An 18th-century town on Morocco’s Atlantic coastline, Essaouira is one of the nation’s most popular beach destinations. White-washed homes sporting cobalt blue shutters provide a scenic backdrop for breezy seaside adventures, which include kitesurfing and windsurfing. The city’s medina features crafts made using centuries-old techniques, including thuya wood carving and cabinet making. The argan oil trade is well established here as well, and the women cooperatives responsible for processing the argan nuts are instantly recognizable from their long white robes.
Essaouira, formerly called Mogador, is a natural port. It’s been prized as such since the 1st century, when the protected bay provided anchorage for Romans trading for the purpura shells they used to make purple dye. Roman artifacts from the period are on display at the city’s Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah Museum. Fortress walls originally circled the city’s borders, and many sections of the walls remain standing today. Built by the Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah, the fortifications combine European military architecture with African aesthetics.
Today, the harbor is one of the major fishing locations in Morocco, and the city’s restaurants and seaside stalls offer an array of fresh seafood, from lobster dishes to grilled sardines. In recent years, Essaouira has begun to gain a reputation as a cultural center too. Art galleries are appearing all over town, and each year, the city plays host to the Gnaoua Festival of World Music, a four-day event that includes multiple genres of music as well as the traditional Gnaoua African music. Whether riding a camel along the beach or touring the bird sanctuary at nearby Falcon Island, Essaouira offers a range of great travel experiences.