This is the first and last guide you are going to need for your visit to Essaouira! No nonsense, we share a series of posts on how to get from Marrakech to Essaouira, best things to do, best day trips, guides to horse riding and so much more. Use these quick links below to navigate to our detailed posts and travel guides to Essaouira
Carry on past the quick links, for a map of the main gates in the Essaouira Medina, to help you get your bearings. And continuing down throughout our Essaouira travel guide, we answer ALL your questions. Such as what makes Essaouira so special, how to get around, the best time of year to visit, what to wear, the best beaches and shopping.
We’ve also included key information to make your stay trouble free. Covering topics like, currency exchange and ATMs, keeping safe, language, data and wifi and visiting Essaouira with kids. These are just some of the questions we had before we moved to Essaouira for a month! So based on our experiences in Essaouira we have managed to put together this comprehensive guide just for you!
So read on for all our travel tips to visiting Essaouira, and you’ll be several steps ahead of the game. ENJOY Essaouira and if you happen to see Jack Sparrow say hello from My Free Range Family 🏴☠️
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Table of Contents
Quick Links to Our In-Depth Guides of Essaouira
- 🚌 How to get from Marrakech to Essaouira
- 🛌 Where to stay
- 💃 Things to do
- 🍔 Where to eat – restaurants, street food & rooftop bars
- 🏄♂️ Activity Reviews – surf lessons & horse riding
- 🌊 Day trips – Ida Ougourd market & Sidi Kaouki beach
- 🛍 Where to shop (coming soon)
Map of Essaouira
Where is Essaouira & What is it Known For
Essaouira, pronounced – eh soo eh ruh – is a coastal Medina and seaport town on the Atlantic Coast of Morocco. This small town has a population of approximately 80,000. And it’s known for its chilled windy vibes… popular with kite surfers and water lovers.
What makes it special is the Medina… as it’s not your typical Moroccan medina.
Picture an ancient city wall, built right on a windy piece of coastline. Walls battered by high, rough seas and salt spray. These are the rampart walls, which protect the Medina from the ocean when it becomes fierce.
Sometimes, when you walk within the Medina the sea is so wild that it breaches the wall, or the whipping wind carries sand through the narrow streets. It’s not often like this, but when it is, it’s a pretty extraordinary sight.
Just a Bit of History
Essaouira is one of the newer Medinas in Morocco, beginning construction in the mid 18th century. As a result, the Medina design is largely influenced by European cities. Given that it became a main seaport between North Africa and Europe, it also developed into a multi-cultural hub. Thereby, becoming home to Amazigh (or Berber), African, Arab and European groups, and also to Jewish communities for a period of time.
This means Essaouira is a diverse medina to explore and experience and can likely be contributed to the diverse communities who came before. Not surprisingly in 2001, Essaouira became a UNESCO world heritage site.
Fun Fact: Essaouira used to go by the name Port of Timbuktu, then Mogador until more recently changing to Essaouira.
Is Essaouira Worth Visiting
Essaouira is just different, it’s the kind of place that you visit on holiday and think to yourself… I could totally live here! It differs in the sense that it’s small, cosy, and close knit. Hang out in the windy city for a month and it won’t take long before you begin to feel like you fit in. You’ll start to recognize familiar faces, begin to make new local friends, and you’ll start to find more hidden treasures.
To loosely summarise, Essaouira is laid back, but at the same time brimming with plenty to do! It’s a bit quirky and a great place to visit on your Moroccan itinerary. So is Essaouira worth a visit… yes we certainly think it is.
Getting to Essaouira
Essaouira airport sees direct international flights arriving with budget airline carrier Ryan Air. They currently operate two flights per week, Tuesday and Saturday from London starting at 13 GBP one way. And two flights a week, Thursday and Sunday from Brussels. So keep your eyes peeled for some good deals, apparently November is the cheapest month to fly to Essaouira!
However, if you’re coming from further afield then check out flights arriving to Agadir airport, or Marrakech Airport. Buses to Essaouira from both of these airports are easily booked, see CTM or Supra Tours.
🚌 Read our detailed guide on how to get from Marrakech to Essaouira here.
Best Time of Year to Visit Essaouira
One of the unique characteristics of Essaouira is the weather. In the peak of summer, you’ll be sweltering hot in Marrakech, and yet just three hours away on the coast, and you’ll need a jumper or sweatshirt in the evenings. It’s honestly very strange and an unusual thing to experience.
There is a micro climate in Essaouira for sure, and temperatures remain relatively consistent year round. In which case it’s a perfectly pleasant destination to visit at any time. But the best time to visit is between March to October.
Temperatures range in the highs between 19 to 24 degrees celsius year round, with most rainfall between the months of November to February.
In the peak of summer, July to August, it’s known for being windy, so great if you’re a kite surfer, but not so enjoyable for sun bathing. Given that it’s also summer school holidays in both Europe and Morocco it gets very busy with international and domestic tourism. This can make Essaouira feel a little too cosy at times, so if you can avoid the peak season then do. However, the fact is most destinations are busy at this time of year. In which case, if this is the only time you have, then go for it I say… just be ready for people.
Your Complete Where to Stay Guide to Essaouira
You have two choices, inside the Medina and outside the Medina. We recommend inside. By comparison, outside the Medina everything looks a little less rustic and the vibe not quite as charismatic.
Inside the Medina, everything is at your fingertips. The ramparts are nearby for an evening stroll, the beach is never more than a 15 minute walk away, and there are restaurants a plenty!
And for the true Moroccan experience then look no further than a Riad stay. Riads are generally boutique multi-tiered guest houses that centre around an open courtyard or garden on the ground level. The guest rooms lead from each level of the riad onto the central balcony, thus creating a cosy and somewhat magical atmosphere.
We put together a guide to choosing the best riad in Essaouira, and also reviewed our stay in Ryad Watier. But there is absolutely a riad for every type of traveller on our list… so go check it out 👇
💎 We visited and photographed many riads in Essaouira, read our guide on choosing the best riad for your stay.
Getting Around in Essaouira and the Medina
Firstly, to better understand the layout of Essaouira check the map here in this guide. It’s easy to see the Medina on the furtherest eastern point of the coastline. The Medina wall wraps around, opening at three gates or babs.
You have the main gate at the centre – Bab Marrakech. To the south is Bab Sbaa which leads to the main beach and fishing port. Then Bab Doukkala which leads to the quieter northern beach and Lima Bus Stop.
Getting around inside the Medina happens mostly by foot, but occasionally you’ll see people on bikes too. If you have luggage or groceries, then look for the guys with a trolley cart at these main gates. For a small fee they’ll cart your items to their final destination for you.
Getting around outside the Medina is also easy… and cheap! The small blue Petit Taxi will take you anywhere within Essaouira for no more than 7 dirhams. Note: They won’t take more than three people at a time.
Grand Taxis are available if you are four or more people or should you want to travel further afield than Essaouira. They also operate as a collective, in which case you pay only for your seat and you wait to leave until the taxi is full.
What to Wear in Essaouira
Despite the fact that you will see short shorts and revealing dresses, we recommend that you remember to dress respectively. This is a muslim country after all, and as guests to Morocco it’s only fair that we respect local custom and religion.
Loose comfortable clothing is ideal, and I prefer to keep knees and shoulders covered. On the main beach you are free to wear bikinis of course, but cover up before leaving. And for the cooler evenings, don’t forget something warmer, including a rain jacket in the wetter months.
What Languages are Spoken
In terms of language, French and Arabic are widely spoken by most locals. Arabic is the first language and French is the second language. But finding someone to speak English or to help with translation is easy.
Activities and Things to Do
There are no shortage of activities, things to do, and places to visit in Essaouira. From surfing and surfing lessons, to guided horse tours along empty stretches of beach. To cooking lessons, roof-top bars, markets, museums, street food, exploring the rampart walls and fishing port… there is something for everyone.
Photographers will be in their element, and kite surfers will feel right at home. Travellers looking for a Moroccan trinket or piece of jewellery will find unique pieces to take home. And with our guide to Essaouira you’ll find all the typical and well known things to do, but also some hidden, off the beaten track ideas.
🏄♂️🐎👨🍳 Read this guide for our 16 Best Things to do in Essaouira – including some off the beaten track surprises.
Day Trips from Essaouira
Enjoy a day trip to Sidi Kaouki for a quieter beach and alternative to the main beach in Essaouira. Only 20 minutes by car, or hour by bus, Sidi Kaouki is a lovely place to kick back on. Our kids loved the rock pooling and we enjoyed the long empty beach to walk along.
Alternatively, take a day trip inland towards Ida Ougourd markets. This is a unique experience and provides visitors with a glimpse into a day in the life of a Moroccan village. Meet the locals, eat a tagine like a local, and pick up some fruit and vegetables while you’re at it.
And if you have arrived to Essaouira from either Agadir or Casablanca and you haven’t yet visited Marrakech… then you must. Marrakech can be made as a day trip, but the 6 hour turn around drive is likely to be tiring so we recommend staying there at least one night. This means you’ll explore the best of Marrakech without the panic and rush (post coming soon).
Currency, Money Exchange and ATMs in Essaouira
The currency in Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham, MAD. And you’ll easily find ATM machines both inside and outside the Medina. We preferred to use the Barid Bank ATMs, which are often found at Poste Maroc locations as the bank rates were better. And as an indication, for your 10 USD or 10 Euro you will get roughly 100 dirhams.
Keep in mind that Essaouira, actually most of Morocco in fact, only accept cash. So finding locations that will swipe your debit or credit card are few and far between. We recommend travelling with a Wise Bank Card… this has been a life saver for our travels in terms of lower bank charges and fees. And in Morocco our Wise card was accepted at all ATMs and card machines whenever we used it, saving us a LOT!
Alternatively, if you are bringing currency from your own country to exchange, you’ll find a Money Exchange in Av. l’Istiqlal one of the main streets in the Medina. Be sure to ask the rate and agree on the quantity first. I also always bargain a little at a Money Exchange place… because hey… every little bit counts!
Culture and Music
There is a lively art and music culture in Essaouira.
Gnaoua music is definitely seen and heard from all corners of the medina. Either from roof top bars or from musicians creating the instrument associated with gnaoua music from tiny workshops. The art is not only in the music, but in the craftsman ship in making it.
This three stringed instrument is called the gimbri or sintir. It has a rhythmic sound and combines both the action of percussion and picking. Wander small alleyways within the Medina and you’ll stumble across gnaoua. We recommend that you stop, listen and enjoy the music whenever you find it.
Gnaoua music runs deep within Moroccan culture and once a year the popular Gnaoua Festival is held in Essaouira. Following a rocky couple of years with Covid, the Festival has returned and expanded to other cities around Morocco. But the Gnaoua Festival originated in Essaouira, which shows just how integral this music is to the community.
Essaouira with Kids
Unlike the chaos of other Medinas in Morocco, Essaouira Medina is far more relaxed. This makes it the perfect place for family travel and vacation. What’s more the locals are super friendly and always ready for a chat with the kids.
Eating – The quality of food in Essaouira restaurants is fantastic. Tagines, couscous and bread are the staple dishes in Morocco. They are tasty, not usually spicy and easy for kids to enjoy. However, if you’re concerned your kids may not like Moroccan food then you’ll find many Western style food outlets as well. Pizza, burgers and crepes are just some of the meal options you’ll find. Don’t forget to read our guide on best restaurants in Essaouira.
In addition to this, you will find many comforts from home, in terms of meals and snacks, at the Carrefour supermarket in Essaouira.
Swimming & Activities – The swimming is very safe on the main beach of Essaouira. When the tide is out kids will love hunting for shells and crabs. We loved rock pooling at the northern beach with our kids where we even found octopuses. Our kids loved surf lessons and the horse riding tour – read the activities above for more.
Strollers & Seat Belts – Essaouira Medina is stroller friendly, just keep in mind that if you’re staying in a multi-level apartment or riad, then you might be carrying it up several floors. Also note that seatbelts in taxis infrequently work in Morocco. So check with your taxi driver that car seats are working before you get in. And if you’re booking a guided tour that involves transport then stipulate this as one of your requirements.
Is Essaouira Safe to Visit
After staying in Morocco for three months we can confirm that Essaouira was probably the safest city of all. We walked around late at night, we weren’t hassled by touts to extreme, we faced no aggression and at no point did our pockets get picked!
To give you a quick idea, I’ll tell a quick story. Friends of ours visited Morocco shortly after we were there and after returning from the supermarket one day, forgot their bag in the taxi. After some panic, they were told by a local to check the police station on the chance it had been handed in. And it had! Everything was found exactly the way it was left in the taxi.
To add to this, I left a pair of slightly expensive sunglasses on the CTM bus between Agadir and Essaouira. I returned to the bus terminal a day later, logged an enquiry, and the following day they made it back to me.
We didn’t however make it out of Morocco totally trouble free. In Tangier our bag was stolen off the beach, while we stood only five metres from it playing with our kids. This was bad luck with some negligence on our part. But nothing some good insurance couldn’t cover – we recommend Safety Wing for quick and easy online insurance cover.
Read more about how to stay safe while travelling Morocco here (post coming soon).
The tap water is not safe to drink so we recommend travelling with a Life Straw. We use the Life Straw refillable filtered water bottles for when we are out and about.
But for around the home (or AirBnb) we use a Life Straw gravity fed bag. This bag uses a double filtration system and is perfect for our full-time travels. We have never fallen ill drinking from our Life Straw and we never have to worry about single use plastics!
Shopping Guide to Essaouira
If you find shopping in Marrakech and Fes overwhelming, well you’re in luck when it comes to shopping in the Essaouira Medina. Given that the Medina is considerably smaller, shopping is very laid back and low key, but without lacking in quality or selection. There is also less hassle from the vendors in comparison to other cites and markets in Morocco. Naturally this creates a far more pleasant shopping experience.
If you’re worried about not having enough room in your suitcase, well never fear as there are three post offices in Essaouira. One in the Medina and two more just a five minute walk outside the Medina.
We know this, because we sent two big packages with blankets, back to New Zealand. If you need help navigating the postal system in Essaouira, send a message and we can tell you what we learnt from the process! Actually it’s very straight forward and I can confirm that all the packages we sent from Morocco made it home… and rather quickly too!
Most of our grocery shopping we did in the market in Essaouira – read our post on street food in Essaouira for more information on how to shop at the market. And what we couldn’t get from the market, we found at either Carrefour or Aswak Essalam Supermarkets.
Both are large supermarkets and more or less in the same price range. They are also only a 5-7 minute taxi ride from the Medina and can be walked to. We often walked to the supermarkets and then to return we took a Petit Taxi.
As with the shopping in Essaouira, we also found the bargaining much more relaxed. For tourist products, typically we’d start by cutting the price in half and then meet somewhere in the middle. But for things like fruit and vegetables, bread and street food, only seldom did we get charged ‘tourist‘ prices. I think this is probably because so many expats live in Essaouira.
😋 Tip: walk around Essaouira with a canvas reusable shopping bag slung over your shoulder, with a bunch of fresh mint sticking out (1-2 dirhams depending on the quality). Hopefully this will help you look like a local and help you avoid the ‘tourist’ rates.
The Best Beaches Guide to Essaouira
For more details on the information we have shared here on the best beaches in Essaouira, then head to our guide on Best Things to do in Essaouira.
The main beach in Essaouira is the perfect spot to catch some sun rays, and to rent a beach chair and umbrella. Exiting the Medina through the southern gate at Bab Sbaa and the main beach is virtually across the road. This is Plage d’Essaouira. The beach is quite sheltered on this part of the beach because of the port and the island just off the coast.
A little further down the beach becomes Plage Tagharte and it takes about 10-15 minutes to walk to this part. On this section of the beach you’ll see the kite surfers as well as the touts offering horse and camel rides. This was our preferred beach, particularly the stretch in front of the Ocean Vagabond and other Restaurants. Basically we enjoyed the slightly bigger waves and fewer people. Though watch out because when the wind blows you can’t hide from the sand. It gets everywhere!
Even further down the beach it becomes wilder and more remote. Its great for a long walk, especially if you decide to walk to Dar Sultan Palace, AKA Jimi Hendrix Sandcastle. This part of the beach is close to Diabat and is popular for horse riding and ATV tours.
The other beach we loved is north of the Medina. To get there, walk or take a Petit Taxi to Aswak Essalam Supermarket. Then take a left just before the supermarket and follow the road through the small community towards the beach. There are almost never tourists at this beach and the sand dunes and rock pools are a great place to spend the afternoon. Also, if you enjoy an adventure you can walk back to the Medina via the beach, so long as it’s low tide.
A Guide to Living in Essaouira
Digital nomads will love Essaouira. We lived there for a month and could have stayed longer. In fact, I had withdrawals long after I left. Below are just a few things that you might like to know, in order to help you settle in.
Rubbish is placed outside your door in the evening in a plastic bag and it magically disappears. You can find recycling bins with colourful lids dotted along the main beach. This is where we dropped our recycling throughout our stay.
We did see that when it was collected, it ultimately all went into one bigger bin. However on asking, we learned that the recycling rubbish is sorted by hand outside Essaouira… and I hope this is true. It would seem according to articles we’ve read, that a new Essaouira based initiative (Mogagreen) hopes to be at the forefront of recycling in Morocco.
Data and Sim Cards
We researched E-Sims before travelling to Morocco, but found that buying local data was more cost effective.
Data is relatively cheap in Morocco, 5GB is 50 dirhams. It’s also very easy to buy a local sim card. Look for the tobacconists as they tend to sell Sim Cards such as Inwi, Maroc Telecom and Orange.
We opted for Orange and most of the time we had trouble free data. And whenever we needed topping up, we’d simply look for the Orange sign. The vendors either give you a card, or transferred the credit to your phone on the spot.
The Street Kittens and Cats
I can’t not mention the kittens and cats. Everywhere you walk you’ll find boxes of kittens with mummy cats not too far away. We also occasionally saw these mother cats with stitches on their side. It was clear they had recently undergone an operation.
We are animal lovers and animal welfare is always a hot topic in our household. So we asked around! The cats and kittens seem to be well taken care of by the locals, as they are provided food and shelter. But they also receive medical care. We found that cats were taken from the streets and spayed and then returned. We also saw firsthand a sick street cat receive an antibiotic injection.
It’s obvious that the cats of Essaouira are in good hands, and there are many locals looking out for their well-being.
The Essential Guide for Essaouira Summary!
This concludes everything we can think of that might be helpful to travellers visiting Essaouira. We hope that you get in touch if we have missed something, or if you have any other questions.
Be sure to use the Quick Guide Links at the top of the post to navigate directly to our more detailed posts in Essaouira.
And be sure to bookmark or pin this essential guide to Essaouira, so that you can return to it later.
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