Located by the Atlantic Ocean, Essaouira in Western Morocco is bohemian haven, a perfect escape from the madness of Marrakech. Here, traders leisurely sip their teas as tourists pass-by, who will face little aggression or bother from the vendors in the medina. A simple “non, merci” usually does the trick, which is a far cry from the usual battles of sweat and tears in Marrakechi souks.
Having heard nothing but praise from many, my sister and I embarked on a two-hour journey to Essaouira from Imintanoute, after our day in a Berber household. Though a seemingly charming city, there is little to do for non-surfers. A packed day of walking, haggling, and eating was most definitely sufficient.
Imintanoute to Essaouira
We arrived in Essaouira after travelling by coach from Imintanoute. It was an easy destination to reach after spending a night at The Berber Cultural Centre.
We paid a mere 30 DH from Imintanoute to Essaouira (via the service to Agadir): we rode a 15 DH taxi to Chichaoua (as the Essaouira service did not pass through Imintanoute), where we waited for a coach.
We found that having taken the bus locals use, some aggressive men boarded the bus once we reached Essaouira and tried (and miserably failed) to persuade the handful of tourists to stay at their hostel/hotel. I found it very off-putting and stressful as they tried to block the aisle, leaving me trapped by my seat. My response? I pushed past them in a shocked yet confident manner. Soon after, I felt alarmed, uncomfortable, and anxious of the unknown that was Essaouira, the so-called “chilled” city of Morocco.
They remained to shout prices and hotel names at us, which we happily ignored as we made a swift exit from the ‘bus station’ (read: an empty bit of land).
Walking by the markets and smelling the sea (read: fish), the scenes by the bus station, with clear remnants of Essaouira’s arty past, reminded me a little of a scene from Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby: a humble and faded city for the creatives.
Do not be alarmed if men approach you with an empty cart offering to take your bags. Whilst this was not something we did, we saw many people who took advantage of this service. You’d find men in the medina shouting “balak, balak” (get out of the way) as they pushed past the crowds pullings carts filled with produce and souvenir items for the souks.
Atlantic Hostel: 34 Derb Lebbana, Essaouira // Facebook
We did not book ourself into a hostel, but we knew that we wanted to head towards Atlantic Hostel, due to a friend’s recommendation. Just off the medina, the hostel was conveniently tucked away in a small, peaceful alleyway.
Despite the rave reviews we were told, there were a few things that tainted my experience:
- We were charged 200 DH for a standard double room, despite their HostelWorld site charging only 127 DH per night.
- I realise that we did not have reservations, but little effort was made in making us feel at home, compared to, say, Riad Dia (our hostel in Marrakech).
- Our double room was right next to the toilet. Normally, this would not bother me. However, the toilet stank. All through the evening and the next morning, our room reeked of toilet smell. We could not escape fast enough for check-out.
Due to our busy schedule the next day, we forgot to mention these complaints to the managers, however. I don’t want to be one of those people who act as though everything was perfect, and then turn into a keyboard warrior and go all sassy on TripAdvisor. I’d like to be 100% honest about my stay, and so I give you my (and my sister’s) words.
We walked around the Bab Skala, leisurely admiring as the waves hit the rocks surrounding the remains of the old city. As we weaved through the medina, the souks pleasantly surprised us: everyone was chilled and laid-back; I often spotted vendors on chairs with a cup of tea, something almost unheard of in the middle of Marrakech. The chilled atmosphere was certainly applaudable, a reason many fall for Essaouira at first sight.
Wooden/carved souvenirs are supposedly Essaouira’s finest offerings; I had a gander at one or two things, but none caught my eye.
Chaabi Chic: 135 Rue Mellah, Essaouira // Facebook
My sister and I roamed around for a cool dinner spot. We were searching for La Cantina, which was unfortunately shut that evening. Instead, we sat down for dinner at Chaabi Chic, an establishment on the same courtyard. I devoured the very large bowl of salad given to me, which was made vegan upon my request; it was fresh and filling.
La Maison Du Cinema: 14 Rue Laalouj, Essaouira // Website
The high winds meant our plans for an evening at a rooftop bar/restaurant had to be cancelled. Instead, we checked out the uber cool La Maison Du Cinema, a restaurant-slash-French film there house. For 90 DH, a three-course meal and film is provided, whilst a mere 40 DH gives you a drink of choice only, a preferable option for post-dinner guests like ourselves.
We watched Nos Femmes as we sipped some teas to warm ourselves.
Breakfast of the day: crêpes
The next morning, true to Essaouira’s laid-back vibes, many of the eating establishments we’d like to check out for breakfast remained closed. In fact, most restaurants and cafes were not open until 11 am/12 pm. A crêperie by the seafront was open for business; thus, crêpes were consumed as the sea breeze wished us good morning.
Another wander around the souks for a last-minute souvenir shop. I bought my mother a bar of argan oil soap from a women’s co-operative shop, whilst I picked out a couple of beautifully-adorned mini tagine pots for friends. The vendors were ever so charming and genuine; the woman selling argan oil products even wished us safe travels, and requested my sister and I to look after one another, pleasantries which were unheard of from Marrakechi vendors.
YOO (juice stall): Place Marche Aux Grains // Facebook
Just off the medina, YOO, a juice stall was a breath of fresh air amongst all the cooked food we have consumed in the past couple of days in Morocco. Cold-pressed, raw fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies and yoghurts offered by YOO proved to be very enticing; the fresh produce decorated the inside of the stall quite nicely.
What makes this juice stall different from the others? The owners were charming, and they do not offer wi-fi. Physical, mental AND a digital detox… what is not to love?!
By the fisheries, freshly caught fish are cooked to your preference, which is usually served with some vegetables/salad and some bread. My sister was contemplating on getting her lunch here, but she had second thoughts.
Walking further down the walkway, we were greeted by the bright blue hue of the main port. Blue fishing boats lined the pier, and some men were hard at work building boats just across from us. The colourful scenes at the port proved to be a photographer’s heaven. Whilst my sister and I are only above average snap happy tourists, some pictures we took turned out to be very well composed.
Lunch at Baladin: Rue Sidi Madfoul // Website
My sister made fun of how much I consulted my Lonely Planet guidebook. In my defence, there was not a lot on the internet regarding good places to eat in Essaouira; those that were featured in Happy Cow were either out of business or closed until supper. Thus, the promise of simple yet excellent pasta dishes at Baladin won us over.
The menu consisted of about 10-15 items, which were executed very well. It was a perfect spot for people watching too, with many vendors trying their luck on the tourists that entered and exited the gates towards Bab Skala; a man sold knitted hats across from Babaldi, and his knitting skills were impressive.
I made a vlog for the latter part of my Essaouira travels. Click the link to watch it!
Tip: Baladin is right next to the entrance of Bab Skala; as we were weaving through the souks earlier that day, we ended up at Baladin Hotel, which was tucked away in an alleyway.
A post-lunch walk was needed to burn the huge portion of pasta (and yet more bread that accompanied it). We strolled along the beach, watching Western families in their swimming gear, ever so keen for the little bit of sunshine to help build their holiday tans. There were groups of kids and men playing football; couples holding hands; and a very desperate man touting space cakes at my sister and I. “It will make you very happy, yeah?!”
The stalls by Atlantic Hostel sold a large range of consumables, fortunately. Thus, I was able to stock up on some bananas, dried figs and some dates for very little money.
In Marrakech, dried fruits sold for about 60 DH and up to 160/170 DH for Medjool dates. I was told by a friend to pay no more than 20-30 DH for a kilo. Besides, he says, a lot of the dates were probably non-organic. In the end, I paid less than 60 DH for just under 2 kilos of dried fruits.
Journey back to Marrakech
Whilst we took the coach most locals would use to reach Essaouira, we were recommended the Supratour bus by the staff at Atlantic Hostel. We were very grateful, to say the least. A couple of stops for toilets/food, and air-conditioned facilities. Plus, we did not have the previous fiasco involving random men boarding the bus once we got to Marrakech.
Whilst we enjoyed the familiarity of going back to our base, we missed Essaouira’s laid-back atmosphere and chilled-out vibes. Though I personally did not warm to the city at the beginning, my appreciation for it gradually unfolded as a surprise. A worthy trip away from hustle and bustle of Marrakech, definitely.
— TIPS — It’s very windy in Essaouira. Bring layers to cover up! Also, it’s a lovely place/atmosphere to stock up on souvenirs.
I love reading people’s ’24 hours in…’ posts. If you have recently wrote one, feel free to share your links below!