A Day Trip to Essaouira – Best things to see and do in Essaouira, Morocco
Need a break from the chaotic souks in the Medina? Why not take a day trip to Essaouira.
We planned a 10 day trip to Morocco to celebrate our wedding anniversary and ticked off one from our bucket list, which included a trip to the Sahara Desert and luxury camping overnight in the desert. Since our riad was located in the heart of the Medina, we fancied a trip somewhere for a day away from the hustle and bustle of the Medina. But where do we go? Our adventure to the Sahara Desert would take us through the Atlas Mountains. So many places to visit.
Essaouira ‘The Pearl of the Kingdon’
“Ian, shall we go and visit one of the Game of Thrones location at Essaouira?”
“I don’t mind Lana. You choose!”
Now, being huge Game of Thrones fans we had to visit all of the locations in Morocco where they filmed the hit TV series. Two of the locations we’d be able to visit during our Sahara Desert trip and the other location was set in Essaouira. Well, it’s a no brainer – Essaouira it is!
So here are our best things to see and do in Essaouira.
Our Drive to Essaouira
From Marakech, Essaouria is just under a three hour drive and is connected by a motorway, which makes Essaouria easily accessible and great to be explored in a day. Group tours on a bus aren’t for us, so we decided to hire a private car with a driver for the trip. Our riad arranged the private car two days before the trip, costing us £70 for both of us including the driver and car. The price is fixed for the private car, so well worth the money if there’s more than two of you.
We were picked up from our riad around 9am in a comfortable black saloon car. Our driver (Abdoul) was very friendly, chit chatting away and advised us that we could stop anytime for photo opportunities and toilet breaks.
Driving through the many small towns, we were mesmerised by the lush fresh fruit and vegetables grown in the vast fields. Abdoul narrated during our journey to Essaouira, giving us information about the towns and pointing things out to us. It’s fascinating to see the contrast of the arid land, to areas where there is water available for various produce to be grown. There were argan oil trees, olive oil trees and various fruits and vegetables, such as melons we spotted during our drive but in the more arid areas there tended to be only argan or olive trees as they require less water.
Have you tried Moroccan wine? In the city Meknes, the grapes grown here are famous for producing wine due to the sunny climate and the natural rich soils.
The roads actually seemed in really good condition with only a couple of pot holes to weave around.
“Do you want to see goats on trees?” asked Abdoul
“Goats on trees! Yes, please” I quickly responded.
Many, many years ago I visited Agadir with a friend and I mentioned to Ian about the goats on the trees and he thinks they are hilarious!
We were driving in Hanshan and Abdoul pulled over to the side of the road. There they were … goats on trees! As we leapt out of the car, on first sight it seemed as if these goats were glued to the trees. Were they real?? All of a sudden I saw one of the goats munching on the leaves of the argan tree. The goats climb up the trees to find their food and get to the fruit. Yes, photos were taken to prove that we saw them standing still on the branches! Ha ha!
Almost 3 hours later, we finally arrived at the seaside town of Essaouira just before 1pm. Abdoul parked up and advised us that he wasn’t allowed to be our guide. Instead he showed us where to explore, places to eat and what to avoid in the town. He also gave us a phone so we could contact him when we wanted to leave or if we had any problems.
Essaouira (pronounced Essa – Weera), formerly known as Mogador is a lovely small coastal town located on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. From 1912 to 1956, this city was known as Mogador and was changed to Essaouria with the independence of Morocco. Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah was the founder of the city and had the Skala du Port fortifications built. The port played an important part in trading with Africa, Europe and America.
This vibrant town town is perfect if you’re looking for somewhere a little more chilled out, compared to the chaotic hustle and bustle of Marrakech. Essaouira is fortified with the ramparts, which offer beautiful views of the harbour and the town. Essaouria was also used as the location of Astapor – the home of the unsullied in Game of Thrones.
Best Things to See and Do in Essaouria
Our driver dropped us off by the square where we followed the flocks of seagulls and headed towards the fishing port. The first thing we spotted were the famous blue fishing boats which appeared in the TV hit series ‘Game of Thrones’. Many of the bright blue boats were tied up, bobbing up and down on the water.
The fishing port was very busy, with locals buying fresh fish as the fishermen were bringing in the catch of the day. Watch the fisherman sort out the fishing nets and browse the fresh fish on display. The blue boats are often used for fishing and the fish would be sold in the market at the port. Oooh the smell of the fish does hit you when you stroll through the port. Silly me I was wearing flip flops and the mud was flicking onto the back of my legs. Just watch what you’re stepping in!
There were so many seagulls pecking at the unwanted fish and flying in circles above us. Whenever a seagull flies above me, I’m always wary if they’re going to poo on me! … haha. What a variety of fish to buy, shame we weren’t staying overnight at Essaouira. You can even pick your fish and they’ll grill it in front of you ready for you to eat.
Walk along the walls of the port and watch the waves of the Atlantic ocean roll in. Head right to the end pf the port wall and enjoy the picturesque views of the fort.
Explore the Ramparts of the Skala du Port
At the end of the harbour you’ll spot the bastion … why not explore the Skala du Port. Walk along the ramparts and take in the stunning views of the town, harbour and Ile de Mogador. You’ll be able to see the island of Mogador in the near distance; six bastions were built in the late 18th century and the open air prison used to accommodate the pilgrims from Mecca.
The Island of Mogador protects the harbour from the strong winds, which in turn creates the water ideal for fishing. Nowadays the island is uninhabited and it is forbidden to access the island, as it is used as a preserve for colonies of Eleonora’s falcons and is also a breeding environment for other various species of birds. This is a great attraction for bird watchers.
Price: Adults 10dhs, Child 3 dhs
Shop the Souks in the Medina
The Medina of Essaouria is a UNESCO World Heritage since 2001. Stroll the narrow streets of the walled Medina and haggle with the shop owners for some of the wonderful souvenirs you can buy to take home. Browse the souks and you’ll discover an Aladdin’s cave filled with brass lampshades, colourful handmade rugs, spices, argan oil and any knick-knacks you wish to buy.
Surprisingly the souks at Essaouira were not chaotic as compared to Marrakech – it was actually fairly relaxing – with no horse and carts to watch out for or bicycles or mopeds weaving in and out. For once we actually didn’t get lost in the souks – it was very easy to navigate the tiny streets.
Try the Seafood
If you’re looking for a bite to eat then you have to try the fantastic seafood in Essaouira. Abdoul recommended us to try the seafood at the many stalls near the beach, however we decided to look for the restaurant La Table de Madada which received rave reviews. Just our luck by the time we decided to have a late lunch, the restaurant was only serving small bites like tapas. We heard that the crab gratin was divine! What a shame, maybe next time.
We ventured into the restaurant ‘El Minzah’ and happened to be the only customers there. They had a big party earlier so luckily we missed them. Since Ian and I were feeling a bit peckish, we opted for the 3 course set menu of 290 Dhs. And yes, seafood was on the menu. To start we had the lobster bisque accompanied with fresh local Moroccan bread. Oh my this was packed full of flavour and was delicious. We each had two servings of the bisque …. fantastic!
The main was a platter of juicy langoustine and fresh calamari served with lashings of mayonnaise. Fresh and tasty we definitely could have eaten more. Finger lickin’ good!
There was also a plate of fat juicy prawns too … mmmm so fresh!
Dessert was a choice of chocolate fondant or the creme brulée. Being a chocoholic I opted for the fondant and Ian went for the creme brulée. The waiter came back saying that the chocolate fondants were sold out due to the large party earlier. Damn I was so looking forward to it. I ended up with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream instead 🙁
Walk along Essaouira Beach
To walk off our meal we slowly headed towards Essaouria beach – a long wide stretch of sandy beach. It was a little bit breezy when we arrived and the water was a touch cold when I dipped my toes in the sea. Ian might have heard a slight eeeek from me!
Did you know that Essaouira is known as North Africa’s windy capital? The beach is perfect for kite surfing, horse riding or even a camel ride. Why not grab a drink and watch the sun go down.
Around 5pm we called Abdoul to pick us up and headed back to Marrakech ready for our long drive back.
Argan Oil Cooperative
On the way back we stopped off at an Argan Oil Co-operative. This argan oil co-operative is run entirely by women. Argan oil has so many benefits, for example in cooking and for cosmetics and is often sold in the spice shops in Morocco. The co-operatives help the women from the villages guarantee an income, social status and offers fair trade of the organic argan oil products.
We were led through the cooperative with the women showing us the process of extracting the argan oil from the nut to the finished products. It was very interesting to see the traditional processes used and being able to touch the raw ingredients.
The argan fruit is collected and dried in the open air to extract the kernal. The kernals are ground up and then pressed to make the oil. The extraction methods are different for culinary and cosmetic purposes.
We tasted the argan and it had a slightly nutty flavour. Eventually we purchased a face mask and lip balm – all natural organic argan oil products. The products sold at the co-operative are hand processed using traditional methods.
- If you hire a private car and a driver, it might be cheaper to split the price if you’re in a group. You can stop whenever you want for toilet breaks and snacks.
- The drive to Essaouira is just under 3 hours.
- When in Essaouira, don’t listen to other people for directions as they may lead you to the wrong place.
- You might be offered some hash, just ignore them and walk on.
Our drive back to Marrakech took roughly 2.5 hours. Essaouira is a great day day trip from Marrakech and is a wonderful escape from the craziness of the souks in Marrakech. If you have time then we’d recommend staying overnight in a riad at Essaouira. If you’re die hard fans of Game of Thrones like us, then visiting the seaside town is a must. There’s so much to see and do and let’s not forget about sampling the seafood.
Price for private car with driver: 1100 Dhs
Have you visited Essaouira? What were your favourite things to see in Essaouira?
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