Essaouira (Es-weera) is one of the premier beach towns in Morocco. “Beach?” I hear you ask. Prior to my visit to Morocco I also hadn’t considered it a beach destination. And while it certainly isn’t white sand beaches and palm trees, a quick trip to the seaside will help relieve some of the stress one might start to feel in the hassle of the bigger cities and medina’s.
The medina of Essaouira is UNESCO heritage listed and much easier to navigate than those of Marrakech, Fes and Meknes. Built in its present form in the 18th century, it was the main port of Morocco until the 19th century and was used to transport goods which had some along the Moroccan caravan trails from sub-Saharan Africa, through Marrakech, Essaouria and then on to Europe. The medina walls were built as a fort and the seaside walls and ramparts are where many tourists and locals come to watch the sunset.
For my part, I was excited to also be visiting another Game of Thrones filming location. With the seaside walkway and tower serving as part of Astapor, this is where Daenerys inspects the unsullied for the first time. And I got to stand right on that spot! These movie locations are always smaller than they look on screen.
Today Essaouria’s main trade is in fishing and tourism. The fishing port is very active and a great place to wander and people (and fish) watch as they haul in the fish and other seafood, and sell them directly from the dock. The area is inundated with seagulls trying to get their fill of the fish, and it’s also a great spot for watching the sunset, and for views back across to the medina.
I spent a day just walking along the beach for hours, watching people taking surfing lessons, windsurfing or kitesurfing (both incredibly popular along this windy beach with small waves), and camel riding along the beach. I walked all the way to the ‘castles in the sand’, a pile of rocks that were once a fort. It is claimed that Jimi Hendrix wrote his song Castles in the Sand after visiting Essaouria, which explains why the town has a bit of a hippy vibe to it, but alas, the song was written two years before Hendrix visiting and the town plays on the rumor.
Where to eat
The fish markets and the stalls just outside are a great place to pick up fresh seafood, and have it cooked for you on the spot. It’s delicious and quick, though not cheap, be sure to ask the price before they start cooking. I had a lovely dish of fish, prawns and squid.
Where to stay
I stayed in the Atlantic Hostel. While it is a bit crowded and messy, the owner is extremely hospitable and serves the most amazing 3 course meals every night for 60MAD. It was some of the best food I had in Morocco. You can help make the meals if you want, it’s essentially a free cooking class and they get a helper. A very social hostel, at least 15-20 people partake in his dinners each night.