“An investment in travel is an investment in yourself.” – Matthew Karsten
Essaouira is one of those places that makes you question, “why haven’t I heard about this place before”? Or maybe you have. For me, I came across Essaouria from researching popular beach spots in Morocco and ideally a place to relax and escape the heat of the Sahara. Voila!
Essaouria is a stunning beachside city on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. It’s managed to keep its charm despite the large influx of tourists. It’s beautiful historic fort was built back in the 18th century and interestingly enough catered to a diverse range of religions including Muslims, Christians and Jews. I think this is a part of its charm – a church, next to a mosque, behind a synagogue. Not sure how many places in the world you can find that.
Because its such a popular tourist spot now, getting there is quite easy. I arrived on a bus with a tour group from the Sahara desert (a whole other story!), however from Marrakech you have a variety of options. Click here for regularly updated details from Wikitravel.
Where to stay?
Although on a backpacking trip, there are times when you need a break from hostel accommodation and get comfy nights sleep. I stayed at Riad Chakir Mogador. It is perfectly located within the old town with a very short walk to the beach. Beds were comfy and the bathrooms were all antique and quirky. There are many hostels around though so check out hostelworld.
TIP: Many sweets here are disguised as ‘space cakes’ and locals will try and tell you that it is legal to consume small amounts. Do not listen to them and watch out as there are undercover police.
FUN FACT: Game of Thrones had numerous scenes filmed here from Season 2.
3 TOP ESSAOURIA EXPERIENCES
1. F O O D
Essaouria can cater for fine dining all the way down to a backpacker budget. I was lucky enough to try both ends of the spectrum.
1. Elizir – I had heard about this place from Tripadvisor actually. It had some strange reviews like “not what we expected but had an amazing time” and “loved the quirky setting” so I needed to try this for myself. Ultimately, the restaurant is a converted residential mansion in the main street. Each table is privately placed within alcoves, balconies or small lounge rooms with fire places. It actually feels like you are sitting in someones living room. It has a very exotic yet homey feel. We went in a group of 8 so managed to order a wide range of dishes and share (which is always my preferred dining option) My favourite dishes were the tagines. We had both the lamb and apricot as well as the chicken and fig. It was incredible. If your hungry – get the mint gnocchi!
For a local experience head to Le Sirocco or Tara Cafe for its famous traditional pastilla!
2. H O R S E R I D I N G O N T H E B E A C H
We had stumbled across a man with a sign advertising horse riding. It was a very spontaneous decision but for only 150MAD – we couldn’t pass it up! We got picked up from our hotel early one morning and was driven there. We honestly had no idea where we were going because the beach was literally 100m away. Why did we need to get into a car? But the driver didn’t speak English. We decided to go with the flow. After a 10 minute drive, we made it to a very quiet area of the beach. We were put straight onto a horse. There was no questions such as “have you ever ridden before?” or “do you know how to ride a horse?” or even “welcome”. Bang! It started. We were expected to be able to ride the horses immediately which we found hilarious. At home, the OH&S introduction would take up half the riding time! But anyway, one man on another horse started trotting away through a parkland and we kicked the horses to follow.
My horse was really disobedient. He kept breaking into a trot when I just wanted to walk so I had to keep pulling the reigns back. We soon got the hang of it and really started to enjoy it. Then we reached the beach. It was breathtaking. It was a sandy, white stretch of deserted beach and he turned to me and said “OK Gallop now hold on”. Ahhhhh no I don’t think I am ready to gallop. No choice. The horse broke into a high speed gallop down to the shore line before I could even answer him. The man had my camera so galloped along beside me taking pictures. He made it look really easy and I was gripping the horse for dear life. He stopped me and told me to relax. The horse was GALLOPING I couldn’t relax or else I would fall off but he gave me some really good advice about how to lean and where to hold and before i knew it – the horse broke into a run again and it was EASY! I was LOVING it! It was one of the best experiences I had in Morocco. We could ride the horses around wherever we wanted to go. The guide didn’t even care. The freedom was amazing.
3. L E A R N A B O U T A R G A N O I L P R O D U C T I O N
Argan oil has been a key component in Moroccan traditional medicine for centuries. Today there is great exploitation of the argan forests because of the cosmetic values of argan oil. It has also become very expensive. You need 40 kg of raw fruits to extract 1 kg of oil and it takes about 8 hours of manual work, mostly by women. It is now in huge demand by global cosmetic companies so there are literally thousands of women working in cooperatives across the country. Although it’s hard work, it has empowered women and created many many jobs. By visiting a cooperative producing oil, you are supporting these women. They produce there own products too and the profits benefit them directly rather than large global giants.
I visited a factory in the nearby town of Agadir which is about 20km south of Essaouria. We were taken through the process by an English speaking guide. She explained how the oil is extracted and we saw women first hand undertaking each step. She explained some of the benefits of argan oil and why is has become so popular. Some of the benefits are listed below:
- Lowers high blood pressure
- Reduces “bad” cholesterol levels
- Improves Rheumatic and joint pain
- Stimulates brain capability
- Facilitates digestion
- Strengthens hair and nails
- Moisturizes and stimulates skin regeneration and oxygenation
- Provides elasticity to skin
- Anti wrinkle properties
- Promotes cell renewal
- Healing qualities for scars
- Treats skin conditions such as: acne, eczema, pregnancy stretch-marks, burns, psoriasis, and chicken pox
- Neutralizes free radicals
At the end of the tour we were shown to their local shop where they mix the oils with other herbs and creams to create their own line of products. I bought a beautiful skin cream (probably the same ingredients as an expensive Estee Lauder) for a very cheap price. (For the record the cream was amazing!!) Definitely worth a visit. Many tour companies organise trips there or you can simply grab a taxi to the nearest one and walk through for free.
TIP: On your way, keep your eyes out for goats climbing argan trees! They enjoy eating the berries at the top and its amazing watch!