I truly enjoyed Essaouira. Granted, I am partial to the ocean. I think part of this stems from childhood memories, well, if you can call them memories. As a very young toddler, I lived near the ocean. The smell of sea water still evokes reminders of that period in my life. Not actual memories, more like visual and olfactory flashbacks. Strange, huh? Whatever the actual reason, I love the ocean, whether the beaches or hard working seaside fishing villages. As luck would have it, Essaouira boasted both.
My hotel, the Riad Mailaka, was fine, but compared poorly to the Marrakech riad. Everything else in Essaouira though exceeded its Marrakech counterpart. The people were friendlier, even though I still spoke my fake gutteral Arabic. The medina (or main square) was smaller, but equally vibrant. Instead of gardens and other sites, the city had a fishing port that was amazing. I even made a couple friends there, despite the obvious language barrier.
The food, oh the food. The fresh seafood was cheap and simply delicious, basically cooked fresh to order. You pick out what you want from the day's catch, and they grill or fry it up for you. The first place I tried, I had a bunch of sardines, calamari, prawns, and shrimp for about $15. I thought it was a great bargain, but in fact, I was ripped off! The huge sardines, for example, should only cost about 10 cents each. I later found a better stall/restaurant in the main square where I would eat three or four times during my stay there. They, too, engaged in a bit of petty larceny by gradually increasing the "preparation fee", but each seafood feast still came in at less than $7. Awesome. Being a Muslim country, it was hard to get alcohol with the meal. A beer would have made it perfect, but I can't really complain.
I spent a couple afternoons just lazing on the beach. It wasn't a great beach by resort standards, but I was able to rent a chair and umbrella for $2.50. I picked out a book Stoner, which the reviewers called "the best novel you have never read." Well, I don't actually recall the plot now, but I recall it being OK. The book killed time while relaxing under the sun. I also enjoyed watching the locals beach about.
I found a good bar that did serve alcohol, Tauros. With great views of the harbor and tasty cocktails, I spent a couple evenings there listening to the soft music from the live band. Overall, the entire stay in Essaouira was quite relaxing and enjoyable. I highly recommend adding the village to anyone's Moroccan itinerary.
After a week in Morocco, my verdict was mixed. The country's history isn't as rich as other parts of North Africa, such as Egypt. The sites were interesting but not inspiring. The fresh grilled seafood in Essaouira and a couple of restaurants served memorable meals, but the overall food experience was disappointing. Although Kosybar in Marrakech and Tauros in Essaouira were fun and enjoyable, the general lack of alcohol was also kind of a bummer for me. Having said that, the trip did provide a very different experience from the rest of my trip. I learned a few things as well. I even met a couple locals who proved the exception to the rule of unfriendly Moroccans, and I appreciated the opportunity for cultural exchange. In sum, I probably won't be coming back to this country, but I have no regrets for having made this journey.
***Photos here: Essaouira