I’ve not felt more mystic, and I don’t think anyone would before a trip to Essaouira, Morocco. It’s interesting to have a hide-out that makes you forget your daily rendezvous. Yet, it’s more precious to discover a place that feels like a lifetime discovery and erases the darkness that can be associated with its constituent continent.
When we first set foot on Essaouira, Morocco, we thought we’d just enjoy the coastal atmosphere like we do in any other beach town. Normally, it’s just about the sand, the salty winds, the heat and the tourists. The Atlantic coast, on our trip to Essaouira, had more surprises for our package. I’d call them offers. The wind outdoes itself; we later learnt it’s strong and breezy for most of the year. Wind surfers flock the area between April and November to enjoy such nature’s free trappings.
From the moment we landed at the Essaouira Airport to our last seconds in the laid-back town, I’d confess our eyes had much more than feast and firsts. This includes the unavoidable squint due to the bright sun and reflections on the chalky white-washed architecture of the ancient structures that serve as tourist attractions. Just along the streets lined with palms and pine, a row of walk-in art galleries enriches the exotic experience and reveal a historic vibrant cultural mix that makes a trip to Essaouira a worthy feat.
Geographically, Essaouira lies between the Arabic north and the south that’s awash with Berbers. Their culture blends in with the myriads of Europeans (majorly Portuguese and French) taking advantage of the cozy weather and distinctly long beaches. The blend explains the scores of fishing boats by the seaside, the numerous camels and horses that are typical of Berbers and the frequent singing by the Gnawa women as the undertake their daily chores.
On our first morning of our trip to Essaouira, we decided to refrain from keeping our feet wet and just watch. It was a windy Saturday; the Atlantic seaside was in a frenzy with surfers exploiting the stretch of its waves and kite-boarders doing their best to tempt us. In fact, we couldn’t hold ourselves for a whole hour. We did enquire on the kite-boarding experience and had to hire a kite. Trainers are available before you snap your fingers and a new definition of wild abandon was achieved on our trip to Essaouira. It’s an enviable first time achievement.
The native craftsmen are also a common sight everywhere during a trip to Essaouira; from the streets to the shores. They make a killing from their skill, with a reputation of being the finest of Morocco. The colorful handicraft spread as wares on mats or makeshift bandas range from jewelry, textiles to hand-woven furniture. My partner couldn’t resist the calls of woven traditional blankets from a seller and as time whiled away, I grabbed a thuja wood chess board and a jewelry box for my trophy cabinet. The wares are quite affordable and it’s quite fulfilling to think of the trade as empowering the local simple community. In essence, it’s just our humble way of explaining away my partner’s shopping addiction. We obviously bought more on our trip to Essaouira.
Watching the sea can be a pastime. It can also be a nostalgic experience. I noted this on our trip to Essaouira when standing by the ramparts with my pair of binoculars focused towards the endless azure horizon. The ramparts are historic banks that were built along the sea coastline to fortify ancient settlements. Guards would stand on the walls to watch out against any attack from the sea, alongside the embankments acting as protection against torturous waves. We paid 4 dollars to access the ramparts at the old fortress, the Sqala, and pleasure-hunted using our cameras, binoculars and immobile cannons.
It’s noteworthy that the Essaouira Airport is 4.5 miles from Essaouira. Bus tour companies offer the connection needed between the city and the airport. Mostly, if you had pre-booked a hotel on a trip to Essaouira like us, the package takes care of that. Our first day was more stroll and less drive. We had found a serene hideaway in a hotel just outside the ramparts. Villa Quieta is as silent as the name suggests. The alleys in Essaouira city are perfectly conditioned for either a lazy walk or a quick dash-by. They’re beautifully narrow and sandwiched between mostly tall, ancient white-washed walls. The streets leading out of the city to the shores are sheltered from sun rays too by the shadows of cedar, pine and spice-scented trees. At the very least, on that trip to Essaouira, I didn’t use much of skin burn I had rashes like I had to in the furnace rival of Essaouira called Marrakech. Marrakech is a tourist favorite in Morocco with the extreme traits of desert.
There are plenty of bus tour rides in the city for organized groups doing their trip to Essaouira; but we opted to hire an SUV from among the numerous car-hire choices in the city. In fact, we had the choice of taking a whole day’s trip to the Marrakech Desert which we dropped since our explore mission had borders and boundaries. We wanted to savor in the whole of Essaouira and strictly make this a trip to Essaouira. Driving in the city is more hectic and attention-deserving than in most other Africa’s highways and midways. We had to share the same space with motorbikes, rapidly-crossing pedestrians, food vendor barrows, random camels and horses. Speed bumps, road signs and traffic police do play their part efficiently though, and with a little African patience, sailing through is achievable. To crown it all up, everyone is friendly – a traffic cop waved us down one time on a drive to the port, told us to reduce our speed and waved us away. No tickets. All hail Essaouira! We can live here! No, we can’t. We’re travelers.
The port is a must do on a trip to Essaouira and we had that on our bucket list. It’s not just about the port. We had exclusively planned to do a voyage to the Island of Mogador. That’s about 1 mile into the sea. However, one has to get a permit from the authorities at Essaouira for such a voyage and we were privy to that information late into our excitement. Visits to the island on a trip to Essaouira are restricted to scientific purposes only. The archipelago is uninhabited and reserved for conservation. The Island of Mogador, we learnt, is actually a name that refers to two islands and several tiny islets that are actually visible from Essaouira. The island is naturally critical and essential as it protects Essaouira from heavy marine gales and waves. There are fun yacht and boat rides around the port at a fee and we had to make do with that anyway. We also found shot-worthy camera-friendly locally-made boats.
Food and entertainment
Apart from the romantic walkways that Essaouira offers to the myriads of couples streaming the alleys, a variety of delicacies is available for the food tourist. It’s impossible to walk more than a hundred meters in the alleys during a trip to Essaouira without bumping into white-cloaked food vendors selling roast and fried sea food right from their barrows. The night sky at Essaouira is unimaginable. Right outside our hotel by the ramparts, was the Caravane Cafe boasting of live performances every night by a magician and traditional Gnaouan dancers. Enjoying all these amidst the well-lit artistic display of antiques in the courtyard gave us enthralling chills for our trip to Essaouira. The Moroccan diet of sea-food, mainly fish, and a grating of crab served alongside pepper and Asian cereals is exquisite. We always enjoyed cold beverages every evening at the harbor in the dense umbrella-shaded eat-out joints.
Silent entertainment is readily available at the beaches if watching seagulls while reading a book is someone’s fancy. Organized groups, especially families, seemed to frequent the Cape Sim beach more than the Sidi Kaouki beach. We didn’t have any pets, therefore, as dog-walkers had their fun at the sandy beaches with their adorable furred friends on a hot afternoon, we either whiled away on horse carriages to the interior landscapes or just indulged on take-away local wine on the cool sand under pine trees.
It’s not fair to boast of the numerous forms of entertainment during a trip to Essaouira without mention of the local Moroccan wine industry. Morocco is the second-highest producer of wine among Arabian countries. On our last day of our trip to Essaouira, we pedaled our way on hired bikes to the outskirts of the city – along nature trails and amidst vast expanses of vineyards. Trails in Essaouira take the form of beautiful mazework as my partner noted, and it’s even prettier with the scenic man-made lakes appearing randomly in the countryside. A visit to the famous Argan winery is a learning experience too for a trip to Essaouira. We had lunch at the Domaine du Val d’Argan Restaurant right at the edge of the lush greenery formed by the vineyards and the winery, took photos, screamed at crazy couples celebrating anniversaries and made friends.
Amidst all these exciting activities one can engage as a tourist doing a trip in Essaouira, we wouldn’t forgive ourselves if we didn’t spot a single goat on a tree. There’s charm in that spectacular sight. We encountered this on our bike rides through the Argan fields. It’s peculiar, completely one-off and out-of-this world as my partner exclaimed. However, they do so for the Argan fruits as we learnt, and I thought I’d do the same too if I was a goat. We’ve all done something crazy for food anyway. The goats, and the happy local women extracting oil from the Argan outside their houses along the trails are a must watch on a trip to Essaouira, or the ‘Windy City’ as it’s famously known.