Essaouira Excursions: Imssouane

 

looking out across the Atlantic

looking out across the Atlantic

Imssouane is a sleepy fishing village on a peninsula between Essaouira and Agadir.  It is about 100km from Essaouira, so almost halfway between the two. Even once you reach the turning off the north-south main coastal road, there is still quite a drive down to sea level, down to the tip of the peninsula.

It is perhaps its relative inaccessibility that makes it a popular bolt-hole for Swiris (natives of Essaouira) who are sick of the madding crowds. It is certainly a very popular surfing spot.  And it has a large, long, sandy swimming beach which is great for families and groups of friends. You can eat fish fresh off the boat (the port is smaller and even more accessible than that of Essaouira) and gaze out to sea. But short of swimming, surfing and eating fish, there isn’t a whole lot to do.

 

fishing boats and Imssouane bay

fishing boats and Imssouane bay

Perhaps that is the real charm of Imssouane. Although the number of hostels and hotels is slowly growing (it hasn’t yet reached double figures); the fishermen’s huts precariously hanging  on the cliffs have gained a lick of paint and a per night price tag; and there is even an internet cafe these days (although no mobile phone signal in much of the town), Imssouane still retains its slow pace.

The local community consists almost entirely of fishermen. The only female figures are tourists. When they are not at sea, the men work and sleep in a complex of lock-ups constructed with Japanese development aid.  During the morning, the town is largely deserted apart from a few stray dogs and cats: the fishermen are all out at sea (chugging the 6 hours back in their little blue boats from a 5 hour middle-of-the-night stint in the Atlantic). Around midday, all activity kicks off: boats are dragged up the slipway and unloaded, auctions begin in the small, modern fish market (no smoking; no spitting!) and young lads appear with knives rusty enough to give you tetanus at 20 paces to gut your lunchtime purchases for a few dirham.

Imssouane fish market

Imssouane fish market

After a lunch of grilled fish or a fish tajine in one of the waterfront cafes (ranging largely from beldi – local yokel style – to basic), visitors can chill out on the beach or exert themselves on a board. By dusk, everything is returning to its default state of doze: the fishermen stop mending their nets as the light fades and they crowd around battered teapots and tiny TVs in a couple of cafes. The couple of more tourist-oriented shops and stalls (aka a carpet on the ground displaying dusty second hand trinkets and tea trays) pack up and the tourists retreat to an early night in their hostels. Unless, of course, they have thought ahead and left a bag of fresh fish with a boy in a cafe, planning to return for a second fabulous fish meal of the day…

An overnight stop in Imssouane is like escaping from the world. You’ll think Essaouira is sleepy until you visit Imssouane. The lack of activity and snail’s pace is not for everyone. Let’s hope that’s how it stays.

Getting there: take a grand taxi or an Essaouira/Agadir bus along the coast road. At Tamanar, change to a grand taxi bound for Imssouane.

Imssouane fishermens' huts

fishermens’ huts clinging to the cliff

Sleeping: we always stay at Auberge Tasra, which at the end of one of the approach roads, just before you drive onto the peninsula proper. It’s cheap (200-250dh for a room for 2 or 4 people), clean and can accommodate groups and families. They will cook for you if you bring the ingredients, they serve beer, and there is a pool table if you want to have a ‘late’ night. It also has a lovely garden.

Eating: We enjoy eating lunch at the last cafe beside the port in the row leading onto the harbour wall. The large cafe with panoramic views of the sea is also great – you can sit on the terrace out back in summer. If you want fish, you’ll get a better price if you buy it yourself and bear in mind that not all restaurants carry stocks of anything, especially in low season (so bring the veg as well if you want a tajine).

typical Imssouane shop

typical Imssouane shop

Activities: the main attractions are chilling out and watersports. The swimming beach (in the large bay) is accessible via a few stone steps and a scramble over rocks to the south of the main town. The surfing beach is round towards the north. When the tide is out, you can also swim at the far end of the surfing beach (under the headland). There were some rock carvings here of dubious origin, but they have largely eroded. There are great rock pools at the harbour end of the surfing beach for kids to explore.

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