As I sat down to research Google requests from travelers about Morocco’s windy city, I discovered a lot of queries for the Essaouira day trip from Marrakech. This came as no surprise. I understand that many of us are very limited in time when traveling abroad. We’re trying to squeeze everything into those 14 days of a vacay. But in my experience, if I had just one more day to spare on my Moroccan route, I’d add it to this Essaouira 3-Day Trip from Marrakech (although, I sometimes think that even a week in this boho-chic port town by the Atlantic is not enough).
It may seem like there is not much to do in Essaouira. Unlike Marrakech, the town is smaller. It also has a relatively short list of attractions. It almost seems like there’s nothing to describe. The truth is, for this Moroccan coastal destination everything is about its unique atmosphere. Once you get here, you will hardly need any specific travel tips. The town will just guide you.
From Marrakech to Essaouira by Car: Things to See on the Road
Our Moroccan car trip was a circular one, starting and ending near the Casablanca airport. It was where we picked up and later returned our rented Peugeot. Our journey was off to a very active start as we commenced it in a busy and overwhelming Marrakech.
Next on our itinerary was the Essaouira 3-day trip. I must admit, I was looking forward to this escape. Marrakech, though very captivating, caught me off guard with gas emissions from all the bikes and cars. I discussed my experience with two of my travel companions, but none of them seemed to go through the same fatigue and nausea from inhaling the air. So hopefully, this was just my response. Be that as it may, I was longing for some fresh salty air of coastal Morocco.
The Google navigator suggested about 2,5 hours to cover a 191 km (118 miles) distance from Marrakech to Essaouira. We ended up spending more time on the road. At this point, I must mention that it is not only Moroccan cities that are so wonderful. It is also the road that connects them. It offers a very condensed and unpredictable traveling experience, with plenty of discoveries along the way.
On our journey to the Atlantic coast, the road often crossed smaller towns. In 99% of the cases, this meant driving through the central bazaars of each of such towns or villages. Try as you might, you can hardly go faster than 20 km/hour (12 miles/hour), as there would always be a loaded truck making its way to any of the stalls, or a lazy camel crossing the street, or a few locals strolling in the middle of the road, chatting about this and that.
Driving through the first of such towns caught us off guard. By the fifth town, we were adjusted, and studying the local life with curiosity.
Moroccan Goats on Trees
Goats on trees is one of the most bizarre and at the same time memorable things that I have seen while exploring the world. While mainly a tourist attraction these days, they once played an essential role in the Moroccan Argan oil production.
Argan-based products are a big deal in Morocco. They are recognized for their outstanding healing, culinary, and cosmetic qualities. The oil is what comes out of the processed fruits of the Argan trees. These trees grow only in the Essaouira-Agadir area, which makes Argan oil one of the most popular things to bring from Morocco.
Thorny and spiny, the trees produce small flowers with fruits inside them. At the heart of these fruits, there are nuts and argan seeds inside those firm shells. The farmers encourage the goats to climb up the branches and to munch on the fruits.
It is the seeds in the nutshells that the farmers are after. The goats can not digest those, so they eat the fruit pulp, swallowing the nuts. The digestion process is what softens the nuts, and the farmers later pick those out of the goat dung and use them in Argan oil production.
The demand for the Argan products today is too high, so the Moroccans traded a slower goat-involved process for an industrial one. The goats on trees are still there, however. One of the most popular touristic sites is this big tree on the way to Essaouira. Its branches are occupied by white goats seen from afar. Another reason why you would probably not miss them is one or two tourist buses always parked nearby.
This is a profitable local business, without any doubt. In exchange for a few dirhams, you will be able to feed the goat and to take a picture. This attraction is one of the most controversial ones, too. It made me feel confused.
Non-Touristy Area with Goats on Trees
If you choose to take a small detour from the main road in the direction of Agadir, you may come across a very different experience. The road stripe is narrow here. The land on both of its sides is densely planted with the Argan trees. These are smaller, not as impressive as those growing by the side of the main road.
Here, in the peaceful and quiet terrain, local farmers are shepherding goat herds. The goats are black. They go about their business undisturbed. Unlike the blondies from the main road standing still on the wooden planks fixed to the tree branches, these black goats hop freely from one tree or branch to another.
One farmer barely paid attention to us as we climbed out of the car. We greeted him and asked if we could approach the goats, and he nodded and turned back to his conversation with a fellow shepherd. He did not ask for any money, nor did he offer to help with taking pictures. He did not seem to care much, and we were the only ones in that area, with barely any other cars passing by.
The goats did not seem willing to entertain us, either, and this was the best thing about them. They munched on the fruits for as long as there were any on the branches. Then, one of the goats would be the first to hop off the tree and move on to the next one, and the rest would follow. We spent a while there, observing.
Argan Oil Farms on the Way to Essaouira
The road from Marrakech to Essaouira is rich in the Argan cooperatives. We stopped by one of such productions. Inside a clean and bright courtyard, three or four women were sitting on the ground, grinding argan seeds.
The women run the seeds through the old-styled press to produce the oil. This is a slow and meditative process. The owners of the cooperative usually invite visitors to try and participate in this activity. Additionally, they eagerly introduce the entire production from collecting the seeds to fermenting and grinding them.
This is a free tour and a very informative one. Among other things that the owners shared about the entire process, they also said that only women were hired to do this sort of production. When we asked why so, the answer was: “So that they can have some money of their own”.
Predictably, the tour ends in the shop located on-site. It offers all sorts of Argan-based products. There is oil and soap, lotions and creams, as well as honey and nut paste.
Moroccans are very savvy in how to sell via a free service. I mean it in the best way possible. They are always helpful and willing to share their knowledge about the product or process. At the same time, not once did we feel rushed or obligated to buy anything. This was true about the cooperative that we stopped by, too. At the end of the tour, the owner gave us privacy and went on about his business.
We ended up buying a lot.
P.S. I particularly recommend the paste, it was my Moroccan breakfast treat for many mornings back in Kyiv.
Arriving in Essaouira, the 3-Day Trip Logistics: Neighborhoods, Accommodations, and Parking
While in Marrakech we hesitated before opting-in for a riad a bit away from the medina, in Essaouira the choice was obvious. We picked a place right on the Moulay Hassan Square. We just could not resist staying in a riad facing the ocean.
Later, my companions explored the area next to the Essaouira old town and found it suitable for anyone who plans a long-term stay. It is more modern and less touristy, with infrastructure suitable for everyday life.
Meanwhile, we could not get enough of our riad. If there is one thing that is a definite must-try in Morocco, it is to stay in this Moroccan type of accommodation for at least one night.
As we moved the tight bolts holding the window shutters, they opened to display the beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean. It was so close that we could not help but let out a loud: “Wow!” Then we heard a laugh from somewhere below. Right under our windows, there was a narrow and busy street, and one of its sellers was smiling at us and saying: “Welcome to Essaouira!” My guess is he is used to this reaction and is always on the watch for a new group of tourists to move in and to discover the view.
Tip: The proper pronunciation for Essaouira is essa-we-rah.
For us, AirBnB worked just fine in finding authentic local housing. However, I know that Essaouira is also famous for its beautiful hotels, as well as for some quality and affordable hostels. So it’s fair to say that there is something for every budget in this town.
If you arrive by car, just as we did, there is a parking right in front of the medina entrance. Moroccans are a bit risky with their parking style, I must admit. There were a couple of moments we felt our hearts stopped when we watched one of the employees squeezing our rented Peugeot into a small pocket between the other two cars. But to his credit, he managed to park it seamlessly.
Things to Do on the Essaouira on a 3-Day Trip: The Beach
So, before coming to Essaouira, I read a lot of feedback on travel blogs about the beach. Many warned that it is suitable for surfing and kiting rather than swimming. The reason for such feedback is the legendary Essaouira wind called Alizee, or taros in Berber.
We were in town in October. This is, if I have not mentioned it yet, the perfect time to visit Morocco, as it is not as hot. Apparently, October weather is also a perfect match for Essaouira. Not only did we not suffer from the wind. We went for a long swim on the first day that we got to town, and spent a couple of hours sunbathing the next day.
But I can’t say that there was no wind at all.
The beach is long and perfect for a promenade. As we made our way from its north point that is closer to the old town, to the south part of the beach, we finally realized what the other travelers meant when mentioning that it was impossible to spend even a few minutes relaxing on the sand.
With every step, it got windier and windier. While there was no sign of activity other than swimming and sunbathing near the medina side of the beach, its opposite side was the epicenter for kiting and surfing.
We did try to sit down for a few minutes to enjoy the colorful kites in the sky, but pretty soon we ended up covered in sand from head to toes. But those people up in the air looked like they were having a lot of fun!
There are plenty of kiting services around the area. You can also explore surfing schools.
I did not test it myself, but I talked to a couple of travelers on that beach and they strongly recommended sheltered sunbathing in nearby hotels. One of such is Ocean Vagabond Resort and Restaurant.
Things to Do In Essaouira on a 3-Day Trip: the Old Town
The medina in this city is very small. We spent less than three hours to walk it from one gate to another, to wander the streets, and to be swept away by the wind of the ramparts. I would say that while the old town of Marrakech, with its souks and the hustle and bustle, is very energizing, the one in this coastal town is perfect to relax and unwind.
I don’t think there is a particular itinerary that needs to be covered as you will discover that it is a pleasure simply walking from one street to another, stopping for mint tea, or picking a trinket or a souvenir from any of the street stalls. Just be aware of the following things to do when on a stroll around the medina.
Explore the Souks
Maybe it is the coastal lifestyle or the overall romantic atmosphere of the town, but Essaouira’s souks offer lots of great findings, and many of these are one-of-a-kind and truly artistic. From paintings to scarves, from carpets to blankets and dishes, there are lots of temptations.
Also, it is a pleasure to haggle with the local merchants. They are not as busy as the ones in Marrakech, so more often than not haggling will turn into a pleasant conversation where you and the seller will end up telling each other about your day, or the Moroccan experience, or whatnot.
Then, of course, you will be left wondering how on earth did you end up with this carpet, and what will you do with it?
The true story about the carpet, it happened to me. Not in Essaouira, in Chefchaouen. In this coastal town, I ended up buying a blanket. It is hard to imagine how big my luggage would’ve gotten if I was in Essaouira not on a 3-day trip, but longer.
Head to the Ramparts of Skala de la Ville
These are the walls that surround the old town. Built several centuries ago, they once protected the town from pirates. Back in the days, Essaouira was known as Mogador, or “a small rampart”.
Access to the fragment of fortification within the medina is free of charge. It is also very easy to get to, with only a short walk up the pedestrian ramp. Skala de la Ville is really impressive, with its cannons facing the ocean, and the bastion windows facing the three sides of the ocean. Be careful, the wind is particularly strong here.
I can not say that there is a particular dress code for this Moroccan town, but I would definitely warn everyone from wearing skirts or dresses. You will end up trying to hold the skirt down, Marilyn Monroe-style. Only much less iconic.
Stop by Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah Museum
Opened from 8 am to 5 pm, this is a nice escape from the busy life on the streets of the medina. It may as well be an optional stop, but if you are into meditative wandering, and are curious to get the condensed culture trip back in times, this is the place to go to. The museum exhibits old musical instruments, traditional clothes, and weapons. The entrance fee is 10 Dh (around 1 USD).
Cross to the Other Part of the Medina and Explore Scala du Port
Located in the southern part of town is Scala du Port – another fragment of fortification with its ramparts and the bastion. Access to this site costs 10 Dh, which is about 1 USD. The scala is opened from 9 am to 5:30 pm.
This is the place where many take the picture in a round window, with Essaouira being the perfect background. You can also go up the bastion stairs for a perfect panorama of the ocean and the town.
Top-7 of The Very-Essaouira Things to Do When in Town on a 3-Day Trip
If by this part of the post I was not convincing enough that Essaouira is the place to travel to, then here are my top-7 favorite things about this coastal town that make it so unique.
Climb the Rooftop for Some Mint Tea
This is a nice flavor to the overall relaxed atmosphere of the town. You can slowly explore the medina. Shop. Take pictures at the ramparts. And then just head up to the roof of any of the coastal cafes and have a cup of Moroccan mint tea while looking at the ocean and enjoying the breeze.
Some of the best cafes are around the Skala de la Ville area.
Head to the Morning Fish Bazaar
This is the part where I could’ve said that it is also romantic and inspiring to go through the local fish market. But I have to stick to the facts. The fish market at the port is loud. And dirty. And sometimes overwhelming.
At a certain point, while walking amidst the stalls and looking at the fishermen, I felt like I was taken back in time. To those days in the 1500s, when this town started growing fortification around it, the pirates were a real threat, and the locals would live their loud and hectic everyday lives. Like those that they show in the movies.
That is how atmospheric the port and the bazaar is. Also, if you are lucky enough, you’ll get to witness the fish auction. As for what to get from the fishermen, here’s an insider Essaouira travel advice: buy some salted sardines. These are the local delicacy.
Find Those Blue Boats
You will see them as you approach the port. Docked near the bastion, the blue boats of Essaouira are just too photogenic to pass by without taking at least one picture.
Listen to the Local Musicians
The square where our riad was, the Moulay Hassan Square, is the go-to place for evening gathering and happenings. Most frequently, entertainment is delivered by the talented local musicians. All three evenings that we were in town, we always stopped to listen to someone new singing or playing an instrument. This created quite the atmosphere.
Order Local See Delicacies to Go
Many of the coastal cafes and restaurants invite guests to have some freshly caught seafood for dinner. What turned out to be even better for us, many also offer to cook the seafood and pack it to go.
In our case, we wanted to enjoy every sunset from the rooftop of our riad, so we never stayed in the restaurant. We always ordered food to go, taking home delicious shrimps and fish with a side of a freshly chopped salad, and some soft bread with a crust to-die-for. If you are a foodie, you’ll know what I mean.
Enjoy the Sunset From the Riad Terrace
Not only a dinner or sunset on the terrace is good. It is the overall atmosphere of a busy town calming down and preparing for the evening prayer. From a rooftop, you will see the merchants closing their stores. The sun slowly sinking into the water, as you will take the final look around the panorama of the old town.
And then, the nearby speakers will transmit a call to prayer. This night symphony of Essaouira is better when witnessed from atop the riad.
Catch Up with the Local Activities
The local community of the town is ready to offer even more activities, which are all possible if on the Essaouira 3-day trip.
The Gnawa Music Experience: The local masters eagerly share the Gnawa sacred traditions. This experience includes an invitation to the temple of Gnawa people, tea tasting at homes of the locals, introduction to the music culture and instruments, and performances.
Horseback Riding Along the Beach: This is where they bring in the legendary Black Arabian horses. A three-hour ride will cover exploration of the area surrounding Essaouira, including ancient ruins and the island of Mogador.
Quad Biking and a Food Tour: This may probably be an option for those looking for a one-day tour to Essaouira from Marrakech. This is a full-day round-trip. It covers a stroll through some of the best food places, as well as quad biking.
Written by Inessa Rezanova
I am a Kyiv-based screenwriter with 10+ years of experience in producing scripts. I love my job, and no, I did not quit it to travel the world. I see different countries in my spare time. As a storyteller, I believe that it is the emotional journey that matters the most. This is why together with my sister I started this blog to encourage everyone to travel and to do so with a heart and mind opened to adventures.
Images by Natalie Rezanova
I am a photographer based in Kyiv, Ukraine. I am lucky to be able to do what I love the most for a living. Photography is an endless source of inspiration for me. My mission on this blog is to inspire by sharing some of the favorite captions from my journeys. I also provide professional photography tips to help the readers bring home some beautiful photo memories.