a central courtyard and fountain, are available for those wanting to stay amongst the hustle and bustle of the inner city, but modern style homes and hotels can be had in quieter areas of town.
Out into the Sun Wind & Sea
To the west of the snarled snake like streets of the inner medina is the old sea port which is still a quite busy area. With its many small to medium boats and abundance of working fisherman as well as local seafood shoppers, this area is a mini tourist zone as many come to see and to actually deal for fish. The area around the citadel was actually in the HBO show “Game of Thrones“. Many come just for that site.
These friendly local lads and a few of their friends entertained me several times with tales of youth and desire and life!
Southwest of the old town (the medina) is a long broad strip of sand that stretches about a mile until it hits the outskirts of the town border and a little more. There is a long promenade and places to rent water sports gear, especially wind and kite surfing. What is best is sitting in the evening to await sunset with a drink at a cafe or such. Or if you really wanna deal with the touts, bargain for a horse or camel ride. Many people do. It is easy here if you have no desert plans!
These guys are pretty good friends!
A Place to Relax and Forget the Time
Essaouira is a very Moroccan destination. Not so famous to some but a well known destination to many for its aforementioned world class kite surfing due to the blustering winds the location is known for. Many sunbathe on the rooftops of their guesthouses in more privacy as the beach draws many gawkers and touts for rides than some find worth the trouble.
With nothing west of the town except the Atlantic ocean, and very little light pollution, the sunsets here are stunning! There are many restaurants and eateries offering music and views of the sunset as well as rooftop dining and drinking. There is something for almost every budget in this seaside retreat. there is a large Carrefour supermarket selling a vast array of western and eastern food and goods just a short cab to the south east border of town, which I found a good place to stock up on sparkling water and various snacks for my stay.
Like Pai in Thailand, Essaouira is a place that gets under the skin of many who planned not to stay more than a day or two, who changed plans and lounged around longer than they thought. After some of the more intense places like Fez or Marrakesh city, Essaouira is a laid back way to do similar things in Morocco.
There are always more things to do than most of us can think of and Viator has plenty in Essaouira! Check them out here!
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