Essaouira – Morocco’s Coastal Gem

As we continued on our amazing road trip through the highlights and enjoying some amazing foods of Morocco, we were excited to head towards the walled city and fishing port of Essaouira. As far as Moroccan seaside towns go, Essaouira has nearly got it all: a thriving medina; enticing souks filled with exotic spices, pottery, and carpets; freshly caught spoils of the sea perfectly prepared by skilled chefs; massive 18th century stone walls, towers, and bastions; and nearby golden sand beaches that stretch on for miles. In fact, we’d been inundated with photos of the blue boats that crowd the harbor, and of course that just fueled us on to take our own iconic shot.

Fisherman and blue fishing boats are one of the things to do in Essaouira.

The stunning blue fishing boats of Essaouira are one of the iconic must-sees!

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On the Road to Essaouira

However, it wasn’t the boats we were all talking about on our way there. The big talk was about whether or not the famous Argan goats really climbed trees, and more importantly would we see any of them. Goats? Trees? Unless you are in the throes of planning a trip to Morrocco, chances are you may have never heard of these gravity-defying goats that snub their noses at the meek and mere ground-dwelling of their kind.

Argan -A Gravity-Defying Stop on the Way to Essaouira

Argan munching goats on the road to Essaouira

A herd of magical goats on a quest for their favorite food – argan nuts.

These goats, these special goats, are the foodies of the cloven-hoofed world and are in constant search for that delicacy of goat delicacies, the argan nut. Humans can also eat the argan nuts, but unfortunately we didn’t come across the chance to do so on this trip. There are, however, plenty of opportunities to take home healing lotions made of this Moroccan brown gold. Whole villages of women gather and pound the nuts in order to become independent business owners or at the very least become part of a female cooperative in a country with few business opportunities for women.

Argan nuts

More destinations on our great Morocco Road trip.
The Blue City – Chefchaouen
The Tanneries of Fez
Magical Marrakesh
El Jadida – World Heritage
Ancient Desert City of Ait-Ben-Haddou

We chose not to actually go to the village where all of this takes place, putting our hopes into just running into some of these taste-questing goats along our route. We were lucky. As we rounded a bend, one of us spotted goats, a big herd. We slowed down, hopeful. Were any in the trees? Were any munching on nuts? Yes! Over there! Jim did a quick turn around and pulled right off onto the sandy shoulder.  Luckily, we didn’t sink too deep and felt comfortable that we’d be able to easily resume our journey when we were done goat-chasing.

Argan goat climbing in tree

Do you see that smile? This nimble fellow has found his lunch and boy is he happy about it.

The Tree-Climbing Goats of Argan

We all jumped out of our rental car, cameras poised. At first the goats seemed a bit miffed that we were getting in the way of their mid-afternoon snack, but they quickly got used to us. We saw goats, big and little, white and brown, all standing on their hind legs trying to get at those nuts without the climb, but finally an impatient brown and white spotted goat took the challenge and up he went. He nimbly navigated the thin branches of the argan tree (more like a bush, if you ask me), and before we knew it others followed his lead. Soon we were right in the middle of all of these goats climbing to the top of the bush to get to the sweetest nuts.

Argan trees goats, and camels

Argan trees tempt everyone not just the goats!

We didn’t see the goatherd at first, he blended in well with his surroundings, but all of a sudden he was right next to us. He didn’t speak anything that we spoke, not even a smattering of French, but we understood through his gestures that he had 47 goats, and he loved to bring them to this part of the desert. He got a kick out of us photographing his animals, and we shared some oranges with him.

Exotic Essaouira! The most beautiful city in Morocco!

So, the answer is yes, goats do climb trees! We climbed back into the car and a couple of kilometers down the road, we came to a road stop. There to our initial amazement was an entire tree filled with goats.

Beware of Goat Tree Scam

We were a little perplexed, because this scene did not at all match the scene we had just witnessed. This was one tree. A tree, not a bush. There was about 20 goats all standing on the branches, just standing there. They weren’t munching on anything. As we pulled over, we were immediately approached by a man, a very clean man in jeans (not very goatheard-like). He offered to take our photos in front of the tree with the goats for a fee. We were still perplexed and wanted a closer look. To our dismay, we realized these goats had been tied to the branches. We quickly declined and told them we would not support tied up goats and left. Thankfully, we had not come across this guy first. We may not have known better and even may have had our photo taken; who knows. Just beware if you drive out near Argan and Essaouira that this is now a thing.

Stopover in Essaouira

Essaouira blue boats and whitewashed walls

Whitewashed walls and blue fishing boats, a perfect combination

Once more back on the road, we arrived in Essaouira in late afternoon. The golden light was throwing long shadows, and we were excited for one more big event…the sunset. We had a few hours before then, though, so were able to meander the harbor, blue boats and all, as well as within the walls of the city. The souk was winding down for the day and the vendors were starting to close their wooden doors and shutters. A few final shoppers gathered carrots and greens for their dinners, and kids showed up to play soccer and chase inside the city walls.

Moroccan orange juice vendor.

One of the many snack vendors, there is nothing better than sipping a fresh orange juice!

We made the climb to the city walls where many people were gathering to watch the sun on its path to set into the Atlantic. They were everywhere, but it didn’t take away from the colorful magic as the red-orange ball dipped its toe and then finally disappeared.

Perfect Essaouira sunset

Even with only one day in Essaouira, make sure to sit on the city wall and watch the sun set in the Atlantic Ocean.

What to See and Do In Essaouira

Wandering the Essaouira medina and souks is the thing to do.

A walk through the medina is a must.

Meander the Medina

As in most Moroccan towns, one of my favorite things is just getting lost in the medina, wandering down the narrow winding alleyways that open up unexpectedly to a brightly lit garden square with children playing noisily, a small fountain merrily bubbling away, and colorful laundry hanging high above. As soon as the sights and sounds have begun to cast their spell, the subtle aroma of Moroccan spices, a simmering tajine, and aromatic leafy mint tea finish the job.

Morocco market snacks

Market snacks in the souk.

Enjoy the Architecture and Stonework of Essaouira

The architecture here is mesmerizingly intricate and colorful as in most of Morocco. Interestingly, the European defensive works tend to add to the charming feel of the old town and provide a vantage point to get above the rooftops and see down into the bustling warren of souks and riads. From the high outer wall you can spot the shops and stalls that might have that special something you’ve been meaning to buy, but, more importantly, scout out the perfect perch to come back to for the glorious sunset. We recommend climbing up into one of the canon enclosures.

Essaouira city walls and passages

Walking along, through, and on top of the city walls is a must in Essaouira.

Essaouira Port 

Next, head into the port for a real taste of Essaouira. The Portuguese built the enclosed harbor to protect their trade along the coast. Well, the Portuguese are long gone, but their expert engineering remains and now protects the hundreds of brightly painted blue fishing boats that are constantly going in and out of the bay. Fisherman are busily repairing nets, touching up the paint on their boat, or selling the catch of the day. This is also a great place to grab a snack of grilled fish, fresh from the sea. Be careful as you explore in this area as the seagulls and other birds are constantly flying about trying to snatch a free snack from the unwary tourist.

Fishing boats and castle walls

Beautiful blue fishing boats fill the fortified harbor.

Beaches and Water Sports

Essaouria is known for its refreshing coastal breeze. This is the perfect place to unwind and relax after a long, hot trek in the dessert. And for the adventurous traveler, this is the place for wind surfing or kite surfing. Whether you feel at home on the waves or in them, the unbroken stretches of sandy beaches are sure to please. Be careful, though, if the wind is blowing too strongly the current can become quite dangerous, and it may be better to settle for a barefoot walk along the water’s edge.

Atlantic Ocean from the beaches of Essaouira.

The city beach can be found just outside the gates. Escape the hustle and bustle!

Where to Stay

Hotels in Essaouira run the usual range from budget backpacker to high-end resorts. Our preference, as usual is somewhere in between trying to find the best balance and comfort level for the most affordable price. In the end we chose the family run Dar Dayana. This cute little hotel has the friendliest owners, the most comfortable rooms, and the best breakfast. Better yet, it is located inside the medina so we were right in the mix of things with plenty of restaurant choices.


Booking.com

24 Comments

  1. It’s good that you found the real goats in the Argan trees. Did you see the vendors of the Argan oil on the side of the road with the precious fluid in any variety of used bottle? I loved Essaouira and my kids learned to surf there.

  2. That was really interesting to read! Must be a very fun experience to see these goats in real life. Really don’t like that some people tie them up.. but what can you do.. We’ve never been in Morocco before (in any of Africa actually), would be interesting to go and experience their culture.

    The photos you got of the sunset is beautiful!!

    Map Scratchers

  3. I have booked up a 2.5 week road trip to Morocco in January and hope to get to Essaouira on the trip. Cant wait to get out there and you have given me a few ideas/

  4. I loved Essaouira, although I went in January so it was very very very quiet. I loved the chilled out vibes and how nice everyone is. I am so pleased that you loved it as much as me, although I never heard or saw anything about the goat tree.

  5. Morocco looks beautiful! So colorful and rich in culture. Definitely on my bucket list. Thanks for the tip about the scam, I would have fallen for that too! 😉

  6. Essaauiuria looks so unique and charming. First of all the blue boats really look stunning, what a sight it must have been. Nice of you to give a heads up about the goats tied to the tree, what a scam, and the poor goats being tortured! But apart from that what a nice place and experience. Morocco is a place that is high on our bucket list.

  7. I have never heard before of the goat scams. Interesting to find out what the people are capable of doing to get some money.
    Thanks for the tip.

    Needless to say, I have enjoyed reading your story. Lovely!

  8. One day in Essaouira is really worth as they have unique argan nuts plants. I loved how the herd of goats are looking for argan nuts. Even the blue fishing boats are truly photogenic.

  9. I went to Morrocco years and ago and unfortunately we didn’t go to Essaouira. It looks like a great town, and I like that it is on the smaller size population wise. Thanks for the suggestion the hotel, as staying in the medina would be ideal, and the tip about goat tree scam! Not the way I would want to see them for sure.

  10. Ha! I had to admit I had to laugh at the Goat Tree Scam. What genius would think of tying goats to a tree to make money? Poor goats.

    I’ll be in Morocco for 5 weeks in Nov/Dec. Haven’t planned out my itinerary yet but might visit Essaouira. Thanks for the info!

    Frank (bbqboy)

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