Essaouira is a laid back coastal town that offers travelers a nice break from the hubbub of Marrakech which is just a few hours away. Visitors to Essaouira are attracted to its beaches, fresh seafood and medina.
Essaouira's AttractionsEssaouira's biggest attraction may be its relaxing atmosphere. It's not a big town, and being a beach place it has a holiday feel about it. Essaouira is very much a working port and a fishing town.
The Medina and Souqs (markets)
If the medinas of Marrakech or Fes overwhelmed you, you'll enjoy a more relaxed shopping experience in Essaouira (but not necessarily better prices). The medina is surrounded by walls and there are 5 main gates you can navigate by. The medina is free of cars and it's also quite clean. The souqs (bazaars) are easy to navigate and you don't have to worry about getting lost. They are located around the junction between Rue Mohammed Zerktouni and Rue Mohammed el-Qory (just ask a local shopkeeper when you're there to point you in the right direction). Basically, it is a relatively small area and you can explore at your own pace and walk down any narrow alley that looks interesting to you. The only place to avoid is the Mellah area of the medina at night.
Ramparts and The Port
Essaouira's medina is walled like many old towns in Morocco and the ramparts are quite impressive as they're built on the cliffs. Locals and visitors alike enjoy strolling along the ramparts as the sun sets. The port is a busy port filled with fishing boats. A large fish auction is held every Saturday but watching the daily catch being sold every afternoon to restaurants around the harbour area, is fun to experience as well.
Essaouira is on the Atlantic coast and the water is pretty cold; it's also quite windy. Not ideal for swimming or sunbathing but fun for surfing, wind surfing or kite surfing (very cool to watch, even if you don't dare to participate yourself). The beach is also nice for a stroll and since it runs for about 6 miles (10km) there's plenty of it. Locals use the beach to play soccer and other sports as well as paddling in the summer.
Essaouira doesn't necessarily have the best hammams, but again, if the larger affairs in the cities didn't tempt you, this is a good place to try a traditional Moroccan steam bath. The sexes don't mix obviously, so this is a really great way to meet some local Moroccan women (if you're a woman). Opt for a scrub down with traditional black soap, it's really a treat. The Lonely Planet Guide to Morocco recommends the Hammam de la Kasbah (women only) and the Hammam Mounia.
Gnaoua (Gnawa) World Music Festival (June)
The Gnaoua World Music festival is held for 3 days, every June, and is Essaouira's biggest annual event. Gnaoua are the descendents of slaves originating from Black Africa who established brotherhoods throughout Morocco. They are made up of master musicians (maalem), metal castanet players, clairvoyants, mediums and their followers. This festival showcases their talents as well as that of international musicians who have embraced this form of music and mysticism.
Hotels should be booked well in advance of the festival.
Getting To and From EssaouiraMost people get to Essaouira by bus since there is no train station. There is a direct daily bus traveling from Casablanca to Essaouira which takes about 6 hours. Buses from Marrakech take around 2.5 hours and several companies travel this route. The bus station at Bab Doukkala in Marrakech is where the buses leave from. CTM is Morocco's biggest and most reliable bus company, so check with their offices first about prices and availability.
You can book your bus and train ticket simultaneously if you go with Supratours Bus Company. They leave Essaouira twice daily and take you directly to the Marrakech trains station in time to catch a train to Casablanca, Rabat or Fes.
Travelers have found that Grande Taxis will take them to Essaouira from the Marrakech airport (during the daytime only). The trip takes about 3 hours and will cost you around $80 (50 Euros), maybe less if you bargain well. Alternatively you can get a taxi to the main bus station in Marrakech (see above) and then hop on a bus to Essaouira.
Getting Around EssaouiraYou can walk around Essaouira for the most part, that's the charm of this town. Petit-taxis are the best way to get from the bus station to your hotel (although they can't go into the Medina). You can rent bicycles and motorbikes in town as well (ask at the front desk of your hotel).