The Seaside Town of Essaouira, Morocco
Located on the western coast of Morocco lies the seaside town of Essaouira. The town makes for a great day trip from Marrakesh as the atmosphere of the place is a mix between North African and Mediterranean. With a much more laid back and calm environment compared to the Medina in Marrakesh, it was a much welcomed change for Tiff and I.
After returning from our 3 day desert trek to the Merzouga Desert, we decided to book a riad in the Medina for a night since our day trip to Essaouira would be the following day. The company we booked our tour with, Marrakesh Travel Services, helped us book a very nice riad just steps away from Jemaa el-Fnaa. In typical riad fashion, it was difficult to find, but we managed to figure it out after returning from our trip and found it quite delightful.
The daytrip starts at 8am where they pick you up from your riad. From there, it’s about a 3 hour drive with a couple stops along the way. Just an hour into our journey, we see something extremely bizarre on the side of the road and the driver asks if we’d like to stop to take some photos. I thought it was fake or some sort of decoration in the beginning, but after looking closely my mind was pretty much blown.
On top of an argan tree stood about a dozen goats just floating in the branches like Christmas ornaments. They were so still that I didn’t think they were real. We walked towards the tree and some men nearby asked us if we’d like a photo.
That’s when we realized it was these men who trained these goats to climb the tree as a tourist attraction. It was too good not to take a picture so we posed for a few photos and tipped the man for his help. Really bizarre, but after reading about it when I returned, it appears goats are natural climbers and they love eating argan nut, so naturally it was something that is possible and a regular occurrence around the area.
Our next stop lead us to an argan oil factory. I didn’t know this but argan is very good for your skin and hair. The tour walked us through how the oil is made by hand from collecting the nut to grinding it up and extracting the oil from it to use for various edible and cosmetic products.
After the argan oil factory, we finally made it to Essaouira. The driver drops us off right at the port and tells us he’ll return at 4PM to pick us up. This gives us about 5 hours to explore the city which is more than enough time.
The first order of business for me and Tiff was to go in search for some fresh seafood for lunch. Being a port town, seafood is the greatest draw and we walked around for a bit checking out all the menus of the shops lined around the port.
They didn’t look too appetizing and quite overpriced for what they were serving so we continued further down. I read online that there is a fish market at the end of the port where fisherman would sell direct to buyers. We walked further down and saw lots of people gathering around several vendors who lugged in their catch of the day.
This was exactly what we were looking for – the market where locals shop at. Although it’s not as nicely displayed as the restaurants we passed by, the prices here were definitely much better and selection was fresher. We bought a lot more than we probably should have, but it looked so fresh and affordable that we couldn’t resist. A whole crab for $3 USD, 2 lbs of shrimp for about $3, and a quarter section of a slab of yellow tail tuna for $6! The prices couldn’t be beat!
After haggling, bargaining, and picking out our seafood, we now needed to find somebody to cook all of this food for us. I also read that there were many shops that are willing to cook the seafood towards the center of town, so we walked through just looking but did not find anybody able to help us. With limited time to spare (as walking in the midday heat carrying a bunch of seafood in plastic bags wasn’t such a good idea), a local man sees the desperation in our faces and asks if we want him to grill up our food. This place was definitely a hole in the wall establishment and he didn’t have the equipment to steam the shrimp but we were too hungry to deny his helpful offer and decided, “why not?”
We were a little wary of the cleanliness of the place, as our foreigner stomachs may not be as strong as the locals, but since everything was being cooked on the spot and we picked the food out ourselves, we went with it. The meal ended up being pretty good as the shrimp were mildly grilled which ended up being really soft and sweet. The crab was also grilled and they cracked all the legs for us to make it easier to pull out the meat. However, the fish was overcooked and dry. This is actually expected in Moroccan cuisine as they always cook their meat well done. Cooking fish seared or medium rare is a western concept so the fish was much drier than we were used to. Other than that, they offered us some bread and sauce to dip our food into and charged a cooking fee of about a few dollars. Amazing.
To add to the “authentic” experience, we were practically dining on the streets as they had a table for us to sit right outside the stall in an alley.
It felt strange chowing down on all this seafood while locals would walk by confused as to why an Asian couple was sitting in an alley eating a table full of seafood.
After the meal, we explored the rest of the town. If our pictures look familiar to you so far, you can bet that these scenes were made famous by the HBO hit Game of Thrones. Essaouira was filmed as the Game of Thrones city of Astapor, known for slaver’s bay and home to the Unsullied army. The Walk of Punishment where Daenerys placed the masters on display on a cross along the town’s fort was one of the most notable scenes of the city. You can read more about the filming locations we visited in Morocco here.
Aside from Essaouira’s notoriety for good seafood and Game of Thrones, they also make killer crepes. Morocco, being a French colony has many influences from France and crepes are one of them.
We walked around town in search of some crepes and ordered from two places. The first one being not too great, very doughy with minimal Nutella filling. We were quite disappointed so Tiff wanted to try out another place. Luckily, they’re only about $1.50-$2 USD and are readily available, so we tried another vendor.
The second place ended up being really good! Light and fluffy with a lot of Nutella and crunchy almonds to add to it.
Overall, the city of Essaouira is a charming town to visit in Morocco. I’d even have to say that I preferred it over Marrakesh, as the town just felt more welcoming and relaxed. People were less aggressive with trying to get you to buy something from them and had a more local feel. The city walls right on the edge of the town facing the ocean had an amazing view, the seafood was fresh, cheap, and a delight. It has all the ingredients to make for a charming and worthwhile day trip after staying in the hustle and bustle of the Medina of Marrakesh.