What To See in One Day in Essaouira

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.

Blue fishing boats tied together next to the fortress wall in Skala Port are an iconic sight to see in Essaouira.
Skala port is where you want to go to find the gorgeous blue fishing boats that are so famous in Essaouira.

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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.

A heard of goats searching for Argan nuts, their favorite food.
A herd of magical goats on a quest for their favorite food – Argan nuts.

Where to See Goats in Trees in Morocco?

Outside of Essaouira is famous for the tree-climbing goats. 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.

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.

Enroute from Marrakesh to Essaouira, don’t miss the amazing tree-climbing goats in Argan trees eating nuts.
Do you see that smile? This nimble fellow has found his lunch nibbling on Argan nuts, 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.

A pile of Argan nuts, which are prized for their oil and are the favorite food of local goats.
Argan nuts are mostly known for their oil and as goat treats. Apparently humans enjoy them at times as well.

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.

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.

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.

Goats in trees are a popular sight, and the best place to see goats in trees in Morocco near Essaouira.
This what real nut-eating goats look like.

Beware of Goat Tree Climbing Hoax

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.

A group of fisherman on the fortress wall preparing their gear and loading their blue boats.
Hard-working fisherman with the fortress walls.

One Day in Essaouira

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.

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.

Looking through an arch into a passageway in the Essaouira city wall where men and a young boy appear to be shopping.
Glancing through one of the many gorgeous arches built into the Essaouira city walls.

What to See In Essaouira

There is so much to see and do in this small, easily walkable, Moroccan city. You can easily do it all in one day. For a one day itinerary, get there nice and early. Wander the city while it’s still a little cool in the morning, then after lunch take advantage of that beach. Don’t leave before enjoying one of the best Atlantic Ocean sunsets you’ll ever enjoy.

One of the top things to do in Essaouira is wandering around Skala port to see scenes like this blue boat by the city wall.
The blue fishing boats are all over. Some are in the water and some, like this one is resting on land for the time being.

Things to Do in Essaouira

  • Go to the Beach
  • Walk the Ramparts
  • Wander the Medina
  • Photograph the Skala Port
  • Try some local dishes
  • Don’t miss the sunset
Women shopping at the stalls filled with brightly colored clothing and textiles in Le-Souk, in the Essaouira Medina.
Small family groups peruse the goods on hand at Le Souk in Essaouira.

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.

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.

Blue fishing boats in front of Bab El Marsa, the gateway to Mogador Fortress in Essaouira.
Fishing boats resting by Bab El Marsa, the gateway to Mogador Fortress.

Essaouira’s Skala Port

Next, head into the Scala du 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.

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.

Our host at Dar Dayana prepares our breakfast in her spotless, well-organized kitchen.
Our host of Dar Dayana is in her kitchen making our breakfast.

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.

Other hotels in the area include:
Budget: Seagulls Hostel
Mid-range: Riad Mumtaz Mahal
Luxury: Le Medina Essaouira Hotel Thalassa sea & spa-MGallery by Sofitel or Atlas Essaouira & SPA

Our great lunch of fresh bread and lamb kebabs grilled in front of us.
The freshest lamb kebabs cut and grilled right in front of you make a fantastic lunch.

Best Restaurants in Essaouira

La Table – When on the coast you’ve got to eat seafood, right? Address: 7 Rue Youssef El Fassi
Les 3 Portes – Some of the best of the Moroccan food. Address: Rue Al Atarine
Triskala – Love the interior and the comfort food. Address: 58 Rue Touahen

These blue fishing boats in and around the harbor are part of the reason Essaouira is such a beautiful city.
Blue boat after blue boat packed together in the harbor.

Marrakesh to Essaouira

Unless you rent a car, as we did, you have two ways to get to Essaouira. You can go by bus or you can hire a taxi. It’s only about a 2.5 or 3 hour drive, depending on how often you stop if you are coming straight from Marrakesh, but of course the private car is going to cost you much more per person.

I’ve heard of people with short itineraries, like my sister, taking a day trip to Essaouira. You can do it, but you’ll spend six hours getting there and back. I would recommend at least spending one night.

Time to Agadir: 2.5 hours
Time from Casablanca: A little over 5 hours

Sheep and a lone camel under the Argan trees near Essaouira.
Goats aren’t the only livestock to look for while in this coastal area.

By Bus

It’s quite easy to take one of the buses to Essaouira. There are two major companies and they both cost about 80 DH per person (about $8.00 US). You can either take the CTM or the ONCF. Both are basically the same, but the ONCF gets you within a little closer to the medina, depending on where your hotel is located.

Even with only one day in Essaouira, make time be on the city wall as the sun sets in the Atlantic Ocean.
The view of a sunset from the Essaouira city walls is a popular thing to do each evening.

Conclusion

Morocco is a great county to visit, and we especially love the coastal town of Essaouira. Even if you only have one day, you can do and see plenty, including visiting the tree-climbing goats looking for those tasty argan nuts.

23 thoughts on “What To See in One Day in Essaouira”

  1. 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)

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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! 😉

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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.

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