Who would have thought that a quiet fishing area on the Moroccan coast would become one of the most popular kitesurfing destinations in the world? That is exactly what has happened to the ancient city of Essaouira, which offers huge swells and epic waves to its many visitors each year.
Essaouira gets its name from the ancient fortification, built by the Portuguese king D. Manuel I, that is still standing and provides an excellent backdrop whilst you’re charging the waves. The Berber translation means ‘the wall’ in celebration of the fortification. It also goes by a different name – its Portuguese name of Mogador; just in case you hear people using that name.
Mogador is actually a small island visible from the coast of Essaouira, although to visit you would need official authorization as it is a designated natural reserve.
The island is actually influential in protecting the bay of Essaouira from strong marine winds, but does help create some great waves.
The fishing trade is still rife in the area – although it has suffered due to the growth of the more recognised, bigger Agadir. That doesn’t mean the quality of fish has been compromised in any way, and you’ll often find queues of locals waiting for the fresh catch of the day.
The plethora of small fishing boats mean the immediate harbour isn’t ideal for kitesurfing but there are plenty of other great Kite spots!
Kitesurfing in and around Essaouira
Because Essaouira juts out into the sea, winds regularly hit the low to mid-twenties in terms of knots. It is usually through the morning and the early afternoon that these winds are at their strongest. The windfinder site is well worth checking out before your visit to get an idea of the kind of wind and wave sizes to expect.
In terms of weather and when is best to visit, because the city sits on the north-west of Africa, it enjoys a warm climate. This means that you will probably be able to enjoy warm sunshine, whenever you visit. Alas, July, August and September are the warmest months, with temperatures reaching up to 30oC.
Whilst July will be a great time to go for heat, it is one of three months that are considered the area’s dry season. July is the windiest month according to averages, with more wind days in the month than any other. This will make it the best time for more experienced kitesurfers and water sport enthusiasts. August and September aren’t far behind so these might be better for those less experienced.
It is not just around the immediate area that great kitesurfing and water sports are available though. Peppered along the coast are a number of little beaches and coves that enjoy good waves and swell.
This choice of beaches is a key reason for Essaouira’s continued popularity. All water sports are catered for by a range of different companies and schools, and all levels of ability are welcomed – it is fair to say there is a spot for everyone.
There are some really good spots in the vicinity of Essaouira and a little further out. Explora Morocco, who have centres based in Essaouira and at the other popular Kitesurfing location of Dakha, regularly put on trips to the nearby Sidi Kaouki and the brilliantly named The Cave. They also arrange for visits to Imessouane and Safi, which are both a bit further out but worth the visit. Visit Explora Morocco’s website for further details.
The small town of Sidi Kaouki is often a great place for experienced water sport enthusiasts. The combination of beaches, weather and clear waters, often leads to people saying this is as perfect as it gets for water sports. The waves are long and it is at its best when the wind is light and the tide is up.
It has a reputation for being windy – there is even a hotel called the Windy Kaouki Residence– so those at a beginner level might find this particular beach a little too challenging. It also has some great cafes and souks and you have to pay a visit to the Jimi Hendrix Café.
In between Essaouira and Sidi is The Cave. It sounds magnificent and the waves are. It is thought the waves here are the biggest in the area – so be prepared to tackle some serious swell. It’s a quiet spot that is a little hard to reach so it might be worth speaking to someone at a water sports school on how to get there.
This is 100km south of Essaouira but for a beach that offers conditions for all levels of ability, this is perfect. There are two parts, the Cathedral, which enjoys bigger waves and the Bay, which offers conditions better suited to beginners. The latter is usually always popular so it’s worth getting down there early.
Safi is located on the other side of Essaouira and like Imessouane, there are two spots. It is quite a rocky beach so you should kitesurf or surf here with a little caution. The first swings to the left and breaks in front of an abandoned factory. The second is the main beach.
How to Get to Essaouira
Getting to Essaouira is quite straight forward. There are regular flights from the UK to Marrakech and they start from £60 return according to Skyscanner.
Easyjet, British Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Iberia and a few others fly directly. From Marakech, Essaouira is a two hour drive. Private hire taxis are available and there is a really good coach service.
Alternatively, you can fly to Agadir. Prices to Agadir start from £79, again according to Skyscanner. Easyjet fly direct. It is also roughly two hours to Essaouira with the same transport options available.
There is plenty of choice. From Riads – which are traditional Moroccan houses with an internal garden area or courtyard – and luxury hotels to small hotels and apartments.
Riads are a great way to absorb a bit of the local culture and there is a good choice at very reasonable prices. Maison Du Sud is a particularly nice riad that offers luxury yet traditional Moroccan accommodation with single rooms available from £25 a night.
Apartments offer space to unwind in and they are ideal for storing all of your stuff. Dar Ettouahen is one such apartment that is perfect for people going away in a group, a family or even a couple. It is centrally located and only seven minutes from the beach.
What else is there to do?
Well Essaouira is something of a magnet for the creative-minded. Since the eighteenth century poets, actors, artists, musicians and hippies have graced the crammed streets that are lined with local pottery and handicrafts.
In fact there is a vibrant hippy scene that thrives in the area. To this effect you will find plenty of cafes like the popular Triskara Café that welcome and actually encourage a more laid-back lifestyle. Whilst wandering around it is very hard to miss the air of culture.
The Medina (pictured in the above image) is another popular source of entertainment. This offers a real throw back to traditional Morocco; bustling souks, lots of noises, smells, colours. It can be a bit hectic but it is full of bargains.
If ever you get bored of water sports (unlikely but you never know) there are more sedate sports to play. Despite the rocky exterior of the place, there is a lush golf course that is worth a visit.
When it comes to food, it will probably come as no surprise that fish features prominently. Given that fresh fish is caught daily, most of the restaurants make the most of this. The fish stalls are also really popular places to eat and are along the seafront on the way to the harbour.
There are quite a lot of vegetarian options available too – perfect for a healthy boost ahead of another day of kitesurfing. The Ginger Café is a popular spot for healthy options and they do some great smoothies.
It isn’t always easy to find a place serving alcoholic beverages. That isn’t to say there aren’t any. After a thrilling day on the waves, a chilled beer is in order. There is a great guide here to places that will be able to quench your thirst.
Did you know?
Jimi Hendrix visited Essaouira in 1969. No one person – despite other luminaries such as Winston Churchill and Orson Welles (who has a statue bust in Essaouira) – has caused as much of a fuss and captured the imagination than Hendrix.
The area had started to enjoy a more bohemian atmosphere throughout the sixties and Hendrix’s visit capped it. It has immortalised Essaouira as a cool hangout since and there is a Jimi Hendrix Cafe. There were even rumours than his song – Castles Made of Sand – was about the place (although these seem unfounded).
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