Before heading to the desert, we stopped in Essaouira, known for its fishing boats and maybe seagulls. The reason for its fame is unknown, all we knew is it was a slower pace, artistic, and a must-visit in Morocco.
What we learned was that it was definitely unique – in the way that its climate is oddly cold and damp compared to the rest of the desert country, not to mention eerily quiet. It was definitely the most relaxing town, where despite the decent amount of foreigners, we experienced the least amount of harassment and haggling from tourist trappers.
We stayed at a humble Airbnb for only $10 a night, in a large, eccentric old home owned by a Moroccan horse-riding tour guide. It was quite “artistically rustic,” with paint chipping off walls, old patterned tile floors, rusty exposed metals, and a fragile wooden spiral staircase leading to the roof, complemented by oil paintings, pencil sketches, small sculptures, and quirky notes on the walls. With high ceilings, big windows and open space, it was the perfect artist’s residence that embodied the creativity of the owner. Plus, breakfast was included.
Our flat reflected the vibe of Essaouira, which is full of little shops selling hand-crafted artworks, musical instruments, and more. Rumor has it that Jimi Hendrix used to spend some time here. With the beautiful reef coastline and ancient architecture, it’s not surprising that artists come here to find inspiration.
It was also the only place in Morocco where we found a whole corner full of “vegan”-labeled restaurants. We guessed that this was because of the large amount of artists/hippies present in this village. It was pretty much the same vegan Moroccan food we’d had everywhere, such as vegetable tajines and couscous, just with better marketing and higher prices. Instead we ate at a restaurant with an owner desperate for TripAdvisor reviews, willing to exchange an honest/biased online feedback for a huge discount. He gave us a salad, veggie couscous, eggplant dips, unlimited bread, hot teas, and two chocolate crepes all together for $5. I left a Google review.
The majority of Essaouira’s medina can be walked within 2 hours. It’s full of little winding alleys, frequented by well-fed stray cats, which were some of the fattest and healthiest I’d seen in Morocco. It’s a quieter, more peaceful place than other cities, with seemingly many local and expat artists residing. Our favorite thing to do was to buy some snacks, like a 2dh/$.20 homemade pastry from Medina’s main street, and nibble while sitting on the old city wall, overlooking the coastline and majestic flocks of seagulls.
After our quick relaxing/cold getaway, it was time to head east into the desert. Essaouira was so small we could walk to the nearest roundabout leading to the highway, and began hitchhiking into the Sahara.