“That Hippie Town” – Essaouria, Morocco

Essaouira Morocco beach from Madada Mogador rooftop

In narrowing down the cities to hit on our Morocco itinerary, we debated between Fez, Casablanca, and Rabat (in addition to Chefchaouen and Marrakech which we knew we’d visit). However, in our preparatory research, we decided that Essaouira might be the best fit for us. Surprisingly, this decision was affirmed by the many Moroccans we encountered insisting that we had to check out the hippie, coastal city.  We spent less than 24 hours in Essaouira but wished we’d allotted at least 36-48.

It’s about a 2.5-3 hour drive from Marrakech to Essaouira. We did not book this transit in advance as we had throughout the rest of our time in Morocco. The price to book through Tangier Taxi (private car service), who we used earlier in our trip, was quoted around 120 Euros ($140 USD) each way. But, we knew there was a bus for around 80 MAD ($8.50 USD) each way and thought this might be a chance to save some money; and if the bus schedule didn’t work out, then we’d read about the grand taxi service which we thought would work nicely as an on-demand ride for the 4 of us. The bus didn’t have a convenient time as we were looking to leave around 11am and the bus times were 9am or 1pm. We asked our hotel concierge about Grand Taxis and I’m pretty sure he just called his friend to drive us and charged 150 Euros for the one-way trip. I think that because of the chaos and deceit in Marrakech, I would recommend booking in advance and negotiating a set rate rather than scrambling the morning of as we did and ended up accepting a much higher fare than was necessary.

The good thing about using a private car service though, is that we were able to stop at an argan oil cooperative on the road to Essaouria. Argan trees are indigenous to Morocco, particularly near this coastal area. We saw some argan trees along the road with goats climbing the branches to snack on the fruit. There are a few oil extracting cooperatives along the road and our driver determined which we would visit. The set-up we visited seemed like it was staged for tourists to see the various steps in the traditional, manual extraction of the oil from the nut, which was very interesting, though we weren’t convinced that they were actually producing anything on-site. There is a small shop on the grounds where we were able to test some argan oil infused products like lip-balm, hand cream and even a spreadable snack of almond butter, argan oil and honey called Amlou (so tasty). I brought back small cosmetic argan oil vials for topical application to hair and skin as a souvenir and already wish I’d bought many more. This was a brief, 15-minute detour along our journey to Essaouira and I am glad that we visited, though I would not call it a “must-see” attraction and if you’re able to take the much cheaper option of the bus, which does not make this stop, then I would go with that and skip right over the argan oil cooperative.

Essaouira is a small, beach town. There are no cars allowed within the medina walls. There are many street musicians playing around the medina (music of all sorts), children playing soccer on the beach, and fishermen bringing the day’s catch to shore around sunset. There is a very relaxed vibe around Essaouira and it was a difficult adjustment from the hostility and bustle of the Marrakech medina. For instance, when people approach to assist with navigation around the streets, it is appropriate to take direction from locals/strangers here, while in Marrakech it is necessary to firmly, and perhaps rudely, insist against locals guiding you around town. I felt a bit hardened from our days in the medina of Marrakech and am afraid I was not as friendly as I would otherwise have been in Essaouira.

Essaouira Morocco Sunset

Fishing Port at Essaouira Morocco

Knowing that we only had the afternoon and evening to get to see the town, we headed to the beach to feel the water and then to the pier where the fishermen were coming in for sunset. It seems like the whole town is out and about during this hour and it is really fun to see. We wandered around a couple of shops before heading to the other side of the medina for dinner. We had three different restaurants picked out from the Fodor’s guidebook, and couldn’t find any of them, turns out they had all gone out of business. Apparently the restaurant scene turns over quickly in this small town, so I would recommend using something more up to date than a printed book to confirm that you’re looking for a place that does, in fact, exist.

We were really quite hungry at this point, so we stopped by a large hotel in the medina and the receptionist was nice enough to point us toward a restaurant that she claimed to visit frequently with her friends; she even called the restaurant to let them know we were coming. When we arrived at Il Mare, it was not very crowded and seemed like a very touristy spot. The TripAdvisor reviews were not good, but we were so hungry and confused by this point, so we just went with it. We each tried different variations of seafood tajin which were all pretty mediocre. The main benefit of this location was that there was live gnawa music which is typical Moroccan music that is often celebrated in Essaouira. After dinner we walked back to our accommodation, Madada Mogador, which we loved. The staff there are so friendly and accommodating, the breakfast is fresh and delicious, the rooms are large and modern and there is an incredible roof top terrace. There is also a beautiful, intricately decorated lobby on the first floor where we spent a few minutes before heading up to bed.

Beach Photo Essaouria Morocco

Despite the briefness of our visit, we were able to see most of the medina, with it’s night markets and live musicians as we’d wandered around trying to find a dinner spot. We were able to walk on the beach and stick our toes in the water and see glimpses of daily life in Essaouira. The city is old and charming with beautiful, brightly colored doorways against the colorless stone walls. We wish we could’ve spent a few more hours exploring in the daylight, but Katie and I had to head back to Marrakech early the next morning to catch a flight. We took the bus this time and paid less than $10 each including a fee for “checked bag”, the seats were comfortable and the people watching was, of course, fantastic. We do not regret making the effort to visit this breezy, beach town, we only regret that we did not have a few more hours (or days) to enjoy it.

Frog jumping everywhere we go, no explanation:

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