I had always imagined Morocco as a high-energy place painted in desert-like warm colors. The pinks and peaches of the Marrakech medina, the deep golden yellows of the Sahara, the rainbow hues of scarves and fabrics, the warm yellow candlelight dancing on the walls from an within an ornate lantern.
Never did I once envision the soothing blues of the laid back seaside city of Essaouira.
If you are the type of person whose mood is affected by colors (like I am), the cool blue tones of Essaouira will whisk away any stress you may have felt in Morocco’s bigger cities – it’s a completely different place. The white wash of the buildings reminded me of the stark white buildings of the Greek Islands; the sound of the sea and the cry of seagulls circling the fishing boats reminded me of Monterey, California. And the blue… the blue is like no where else I’ve been.
Blue is everywhere – on the doors, the windows, the sky, the decorations, the details… Sometimes it’s a newly painted royal blue, sometimes it’s an Egyptian blue worn by time. Sometimes it is a bright turquoise that contrasts off the darker hues. Blue is Essaouira’s accent color that reminds you of the Atlantic Ocean lapping at the old fort walls. It gives the city a distinct personality that feels a little bit like Morocco and a little bit like Europe.
A brief history: Essaouira, once known as Mogador, is a small city on the southern Atlantic coast of Morocco. It was once considered the most important port in Africa as the Bay of Mogador is protected and easily navigable. As it was so important, it was fought over by many empires for centuries. Casablanca took over as Morocco’s biggest port city in the early 1900s, leaving Essaouira to it’s destiny as a laid back tourist/vacation destination and hippie hot spot. (Back in the 1960s, both Cat Stevens and jimi Hendrix famously traveled here which of course put it on the map to travelers.)
Hippie hotspot? Of course I had to go. It is not as popular as places like Marrakech, Fes, or Casablanca, but maybe that’s another reason to check it out.
Essaouira is the kind of city that is best enjoyed slowly. When I say slowly, I do not mean you need days or weeks to see it – quite the opposite. I mean enjoy it at an easy pace without a list of things to see. Take time to wander the souks and alleyways, have a coffee in the afternoon light along the fortress wall, and of course to walk along the sprawling beach listening to the gulls. You don’t need to look at a single map or a guide book. Just wander around, take in the city, and admire the blue.
I loved Marrakech – I loved the chaos, I loved the pinks and peaches, and I loved the scarves.
But the calming blues of Essaouira stole my heart.
* Essaouira is only a 2.5 – 3.5 hour drive from Marrakech, depending on traffic. It cant be easily tacked on to an itinerary based in southern Morocco and as a day trip.
* The Supratour bus is the cheapest way to travel between cities and leaves several times per day. Find out more information HERE
* If you have limited time, book a group van transport to save time. (the bus stops several times along the way. Vans can be booked when you arrive in the city at a tour desk or through your riad/hotel.
* Try the seafood from the food stalls by the water. It’s freshly caught everyday!