Located on the western coast of Morocco, the city of Essaouira is famous for its seaside fortress walls—a sight that has given it a name that translates to “the little rampart.” The city’s historical feel has made it popular amongst film and television makers alike, making notable appearances in Orson Welles’ 1952 Othello, and more recently serving as the setting for several scenes in HBO’s epic fantasy series Game of Thrones. If you would like to visit the picture-perfect buildings and beaches of Essaouira, here are some things to see, eat, and do.
Getting to Essaouira
Essaouira’s isolated location makes it quite difficult to get to – and is part of the reason why it is so popular. The nearest major city is Agadir to the south, but the road that connects it to Essaouira is windy and you can expect the journey to take about 3 hours. If you’re prepared to take this slower route, the stunning coastal views make it more than worth the extra time it takes.
However, most people make the journey from Marrakech to Essaouira – the next closest major city. This route is serviced by some newer roads, but they are still narrow and traffic can be bad at rush hour or during the holidays, so be prepared for some delays. There is no train between Marrakech to Essaouira, and the buses are never on time and have a bad safety record, so your best bet is taking a grand taxi.
How Much Is a Grand Taxi to Essaouira?
Using our grand taxi fare calculator, here are our estimated prices for a taxi to Essaouira:
Agadir to Essaouira: 830dhs (about €80)
Marrakech to Essaouira: 920dhs (about €90)
Casablanca to Essaouira: 1920dhs (about €180)
Rabat to Essaouira: 2300dhs (about €215)
These prices do not include a tip, and are to be used only as a guide. You may find you pay more or less, depending on how well you can haggle in Morocco. You also need to take into account other factors, such as the time of day, and any public holidays or celebrations that may be taking place while you are in Morocco.
Also bear in mind that these prices are for the entire taxi. It is possible to travel cheaper if you just pay for a seat. In this case, divide the total cost of the taxi by 6. Even on popular routes like from Marrakech to Essaouira, you may have to wait a while for all of the seats to fill up. Your taxi may not go directly to its destination either, but at least you save a few dirhams this way.
In addition, there are a small number of companies that offer private transport within Morocco. You can expect to pay slightly more than for a grand taxi, but the vehicles are new, air-conditioned and normally have English-speaking drivers. Find out more about private transport in Morocco.
Within the City
Like so many other Moroccan cities, Essaouira has a medina; unlike many other medinas, however, the one in Essaouira is actually laid out in a grid system. This, combined with its small size, makes the Essaouira medina one of the easier ones to navigate. Because Essaouira still very much captures the flavor of an 18th century port city—having been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site—wandering around the medina with its small shops and restaurants is sure to make for a pleasant morning or afternoon. Be careful, however, of the mopeds and occasional donkey cart that may try to pass you in the streets.
You can also climb the stairs onto the ramparts on the outer fortifications. The original cannons from the 1700s are still in place, and because the walls are quite high, you can enjoy beautiful views of both city and ocean while taking a leisurely stroll. There is a 10 MAD entrance fee to go to the top.
On the other side of the ramparts is the fishing port; this area of town is less touristy than other parts of Essaouira, and you can come here to see fleets of small blue fishing boats, watch the fisherman bring in their catch, and buy some fresh seafood.
Of course, Essaouira is particularly famous for its beaches, which are popular with locals and tourists alike. Going for a relaxing swim or picnic on the shore might be difficult, as Essaouiran beaches have strong currents and high winds. When the wind is just right, however, you can rent equipment and learn how to windsurf and kitesurf.
Around the City
3 kilometers away from the Essaouira medina lies the village of Diabat. This small Berber village is most famous for its association with Jimi Hendrix—the guitarist reportedly spent three days here when he visited Morocco in 1969. The village has a lovely beach of its own with a ruined fort, as well as a Jimi Hendrix-themed café.
Essaouira is also surrounded by amazing natural scenery and a beautiful countryside. There’s forests of thuya and argan (where famous tree-climbing goats have been spotted in the canopy), huge stretches of sand dunes, and numerous Berber villages. You can explore these areas through an ecotourism company on half day and full day trips. Look around the city to find one with an acceptable price and a decent itinerary.
Things to Eat
Essaouira has plenty of restaurants with a variety of foods. Fresh seafood, however, is particularly prevalent in this port city. You can go to the local fish market to buy fresh catches from the fishermen, paying by weight. Then, you can take your order to the kitchen area in the market where it will then be cooked for you. Prices are indicated on a large board at one end of the market, but costs here can still be surprisingly high. Still, the place is worth a visit, particularly if you’re a fan of seafood.
A particularly popular restaurant for a nicer sit-down meal is Umia, a fusion restaurant with chic décor and an intimate atmosphere. Reviews praised the friendly customer service and noted that the prices were very reasonable. There are also several vegan-friendly options, including Shyadma’s Vegan Food, a small establishment known for using seasonal produce from the local markets.
Both quality coffee and mint tea are available throughout town, either in cafes or in smaller street side stands. Mint tea goes for about 6 MAD a cup, but many shop owners will offer it free of charge in hopes of enticing a purchase from you.
As a smaller city than other popular Moroccan destinations like Marrakech and Fes, Essaouria is generally safe. However, hustlers are prevalent in more touristy areas, especially at long distance bus stations.
Essaouira’s weather is generally quite comfortable, if a little windy. The area has a Mediterranean climate, and the nearby ocean makes sure that temperatures remain mild throughout the year.