The Perfect Day Trip from Marrakech to Essaouira, Morocco
Marrakech and Essaouira are two of Morocco’s top destinations, located about 170 km (105 miles) apart along the country’s Atlantic coast. Marrakech enchants visitors with its bustling medina, vibrant Djemaa el-Fna Square, and historic architecture blended with French colonial influences. The laidback port town of Essaouira charms with its 18th century Portuguese fortress walls, long sandy beaches, talented woodcarvers and artisans, and delicious grilled seafood.
Many travelers opt to take a day trip from Marrakech to Essaouira to experience the old-world coastal charm without dedicating their whole Moroccan vacation to the coast. This article covers everything you need to know to plan the logistics and make the most of your one day visiting Essaouira from Marrakech.
How to Get from Marrakech to Essaouira
The fastest and most comfortable way to travel between Marrakech and Essaouira is hiring a private transfer. Prices for a private taxi range €50-100 ($55-110 USD) each way:
Private Taxi and Transfer Companies
- Marrakesh Essaouira Taxi
- Marrakech Essaouira Taxi
- Transfer Company Morocco
Other options include public buses, shared shuttle vans, or renting a car:
Buses: Approximately €6-10 ($7-11 USD) each way. Buses run almost hourly in the morning then less frequently in the afternoon. Total trip duration is 3+ hours. While very affordable, buses involve multiple stops and can be less comfortable.
Shared Shuttle Vans: Price is around €14 ($15 USD) per person each way. Typically takes around 2.5 hours direct between Marrakech and Essaouira. Shuttle vans offer a more frequent schedule than public buses.
Rental Car: Renting a car gives flexibility to stop along the way as desired. Drive time is around 2.5 hours between cities. Be prepared to return the rental car before sunset to avoid night driving. Allow around €50 EUR ($55 USD) per day for the rental fee. Consider adding a hired driver for ease.
Pros and Cons of Transportation Choices
|Multiple stops, long ride
|Must drive and return by sunset
No matter how you opt to get there, be sure to secure transportation in advance since options are more limited traveling between cities versus in Marrakech proper. Reputable hotels and riads in Marrakech can also arrange transfers upon request.
Perfect One Day Itinerary in Essaouira
With just a single day for exploring, efficiency is key to properly experience Essaouira’s magic. This tested itinerary covers the essential sights in a condensed visit:
Morning: Orientation and the Medina
10 AM – 1 PM
- Arrive mid-morning
- Meet guide if you arranged one for orientation and efficient sightseeing
- Weave through the lively medina, peeking into tiny artisan workshops were craftsmen hand-carve plates, chess pieces, jewelry boxes and more from fragrant thuya wood
- Check out small boutiques overflowing with vibrant paintings, woven blankets, glittering lanterns and more
- Meander along the iconic fortified ramparts overlooking Skala du Port, Essaouira’s bustling Atlantic harbor
- Walk the Skala de la Ville waterfront promenade bordering the blue-hued ramparts, with colorful fishing boats bringing in the overnight catch
Early Afternoon: Place Moulay + Souvenir Shopping
1 PM – 4 PM
- Break for a late lunch at one of the many restaurants clustered around the medina main entertainment square, Place Moulay Hassan. Grilled sardines are a must-try!
- Do some souvenir shopping in Place Moulay Hassan and the web of small interconnected souqs (markets). Good buys are thuya wood items, textiles, ceramics painted with Essaouira’s famous gulls, argan oil beauty products, spices, and leather goods.
- Visit the historic downtown Slat Benslimane synagogue, museums or citadel fort ruins if time allows
Sunset: Dinner with Ocean Views
5 PM +
- Enjoy dinner with spectacular sunset views at a seafood grill like Chalet de la Plage situated right on the main golden sand beach
- Watch the glowing sunset over Essaouira’s iconic white town ramparts while relaxing on a restaurant rooftop terrace with drinks
- Options to linger in Essaouira’s laidback nightlife scene with live Gnaoua music and street performers, or taxi back to Marrakech
No matter what you choose, this itinerary allows seeing the old town highlights at an enjoyable pace, while leaving ample time for the famed sunsets Essaouira is loved for.
Top Attractions to See in Just One Day
While Essaouira and its surrounding coast have incredible beaches, day trips to Paradise Valley’s waterfalls, and other sights best saved for a longer trip, these worthwhile attractions pack a punch for brief visits:
The Lively Medina
The walled old quarter medina of Essaouira was originally designed in the 18th century by French architect Théodore Cornut. Today it remains wonderfully preserved and pedestrian-only, free from chaotic vehicle traffic.
Weave through a maze of tiny workshops were specialized artisans hand-carve plates, chess pieces, jewelry boxes and more from fragrant thuya wood, unique to the region. Boutiques and souvenir shops overflow with vibrant abstract paintings paying homage to Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley (both of whom spent time here in the hippie era), woven wool rugs and blankets, glittering metal lanterns, silver jewelry, and local argan oil beauty products.
Essaouira’s iconic fortification walls wrap around three sides of the city, hugging the crashing Atlantic waves. Walk along the scenic sea walls made famous by Orson Welles’ filming of Othello here in 1949, looking just as they did centuries ago. Gaze out at colorful fishing boats bobbing on the Atlantic swells, perhaps catching sight of dolphins or other sea creatures thriving offshore. From the Skala du Port pier, watch kiteboarders catching air by the former customs house. Then find a perch along the less touristic ramparts north of the medina to take in the views alone.
Place Moulay Hassan Square
Soak up the quintessential Moroccan scenes straight from the movies in this main market square. Listen to impromptu gnaoua musical acts while sipping refreshing mint tea or people watching from one of the many cafes arrayed under red and blue canopies. Browse stalls bursting with handicrafts from across the region.
Mellah Jewish Quarter
Just outside the medina lies the historic Jewish mellah quarter, established in the mid-1800s when the thriving community numbered over 4,000 at its peak. Today most Jews have left but the area still holds a few hidden working synagogues, identifiable by their tiny doorways and stark interiors. Wander past the small cemetery holding unique marbled gravestones. Pop inside a shop to find Star-of-David lamps, menorahs and other Judaica for sale.
Top Places to Eat on a Short Visit
Essaouira excels at seafood after the day’s catch comes in. Be sure to try sardines, the city’s specialty, for a crisp salty-sweet flavor that locals obsess over. The local cuisine also incorporates ingredients from the surrounding plains and valleys, like olives and argan oil, for a delicious blend of surf and turf.
Tuck into fresh-grilled or fried fish, aromatic tagines baked slowly in earthenware pots, or stuffed savory and sweet Moroccan pastries at these top-rated spots in or near Place Moulay Hassan:
Restaurant d’Orient et d’Ailleurs – Charming multi-level restaurant tucked down a small lane known for specialties like monkfish tangia, lobster pastilla, lamb tajine with caramelized prunes. Nice selection of Moroccan wines too.
Riad Al-Baraka – Dine on the leafy riad rooftop under strings of lights. The view over the ramparts and port is phenomenal. Downstairs, pop inside the small museum showing fisherman artifacts, boats and knots.
Patisserie Chez Driss – This little bakery overflowing with honey-drenched treats is a favorite breakfast and snack stop. Try the briouates,小 triangular pastries stuffed with spiced meat or egg, sfenj round donuts, shebakia sesame cookies. Grab a loaf of semolina bread on the way out.
Les Alizés – Simple bustling spot for no-frills grilled or fried fish, salads and people watching by the beach. Stake out a spot on the second floor terrace. Cash only.
Outdoor Fish Grills – For the freshest seafood straight from the harbor, pick your fish then watch it get thrown on a smoking hot grill right on the nearby beach. Relax at picnic tables buried in the sand.
And if thirst strikes, juice stands around the medina sell small glasses of freshly squeezed orange, grapefruit, carrot and other nutrient-rich blends.
Catching Sunset on Essaouira’s West-Facing Coast
Many say Essaouira’s dreamy sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean alone are worth the trip from Marrakech. The golden light transforms everything it lands on into a magical scene from the waterfront ramparts to the sandy beach full of horseback riders. Places to catch the golden hour include:
Ramparts Walkways – Lean against ancient cannons along the sea wall pathways facing due west into the setting sun. Watch from Skala de la Ville by the busy port area or venture north along the quieter stretches.
Ben Youssef Mosque Pier – Walk out to the end of this tiny pier directly across from the harbor mosque minaret. Set up with unobstructed views overlooking fishing boats bobbing below in the glowing waters.
Restaurant Rooftops & Beach Terraces– Sip a glass of gris wine at a prime sunset watching spot like The Moulin rooftop bar on Place Moulay Hassan, or Jardin des Douars with a panorama down to the boats. Alternately, go beachside at Chalet de la Plage, Ocean Vagabond or other restaurants directly on the sand.
Time heading back to Marrakech to avoid driving in the dark if self-driving. Or budget staying overnight to wander Essaouira’s enchanting evening ambiance with street performers and open air concerts.
Tips For a Smooth Day Trip Experience
A little planning and preparation goes a long way for a successful Essaouira day trip:
- Dress modestly: Cover shoulders and knees when entering the medinas and religious sites per the local Muslim culture. Bring a scarf in case needed.
- Pack light: Only essentials needed for the day out. Leave extra luggage at your Marrakech hotel for pickup later.
- Carry some Moroccan dirham (MAD) cash and a little Euro: Get some local currency in Marrakech for entrance fees, meals, shopping etc. Many vendors in Essaouira’s tourist areas accept Euros too but Dirham usually gets a better deal. ATMs available too.
- Pre-book transportation: Secure your private transfer, taxi, shuttle, rental car or tour ahead to avoidissues. Reputable hotels/riads in Marrakech can recommend drivers and agencies. Consider hiring an English-speaking driver along with your rental car for insight and ease.
- Arrange a guided tour: Hiring a knowledgeable local guide in Essaouira brings everything to life in richer detail during brief visits. Agree on timing, meetup point, duration etc ahead. Private guides average 500 dirham ($50 USD) for 1-4 people for a half or full day.
- Respect cultural norms: Greetings of “salaam alaikum”, conservative behavior and clothing greatly appreciated. Ask permission before photographing people.
Why a Day Trip to Essaouira is Worth It
For a change of pace from hectic Marrakech, the laidback Atlantic port of Essaouira offers:
- Cool ocean breezes and phenomenal sunsets on the expansive golden sand beach
- Charming sights condensed into a walkable old town medina enclosed behind ancient fort walls
- A strong artistic heritage visible in the abundant galleries and intriguing modern artwork
- An exceptional eating scene focused around the fresh daily catch grilled to perfection
Venturing outside Marrakech provides a better-rounded experience of Morocco’s incredible diversity in landscapes, culture and cuisine. While Essaouira deserves a few nights at least, a day trip allows checking off memorable highlights that leave you wanting more for your next visit!