During my 3 week trip in Morocco this January, I spent 5 days in Essaouira. I've read the other review of Essaouira and it's a very good one but I have a slightly different perspective of it. It's probably worth reading both reviews.
Having spent a couple of days in Marrakech, my fiance and I took the bus to Essaouira, the bus journey was fun - a standard bus rather than the more expensive coach, it took one hour longer and the bus stops whenever and where ever to make sure the bus is never not completely full! The ticket boy, jumps on and off whilst smoking a cigarette and opening the luggage compartment for people to put all kinds of things in (including live chickens). The bus driver often drives off, leaving him to run and jump on to the back of the bus with the door flying open. This is all part of the fun. We were there in January, so if you are there in the summer.. you may benefit from the air conditioning on the more expensive buses or perhaps an open window in a Cinq Plus (Grand Taxi).
The journey itself starts off with an arid landscape and then drives through various fields of fruit trees before stopping for almost 30 minutes in a crap hole of a town where plenty of beggars and street vendors come on the bus with their patter. Nothing to be alamred at, just an every day happening on the bus.
When we got off at the bus station, various touts tried to convince us to follow them, I just ignored them but another chap called Steve felt a bit worried by it all and asked if he could tag along with us. I'd planned to stay at the Hotel Smara and had worked everything out on the map before and more or less knew where I was going. We eventually lost the hustlers and found it quite quickly. The Hotel Smara is a budget hotel with a nice atmosphere and a great terrace right by the sea. For 9 euros, you have a single or about 12 for a double.
Never tell a Moroccan where you are going, or if you do - tell them you have a reservation because they will always try to convince you it's full or horrible and that they know a better place.
Essaouira was a Portuguese colonial port town and has been left with some great architecture. The atmosphere is much more laid back than anywhere we visited in Morocco, nobody really bothers you and you are free to do what you want. It's popular amongst many a hippy, including Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in their day. Daytrippers come up from Agadir but overtime you'll feel the peace of this place. The town has some great architecture, a superb mixture of European and Arabic. The spicy smell of Morocco is blended in with the smell of the sea in a town which consists of the much maligned Mellah (poor Arabic part which is really run down) and the great buildings of the European colonisers.
The beach is in a wonderful crescent and was fairly quiet when we were there, apart from little girls selling jewellery and men walking around with trays of cookies including the well known happy cookies, there is very little to bother you. Towards the townside, groups of young lads play football and at the other end ( a few km away), men offer camel rides.
The fishmarket is a great place to see and if you want choose fresh fish, it can then be grilled for a little more. Also nearby there are about 20 stands with their own wide choice of fish, they cook it and can serve it up with bread, salad and a drink for between 30 and 70 Dirhams depending on the fish in question. It's always worth bartering.
We spent several days there and could easily have spent longer, it's one of the few places in Morocco where you can buy alcohol from several shops with ease and relatively cheapily. We would generally have a Moroccan breakfast at a nice cafe in the morning, then head back for a shower (often lukewarm), spend time on the beach or sunbathing on the beautiful fort and then head to the alcohol shop for some beers and some wine. Drink the beer whilst reading or talking on the terrace, go out to one of the many brilliant and cheap restaurants, often with others that we had met on the terrace and then return and drink the wine on the terrace with an international crowd until the early hours of the morning.
It's a great place to ease in to Morocco and it's a truly great way to spend your January.