21 Days Away: Finding Peace in Essaouira, Morocco

Essaouira is coastal serenity.
— Lonely Planet

If you have been following along with my 21 days away series, you know that I did not have an easy transition into Morocco.  I had been stranded in the airport due to the careless mistake of a driver I hired.  I was verbally harassed on a daily basis and I was getting lost on a daily basis because the Medina is intense.  I was desperate to get out and escape and wished I had just stayed in Budapest because I had had such a wonderful there. However, God had not abandoned me and gave me the wonderful gift that was otherwise known as Essaouira, Morocco.

I had asked my riad manager about Essaouira and he encouraged me to visit and I am glad that I made the decision to go, because I was operating on a day by day basis. When I was in Marrakech I felt like I was suffocating and could never really let my guard down.  I was constantly being asked for money, the Medina was a maze, and the verbal harassment was awful. I had booked a bus to Essaouira via Supratours and as we made our approach into the city, my heart began to skip a beat.  For those of you that don’t know, the beach is my happy place and I seek refuge in them often. I saw the Atlantic Ocean glistening in the distance and I was so overwhelmed, I almost cried.  I knew I had wanted an escape from Marrakech but I was not aware of how badly I needed it.

Related Post: My Love-Hate Relationship With Marrakech

Stepping off of the Supratours bus, I instantly felt the ocean breeze and the dramatically cooler temperature.  While it was about 100 degrees in Marrakech, Essaouira sported a fine 75 degrees. Walking into the Medina, I instantly fell for the white and blue hues surrounding me and appreciated the calming effect. The streets were not as crowded and I did not have to dip and dodge from an influx of scooters. So far, so good. 

Where I Stayed

My riad in Essaouira was the business. I randomly found it on Hotels.com and made my choice to stay at Riad Mimouna. It was deep in the corner of Essaouira’s medina close to the Atlantic Ocean. As I got closer to the riad, I could hear the waves crashing against the coast and my excitement continued to grow. Naturally, I got a bit lost on the way but when I stepped inside of the riad my mouth dropped.  I had seen photos of the lobby online but they did not do it justice. The bellhop had immediately grabbed my bags and after a seamless check-in process I was escorted to my room.

Now, while I appreciated the gracious hospitality at my riad in Marrakech, the size of my room in Essaouira was spectacular.  Keep in mind that I am the traveler that usually stays in hostels but because the riad prices weren’t anything over $50 a night, I gifted myself some time to sleep in a room to myself each night in Morocco. I had a king size bed, with a tv y’all (doesn’t happen in your hostel bedroom), and a decently sized bathroom. As badly as I wanted to take a nap, I had a mission to catch the sunset on the roof because after all, I was right off the coast.

The original plan had been for me to stay in Essaouira for one night but because I was so comfortable and content in my riad, I decided to extend my stay by one night. The riad staff was extremely accommodating and even arranged for me to do an activity that I wanted to cross off of my bucket list. There is no doubt in my mind that I would return to this riad if I went back to Essaouira (which would probably happen over Marrakech).

Where I Ate

I arrived in Essaouira around 5pm and after a day of being in a bus terminal and then a three hour ride, I was ready to eat! I had been given a map with suggestions from my riad manager in Marrakech, but soon figured out that Riad Mimouna had a rooftop restaurant with some great views of the water. For sheer convenience and laziness, I decided I would stay in and eat at the restaurant upstairs and it turned out to be a fabulous decision.

The service at the riad’s restaurant once again proved that Moroccans are not slacking in the hospitality department. I got cozy on a gorgeous purple couch and felt at home as soon as I had mint tea in my hand. I decided to feast on their beef tangine which had apricots and dates in it so the sweetness and flavor was incredible. I was not too happy when I finished because I wanted more.

The next day I ventured off to Taros Cafe. I knew that while I was in Essaouira I wanted to take full advantage of the seafood and after perusing the menu I decided to indulge in a shrimp spaghetti. I had been craving pasta for some strange reason and was thoroughly satisfied that I could combine it with fresh seafood. I enjoyed people watching from the comfort of their outdoor eating area and felt good about my decision to extend my visit.

Later, per the suggestion of the restaurants on my map, I went searching for La Chalet de la Plage but I couldn’t find it. I was disappointed because I had been looking forward to catching the sunset while eating my dinner. I decided to go back to Taros because I knew they had a rooftop and I would still be able to enjoy my view. I got there just in time because as the sun continued to set, the crowds continued to come in. I feasted on, you guess it, tangine but this one was lamb shank and I was in heaven. I am almost certain my eyes were rolling and I didn’t care. The only inconvenience I had was the fact that the stray cats were everywhere and making attempts to eat my food. Thankfully, the live band and the DJ made up for the cats and I had a great time at Taros.

I was not due to leave Essaouira until 5pm on my last day and wanted to check out the port that was recommended in other blogs. Be forewarned, the smell of fish was mighty strong. I did a quick about face and went to the stalls to check out the fresh seafood options. I selected some shrimp and fish and took a seat as they grilled it for me. Even though I had to barter for my price and give them some Jersey girl attitude, my meal was absolutely delicious and of course, the cats were trying to get a piece of it.

Where I Played

I took it easy in Essaouira because of the relaxing pace.  It was such a different vibe for me.  I was able to breathe and really soak in where I was because I didn’t feel internally rushed to get somewhere to avoid harassment from men. Yes, there were a few “Shakira’s” every now and then but it was a totally different experience.

Aside from walking to the ports, I passed through the Jardin du Orson Welles twice. It wasn’t as vibrant as I would have liked it to be, but anytime I see flowers I smile, so it didn’t hurt. I was also able to enjoy shopping in the souks because the merchants weren’t nearly as pushy.  I tried to stop by stalls in which I saw a woman just because I knew I would be more comfortable. I memorized which ones I visited and had no problem finding them because unlike Marrakech’s medina, Essaouira’s reminded you of a grid and a lot of the streets were parallel. Getting lost was never an issue for me. I picked up two dresses and a few other souvenirs and was able to enjoy the negotiation process.

On my last day, I was able to cross off a bucket list item that was probably one of my favorite moments while abroad for three-weeks. I got to go on a camel ride! It was insane. I had a lovely camel by the name of Boris and my guide was extremely enthusiastic about taking photos for me as I was traveling alone. While riding a camel in the desert seems cool, I was thrilled to be riding a camel on a beach. This was the African experience I was looking to have. I was then surprised with the guide taking Boris and I to some hilly sand dunes. It felt like a roller coaster and I was laughing hysterically. On the way back, the guide let the reign go and I was actually riding Boris myself and he eventually had him run. Was I nervous? Duh, a little bit but it was dope. I also think one of the coolest moments was the fact that a little girl had run up to me while I was on the camel and just stared and waved. I won’t lie and say that I didn’t feel like a princess at that moment.

Once my one-hour ride was finished, I decided to walk along the coast before I got to the port. The water was incredibly warm and it was nice to see families of locals and tourists enjoying a beautiful day at the beach. All the stress that I had felt in Marrakech had been relieved from me in that moment once my toes were in the sand. Once a beach baby, always a beach baby.

I am so incredibly grateful that I listened to my line sister and other suggestions to escape the chaos of Marrakech and take the short trip to Essaouira. I had more positive experiences and the people were kinder.  I had even offered to give a gentleman money that had assisted me with finding my riad (and I didn’t want another fiasco like the first time) but he refused. I felt a sense of peace in Essaouira that was comforting during those few moments I began to feel homesick. If you are ever in Morocco, I highly recommend that you visit Essaouira. This city gave me a totally different taste of Morocco and did its due diligence in making sure I didn’t leave the country with a bad taste in my mouth.

Have you heard of Morocco's coastal city of Essaouira? Read my post about highlighting where I ate, stayed, and played in this serene city in North Africa on www.thirty30courtney.com

Have you heard of Morocco's coastal city of Essaouira? Read my post about highlighting where I ate, stayed, and played in this serene city in North Africa on www.thirty30courtney.com

Have you ever visited Essaouira? What did you think about it?

Want to continue reading about my 21-day solo adventure? Read the next post, "Paris, The Second Time Around".