Essaouira Beach (also known as Mogador) is a tiny, lethargic town that has received more attention in recent years, as it is now used as a vacation spot for Marrakesh citizens. This town still has a ‘small town, nothing ever happens’ feel to it, but it was not always this way.
Ruins from Essaouira point archaeologists to the fact that people have been inhabiting the town since prehistoric times. History tells us that Juba II, the Berber ruler in the 1st century BC had a Tyrian purple dye factory established in Essaouira. That dye was then sent to Rome, which was then used to dye the robes of Roman senators. This dye was literally worth more than gold.
The most prominent features of Essaouira are the fortresses that create the old Medina. They (and five others on the coast) were built in 1505 by Portuguese conquerors. By 1550, these conquerors had been pushed away from all but three Moroccan cities. This city primarily served as a meeting place for Moorish pirates. It was also known for exporting molasses and sugar.
Modern-day Essaouira was founded in 1760 by Mohammed III. He had hoped to make the city a harbor city as a place to stop for those on their way to Marrakesh. It took a lot of time and money to build Essaouira, and several engineers and builders were hired to complete this project. The king heavily encouraged foreigners to move to Essaouira, hoping that they would bring their connections and money would flow through the harbor city.
The city eventually contained one of the largest Jewish populations in the world. It had 40% of the city containing Jewish inhabitants, with over 40 synagogues built by them. Some survive to this day, and the current King Mohammed VI is preserving them, along with other important, cultural, and historical sites.
Eventually, Essaouira became one of the most powerful harbor cities. So much so, that European diplomats and traders were stationed in either Essaouira or Tangiers. The city became a French protectorate (along with the rest of Morocco) in 1912 until 1956.
It was during this protectorate that the city became known as Mogador, and some still insist this is the correct name of the city. However, the legal name of the city is Essaouira.
Nowadays, the city has a “hippie vibe”, built from the knowledge that Jimi Hendrix based his song “Castle in the Sand” from the city, although he did not actually come to the city until two years after he wrote and released the song.
You may have also seen the city on TV – as its Medina is a UNESCO heritage site. It has appeared on such shows as Game of Thrones (portraying Astapor), as well as Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, Alexander, and the Kingdom of Heaven.
What To Do In Essaouira Beach
Even though this is a small town, there is plenty to do at Essaouira beaches. You may wish to relax and drink nous nous (an Arabic way to say “half-half” for coffee) on the Essaouira beach, or even take a kite and catch waves in the water. The choice is yours.
There aren’t more than a few historical sites or museums in Essaouira, but they are worth a visit. One is the ramparts around the city that make up the city and the Skala – both were established as protection for the city. There are also shops on the lower levels that were used as fortifications for the military. Some parts of these sites are being renovated, but you can still see them. This is where some sections of Game of Thrones was filmed.
If you go to the ports, that is where you will see the top of the ramparts. There are two ways you can get to the ramparts — first is the actual entry just before you hit the port, with an admission fee of 10 dirhams. Second, if you walk down the port, you will eventually find an entryway that goes up and will bring you to the top of the ramparts.
The Jewish population of Essaouira built many synagogues, some of which are still standing today. There used to be 43 of them that were open and holding services, but now only one does so — the Simon Attias (or Chaim Pinto) synagogue. It is tiny and has no admission fee for services, just asks for donations. It is a Sephardic synagogue, located in the Mellah area, and is currently being renovated. This is not considered to be a good neighborhood, so it is advisable that you only visit during the day.
It is a very popular custom for visitors to take cooking classes in Morocco. Khadija Kuzina’s classes are infamously held in her home, and we strongly recommend her as an instructor. The entire experience is very authentic and welcoming, and it is such a homey place to experience Moroccan cooking for the first time.
Besides the Essaouira beaches, the port receives the most tourists. Fishermen always bring in their catch daily at around 10 AM and sell to tourists. You can buy from them and also have the option of having it grilled fresh within a few minutes of being caught!
You can also: buy a shark, get a grilled lunch, listen to an Essaouira siren song, and visit the Essaouira beach.
Essaouira’s beach has cool winds blowing at all times, which offsets the heat. The water also has shallow pools, which is perfect for bringing your family and letting your children swim safely. Most tourist families have picnics, build sandcastles, and go swimming at the beach.
While most Moroccans do not swim at the beach during the winter, some tourists bring their wetsuits to go into the water.
If you want to take a horseback ride on the beach or even a ride to a village, that something that you can do in Essaouira. You could also ride a camel if you were so inclined.
If you don’t want to have a leisurely horse or camel ride, quad bikes are a faster option available to you.
Gnaoua Festival in Essaouira Beach
This is the largest festival of the year, held every June. It is a weekend that is filled with music, excitement, and nonstop entertainment! If you are wishing to attend, make sure to plan your arrival early, because it does not take long for the riads and the city to fill up in preparation. This is an amazing chance for you to experience West African culture and music, as well as the Essaouira beach.
Essaouira Beach Restaurants
There are several amazing food options in Essaouira — their seafood being the most popular. Below are some recommendations we would make, regarding finding restaurants in Essaouira.
Keep in mind that some of these restaurants operate on a seasonal schedule, and depending on the time of year have a fairly chaotic schedule. You will need to check beforehand if they are open. Know that in the winter months, most restaurants are closed after 9:00 pm.
The Port — we spoke about this in the article before, but having the option of grilling your freshly caught fish is an experience too amazing to pass up!
Mega Loft — popular in the late evenings, this spot has a diverse menu and an amazing decorator. The perfect spot for couples.
Umia — one of the greatest restaurants in not just Essaouira, but of Morocco itself. We cannot say anything bad about the food and it is one of our favorites.
Du Val D’Argon — are you a wine lover? If you are, this is the restaurant that was made for you! This restaurant contains the only winery in southern Morocco and it is a gorgeous little spot. You can choose to either just have a tasting or stay for lunch, and it also has rooms that you can stay in if you so desire.
Creperie Mogador — this is a small crepe shop that sells both sweet and savory crepes. They are made the Breton way — gluten-free — and so can fit into most specialized diets.
La Fromagerie — this restaurant is not technically located in Essaouira, although it is easy enough to get a taxi to, and is well worth the trip. The menu is based around traditional Moroccan foods and cheese.
Silvestro’s — we have really enjoyed the fire-grilled pizzas at this restaurant, although in the recent past they have not kept up the same quality taste. It is a great spot for a relaxing dinner. You should plan ahead if you want to eat here.
Patisserie Chez Driss — this is one of the most famous patisserie shops in Essaouira, selling cakes and other treats. You can buy to eat in the shop or make a to-go order.
Hotels in Essaouira Beach
Where should you stay? Instead of bumming it on the Essaouira beach, you could either stay at a hotel or a riad. A riad is not the same thing as a hotel, although it is often thought of as the same.
A riad is what you would think of more as a bed and breakfast vs a hotel. We think that riads are better places to stay, but you have the option of a hotel if you want that instead.
Some of the riads we recommend are Dar Figuiers, Riad Emotion, and Sofitel Essaouira. The most famous place to stay is The Atlantic Seaside Resort.
Spend a long weekend in Essaouira, hit the Essaouira beach!
You might also like some of the articles from our website about boondocking and travel.
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