I’ll be honest, Marrakech was wonderful in all its sights and smells, people, foods, and activities, but it was somewhat mentally stressful. Yes, we had culture shock, and we always had our guard up. We’d been pickpocketed (thankfully for us, both attempts were unsuccessful), chased after by “local guides”, and harrassed by market vendors. Getting lost in a labyrinth of neverending dark alleyways with no street signs, landmarks, lights, or noises can be very scary. We could never truly relax. And on that note, we were off to the next place on our itinerary, Essaouira!
(The bus from Marrakech to Essaouira is 140DH, runs 8x/day, and is a 3hr ride, with pit stop. You’ll also need to buy a separate ticket for your luggage, 5DH per bag.)
Essaouira is a complete breath of fresh air, both literally and figuratively. It sits right on the Atlantic coast, with great views of the ocean and sunset. It used to be a fortified city in the 18th century, and the town itself is still surrounded by remnants of its walls and towers. On the pier, surrounded by brightly-painted blue rowboats and fishing vessels, is what remains of the Essaouira Ramparts, with beautiful views of the town itself, and providing soldiers a tactical vantage point to fire upon enemies invading its waters.
Essaouira is also refreshingly small. At least the town within the city walls. Whereas Marrakech was a jumble of streets, Essaouira only has two major streets, both completely parallel to each other, with the smaller side streets in a gridlike pattern (more or less). You could get lost, but it would be very easy to find your way again. You could also easily walk the whole town within two hours.
Because of its small size, there really aren’t many attractions in the area. This is a place to unwind, relax, catch some sun, and enjoy the ocean breeze. There is a very big beach that gets crowded in the summer. The Ramparts are the only main attraction here. There are a lot of tourists in town, but the atmosphere here is very chill, relaxed, and calm. The street vendors are not aggressive. We felt extremely lazy here, and we were totally ok with it.
On the pier, there is are several fish stalls where you can order a plate of fish, and they grill it right in front of you. All the stall prices are fixed, so there’s no danger of being cheated. The fish is also fresh, as the fishing boats come back to harbor around noon with the day’s catch (so it’s best to go at lunchtime!). The sardines are probably some of the best I’ve ever had. On the flip side, we will probably stay away from street food for the rest of our stay in Morocco, as the aftermath of the experience is not something we’d want to try again!
We stayed at Riad Chakir Mogador, conveniently located next to one of the main streets. It was nice when we’d buy stuff and think “Oh, let’s just go drop this off at our room,” or if there was an emergency, “Oh, let’s go back to our room and use the bathroom.” It’s probably bigger than the riad we stayed at in Marrakech, but a lot cozier and homey.
Some people stay in Essaouira for a few days, others stay for weeks. We’re only here for 2 nights, but wish we could’ve stayed a 3rd, just to unwind a bit more. 🙂