After 3 days in Marrakech, we headed to Essaouira. Essaouira is a short (approx. 2.5 hour) drive from Marrakech. We arranged with our hotel in Essaouira, the Sofitel Essaouira Mogador Golf & Spa Resort, to send a car for us. We were picked up by a great driver in a brand new Audi SUV, and the drive was relatively painless (except that we realized 45 minutes in that we had forgotten to empty the safe in our room in Marrakech and had to turn around... woops). You can also take a grande taxi from Marrakech to Essaouira, but this option was more pleasant and about the same price.
Sunset view from our hotel room.
Daytime view from our hotel room
By the time we made it to Essaouira, it was evening. We were upgraded to an ocean view balcony room in the main building of the hotel, and were able to watch the sun set from our balcony. The next morning we saw that we had a great view of one of the hotel pools, as well as the golf course and the ocean in the distance. One of the interesting things that we noticed was that the views in Essaouira are always a bit hazy. This is because Essaouira is extremely windy (it is very popular with kite and windsurfers), so there is constantly sand blowing around, which obscures the view somewhat.
Moroccan stop sign
Soccer on the beach
On our first full day in Essaouira, we took a short taxi ride to the main town of Essaouira. We did not have any plans or an itinerary, so we just decided to explore. The medina is dramatically located on a cliff overlooking the ocean, so most of Essaouira is visually stunning. To get to the medina, we walked along the beach, which featured quite a few locals playing soccer and other games. We eventually ended up at the pier, basically located at the end of the beach.
Port of Essaouira
Beautiful blue fishing boats
The port was full of old buildings and bright-blue fishing boats. When we were there it was not very busy. There were also a few restaurants overlooking the ocean, and we had a great, quick seafood lunch on the deck at Le Coquillage restaurant.
Essaouira police building
Fishing boat being painted
From the pier we entered the medina through one of the main gates, where we explored the souks. While there is a main strip of touristy, typical souks, we turned down a side alley and walked along the medina walls. On the far side of the medina there were many wood shops where the woodworkers carved elaborate boxes, trinkets and other wood items. In contrast to Marrakech, where you could buy these wood pieces en masse, in Essaouira we were able to meet the artisans and watch them at their craft. We ended up with enormous bags of wood pieces to take home.
Aside from actually seeing the artists at work, shopping in Essaouira was overall much more pleasant than Marrakech - the shopkeepers were much less aggressive, there many more unique items, and the prices were lower than Marrakech. We ended up doing almost all of our shopping in Essaouira, and actually enjoyed exploring the souks, in contrast to how stressful the souks of Marrakech can be.
Side street in Essaouira
Exploring Essaouira's walls
At the end of the souks, by a corner of the medina, we found a long, rocky ramp that led to the top of the medina walls. From the top of the walls there were stunning views of the ocean and sunset. Overall, exploring the medina in Essaouira was fun and relaxing, and one of the best parts of our entire trip. While at times things were a bit confusing, we always managed to find our way (usually without even a map) and never felt as though we needed a guide.
View from the corner of the medina walls
View from the corner of the medina walls
Leaving the medina
The next day, we headed back down to the beach solely for the purpose of riding camels on the beach. While I realize this is a ridiculous tourist trap, I couldn't resist the opportunity for camel-ride-on-beach photos. Because of the strong, constant wind in Essaouira, and the fact that it sits on the edge of the Sahara, the beach actually has sizable sand dunes. So, it was kind of like riding a camel in the desert, but with the ocean in the background.
Camels on the beach
For our last activity, we checked out the golf course by our hotel, the Golf De Mogador. While it is actually separate from the Sofitel, the course was quite nice and well groomed. The course was designed by Gary Player and built in 2009, and features ocean views from several holes. We only played 9 holes, but were able to enjoy the views as well as lots of interesting African wildlife (particularly birds). My only complaint about the course is the golf cart - while it looked relatively new, the steering function could have used some... tuning. Driving the cart was a bit frightening at times, but we made it work.
Golf De Mogador
Essaouira golf course
View from the 1st hole