Essaouira is a popular day trip from Marrakech, but the bus from Marrakech takes about four hours. If you really want to go I’d definitely recommend spending a night or two there, which is what I did. It’s not a very big place, you certainly don’t need a lot of time there, but it is definitely a nice change from the hectic life of Marrakech.
I arrived in the afternoon, took a taxi to the edge of the medina with two random Swedish guys (7 dirhams* each), and then made my way to the hostel. It was a quiet hostel, not many people staying there, but the guy managing the place made up for the lack of people by talking non stop about how he’d lived in Prague for 25 years illegally. The things to do in Essaouira include visiting the fish market, walking along the beach, seeing the view from the fort, and kite surfing. I wasn’t interested in the final option but I did hit up the rest of the city’s main attractions, and had a fabulous lunch of bread, chicken and potatoes from the most downtrodden-looking local place for 10 dirham.
If you want to go to the beach the one south of the medina is the place to go, but be prepared to be hounded to take a camel ride. If you want a beach with no one else on it you can go north of the medina, but the reason no one is there is because it doubles as a rubbish dump.
The fish market was… interesting. Lots of MASSIVE seagulls and creepy fish. You can walk along the wall of the wharf which has a cool view of the port and the island nearby which is entirely inhabited by seagulls. You can also see the locals just chilling out and taking in the daily view, watching the boats and the birds.
The fort cost 10 dirham for entry but the views were pretty cool and there are cannons. I really can’t stress how many seagulls there are in Essaouira.
After two nights there I went to the bus station to head further down south. That was an adventure. It was the local bus station and as soon as I arrived all these men started gathering around me saying “Marrakech?” I told them “Tamraght” and they ushered me over to what turned out to be a very uncomfortable bus, asked for 40 dirham, and took my bag to store below. After a few hours I was ejected from the bus along with my bag into what I described later that day as a “decrepit little town”. Literally the only reason people go there is because the surf is good and it’s close to Paradise Valley (I was there for the second reason).
Tamraght is also home to (according to HostelWorld ratings) the best hostel in Morocco and the second best hostel in all of Africa – “who would’ve thought the best hostel in Morocco would be in this decrepit little town?” Lunar Surf Lounge has the most amazing free breakfast (egg tagine, fresh orange juice etc), a really good dinner that was actually worth the 50 dirham extra, and a pet cat called Lunar that is a very unfriendly cat who decided my arm looked tasty for no reason – more than a week later I still have the scratches and tooth marks. I went with two Americans to Paradise Valley for the day. We accidentally hitchhiked to the next town in the process of trying to find a taxi, asked every single blue van in Aourir if it would take us to the valley before finding the actual blue van station, and travelled out to Paradise Valley for 20 dirhams each packed into the back of an 11-seater van seating 16 people.
Paradise Valley was hot and sweaty like everywhere else in Morocco, the rocks were slippery, and the water was so wonderful to swim in that everything else could be forgiven. You walk walk walk from the car park and eventually come to the first pool. It looks amazing, but keep going deeper into the valley. Scrambling over the rocks is often easier barefoot because they really are slippery, however I did get a nasty blood blister that is still refusing to go away. After 20 minutes, maybe more, maybe less, you’ll come to the final pool. You’ll know when you’re there, it’s at the end of the valley. Filled with guitar-playing, Bob Marley-singing, hash-smoking dudes and about three women, this is the best place for cliff diving, swimming, and generally relaxing.
Once back in Tamraght I flagged down a taxi, an actual taxi this time, and went all the way down to Agadir, about half an hour. The King of Morocco happened to be visiting Agadir at the time so half the streets were closed and the other half were overstuffed with traffic. Eventually I got to the bus station just in time to book a ticket and jump on a bus to Sidi Ifni, another four hours south.
Sidi Ifni used to be a Spanish town, and it looked noticeably different to the other cities I’d been to in Morocco. It felt like a world away from Marrakech in looks, but the people on the streets were much the same. I arrived at night and walked to the hostel I’d booked. Well it wasn’t really a hostel in the end. It was a restaurant with a hotel on top. The hotel looked really nice inside, and upstairs there was an amazing rooftop terrace with almost unimpeded panoramic view of the ocean, so close you could hear and smell it. Also on the rooftop was this weird add-on that looked like a shed, but inside was the ‘dorm room’ which I had entirely to myself. The room looked so cool, and I would have fallen asleep to the sound of the ocean if I’d been able to sleep. Unfortunately, not only did I have a major sore throat and constantly running nose but “choose whichever bed you like” turned out to mean “try every bed and see if any of them are at all suitable to sleep on”. The answer was none. I may as well have slept on the floor. And if I hadn’t been so sick I might have figured out that the best pillow in the room was my neck pillow, but instead I toughed it out with one of the lumps provided.
In the morning it was time to get started with the reason why I came to Sidi Ifni, but unfortunately I felt like shit from lack of sleep and my increasingly worsening cold. So instead of the 10km walk I’d originally planned I decided to take the bus to Legzira which was supposed to be my final destination. In the end I think it was better to do it that way because I did end up walking all the way back to Sidi Ifni. Doesn’t look like that far on the map but yeah… It’s far.
Legzira beach was the reason I had ventured so far south. I’d read Legzira was on the list of the 40 best beaches in the world. I don’t know who made the list or when or where or which other beaches are on it, but I’d seen some photos and it did look pretty cool. The bus dropped me off at a town that is not a town, I walked down a road past buildings that weren’t on the map and didn’t look like somewhere you could go, then down a dirt track, and eventually found a handful of expensive restaurants and a beach. Looking to the right I could see beach and rocks, looking to the left I could see what I came for.
There are a total of six of these natural sandstone arches along the beach between Legzira and Sidi Ifni. Well there used to be, one of them collapsed last year and is now a giant pile of rubble below a fairly flat-looking cliff-face.
It’s possible to walk along the beach from Legzira to the second-last arch at low tide, if you’re willing to risk getting very very wet. I walked through ankle deep water to get around the collapsed arch and thought I’d gone as far as I could. But as I was sitting in the sand contemplating life while gazing into the ocean I saw this local guy doing some kind of weird karate. Eventually Moroccan Jackie Chan came over to talk to me, and after attempting to paint my portrait in the sand using his finger he told me it was possible to get around this arch and continue further down the beach because the tide was low. This all took a while as we had absolutely no useful words in a common language.
After a while I left to attempt the passing that had originally looked impossible but now actually didn’t look so bad as long as I timed it properly. I picked my moment, the wrong moment, and halfway around the corner a massive wave came in, covered me up to my waist, and then didn’t go away. The sand was all covered in rocks and when I went to take a step forward to navigate the big rocks in front of me I stepped into a ditch and sunk down even deeper. Standing still, contemplating what to do next (wouldn’t have cared so much but I had things in my backpack I didn’t really want submerged), then out of nowhere there was Moroccan Jackie Chan who had seen the wave and come to my rescue.
What happened next was so bizarre. He bent down, wrapped his arms around my thighs and lifted me into the air. Then he waded around for a bit before depositing me on a big rock and proceeding to guide me across the rocks to the beach. Then he turned around and went back, quite easily because by that time the wave had finally gone back out and the water was really low again. Definitely a memorable experience.
I continued along the beach as far as I could go and then took a path that led up to the top of the cliffs. From there it was mostly flat and straight all the way back to Sidi Ifni. About 8km away. In the direct sunlight and heat with no trees anywhere in sight.
It felt like forever. Much water was drunk. But eventually I made it back and collected my bag before heading back to the bus station. I’d had two bus choices to get back to Marrakech: 11am-7pm on the following day or 6.30pm-2.30am that night. I didn’t want to spend all day on the bus but I also didn’t want to make my way to my hostel in Marrakech alone at 2.30am.
The solution was that my Moroccan brother Momdi came to meet me at the bus station and accompanied me back to the hostel. He’s the manager at Kif-Kif, my hostel/home in Marrakech, and he brought me fruit for breakfast the next day when I couldn’t face eating bread again. He also gave me a private room although I’d only paid for a bed in a dorm. The private room had a fan which I very much appreciated on the 40+ degrees weekend and all in all it was a wonderful environment to recover from my cold in just a couple of days before sadly saying my final farewell to Marrakech, Kif-Kif, Momdi and Fran (the resident Scottish grandma at Kif-Kif).
*AUD$1 = 6.5 dirhams