Essaouira – Destination of the Month (Feb ’17)

Essaouira, Morocco

For most people, traveling helps them to wind down and break away from the busy realities of life.

Essaouira flips this notion upside down, awing through the simplicity of everyday life.

[Image Credit: Julia Maudlin]

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly makes Essaouira so magical. Its worn-out buildings don’t exactly spell out g-o-r-g-e-o-u-s, it’s a little chaotic yet nowhere near as exotic as Fez or Marrakech, it’s not a place which can be deemed “beautiful” in the traditional sense, but why does it leave such a strong impression?

Finding beauty in the little things in life…

At the heart of Essaouira is the historic port, which operates as if we’re still living in 1770.

Known long as the “Port of Timbuktu”, Essaouira’s economic importance may have been seconded by the likes of Casablanca and Agadir. But unlike most such places which are simply a shadow of its glorious past, the spirit of Essaouira is very much alive.

There’s something about wandering through the port with a faint smell of fuel permeating the air as you bypass hordes of boatmen going by their daily lives—carrying anchors and fish nets in one corner, repairing their wooden boats with a hammer on their palm in the other.

There’s something about watching fishes thrown from ships into the harbour, which quickly turns into a bustling market with stingrays, eels, prawns, morays and crabs hurried through all around you.

Walking pass the merchants, it’s fascinating to observe fishes getting knifed, merchants getting distracted by customers haggling while the seagulls sneak behind them to steal fishes.

And there’s something about a fisherman realizing my sandals split apart, running into me and casually mending my sandal back to normalcy with just a fish hook, a rope and a knife, as if he does this every single day.

Essaouira, Morocco[Image Credit: Julia Maudlin]

Farther away from the port, deep inside the fortified wall, is the classic labyrinth-like medina.

Here you find the Jewish mellah, with buildings tumbling down in an intriguing fashion, women hanging their laundries openly in the ghetto, teenagers sneaking through a secret hole in the fortified wall into the coast side, and a pregnant cat resting by the shade of a green door while her kids run around and meow for your attention.

Walk along the street and as you start sniffing the smell of fresh baked bread in the air. A vibrant hippie scene greets you with its Bohemian-like cafés, where street artists showcase their paintings, young musicians serenade your ears with breezy tunes, and rural Berbers come to hawk their wares.

Late in the afternoon, walk out from the fortified town and sit by the sea rocks, watch the wind blows the Atlantic waves and carves the beautiful rugged coastline of Essaouira. But the most beautiful moment has to be that late afternoon when the thick mist envelopes the town to create a surreal sunset.

I never skipped the sunset when I was there—I would sit there for hours and hours. As the last hint of orange blurs into the horizon and the sky turns into a comforting pitch black night, I told myself:

“Life is beautiful.”

Destination Scorecard

1. Uniqueness: 18/20 — Essaouira is an interesting curio for just how much it preserves its distinctive past and transports you into its own world.

2. Aesthetic: 17/20 — Not exactly “conventionally” beautiful, but it is pleasing in its own way. Plus, any place which can lay claim for the single most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen shouldn’t have its score punished.

3. Integrity: 15/15 — Essaouira is bustling with so much character—so much that if it doesn’t qualify for perfect score in this criterion, nothing is.

4. Significance: 8/15 — A formerly important port which linked sub-Saharan Africa with Europe and the rest of the world.

5. Shelf Life: 12/15 — A couple of points deducted because its small size will eventually catch up and you’ll be ready to move to the next amazing thing in Morocco, but I can definitely see myself staying there for weeks, even months.

6. Access: 15/15 — C’mon… I know it’s a slight detour from the standard tourist circuit, but for a place which is less than 3 hours drive away from Marrakech, there’s simply no excuse!

Destination Score: 85/100

Do you agree with the score? Click here to find out how it compares with other destinations and learn how the ranking system works.

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