Something for Everyone
Ninety percent of visitors to Essaouira do the same thing. They come on day trips, walk and shop around the medina, eat seafood, take some photos, and maybe go along the beach.
We’ll start this guide of things to do in Essaouira covering those, but with a unique Unconventional Route perspective.
Then, for the other 10% who have more time or feel more adventurous, we’ll cover some alternative things to do that we enjoyed during the month we lived here.
(And please let us know your feedback and comments below!)
In This Guide of Things to Do in Essaouira
Part 1: The Most Popular Things to Do in Essaouira
Explore the Medina
You’re probably familiar with Moroccan medinas, such as Marrakech’s, by now. Carpets, cats, carts, narrow streets, nice doors, you know the drill.
But here’s what makes Essaouira’s medina different:
- One wide boulevard cuts through the middle. It starts at popular Moulay Hassan Square, then gets decreasingly touristy and increasingly practical for locals. After eight-hundred meters, the medina ends at Bab Doukkala gate.
- It’s small. Since it’s only about 800m long and even less wide, and every road leads to the central boulevard, you’d have to be really hopeless with directions to get hopelessly lost.
- Fewer shenanigans. For example, unlike in Marrakech’s medina, nobody in Essaouira ever told us we were going “the wrong way” to try to guide us somewhere we didn’t want to go.
- Less dodging. Rarely are bicycles, motorcycles, or donkey carts threatening to knock you over or amputate your toes.
- The ramparts. You can walk along the top of the walls by the sea, take selfies sitting on the canons, and shop in the tourist boutiques in the small shops on the narrow street below.
- Fish market. As we elaborate in our post on where to eat in Essaouira, we advise caution in buying from the fish market, but it doesn’t hurt to look.
- Argan everywhere, which brings us to the next popular thing to do in Essaouira…
Buy Argan Oil
The trees argan oil comes from are endemic to southwestern Morocco and grow mostly in the UNESCO biosphere reserve nearby Essaouira. To produce one liter of oil requires 30 kg of fresh argan fruit and 15 hours of manual labor. This explains its price: around £380, or 500 USD per liter, reportedly the world’s most expensive edible oil.
But that’s what rich desperate housewives in London pay. Closer to the source in Essaouira, you can find argan oil for much cheaper. Just be careful. Big money means big motivation to cheat out tourists.
Our friends from Essaouira repeatedly warned us of impure argan oil from the medina’s shops and argan oil “cooperatives” that aren’t as cooperative with rural workers as you’d be led to believe.
To not get ripped off, I relied on our Airbnb host Claudia to ask one of her employee’s moms to hook me up with some of the good stuff she produces on her farm. She partially filled up a small plastic Coke bottle (about 250 ml) and I paid 100dh.
Come to think of it, it felt a lot like a drug deal.
Check Out the Fishing Port
Essaouira’s fishing port is as visually appealing as it is olfactorily offensive.
Admire the bevy of blue boats, try to stay out of the way as the fishermen haul in their catch and sell it, watch them fix their nets as they chat, and snap some photos of all the action with the soaring seagulls, Sqala du Port, and medina walls in the background.
A lot of the shops in Essaouira’s medina are touristy and tacky, but not all. So like with argan oil, finding authentic, high-quality stuff at reasonable prices is part of the game. Also like argan oil, carved woodwork made from the local Thula tree is a local specialty, so be on the lookout for that.
And if you’re looking for tasteful souvenirs but are tired of haggling and want to be sure whatever you bring home won’t fall apart within days, go to L’Atelier, my favorite cooking school, cafe, and home decor shop in Essaouira.
Go to the Beach
If you’re lucky enough to catch a calm day in Essaouira, go sunbathing. Lying on the sand and swimming in a bikini is not a problem, but it’s no Miami Beach so cover up otherwise. When it’s breezy or if you feel uneasy, grab a beach chair at the fenced-off private area at Beach and Friends.
Out by Beach and Friends, you can choose to hire a camel (150dh), horse (150dh), or ATV (300dh) for a tour of the beaches and dunes south of town.
Part 2: Active, Interactive, and Adventurous Things to Do
Beach Walk to Sidi Kaouki
Sidi Kaouki is a popular surfing and kitesurfing beach town with a handful of restaurants and cafes. It’s 25km by car from Essaouira…
…Or 20 km along the beach by foot (or ATV if you’re in a hurry).
While you won’t read about it in any guidebooks and there’s no official path, the walk from Essaouira to Sidi Kaouki is a popular excursion amongst the expats living there. They all told us it takes five hours, which is exactly what it took us going at a leisurely pace.
It’s safe, relaxing, and easy. Simply follow the coast. Only at the last stretch do you hit some cliffs that force you to go a bit inland.
Once you get to Sidi Kaouki, celebrate with lunch at Chez Momo, the best seafood we had in Morocco, then take a bus or taxi back to Essaouira.
Learn to Kitesurf
Essaouira is the kitesurfing capital of Morocco, so if you are interested in embracing the wind rather than fighting it, it’s a good place to learn.
I took lessons with Essaouira Kite Paradise. The staff was friendly and very experienced. Nine hours of lessons were 220€ compared to 350€ in some popular kitesurfing spots in Europe like Lisbon.
Some fitness suggestions for those who like to stay fit while traveling like us:
- Association Tsouki. This sweatbox is easily thef best gym in town. 30dh drop-in or 150dh for the month.
- Beach jogging. A popular fitness pursuit amongst Essaouirans and expats alike.
- Calisthenics. Join the welcoming group of guys who set up bars on the beach near Bar Miramar every afternoon.
- Dune workout. Run and jump up and down and throw rocks in on the sand dunes south of town.
- Sports. Kitesurf, windsurf, surf, or join in an afternoon soccer game on the beach.
Explore Essaouira’s New Town
We’re biased because we spent a month in an Airbnb in the El Borj area of Essaouira’s new town but we prefer it to the medina.
But we didn’t think much of it at first. The rows of four-story apartment buildings aren’t much to look at or take photos of. But to get a feel for everyday Essaouiran life, some tasty pastries, and filling local lunches, it’s worth a wander.
Travel Back in Time to Had Draa’s Sunday Market
Had Draa’s Sunday market is not for the faint of heart.
Men from all over the region—Just men. The market is 99.9% male—ride for hours on their donkeys and busses to load sell their wares and load up on produce and other necessities for the week to come.
It’s chaos. You’ll see people test-riding donkeys and camels, manually hoisting newly-purchased cows on top of their trucks, getting their hair cut under tents, and buying massive amounts of produce, bread, fresh meat, and construction material.
What you won’t see are the rampant pickpockets on the prowl for unsuspecting victims. So be vigilant.
But don’t let the pickpockets and lack of women deter you from coming.
- The food is safe. For instance, a veterinarian inspects all the meat and stamps it with a seal of quality.
- Everything is ridiculously cheap. To give you an idea, we bought fresh cherry tomatoes for 2dh/kg, pomegranates for 5dh/kg, and 1/2 a freshly butchered free-range chicken for 25dh.
- And you won’t find a more memorable, untainted-by-tourism, blast-from-the-past, experience.
Do Some Moroccan Wine Tasting
Thanks to the influence of all the French expats, Essaouiara’s a great place to familiarize yourself with Moroccan wine.
For a cheap and cheerful introduction, do the 60dh wine and tapa tasting at Riad Zahra. They only include the cheapest wines in their tasting, but it’s an easy way to familiarize yourself without having to buy bottles.
Another day, make your way to Val d’Argan winery outside of Essaouira for a more refined and more expensive tasting. Lunch and wine costs 340dh. Tastings of their five wines are unlimited, so take a taxi.
Or just go to the Carrefour in Essaouira, buy a bunch of bottles and do a blind taste test.
Take a Road Trip Down the Coast
Surfers, wannabe surfers, and anyone who wants to chill in the surfer lifestyle with a Moroccan twist should consider a road trip south to Imsouane (100k, 1.8hr) and Tagazhout (150km, 3hr).
We went there on a two-night trip for Chris’ birthday. It was a pleasant change of crowds: less French retirees and day-trippers, more weekend Ryanair visitors and backpackers.
Stop at Imsouane on the way down. It’s a tiny fishing village overrun by surf shops and seafood and smoothie restaurants. Unless you come for a surf camp, a surf session (100dh for board and wetsuit) and seafood meal are enough time to spend there before moving on.
Taghazout has more going on and is worth a longer stay. The communal meals at Salt Surf, where we stayed, were a good way to meet people, and we found plenty of rooftop bars, hip cafés, and beaches in the area to keep us occupied for a couple of days.
Sip Some Spectacular Sunset Drinks
A pleasant 2.1km/1.4mi stroll from the medina to the opposite end of Essaouira’s beach, made easier by usually being with the wind, is a row of beachside watersport shops, restaurants, and bars. Most notable among them are Beach and Friends and Ocean Vagabond.
We prefer Beach and Friends because it has clearer views. The beers are pricey compared to everything else in Morocco, about 50dh per 500ml, but they’re worth it for the right to a front-row seat of the sunset with camels and kitesurfers in the foreground.
Stick around for some live music once the sun goes down then take an 8dh taxi back to the medina, if you’re staying there.
Learn to Cook
L’Atelier, my favorite place in Essaouira to work, eat quiche, drink coffee, and buy souvenirs, also offers popular cooking lessons. They cost 500dh and go from 10:30 to 3 daily.
We didn’t participate but saw, heard, and smelled lots of groups go through. They looked to leave happy, so consider it for a taste of Morocco, and how to prepare your own.
Eat Essaouira’s Most Memorable Dishes
On top of the seafood Essaouira’s most famous for, you’ll find our favorite tagine in Morocco, fantastic Friday couscous, delicious quiche, authentic French pastries, excellent Italian food, and, if you’re lucky, camel milk cheesecake.
Get all our favorite food finds from our month in Essaouira, plus some others’ top recommendations we didn’t have time to try and general tips, in our post on Where to Eat in Essaouira: Seafood, Street Food, Cafés, and Restaurants.