Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps


2/09/10 On Essaouira

One of my favorite Moroccan cities - a favorite with lots of PCVs - is Essaouira.

Essa (in the universal Peace Corps shorthand) sits just two hours away from the overpriced, overtouristed, and usually overheated city of Marrakesh, so therefore often serves as an escape valve for unhappy visitors to that overhyped city.

Essa doesn't seem to offer much, at first glance. It's just a quiet beachfront city.

But that's the point.

Essaouira provides a calm, quiet, relaxing place to hang out, shop for souvenirs, walk on the beach, and generally just chill. The souvenir shopping is some of the best in Morocco, with some of the least aggressive shopkeepers I've found. (In fairness, though, they're still more aggressive than most Americans will be used to, but if you grade on the Moroccan curve, they're positively laid-back.) You can stroll through the shops, wander in and out of cafes, meander along the beach... Essa feels amazingly peaceful, especially in contrast to the energy of most of Morocco's big cities.

(Caveat: I visited in the off-season. Essa may turn into a touristy mess in the summers...I wouldn't know. But it was fabulous in March.)

Here's a typical Essa day:

Wake up in the apartment you've rented for the weekend. Though Essa has hotels, most PCVs prefer to rent apartments in the medina; they're available by the day, and have kitchens and living rooms and other amenities.

Go out to a cafe for breakfast and a pastry:
This is a custard-filled, fruit-topped, puff-pastry tart. And it cost 4 dirhams. In France, you can get the same thing for 4 Euros - ten times the price. Did I mention that Essa is cheap?

After you've munched and people-watched in the cafe, wander down to the shops. Nearly everything handcrafted in Morocco is available here: leather goods (especially bags, but also shoes and coats), jewelry (notably silver, which southern Morocco is famous for, but also handcarved wooden bracelets), woodcrafts of every variety (tables, chess sets, puzzle boxes, desk organizers, kitchen utensils, jewelry, etc), and most famously scarves.

Here's my friend modeling an Essaouira scarf I'd purchased moments before. The vibrant colors (this is actually a muted one, since that's my taste) and high-quality fabrics are typical of Essa scarves.

Isn't my friend beautiful? And so's the scarf, of course. :)

Once you've satisfied your inner shopaholic, it's time to hit the beach.

Here, my buddies and I are playing beach frisbee underneath a full moon. (The frisbee is barely visible, but it's there - look for the red streak that Rachid is reaching for.)

Wait a little longer, and you get to see something amazing:

It's strange for Americans to think about, but yes, here in Morocco, you get to watch the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean. (Think about it for a sec.)

Note the ruins silhouetted on the right - those are remnants of Essa's defensive fortress.

And after a long day of shopping, beachcombing, and eating, it's time for some more quality chillaxing with the buds:

Essaouira doesn't get much mention in the guidebooks, other than in reference to their annual music festival in June, but if you're looking for a beautiful, relaxing, low-key but high-quality time, it's absolutely worth a visit.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps