When most travelers plan trips to Morocco, they head to the busy, chaotic cities of Marrakech and Fes, and sadly they overlook smaller, charming Moroccan towns like Essaouira. This small coastal town shouldn’t be ignored, though, since it offers an authentic Moroccan experience without the hoards of tourists. Sitting on the Atlantic coast, Essaouira boasts fantastic beaches, delicious Moroccan cuisine, and plenty of charm and sophistication. It may not have the chaos and the excitement of Marrakech, but that’s one of its main appeals. After visiting many cities in Morocco over the years, I have finally found my favorite Moroccan city – Essaouira.
My recent trip to Morocco took me again to Marrakech, which I had visited many times already. While I enjoy the energy and the excitement of Marrakech, I had a craving to see more of Morocco, so I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to leave Marrakech in order to find a more peaceful, less crowded Moroccan city, and I ended up in Essaouira. As soon as I arrived in Essaouira, I fell in love with the town, and I knew I wanted to spend at least a couple of days exploring this coastal community. So I pulled up my HotelTonight app and booked a great last-minute hotel in Essaouira, and just like that I was ready to explore this underrated Moroccan city.
No matter which Moroccan town you visit, you’ll always find yourself wandering the streets of the old medina. I was pleasantly surprised by Essaouira’s medina, as this walled district of the town was far less hectic and crowded than the other Moroccan medinas I had visited. This medina has a very bohemian, relaxed vibe, and it’s full of beautiful old buildings, whitewashed walls and blue doorways, and a souk that surprisingly won’t overwhelm you. After wandering through the medina for about an hour, I concluded that Essaouira is Marrakech’s laidback younger sister, and I could tell almost immediately that Essaouira was going to be my favorite city in Morocco.
The Portuguese once ruled this area, but their influence is evident virtually nowhere in town expect for the ramparts. Built by the Portuguese as a form of defense, these ramparts are still in excellent condition, and they add to the majestic, Old World atmosphere of Essaouira. I spent the afternoon walking up and down the ramparts, which I quickly discovered is one of the best ways to view the sunset over the Atlantic. If you want to find the best views in Essaouira, all you have to do is walk along the ramparts and look out over the ocean.
Essaouira is one of the most popular beach cities in Morocco. Since it’s located right on the Atlantic, the beaches of Essaouira are often windy, which makes it the perfect place for water sports. Just take a walk along one of the beaches in Essaouira and you’ll see countless people partaking in extreme water sports, such as wind surfing, kite surfing and also regular surfing. If you’re like me and love a an adrenaline rush, you will love jumping into the water and testing out some of Essaouira’s most popular water sports. I took some kite surfing lessons during my stay in Essaouira, and while it was slightly terrifying at first, by the end of the day I felt like I had picked up the sport pretty quickly.
For a snapshot of traditional Essaouira life, you need to visit the fish market and the fish port. In my opinion, this is an essential Essaouira experience, as you get to see how locals go about their daily lives–and imagine how life used to be hundreds of years ago. I wandered through the lively fish market and saw fishermen dragging in their fresh hauls, and, of course, I stopped at one of the grilling stations and ordered some fresh fish. It was easily one of the best meals I had during my stay in Morocco.
Had Dra is located just outside of the Essaouira city center, and it’s where you should go for an authentic Moroccan market experience. Whether you’re shopping for souvenirs or just want to see what a real (read: not touristy) Moroccan market looks like, you should make the trip out to Had Dra. As I wandered the market, I saw pens of livestock, mounds of fresh fruit and vegetables and locals bartering over goods.
If you want to experience the culture of Morocco without enduring the chaos of cities like Marrakech and Fes, you should visit Essaouira. This calm coastal town is full of charm and beauty, and it’s certainly the prettiest city I’ve visited in Morocco. I am already dreaming of my return trip to the lovely city of Essaouira, and when I do, you can bet that I’ll book my last-minute Essaouira hotel through HotelTonight.