The best things to do in Essaouira, Morocco, on a budget.
Previously known as “Mogador”, and currently known as the “Windy City of Morocco”, Essaouira is the perfect escape from the heat and chaos of Marrakech.
It has a rich history dating back to the Middle Ages, and has withstood attempts at colonization from Portugal, Spain, France, England, and the Netherlands throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.
It’s no wonder so many European powers tried to take over the city, due to its prime, central location right on the north African Atlantic. For most of its existence, Essaouira has been an important port for trade between Africa, Europe, and other world powers.
The caravan trade, where people from the Sahara Desert and Atlas Mountains would travel across Morocco to trade their goods with the rest of the world, used Essaouira as their main port.
In modern times, Essaouira has been overtaken by Casablanca, Rabat and other bigger Moroccan cities for trade. In the 1960s it was known as a sort of “hippie town”, and nowadays it’s a laid-back tourist destination where travelers come from Marrakech for day trips to the sea.
For those looking to visit Essaouira on a budget, here are my tips for enjoying the Windy City without spending lots of money.
How Long To Stay:
I think one day in Essaouira is enough. A day trip from Marrakech is quick and easy, and the highlights of the town are all close together and easy to see in a few hours.
But if you want more time laying on the beach and absorbing the chilled out, beach-town atmosphere, stay overnight in a cheap hostel.
You can sleep in a dorm room for 70 Dirhams a night ($7), check Hostelworld for the best hostel option for you.
How To Get There:
By Bus: A one-way bus ticket from Marrakech to Essaouira is 80 Dirhams, so to get there and back you’ll be spending 160 Dirhams. This is the cheapest way, especially since the bus station in Essaouira is close to the city center. The buses run frequently throughout the day; find the departure times and prices on the Supratours website.
By Car: If you are renting a car, the drive from Marrakech to Essaouira only takes about 2 hours. It’s an easy drive, just obey the speed limits because local police often sit by the side of the road with speed cameras.
By Tour Company: There are plenty of tour companies in Marrakech offering day trips to Essaouira for around 250 Dirhams. This is a pretty standard price; it’s a bit more expensive than taking the bus yourself but takes away the hassle of walking to and from the bus station in Marrakech.
What To Bring:
Sunscreen: I laid on the beach for about 20 minutes and got absolutely cooked by the sun. You don’t realize how strong the sun is until it’s too late, so definitely wear sunscreen.
Bathing Suit: If you feel like swimming!
Camera: Essaouira is quite a picturesque town, with white washed town walls and beautiful street art filling scattered all over the place. Make sure to get some cool shots while strolling around.
Money: If you follow my budget travel tips, you won’t need to bring much money for a day in Essaouira. But bring enough for your transportation, and maybe another 50 Dirhams for food and water, which I’ll give more detail about later.
Lightweight, conservative clothing: Though it’s a beach town, remember that Morocco is a Muslim country and people dress modestly. Especially women, try to cover your shoulders and knees if possible.
What To Do In Essaouira:
Luckily for the budget traveler, the best parts of the town can be enjoyed for free.
The Medina: Essaouira’s Medina is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, as it shows the remnants of European colonization mixed with North African culture. The Medina here is also way more chilled than Marrakech or Fez; you can actually look in some shops without being pressured to buy something right away.
Wander around the streets and you’re sure to find lots of gorgeous ceramics, paintings, and wooden trinkets. Venture into some of the Argan oil shops, as the town is particularly famous for its production of this miraculous beauty product.
The Fortifications: Mohammed III, the King of Morocco back in the 18th century, lead the construction of many walls, towers and gates around the city to protect his successful port and harbor. These historical features are still standing all around the town, and all you have to do is wander around to find them.
The Fish Market: Located on the edge of the port, the fish market is an interesting experience. If you don’t like looking at dead sea creatures and you can’t stomach strong smells, don’t come here. But if you’re interested in the wide array of seafood for sale and don’t mind the quite disgusting smell of fish sitting in the heat all day, this is the place for you.
Essaouira, in its prime, was the biggest fishing town in Morocco, but has since been overtaken by other coastal cities like Rabat and Safi.
The Beach: Essaouira Beach is pretty huge, with velvety soft sand framing the cold waters of the Atlantic. Swim, sunbathe, or walk along the beach for free.
If you’re an adventerous soul and don’t mind spending a bit money, try windsurfing, and Essaouira is a super famous place for it. Do your research for equipment rentals or lessons; I believe the average price to rent equipment is 40 euros for one hour, and the cost of a beginner lesson is 60 euros.
Side note: Essaouira doesn’t have the best beach for swimming or surfing. A beach further up the coast that I really enjoyed is Plage Lalla Fatna, just north of Safi. There were barely any people there, and plenty of clean, refreshing ocean water.
See Goats In Trees: On the drive from Marrakech, keep an eye out for goats in trees. This a real thing; goats climb the argan trees to eat the nuts/seeds/fruits in the branches. If you take a tour, your driver will most likely stop for you to take photos. If you’re driving yourself, it’s definitely worth the stop, as it’s such a hilarious sight to see.
What To Eat:
There are lots of touristy restaurants on the beach, but they’re all very overpriced. You can get authentic meals in Marrakech for 1/3 of the price listed on most sit-down restaurants in Essaouira, but I’ll share some of my favorite affordable snacks to keep you going throughout the day.
Fresh Orange Juice: 5 Dirhams
Nutella Crepe: 15 Dirhams
Falafel Wrap: 20 Dirhams
Fresh fruit from a stand in the street: 10 Dirhams for a big handful
Fried fish: 30 Dirhams for a mixed bag
All these foods cost the equivalent of $3 or less, so they’re good for fueling the budget traveler.
You’ll also have to buy bottled water, as the tap water in Morocco is not suitable. Try not to pay more than 6 Dirhams for a 1.5L bottle, as that’s the standard price. The little convenience stores in the street sell water for the correct price, whereas it’ll be twice as much in a restaurant or near the beach.
So if you have time time while staying in Marrakech, I definitely recommend a day trip to Essaouira. It’s pretty cheap and super easy, and it’s a lovely way to get out of the hot, busy city for a day and breathe in some salty ocean air.