If you’re on the hunt for a unique and off-beat destination that’s a little bit hippie, a little bit historic, and a whole lot cool, then you’ll want to add Essaouira to your travel bucket list. This charming coastal town located on the Atlantic coast of Morocco has it all: colorful souks, ancient ramparts, stunning beaches, and a vibrant arts scene that will leave you feeling inspired and energized.
I visited Essaouira for four days and loved it so much that I returned for an additional two weeks. This Essaouira travel guide covers everything you need to know about this Moroccan paradise, full of insider tips and local knowledge.
Whether you’re looking to soak up the sun on a lazy beach day, discover hidden gems in the medina, or sample some mouth-watering Moroccan cuisine, this Essaouira travel guide has got you covered.
So, grab your passport, and let’s dive into the magic of Essaouira!
Essaouira Travel Guide Basic Information
Language: The main language in Essaouira is Derija, or Moroccan Arabic, though English, French, and Spanish are widely spoken.
Currency: The currency used in Essaouira, Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD). There are a few places to exchange cash in town, or you can use a local ATM to withdram dirhams (I recommend the Societe Generale on the edge of the medina near the port).
Getting Around Essaouira: Essaouira is a small town that is easily walkable. Taxis are also readily available and inexpensive if you want to explore areas outside of the medina. The best place to find them is the taxi stand at Place Moulay Hassan (the main square) by the port, or at Bab Marrakech. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are places to rent bicycles and scooters to navigate the flat city at your own pace.
To open up this Essaouira travel guide, I thought I’d start with a brief history of this charming coastal city.
Believe it or not, people have been living in this area since prehistoric times, making it one of the best places to visit in Morocco for history buffs. The Phoenicians, Romans, and Berbers all left their marks on the region. But it wasn’t until the 18th century that Essaouira really came into its own.
Back then, the city was known as Mogador and was a bustling port town. The sultan at the time, Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah, decided to build a new port here to boost trade with Europe and the Americas. He hired a French architect to design the city, and you can still see the European influence in the city’s wide streets and fortified walls.
Essaouira quickly became an important trading hub for goods like spices, textiles, and precious metals. But it wasn’t just about business – the city also attracted artists and musicians who were drawn to its creative energy. Famous musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley even spent time here in the 1960s and 70s!
Today, Essaouira is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination. Its winding streets, colorful markets, and sandy beaches continue to enchant visitors from all over the world.
Curious about all that area has to offer? Discover its abundance in the rest of this Essaouira travel guide.
How to Get to Essaouira
Essaouira is most easily accessed from Marrakech. It’s a quick two hours by car and three hours by bus, making it a superb day trip or a longer coastal getaway.
If you’re on a budget, you can take a CTM bus or an Autocar run by ONCF from Marrakech. Tickets are bookable online, and the buses are quite comfortable. They run multiple times a day, and tickets are normally around 100 dirhams.
I personally recommend taking the ONCF Autocar because it drops you off right outside of the medina. Otherwise, the CTM bus station is about a five minute taxi ride away.
CTM buses also run between Casablanca and Essaouira. The trip is about six hours.
Alternatively, you can hire a private driver to take you from Marrakech or Casablanca to Essaouira. Or you can always rent a car and drive yourself. Just be aware that Moroccan roads can be a little chaotic, so make sure you’re up for the challenge!
Best Time to Visit Essaouira
The best time to visit Essaouira depends on what you’re after.
If you’re looking for some sun-soaked days at the beach, then the summer months (June-August) are your best bet. With average temperatures of 25°C (77°F), you can work on that tan while soaking up the salty sea breeze. Plus, there are plenty of beach activities to keep you entertained, from surfing to kiteboarding. Just be prepared for crowds.
But, if you’re more interested in exploring the city’s cultural and historical sites, then the cooler months of October to May might be more your jam. The weather is mild, with temperatures averaging around 20°C (68°F), making it perfect for strolling around the charming old town or checking out the local markets without the summer hoards.
The best time to visit Essaouira for music lovers is during the annual Gnaoua and World Music Festival, which takes place in late June. This lively event celebrates traditional Moroccan music and brings together musicians from all over the world for a truly unforgettable experience.
For a complete month by month breakdown, check out my complete article on the best time to visit Essaouira.
What to Do in Essaouira
Essaouira is teeming with possibilities, from adrenaline pumping excusion to chilled out days wandering the medina. Here’s a quick idea of what to do in Essaouira, or check out my ultimate guide to unique things to do in Essaouira to get off the tourist track!
1. Explore the Medina
The Medina is the old town of Essaouira, and it’s bursting with narrow alleyways, vibrant markets, and charming architecture. Get lost in the maze of streets and discover hidden gems like the Moulay Hassan square, where locals gather to play music and drink tea.
2. Ride Camels on the Beach
These majestic creatures will give you a new perspective on the stunning coastline, and you’ll feel like a true desert explorer atop a camel on the beach. From a quick sunset ride to hours exploring the dunes on camelback, you can do it all in Essaouira.
3. Take a Kite Surfing Lesson
Essaouira is known for its strong winds, making it a popular spot for windsurfing and kitesurfing. If you’re feeling adventurous, sign up for a lesson and learn to ride the waves like a pro.
4. Eat Oysters at the Port
As a fishing town, so it’s no surprise that the seafood in Essaouira is incredibly varied and delicious. Head down to the port to feast on freshly shucked oysters, marinated octopus, and the catch of the day while watching fishermen at work. The entrance to the port is also where you can find Essaouira’s iconic blue boats.
5. Go Quad Biking in the Dunes
I personally think that quad biking is one of the best things to do in Essaouira. So much so that I’ve gone twice! Book a tour with Quad Attitude and you’ll explore the coastline, mangroves, and huge dunes with an awesome guide. It’s an amazing way to discover the area with lots of cool photo ops.
6. Visit Essaouira’s Art Galleries
Essaouira has a thriving art scene, with plenty of galleries showcasing local and international artists. Wander through the galleries and admire the stunning works of art, or even buy a unique piece to bring home with you.
7. Watch Sunset at Skala de la Ville
Skala de la Ville is a historic fortress that overlooks the sea on the edge of the Essaouira medina. The 18th-century city walls are a popular tourist spot, where you admire the beach and see waves crashing against the rocks. They even played a backdrop for Astapor in Game of Thrones. Visit at sunset for a magical moment but arrive early to secure the best seat!
8. Listen to Gnaoua Music
Gnaoua music is the beating heart of Essaouira, and you’ll find it in every corner of the city. It’s a traditional style of music that originated in West Africa and is now popular in Morocco. You can listen to Gnaoua music live in venues and restaurants throughout the medina, so keep your ears open to experience something truly special.
Where to Eat in Essaouira
Essaouira is a foodie paradise and there are tons of incredible places to eat Moroccan and international cuisine. Here are some of the best restaurants in Essaouira that are worthy of your tastebuds.
Where to Stay in Essaouira
The first time I visited Essaouira, I stayed at the most amazing Airbnb called Dar Ronde. It’s an entire circular riad, complete with a sauna and fresh breakfast every day. The staff are extra attentive, and the rooftop is the best place to relax. I can’t recommend it enough, whether you’re traveling solo, as a couple, or with family.
Here are some more options to consider for where to stay in Essaouira:
Essaouira Beach Hostel: This chilled out hostel is the perfect place for budget travelers, with dorms for around $13 a night and private rooms for $40. It’s beachfront, with a stunning terrace and delicious breakfast.
Chill Art Hostel: Embodying the spirit of Essaouira, this funky riad is a top budget option in the medina. Dorms can be as low as $11 a night, and there’s even an apartment with a terrace to rent for $40 if you’re looking for more space.
Riad Dar Abi: Nice riad with colorful private rooms for around $55. Delicious Moroccan breakfast on the tiled terrace is an experience you remember forever.
Riad Baladin: Stunning white washed riad with a bohemian vibe and double rooms for just under $100. The medina location is unmatched, and the rooms are outfitted with stylish decor — the bathrooms are particularly swanky.
Riad Chbanate: As one of the many luxurious places to stay in Essaouira, expect the five star treatment at this gorgeous riad. Double rooms designed in a suite style with a sitting area, bathtubs, and a private terrace for around $145 a night. Don’t forget to make use of the hot tub on the roof!
Riad Emotion: This opulent riad offers traditional Moroccan accommodation in Essaouira. Choose between cushy rooms or large suites (around $150 per night) and soak in the views from the high rooftop.
If you’ll be in Essaouira for a while, it’s pretty easy to find a monthly rental rather than paying a day rate somewhere. We found a great deal by asking a shop owner if he knew any apartments for rent and ended up with a duplex and a huge private terrace overlooking the ocean. Most people in Essaouira are quick to offer help, all you need to do is ask.
What to Wear in Essaouira
When it comes to dressing for Essaouira, comfort and modesty are key. Here are some fun and casual tips for what to wear:
What to wear in Essaouira for women:
- A loose-fitting maxi dress or skirt is a great option for staying cool in the hot weather while also staying modest. I don’t recommend wearing shorts, mini skirts, or anything revealing.
- Bring a lightweight scarf or shawl to cover your shoulders if you plan on wearing tank tops.
- Pack a jacket for strong winds and cooler evenings.
- Comfortable sandals or sneakers are a must for walking on the cobblestone streets of the Medina.
- Don’t forget a pair of sunglasses and a hat to protect yourself from the strong sun rays.
What to wear in Essaouira for men:
- A loose-fitting shirt and pants in lightweight materials, like cotton or linen, will keep you comfortable in the warm weather.
- Shorts are generally acceptable, but it’s best to avoid overly short or tight shorts out of respect for the local culture.
- Closed-toe shoes, like sneakers or loafers, are ideal for walking around the city.
- Bring a light jacket or sweater for the cooler evenings, as it can get quite windy by the coast.
Overall, remember to dress modestly and comfortably, but don’t be afraid to add a pop of color or pattern to your outfit.
Essaouira Travel Tips
Here are some final tips for this Essaouira travel guide to help you make the most out of your trip.