FAQs

How to book a riad in Essaouira?

Staying in a riad is often at the top of many Morocco visitor’s “must-do” list. Typically, a riad features a set of rooms and salons arranged around a central courtyard or garden. Although, strictly speaking, a house without a garden is a “dar” and not a riad, the latter terms is used generically to describe medina houses which have been restored for living or as guest houses.

This accommodation option gives a chance to live in traditional and beautiful Moroccan architecture and to experience a more authentic experience compared to a large hotel. In cities such as Marrakech, they offer an oasis of calm in an otherwise hectic medina. Often, these buildings have been lovingly restored by their owners, who are keen to share their enthusiasm for Morocco with their guests. Although they may not offer the attractions of a large hotel (eg pools, restaurants and bars), they frequently offer a tailor-made service which may include cookery classes, excursions or beauty treatments in a hammam.

A brief internet search will reveal the large number of so-called “riad” guesthouses in Essaouira and it can be hard to choose between them. Of course, you can use review sites like TripAdvisor to give you an idea, but these are not foolproof. Here are some pointers to inform your choice:

-The Essaouira medina is not large. Therefore, any accommodation will be within easy reach of the main sites.

– Medina houses can be tall and narrow with steep stairs. Bear this in mind if you have mobility issues.

– Moroccan architecture typically faces an internal courtyard, with few externally-facing windows. Medina houses can therefore be less light than we are used to in Europe, but often feature fabulously sunny roof terraces and the internal focus keeps them cool in summer.

– You should be aware that guest-houses and holiday rentals are poorly regulated in Morocco. The Tourism Ministry is currently clamping down on non-permitted guest houses or those who don’t respect local labour laws. Some booking engines specifically request proof of permits and insurance before properties can be listed, but most don’t. If consistency of service, treatment of staff and respect for local legislation are important to you, ask when you make your enquiry, or use a booking site that supports sustainable tourism. By law, a registered “maison d’hotes” (guest house) must offer bed and breakfast.

– Booking websites are widely used, but you should know that there is a cost involved. Often, a direct booking can secure a discount of around 20% because hoteliers prefer not to pay commission to the booking sites and see this kind of direct relationship as an opportunity to offer personalised customer service.

– If you like the convenience of a booking site, use them wisely. The first page of results is often does not list the best reviewed hotels, the closest to your destination or the cheapest. Often, the first choice the consumer is offered are those hotels and guesthouses whose operators pay a higher premium to be presented to you first. Be a discerning consumer!

If you would like assistance in choosing your accommodation in Essaouira, please do not hesitate to contact Lynn at maroc-o-phile.

Yoga in Essaouira

I once offered information about teachers of yoga in Essaouira on TripAdvisor and I have subsequently responded to – on average – 1-2 queries a month in relation to this topic. In an attempt to make this information searchable, I compile it below.

Here are the contact details of those teachers I know of who are teaching yoga in Essaouira. Let me know if you know of others.

Laila: 06 36 55 39 61 (also on Facebook)

Jo: 06 96 94 58 74 

Brynn: 06 91 20 63 32 (ashtanga and vinyasa styles)

Karim: Call/What’sApp +61 405 792 052 (Australian number) or Facebook

Jana: 06 96 63 14 74 (ashtanga style lessons of 1hr20m for individuals or groups)

Maria: contact via Facebook (ashtanga style)

Jill: 06 37 90 03 34 or via Facebook (yoga, movement and massage)

Schedules and venues change, classes may be offered on a group or individual basis and teachers move on, so it’s best to call or message them to get the latest details.

Rachel organises yoga retreats in Essaouira and elsewhere. Contact her on: 06 08 50 37 18 or through her website.

Free yoga is available on the beach in front of the Atlas Hotel on the first Saturday of the month at 10:30 am. See the Essaouira Mind-Body-Soul Facebook group for further details.

There are also pilates classes available in Essaouira, with Steve (tel: 06 37 82 78 33) and Tai Chi and Chi Gong classes with Yves (on Facebook)

Please note, I have not done classes with any of these yoga teachers, so it’s up to you to go along and see if their style suits you.

Breastfeeding in Morocco

Morocco is a very child-friendly country, but men and women (and mothers) play a different role in society to what we might be used to at home. For example, you will generally see more men in public life than women, especially in the majority of cafes (which might be a venue where a mum might normally breastfeed at home).

Moroccan women are extremely discreet if they breastfeed in public and a tourist doing so might attract unwanted attention, although in general in Morocco mothers are treated with great respect and people will typically avert their gaze. Breastfeeding mothers would probably feel least on display in a hotel or restaurant, or in a place where there are only women (eg in a family home). Carry a scarf or muslin to ensure minimum exposure!

For more tips on travelling with a baby in Morocco, see this post.

 

Getting from Agadir to Essaouira?

Many low cost and charter flights from European hubs land in Agadir. Although slightly further from Essaouira than Marrakech by road, Agadir is a very viable airport for Essaouira and the drive (largely along the Atlantic coast) although windy and hilly, has great views of deserted beaches and Argan forests. Several such flights arrive late at night, so an overnight stay may be necessary (see below).

There is no rail network in southern Morocco, so the options for travelling from Agadir to Essaouira are hire car, private transfer, public bus or collective ‘grand’ taxi. Depending on the length of your stay and the location of your accommodation in Essaouira, you probably won’t need a car when you get here (see the FAQ on getting around Essaouira), so this post focuses on the other transport options between the two cities.

Buses

More and more buses are departing from Imezgane bus station, in a suburb of Agadir about 10km from the centre. I haven’t been, but apparently it’s busy and features all the worst aspects of bus stations and transient populations. Check which station is used by the company you will travel with.

Back in November 2012, we took a bus back to Essaouira from the Massira bus station (which used to be the main one). It’s nearer the centre of town, well-organised and has a decent cafe. Most buses start in Imezgane and then pass through Massira, but potentially not all. The most reliable, best organised companies are CTM, Supratours and Pullmann – all sell you a reserved seat. You can call them all for info and CTM offer online booking. There are many other bus companies used by locals; these companies tend to be cheaper and as a result may be over-crowded, poorly maintained and the ticket price seems to vary (ie tourists pay more). They also tend to take longer as anyone can hop off or on anywhere. I would definitely recommend CTM, Supratours or Pullmann. Our bus was with the Pullman company and left at 20:30. When we travelled (Nov 2012), that was the latest departure for Essaouira – most of the other companies have a morning departure. It was a good bus: comfy and well-driven. Note: each of those three companies above stops in a different location in Essaouira, but none is far from the medina.

Do not let anyone persuade you to take a bus via Marrakech to get to Essaouira – this will double your journey time and may mean a lengthy connection in Marrakech. The route from Agadir to Essaouira along the coast is direct and takes 3 hours (or maybe a bit more, depending on the length of the toilet/tea stop). Buses generally don’t have toilets and some people find the steep, winding coastal road disagrees with their stomach, so take travel sickness tablets if you are sensitive!

Grand taxis

You can get a grand taxi (big, often battered, old Mercedes) at any time of the day or night. This could be a good option for a group or if you have missed the buses.  It will probably cost you as much as the bus per place and there are 6 places in the taxi, so it won’t be comfortable (unless all the other passengers are really skinny!!) unless you book several places (you can always hire the whole thing). The grand taxis park up in a square called ‘Batouar’ or Place Salaam. It is surrounded by 24 hour cafes if you need to refuel before the journey. The rates are fixed, although drivers might neglect to show you their rate card. Find one which is heading for Essaouira and haggle hard!  Agadir grand taxis are white, Essaouira ones are blue. Either can take you once all places are sold, but an Essaouira taxi can only take you to Essaouira.

NB: It is cheaper to take a ‘grand taxi’ to Imezgane to the bus station than a small one, but you might find it difficult to flag down the big taxi.

Car Hire

Several major car hire companies (including Avis, Europcar and Hertz) have offices in Agadir and may offer airport pick-ups or drop-offs.

Private transfer

If the above sounds like hard work and you really want just to get on your way, a private transfer is a great option to take the haggling and the uncertainty out of your journey. You are on holiday, after all. If you are interested in a private transfer from Essaouira to Agadir, get in touch: info@maroc-o-phile.com

Late arrivals

If you arrive late in Agadir, my advice would be to get a good night’s sleep, and travel to Essaouira the next day. You can get good deals online in 3/4* package holiday hotels out of season.  If the timetables allow, one option would be to get up early the next day, get a petit taxi (orange coloured car, negotiate for the driver to use the meter or give you a fixed price – 10-15dh should do) to Massira to get a bus ticket and leave any luggage.  You should be able to reserve on the day of travel, but to be sure, you could reserve with CTM online in advance. You could then spend a morning admiring the beach in Agadir. A day in Agadir is enough in my opinion – the Souk El Had is also worth a visit and I’ve heard good things about the Berber/Amazigh museum.

Phone numbers and schedules (correct at April 2014):

Pullman du Sud: +212 (0) 5 28 84 60 40 (departs Agadir at 2030 for Essaouira)

CTM: +212 (0) 5 28 82 53 41 (website shows departures from Agadir at 0800 and 12:30 for Essaouira) – www.ctm.ma

Supratours: +212 (0) 5 28 84 12 07 or 05 28 22 40 10 (website shows one departure from Agadir at 0900 for Essaouira) – www.supratours.ma

* Please note: schedules *may* change during Ramadan. Read these notes on travelling during Ramadan.

Getting to Essaouira: fly to Marrakech or Agadir?

Although Essaouira has an airport, it is presently not well served. (Ryanair flies to Marseilles; Transavia and Royal Air Maroc to Parisian airports. Easyjet starts a service to London Luton on 1 May 2015). As a result, many visitors to Essaouira fly in to either Marrakech and Agadir, which are well served by an ever-expanding range of budget and charter airlines. Your choice will depend on which airlines serve your local airport and what you want from a holiday. Essaouira is equidistant from Marrakech and Agadir, although at around 3 hours, the journey to/from Agadir takes a bit longer.

Presuming you may spend a night or two in the city where you land, I would personally recommend spending some time on arrival in a riad (renovated townhouse B&B) in the medina of Marrakech for culture, history, shopping and fine dining followed by 2-3 days in Essaouira for chilling out by the beach, eating fresh fish and admiring the beautiful sunsets after the big city experience. It is also a great centre for watersports and golf, if you feel the need for physical activity! That kind of two-centre trip is ideal for a week’s break. If you were coming to Morocco for longer, you might consider a more varied itinerary and/or flying in to one airport and out of the other.

By contrast, Agadir is a seaside resort on the Atlantic Coast with many family-oriented all-inclusive hotels and nightclubs for young (and not-so-young) Moroccans and tourists to let their hair down! Essaouira, on the other hand, is full of quirky guesthouses and is dominated by independent hotels to suit every budget.

If you would like to book a transfer from any Moroccan airport to Essaouira, please contact info@maroc-o-phile.com

 

3G internet access

There are a surprising number of cafes and hotels offering wifi access in most Moroccan towns and cities as well as internet cafes in every neighbourhood.  However, if you can’t live without internet access for long, you may wish to consider using a dongle to access the 3G mobile network. The coverage in towns and cities is excellent, although it may be less reliable in rural or mountainous areas.

The main providers are: Maroc Telecom/iam, inwi/wana and Meditel. You can check the latest offers on their websites if you can read a little French. Top ups can be bought from most kiosk/tabacs. To buy the dongle and get started, or to make the most of a specific special offer, you are often better off going to the actual shop of the telecom company. (The inwi website, for example, has a list of ‘points de vente’).

How ‘strict’ (ie Islamic) is Morocco?

Morocco is a Muslim country and travellers often wonder what this means in practice.

Morocco is one of the more liberal Arab Muslim countries when it comes to issues we might typically consider in relation to Islam, such as women’s rights, women’s clothing and cohabitation with other religious communities. (Morocco is one of the few Arab countries with a Jewish population, for example). On a trip to a big city, travellers will see women wearing everything from skimpy shorts and tight t-shirts to possibly even a full burqa. The most common apparel is somewhere in between, ie ‘Western’ clothes with covered arms and ankles and a headscarf.

The Moroccan authorities have gone to great lengths to accommodate tourists in their country. While it is technically illegal for a Moroccan to drink alcohol in public, you will find it relatively easy to buy alcoholic drinks in hotels and bars in major cities and tourist centres. Alcohol is also available at certain off-licences and supermarkets. It is heavily taxed, however, and therefore spirits cost similar prices to the UK. Locally produced beers and wines are more reasonable, but still not cheap. Cheap booze belongs to another type of holiday!

Moroccans are also generally circumspect about their relationships and you generally won’t see men and women holding hands or embracing on the street. Unmarried couples are not permitted to share a hotel room. This is not an issue for foreigners. (NB: Men holding hands is very common and has nothing to do with homosexuality!)

Non-Muslims are generally not permitted inside active mosques and you will be told in no uncertain terms that your camera is not welcome, even at the doorway. In the big cities there are madrasas (Koranic schools) and other public buildings where you will be welcome to view and photograph traditional Islamic architecture and design.

Wherever we travel, we should remember we are in another culture and respect it. Women who wear ‘revealing’ clothing will undoubtedly get more attention than they might bargain for. A scarf is always a good idea for women – to cover up the head or shoulders in bright sunshine or cool air-con or to demonstrate respect when entering a traditional building or household. And as in most countries, rural communities tend to be more conservative and less accustomed to our own foreign ways than in urban areas.

Some of the most appealing features of a life lived according to Islamic tenets is Moroccans’ willingness to offer what they have and help their neighbour. If you are fortunate to have genuine interaction with Moroccans and their families, you are sure to be overwhelmed by their hospitality, whether for a simple mint tea or a more elaborate occasion.

How to get around in Essaouira?

Essaouira isn’t that big.  The medina is completely navigable on foot (and pedestrianised). As a tourist, it’s unlikely you’ll need to be in the newer areas outside the medina walls very much. There is a group of cafes, restaurants and activity centres (kite surfing, camels, horses, quads etc) at the far end of the beach.  It’s about a 30 min stroll along the promenade or the beach to get to them from the medina. Otherwise, taxis are 6.5dhs per journey (not per person) during the day and 8dhs at night. You can flag them down outside the medina or pick them up at taxi stands at the four main gates in the medina walls.

Current travel advice for Morocco?

I find the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice to be comprehensive, frequently checked or updated and is often referred to by insurance companies. You can find the latest advice at: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/middle-east-north-africa/morocco

Safe drive from Marrakech to Essaouira at night?

The road is a good one, but I would not recommend self-driving from Marrakech to Essaouira at night. There is a toll highway for part of the route, which is straight, lit and safe. However, you still need to take the national road for part of the way. Personally, I hate taking that road at night and my friends are experienced drivers. It’s not lit and as a result all on-coming traffic blinds you will lights on full beam.  In a state of semi-blindness it’s easy not to spot other road users… Not only do donkeys not have lights – neither do bicycles, dogs, cars or old men in jellabas. I’d recommend having a decent night’s sleep in Marrakech and don’t set off too early or you’ll get stuck behind trucks in market towns all along the route. Look out also for the police with speed cameras. Safe journey!