Essaouira: Attempting to find calm in Morocco


beach in essaouira

I surprised myself when I first arrived in Morocco by really falling hard for Marrakech, somewhere that I was convinced I’d hate. And then when I had an amazing, life-changing experience in the Sahara Desert, I thought it was settled.

I love Morocco.

After having such a fantastic introduction to the country in Marrakech, I knew I could quite easily spend the entire month there. I had to move on though as there was so much more of the country I wanted to see!

My next stop was the beachside town of Essaouira.

essaouira old town

I’d heard from every single person who’d been to Essaouira that it was the place to go to chill out and relax. If you need to get away from the chaos of Marrakech and Fes then your best option is head to Essaouira.

After researching a little and finding out that it used to be a pitstop on the hippie trek from Marrakech in the 60’s with Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and the Rolling Stones passing through, I knew I would love it.

I adore hippie beach towns!

beach in essaouira

And for the first few days I adored Essaouira.

I was staying in a wonderful hostel located right in the heart of the medina. There were noticeably fewer people than in Marrakech, the beaches were mostly empty and it felt like the locals were much friendlier.

I spent my first few days sitting on the beach, amused at seeing everybody sunbathing while covered from head to toe and getting lost in the ridiculously photogenic medina while trying to find somewhere to eat. I’d wander through the fish market of an evening, fascinated with watching the fisherman trying to desperately sell their freshly caught fish and manta rays to passing people – there were dozens of hole in the wall restaurants just a few metres away that happily cook your fish for you right there.

When I wasn’t out exploring, I was sunbathing on my hostel’s roof terrace, napping in a hammock or drinking amazing mint tea.

I was happy in Essaouira and I found myself extending my stay every single morning.

essaouira fishing boats morocco

But suddenly something changed.

Prior to arriving in Morocco I had never heard of the Gnaoua and World Music Festival, a 3 day event that is held every June in Essaouira – and it just so happened that I timed my visit with this enormous music festival.

A few days before the festival I noticed a huge change in the vibe of Essaouira.

The town usually has a population of just 60,000 people.

Over 400,000 people attend the festival.

Yes, it’s really that insane.

Suddenly, my chilled out, relaxing beach town turned into an overwhelming mass of people.

And with the festival goers came the touts, the scams and the doubling of prices. When I went to renew my hostel stay on the first day of the festival, I was told the prices had now doubled because of the festival.

entrance to port essaouira

I found myself really starting to dislike Essaouira, especially as a solo female.

I suddenly had hassle from men in the street – grabbing me, trying to touch my breasts, whispering in French in my ear and then calling me a slut and a whore when I walked away. I could no longer sit and enjoy a meal without a dozen different men sitting down with me and trying to convince me to go back to their house. There were crowds everywhere and there was nowhere to escape.

I decided to try and stick it out.

My plan was to hide away in my hostel for the three days and wait for the chaos to pass.

This was a really bad decision.

Having to deal with the hassle and abuse for those three days drove me absolutely insane and by the end of it I was exhausted and stressed and had a desperate urge to flee the country.

From that moment onwards, I struggled in Morocco. I was so drained from the constant battling, the stares and the touts that I just didn’t have the patience to deal with it anymore. Every time a man approached me, touched me and tried to talk to me I felt like screaming.

I didn’t have the energy to travel in Morocco anymore.

medina in essaouira

Had my timing been slightly different, I have no doubt that I would have left Essaouira loving it as much as I did when I first arrived. Had it not worn me down I think my overall experience in Morocco would have been better too.

 

Have you ever travelled to a place at the wrong time? 

27 Comments

  1. DebbZie
    September 2, 2012
    Reply

    What a beautiful town! It’s a pity you had to experience such nasty things :(

  2. kami
    September 2, 2012
    Reply

    that’s really awful! too bad your stay in this lovely town was so spoiled. was in that bad in marrakesh too?

  3. September 3, 2012
    Reply

    I loved Essaouira and Morocco in general, but I can understand how one bad day can turn the rest into nightmares. But in general, the locals I found were friendly, and every time somebody sat down with me, they wanted to share mint tea and talk about life. I only had one guy keep touching my butt until I yelled and shamed him in public and the local woman came to my defence. Otherwise, after living there for 2 months, the locals were incredible. Too bad your whole experience was tainted by that.

  4. September 3, 2012
    Reply

    Photos look beautiful, Lauren.
    Sorry for the stress. I hate touts. I am ready to hit anyone who comes to me saying “Hi, where are you from?” :)

  5. September 3, 2012
    Reply

    Fantastic pictures! Yes, Morocco can be intense and a bit much sometimes. I think the people mean well most of the time, but still. Glad you enjoyed the beginning at least!

  6. Katie
    September 3, 2012
    Reply

    I loved London when I first arrived on the 29th of July. I was so excited to be here for the first time and was amazed at everything I saw around me. But having my first introduction to the city be right smack dab in the middle of the Olympics was not the fairytale I thought it would be. The tube was ridiculously crowded all the time, there were road blocks and detours you would have to take to get anywhere. After a while I really just wished that all the tourists would go home so I could experience everyday London life the way it usually is. It’s gotten better, because the Olympics are over, but there’s still the Paralympics and so there are still crowds of tourists. I think i’ll only be in olympic-free london a month before I leave for Bangkok.

    • September 4, 2012
      Reply

      That’s interesting Katie – I live in London and found the city to be quieter than usual throughout the Olympics. My train to work was half empty and there didn’t seem to be half the amount of tourists around that there normally are during summer. I think the British government went on a bit too much about how busy London would be during the Olympics so everyone stayed away or took holidays.

  7. September 3, 2012
    Reply

    This sums up my experience of Morocco exactly! Except, I had more trouble when I spent 3 weeks in Marrakech. Essaouira for me was peaceful in comparison.

    I would honestly move to Morocco in a heartbeat if it wasn’t for how some of the men treat women. It’s just too much. They really need to re-educate their men or they will seriously scare off the tourists.

  8. Sarah
    September 4, 2012
    Reply

    Ohh yes.. Travelling anywhere is China during any holiday is a nightmare !! Lol

    • Sarah
      September 4, 2012
      Reply

      Sorry.. I typed too fast : i meant IN china lol

  9. September 4, 2012
    Reply

    I was in London during Wimbledon and could not find a single bed. Had to crash on a friends hotel room floor but I was greatful for it.

  10. Tom @ Waegook Tom
    September 4, 2012
    Reply

    Eurgh that’s terrible, Lauren. I wonder if they’d speak to Moroccan women like that? Probably not or they’d get a smack around the face I bet.

    That’s really not on about the hostel doubling the rates either – I mean honestly, that’s no way to treat someone who’s already been a guest for a few nights, regardless of whether or not there’s a big festival going on.

  11. Hicham
    September 5, 2012
    Reply

    I’m from,Morocco and a fan of Essaouira! i love the Gnaoua Festival. What has happened to you is a pity! i’m not proud to be moroccan when hearing this…at you least you would understand one thing: most of the people vositing the festival are from marrackech, casablanca…big cities, small education, few politeness..

    In the name of all moroccan, or the ones that value the respect of ant woman, I want to tell you sorry.

    Nect time when you are back in Essaouira or Morocco please get in touch. i’m married with three lovely kids and a wondrful wife who is originated from Essaouira. Her grandfather is the one owning Patisserie Driss since 1928.

    Take care.

  12. leandra / adbenturera
    September 7, 2012
    Reply

    sad to hear about this on your trip… maybe that’s why my partner never let me go alone (but def want to try solo travel sometime soon)… hope these instances don’t happen again anymore…. safe and happy travels! ^_^

  13. Jaouad
    August 22, 2013
    Reply

    I’m moroccan, and trust me i know exactly what happened to you, i’ve seen it happen to tourists sometimes, and i truly felt ashamed just watching.
    It’s a pity your trip became bad, all tourists should know that they would feel better staying away from any kind of crowd, try to visit small cities in their least busy times, the locals are always friendly and the prices are low. only the worst people of big cities such as casablanca (pop: 4 million), fes, … travel during such festivals.
    Even i feel uncomfortable in moroccan crowds, that’s why i go to essaouira and al hoceima ( i think al hoceima is the best beach in morocco ) in june or september when people didn’t get the chance to travel yet.

    • August 25, 2013
      Reply

      Yep, I can definitely believe that, Jaouad. I will say that even though my trip didn’t have a great ending I’m still keen to return within the next year or so — I miss Morocco a lot! Next time I’ll be seeking out quieter places too. I loved Chefchaouen.

      • Kedir
        September 28, 2013
        Reply

        You are beautiful ,that might be why u had bad experience in Morroco!

  14. It is a shame that actually Essaouira was the beginning of your struggle in this great country! I loved my stay in this town and as well, was pre longing my stay! But I have been travelling there in a quiet January :)

    • January 21, 2014
      Reply

      Glad to hear you enjoyed Essaouira! I loved it until all the crowds descended and drove me crazy :-)

  15. A
    February 19, 2016
    Reply

    Hi, can I ask which hostel you stayed in Essaouira and Chefchaouen? Many thanks ;)

    • February 28, 2016
      Reply

      I stayed at Essaouira Hostel and Riad Baraka.

  16. Theodor Langston
    November 19, 2016
    Reply

    Sorry to hear about the scamming in the streets of Essaouira. It shouldn’t be so!
    I went to Essaouria for two days last year and found the town pretty cool. After Essaouira i went to the amazing and very peaceful fishingvillage Taghazout only 2 hours by bus from Essaouira. I tried surfing for my first time and it was an amazing experience. I spent one whole week in Taghazout at Adventurekeys surf camp and i can really recomend it! All the guest at the hostel were great and we had a lovely time.
    The Zagora Dessert is also very nice, but i didn’t spent so much time there.
    – Theo

    • November 24, 2016
      Reply

      Sounds like a fun trip! :-)

  17. December 16, 2016
    Reply

    That’s really bizarre, as I had pretty much the opposite experience. I found Marrakesh unbearable and couldn’t wait to leave as the harassment really got to me there. Essaouira was a breath of fresh air. Though of course I wasn’t travelling as a solo female, something which I’m not sure I would do having been there now. So bravo to you for getting through it, nobody should have to put up with being groped in the street. Disgusting!

  18. Ibrahim
    February 6, 2017
    Reply

    I got married to Moroccan woman from essaouira. .she was a fraud. ..i sponsored her and brought her to Australia. .she convinced me that she has a house in essaouira and I should pay for her house because she wasn’t permanent in Australia. 4 years I paid for her house in 2011 she told me that she wants to go and see her family in morocco i bought air tickets for her and my two little girls and told her to bring house documents with her when she comes back to Australia after 3 months she stayed in morocco she came back to Australia i asked her about house documents she said i didn’t bring them then I stopped sending money to morocco she left me and stole $10000 of my money i was saving for my pension time. .after 4 days she came back with my doughters. .then she decided me saying that I can not learn English in school unless you transfer parenting payment in my name when I transferred it to her name i found out that she was lying at me. .then 2012 met a man on line left me for 6 weeks with him and took my little girl 5 and 4 years old. .then I forgave her again. .in 2013 i saw her red handed stealing money from my wallet ..late 2014 she didn’t care about me at all she never did any way during our 7 years marriage. .she gave me signs that she knows a man in her English school ..her dirty language and body language i knew she knows another man and it was true after I divorced her they both admitted that they knew each other from school. .she stabbed me in my heart twice and stabbed me in my back she told police officer that I was violence toward her and my doughters the court denied access to see my doughters just because I said to her that I want to make dna for my doughters i love my doughters and I am ?????????????????????????????????? every day and night for my little girls haven’t seen them over 18 months and she accused me of too many things. . I sacrificed for her brought her Australia spend thousands of dollars for her she deceived me stole thousands of dollars of me and cheated on me twice i forgave her many times and she pretended she is bleeding. .my briefly story. ..signed sydney Australia 2017

    • March 2, 2017
      Reply

      I’m not sure why you’re leaving this comment on my post, but I’m sorry to hear about your situation. I hope you find a way to resolve it in the future.

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