Essaouira is a wild and windy coastal town famed for its city walls; the ramparts and parapets of which appear in numerous movies and TV programs. In the 1960’s it was a supposed hippie hangout, with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens rumoured to have lived and composed in the seaside town; something which the locals will remind you about at every opportunity.
If you’re after sun, sand and swimming, Essaouira might not be for you as the constant wind makes life less pleasant when exposed in the open, but with a bohemian air and beautiful French style medina; Essaouira has plenty to offer.
From Marrakech there are two realistic options to get to Essaouira; bus and grand taxi. It’s not a long journey and the price difference between the two really made the choice obvious, putting us on another CTM bus.
Bus – There will be numerous buses departing from Marrakech bus station (gare routiére), a few of which are local services (quality not guaranteed), but the main companies being CTM, whom we’ve discussed in the Chefchaouen post, and Supratours. You can turn up on the day to buy tickets if you like the risk factor, but if you prefer to pre-book you can buy tickets online at either company’s website (see hyperlinks).
Since CTM had a bus departing at a time most convenient for us, we chose them and booked in advance. There is a CTM bus departing for Essaouria twice a day, costing around 75MAD (£5.30) per person and taking 2-3 hours including a stop half way. CTM busses are of a fair quality and will run not too far from their advertised times, however they do run on Morocco time, ‘god willing’ (Insha’Allah), which is very relaxed so expect to depart anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour after the scheduled time. On this occasion ours ran 45 minutes late and we arrived in Essaouira a full hour and a half late. Our host kindly collected us from the bus stop and was surprised we didn’t arrive via Supratours, as they are considered to be much better for this route.
Taxi – Read the guide to Moroccan taxis HERE. From Marrakech to Essaouira a whole taxi might set you back 500MAD-600MAD (£35-£42.50), and a single seat might be between 100MAD-150MAD (£7-£10.60).
Essaouira Airport now services the UK via London Luton Airport and easyjet, and France via Paris and Marseille. As luck would have it, the first easyjet flight to London departed on the day we left, and at the bargain price of 232MAD (£16.50) per person. So that was us. Normal return flights from London Luton to Essaouira start around 815MAD (£58), so it’s still very cheap. The airport is just outside the city and will cost around 150MAD (£10.60) to get there via taxi from the medina.
For the last two nights of our Morocco trip we wanted some comfort and splurged on relatively expensive accommodation for the city. We found a beautiful studio apartment through Airbnb; on the city walls looking out over the ocean, with huge windows facing the sunset. The apartment cost 1283MAD (£92) for two nights, and was entirely self catered.
As with other cities, there are many options for all budgets and styles so it’s really up to personal preference. I would recommend staying close to the medina, as that’s where the action is. There are also many good options for rooms with a view, taking advantage of the extensive walls.
Hostels range from 55MAD (£4) per night for a dorm, to around 100MAD (£7) per night for a private room.
Hotels/Riad’s start at 280MAD (£20) for a decent room, and anything upwards of 560MAD (£40) per night will be good quality.
The Essaouira medina is surrounded by huge fortified walls, a quarter of which are along the ocean’s edge. The top of the walls have walkways and numerous vantage points to watch the breakers heave against the immense stone construct, ideal places to catch a sunset or a bird’s eye view of the markets. Inside the walls are districts of souks where you can find fabrics, spices, jewellery, cosmetics, woodwork and souvenirs in abundance, as well as the typical cafes and restaurants.
Just outside the south wall, across the large square, you will find the fish markets, a vibrant, stinky scene, but the importance of these markets comes to fruition later in the day when the restaurants open. Choose any one of the seafood restaurants in the square preceding the markets, select your creatures of choice fresh from the display and take a seat. Your selection will be grilled over coals and served fresh for a very good price. I think we paid roughly 180MAD (£13) for a whole fish each, squid, king prawns, chips, bread, salad and a drink. It was fresh and delicious and we would have returned the following evening for more, but I came down with a stomach bug and could only manage pizza. Take from that what you will, but I don’t think the seafood was the culprit as Mrs. R&R was fine.
Further south is the expansive sand beach, overlooked by hotels and resorts. A great place for a walk but a brave place for a swim.
Essaouira for two nights;
Our flight from Essaouira to London was 232MAD (£16.50).
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