Marrakech is one of the most famous cities in the world and it deserves this distinction. It is vibrant, chaotic, sexy, shady and wonderful. I wish I had weeks to spend there but alas, I had two days, but definitely made the most of it. Essaouira is a lesser known Moroccan city on the coast and has a beachy, relaxing, European vibe and is definitely worth a visit! Here’s a guide to Marrakech and Essaouira.
We had arrived in Marrakech late in the evening with some drama after a long road trip from the desert. Kind of funny story of you want to hear more…
Read More: Road Trip to the Moroccan Desert
Waking up in Marrakech was amazing, especially after the previous day’s long journey from Merzouga. We had a wonderful breakfast at our hotel. They made their own yogurt and goat cheese, had delicious pastries and homemade Moroccan bread, (if I haven’t mentioned it before…it is super good) and Argan oil. Yes, it’s not just for the hair. It is an almond butter-like substance known as Amlou that is great on yogurt or bread. More about that later.
Riad Idra was tranquil and beautiful and had a nice hammam. Would recommend it highly.
I was like a kid on Christmas morning before venturing out into the medina of Marrakech for the first time. Upon taking the first few steps outside our riad, it was evident that I would LOVE this city. The shopping was such a fun experience; amazing things everywhere from lamps to scarves, jewelry, pottery, things for the home, and art. My head was spinning. We had so much fun interacting with the shopkeepers and making them guess where we were from. Moroccan people have great senses of humor and are great sales people. Haggling is practically the law…learn how to work the system and it really is a fun game.
We saw the Koutoubia Mosque, a large mosque near the main square and is a great landmark for navigation!
This is the main square and what a circus this place is. During the day, it is bustling with vendors of all kinds, fruits, nuts, dates, figs, trinkets, lamps, music, orange juice. Also there are people with monkeys (I don’t approve of this so I avoided that and may or may have not scolded the monkey handlers ), henna artists, and of course, snake charmers. You should be prepared to be accosted by all of these people and decide ahead of time what kinds of activities you want and how much you want to spend.
We had just entered the square and had a look around for anout three seconds before the snake charmers got us.
That snake experience gave us some laughs for sure. My friend seemed terrified but I actually like snakes. I know I’m weird. After that we got some lunch at a little cafe in the souk. The waiter was hilarious and charming like all the Moroccan waiters. Shopping is always a good idea in Marrkech. We laughed at the attempts of shopkeepers to get our attention and were called “gazelles” quite a bit. I’m going to take that as a compliment. My friend has dark hair and can imitate the Moroccan accented French so everyone thought she was a Berber. We always got “good Moroccan price”. Very nice!
This used to be a college for the Islamic arts and the largest madrasa in Morocco.
This was quite an exhausting day. Shopping is draining physically AND emotionally. You have to allow time to get lost in the maze of the medina and for the intense bargaining! We went back to the riad for a hammam treatment including an argan oil hair treatment. What bliss! After this a nice dinner in the garden at Le Jardin. One of the only restaurants that serves alcohol. You’re welcome.
Woke up to another delicious breakfast at the riad then we grabbed a taxi for the Mellah, the old Jewish Quarter. Here we visited Bahia Palace, shopped in the market, visited a Jewish cemetery and had a cocktail with a view at Kosybar, another rare alcohol- serving place. Again, you’re welcome.
Next we took a taxi (these should never cost you more than $5...more like $2 for a short ride) to La Mamounia, a very fancy hotel that we just had to see.
Warning the prices here are like NYC. Just look around instead of drink! The gift shop is reasonable. We purchased fabulous La Fragonard scarves that matched those gorgeous tiles.
These gardens were designed by the late Yves St. Laurent.
It’s a local custom to dine at the food stalls in Jemaa El-Fna square. We were told by our hotel staff to go to stall 14…for our health (apparently it is the cleanest one?). After dinner we went to one of few places to drink in Marrakech, Cafe Arabe.
After some uh…interesting…encounters with some teenagers on the street we went back to our riad and slept!
Read More: 8 Days in Morocco
We got an early start for the 177 km drive to the coastal city of Essaouira (have fun pronouncing that!). I absolutely loved Marrakech and will definitely go back someday but was definitely exhausted at this point in the trip and looking forward to exiting the hustle and bustle. This drive took about 2 1/2 hours and was rather easy and pleasant. For once we didn’t get stopped for speeding. We passed through some groves of Argan trees.
Southwest Morocco is the only place in the world where this tree grows. It produces a fruit smaller than an apricot and when it falls from the tree it is picked and then opened, the fruit given to goats (who love it so much that the will climb the prickly tree to eat) and the pits dried in the sun. The pit is cracked open between two stones to get the kernels which then must be crushed with mortar and pestle into a paste which is then pressed to get the oil. The solid part of paste can be used as animal feed or to make soap. This process has not been mechanized and is labor intensive as you can see, and typically done by women! This industry has actually empowered women in Morocco to contribute financially to their families. Don’t you just love purchases you can feel good about?
When the argan kernel is to be used for food, it is roasted before grinding, giving it a nutty flavor. Roasted kernels produce more than unroasted which is why the cosmetic variety is more expensive. Sadly I do not have a picture of goats in the tree but it really is unbelievable. Check out this article about it with pics. Argan Goats
I of course bought TONS of it in several cities because a 240 ml bottle was under $10. A bottle less than half that size of watered down argan oil in the US is about $30. You do the math!!
This was our hotel…it was pretty great with great views!
It was chilly and windy by the sea. We actually spent a couple of hours enjoying the spa at the hotel then had a freezing outdoor dinner at Les Chandeliers .
Afterwards, we went to a club, since it was Friday night. Essaouira is not known for nightlife and we had to do lots of asking around to find this place, called Chrysalis. It was interesting. Locals and lots of European hostel tourists. Eclectic crowd, great cover band, and dancing. I tried to take pictures but was scolded by a large bouncer.
The next day we had a leisurely drive back to Casablanca. We decided to stop in a coastal town called El Jadida, which has Portuguese roots.
Afterwards we had some drama in a small village where a man carrying live chickens lost one and the poor bird ran for it’s life around our car, as villagers scrambled trying to catch it. You can’t make this up.
Finally we arrived in Casablanca, once again met up with our local friend for a drink. He was kind enough to offer us his driver for our trip to the airport the next morning.
Whew…hope you hung in there with me throughout the entire trip. It was one of my favorites. Morocco is spectacular. For a small country, the terrain is massively diverse between the different regions, each with it’s own flavor from coastal towns, to mountains, to desert, to vibrant cities, all with a rich and complex history. The people are wonderful and I highly recommend you put this high on your bucket list!
Here’s all my loot after I unpacked.