The coast of Morocco was the best decision I made on this entire trip. I could have spent all my time there. It’s a breath of fresh air from the hustle and bustle and clusterfuck of the cities and has every landscape imaginable. Driving, for once, was an actual pleasure and I felt a sense of freedom that I haven’t felt since I moped through the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, with the wind in my hair and the sun on my face.
You’ll drive straight into mountainous landscape from lush green hills to argan trees and climbing goats, from palm trees perfectly spaced out to the rocky cliffs and orange sand of the beach. It was heaven. If you’ve ever driven Pacific High Coast 1 in California, it’s exactly that.
Long story short, if you don’t do the coast of Morocco, you’re actually basic.
Before Leaving America, The Language, and What to Pack
Pack your bikini, duh. If you have a wetsuit and travel with a surfboard, bring that too. The water is entirely too cold to surf without one. You can also rent them all along the beach like in most beach towns.
We found mostly Germans vacation here so you can find a few people who speak English but French and Arabic are preferable.
Transportation to The Coast from Marrakech
How to book a rental car in Marrakech
You can reserve a rental car at the Marrakech airport online, but it’s more expensive. You can also hire a driver, but you practically have to bathe him, clothe him, and feed him along the way. Plus, who wants that third wheel? You don’t need him.
Once you get to your riad, you can arrange your rental car through them or through your desert tour guide or literally anyone. I had my desert tour guide take me to a local spot, rented a Hyundai station wagon for $25/day. But the manager and I are friends now, and my boy Jawad will hook you up. You can reach him at at Jaouadlaaziz@gmail.com, +212 (6) 60 02 10 78, +212 (6) 68 01 17 62, at Lhoch Car.
Keep in mind when you’re booking a car, that all the cars are stick/manual. If you don’t drive stick, you can rent an automatic car from the Marrakech airport, but it’s double the price of a stick. The cars have USB ports, but no GPS.
How to get Directions to the Coast of Morocco
If you haven’t already, download the app Map.Me. It’s a map that operates without wifi and you can plug in a city, and it will take you straight there. However, make sure to download your map while you’re connected to wifi. There’s also just one road, so you can’t get lost and the signage is great.The most popular beach destination is Essaouira. Probably because it’s the closest to Marrakech. To get there you literally take “THE ROAD TO ESSAOUIRA.”
Instead of going first to Essaouria, I took the toll straight south from Marrakech to Tiznit and bypassed the slow road to Essaouria. I don’t use tolls in the United States, but this toll was absolutely worth the 80 dirhams ($8) because it cut a 3-hour drive into 1 hour. That way, I could drive the coast up to Essaouria, take in all the sick views, and stop at all the beaches along the way.
Once you get to the city you choose you can just ask someone on the street where to find your place of residence. The coastal towns are so small, everyone knows everyone and they’re not assholes like in Marrakech where they charge you for directions.
How to Drive in Morocco and What to Expect
Driving in Morocco is not as intimidating as it looks. It’s true in the cities that it’s kind of like a video game (have you ever played Frogger?) Well, we call it “Dodge a Moroccan.” If it’s not a car, it’s a pedestrian, or a bike, or a motorcycle, or a donkey that is just walking along the street in front of you. The lines are more like suggestions, not really rules, so just be aware that 1) people can cut in front of you out of nowhere, but also 2) you can totally create your own lane and cut people off also. Roundabouts are more prevalent than stop lights, but sometimes there are both (not sure what for). My motto became, “just go, don’t look twice.”
The highways are great, except that there are only 2 lanes and each lane is going the opposite direction. So when you overtake the person in front of you, you’re just driving into oncoming traffic; so obviously don’t overtake on a curve.
There are a lot of hitchhikers. They’re not waving at you, they just want a ride. Ignore them, or like we did, wave back. Or pick them up, whatever experience you want.
There are police checkpoints every 30 minutes depending on the location (someone told us this was just a December thing, but I doubt it). Don’t be scared. Most of the time, they just let you pass. If they stop you, they just want to see your passport and car rental agreement, and maybe chat about where you’re from and welcome you to the city. But at some point, a cop is going to tell you that you were speeding, even though you were going at snail speed, cause you were literally behind a donkey. He says he has a video of you. He doesn’t. Then he says, “Normally, a ticket is 600 or 700 dirham, but for you, 300.” No shame, negotiate that shit. Give him maximum 100 dirham that he can just slip in his pocket and move along.
(Before I start, I should disclaimer this post by saying I was born and raised in Hawaii, so I’m a beach-type-of-girl. If you hate the beach, you should skip this post all together.)
Essaouira, pronounced Eee-saw-we-rah, used to be a major port town between North Africa and Europe and was a Portuguese strong hold when the fortresses were built. You can read more about it’s UNESCO World Heritage here.
What to Do in Essaouira
- Shop. Skip the souks of Marrakech and do all of your shopping here. The quality is better, people aren’t as aggressive, and the starting prices are half that of what it is in Marrakech. It was by far my favorite medina and definitely the place you want to buy silver if you’re not going to make it to Tiznit, the capital of silver. See How Not To Shop In Morocco Like A Basic Bitch for more info on that.
- Beach. The beach is ok. It’s not anything to brag about. The waves are pretty beautiful, but seriously you’re sharing the wave with a hundred other surfers making it kind of impossible to not have anxiety about hitting someone or someone stealing your wave. Come here during winter when it’s not so packed.
- Fisherman wharf. It’s kind of cool to see all of the fishermen all in one place and their platoon of boats. But it also smells exactly how it looks. Here is where you can visit the Game of Thrones fortress and pay to get in. I did not do it.
Where to Stay in Essaouira
We stayed at Riad Orange Cannelle which was inside of the medina, but within one of the alleyways so you had some privacy. For $30/night it was what we expected. The dude who runs it is Spanish/Norwegian but grew up in France. He has a mini-man bun and is really cool. He pointed out the prostitution quarters, where they filmed Game of Thrones, and his favorite restaurants. All of which we didn’t really care about, except for the food.
Where to Eat in Essaouira
So, every blog I read before coming here said to go to the fish stalls that are numbered at the end of the city. Then we got to our riad and the guy was like WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT EAT THE FISH AT THOSE MARKET STANDS. In his words, “The fish is absolute shit and has been sitting out for 2 or 3 days.” So we went with his suggestion and just avoided that place. I did walk by it, and didn’t really understand why other blogs would suggest this place as the boats the fish are caught on and all of the debris is literally right next to the stalls. You can smell the dead fish everywhere. Even if the fish was good, I would not have wanted to eat it there.
Man-bun man said to walk to the VERY end of the beach. VERY END. And then said don’t go past it because “They’re your friends, until the end of the beach.” So we started our trek through the sand and walked along the beach. Passed a bunch of restaurants. And kept walking. Walking and walking until we were like did we pass it? When you start to question yourself, that’s when you know you’re near. The restaurant is called Ocean Vagabond. Its an adorable inside-outside, stare at the beach, lounge on beach beds, drink a liter of beer for $6, eat an Italian oven-baked pizza restaurant that had “hipster” written all over it. Circle glasses, tattoos, piercings, men with long hair and barefoot. I was all about it. We didn’t eat anywhere else.
Life and Culture of Essaouira
Essaouira is a chill town. People hassle you, but don’t attack you or violate you. They are more calm than the other major cities of Morocco. At one point we did see a man shouting in the streets trying to fight someone, but he was quickly escorted away (not like in Tangier where people won’t even flinch when an argument erupts). After you’ve been through Marrakech, Essaouira is like a breath of fresh air and a sigh of relief. HOWEVER, stacked up against other beach towns of the world, it’s not that great and I would not plan a trip just to come here. Use Essaouira as a jump off spot and continue on. You don’t need more than a day here.
I recommend a day-trip to Taghazout.
Taghazout is only an hour and a half from Essaouira. The drive is killer. Especially as the sun rises above the hills and you can see green mountains to your left and the ocean crashing against the cliffs to the right, ughhh so liberating. Also along the way you’ll see goats climbing up trees and people selling yellow containers on the side of the road. THIS is REAL argan oil and Moroccan honey. More info on that in How Not To Shop In Morocco Like A Basic Bitch. But if you buy argan oil anywhere else other than the coast of Morocco …like if you don’t see the goats…you are 100% basic.
You’ll know when you’ve made it to the lovely little surf town of Taghazout when you see little black dots of surfers in the ocean and reggae hippie shops on the side of the road.
What to Do and Where to Eat in Taghazout
- Surf. Dotted along the coast of Taghazout there are a plethora of beaches. You can stop at all of them. You can stop at none of them. Whatever you do, don’t rent your surfboard in the main square of Taghazout. They will try to rent it for $30. At the restaurants along the beach, they will give you a wetsuit + surfboard for $7 for the entire day. A lot of people come here for surf retreats where they stay for weeks at a time perfecting their skills. I definitely understand why because the waves are consistent and they are of varying levels of skill. If you go way out, you’ll get big, thunderous waves. If you’re intermediate, you’ll get waves you can ride longer than the foam. If you’re a beginner, there is plenty of foam for you to start off on. I’ve never surfed in a place where you could have all 3 in one beach. It was glorious and definitely a good place to learn and practice surfing.
- Swim. So the water is cold. Like really cold. Like fawking cold. But when the sun is out, it really is perfect. The sun is so hot, it warms you up pretty quickly. You will be shivering inside of the water though. I swam with my wet suit on. Our favorite beach was called Plage 25. You can plug it into your Maps.Me and it will take you straight there. Why is it called Plage 25? What’s the significance of the number? That was really bothering me so I looked it up. 25 marks the kilometer on the road of its location.
Life and Culture of Taghazout
The culture is the same as any surf town. Dudes with bleached blonde hair are just hanging out. People are chill. Other than surfing, the town is pretty dead. There are a ton of Europeans learning to surf. I was wondering why since the water is so cold, but I guess this is the closest surf beach to them.
On the way to or from Mirleft, you’ll pass by Agadir which is a really cool city looking from the outside. There were beaches, but Agadir is also a major port for oil so I hesitate to say that the beaches were beautiful because I’m not sure what it looked like up close. I did not stop here. Use it as a good resting point from Mirleft to Essaouira if you are not trying to do a 6 or 7-hour drive all in one day.
Mirleft and Sidi Ifni
Mirleft, pronounced Meere-left, is a sleepy Berber fishermen town that does not see many foreigners (or local) tourism. (When I came back to Marrakech and showed our Moroccan friends the beach, they had never been nor seen pictures. They both have since booked vacations to Mirleft.) Actually, the place was pretty much dead. Those who do come to Mirleft are usually specialty tourists looking to paraglide, hike, or surf. However, I did see beautiful new hotels (non-chain hotels) and surf spots in construction so I suspect this place has a completely different vibe in the summer.
30 minutes away is a friendly Spanish town named Sidi Ifni, pronounced Sid-ee-if-nee, with the same demeanor as Mirleft, but has a bit more life. Although I preferred Mirleft’s tranquility after being bombarded in every direction in the rest of Morocco, Sidi Ifni comes alive at night. At around 9PM everyone is outside walking around and hanging out as if it was the middle of the day. From Sidi Ifni and south, the Spanish claimed that part of the Sahara and built fortresses. Which is why the culture is still very Spaniard, where people start their days at 9PM. The area has since turned Moroccan, but 50 years ago, people would speak Spanish here.
What to Do and Where to Stay in Mirleft and Sidi Ifni
Just. Fucking. Chill. We were so exhausted from the rest of Morocco that Mirleft was everything we needed. No one bothered us. No one tried to touch me. No one tried to sell me anything. No one followed me or banged on my door. Everyone is just laidback. The only thing really to do is go to the beach…all the beaches…like I love bad beaches it’s a f*ckin’ problem.
This guide was really helpful for the beaches in Mirleft and I hit every single one of them. This blogger gives specific directions to every beach, but literally it’s one road and wherever you see an opening just turn off and you’ll find a beach. Sometimes you’ll just see them from the highway. The four beaches of Mirleft are: Imin Tourga, Aftas Beach, Marabout Beach, and Plage Sauvage. Marabout Beach is supposed to have an ancient tomb, but I couldn’t find it. But I encourage you to beach-hop, cause like, what else are you going to do?
Most hotels and residences are right on the beach so you’re bound to be at one of them. We stayed at Residence Terrase De La Mer a private residence with a terrace on the beach.
It does not open out onto the beach, but is actually above it. I spent lots of sunrises and sunsets being completely mesmerized by the view. There’s a padded bench outside that I took my heater out to and slept to the sounds of waves crashing. The house had 2 beds, couches large enough to sleep on, TV, Wifi, a fully furnished kitchen, and private terrace all for $44, split between the two of us after taxes and fees, I paid $25/night. As if that wasn’t enough, there is also a rooftop terrace where you can wash your clothes for free and hang them out to drive. Everything is provided for you, detergent, machine, and clothesline.
The man that owns it is named Mohammed. I never met him and he only speaks French. But the man that manages it is named Mohammed also and he speaks English. He is a very young, attractive man with dark features and hazel eyes, but more importantly he is THE NICEST and was so accommodating and helpful. I HIGHLY recommend this residence.
Another hotel we thought looked nice on the outside and literally walked out onto a beach was called Dar Najmat. It was out of our price range at $150/night, but looked beautiful.
The most famous beach is actually in Sidi Ifni and is called Legzhira Beach. But hold up. Before you start Googling it, let me just crush your dreams real quick. This amazing structure…no longer stands. It fell just a few months before I arrived.
And I was sad about it. HOWEVER, if you see in the distance, there is still another arch and is beautiful in and of itself.
Ok, so how to get here. There will be a sign that says Plage Legzira, turn right (if you’re coming from Mirleft). There will be signs that say PARK HERE. Don’t park there. Go down until you meet this resort complex. The road then turns into a steep dirt road. Even though it seems treacherous, go down it. You will be able to come back up, don’t worry. At the bottom, there is a parking lot. It costs 5 dirham (50 cents). From there you can take the stairs all the way down to the beach and make a left.
It was here that we saw this man shake around this heavy black thing. I couldn’t really see from a distance until he started waving at me. I wasn’t sure if it was actually at me or someone else, but I started walking toward him. As I got closer, I realized the heavy black thing was a limp body of a woman. I started running towards them. By that time ten men were crowded around her, slapping her, and “taking her pulse” (they were taking her pulse with their thumbs, which your thumb has its own pulse, so idk what that was…but at least they tried). I was fully prepared to fight off all of these dudes and administer CPR, and then realized not only was she breathing, she was drunk. She had passed out on the beach and was drinking alcohol out of a Coke bottle. I walked away and told them she was fine, she just needs to sleep it off. The men carried her off.
All in all, this beach was visually pleasing, but I wouldn’t spend too much time here. There were more people than I would have liked and the beach had lots of stones.
Where to Eat in Mirleft and Sidi Ifni
I would skip eating in Mirleft completely. Although the food LOOKED good, it was actually shit.
Sidi Ifni had more options: more cafes, more coffee and omelets, and a hotel that served alcohol. Hotel Bellavue is set against the coast and had the best restaurant in either city. It was definitely a “splurge day” where one meal costs $12. The best thing about this place is that they serve wine (and beer). You can also take wine home for $8/bottle. We bought 4 because what else are you doing to do after the beach? Watching the waves and drinking a glass of wine or opening a brewski on the beach was one of my favorite memories in all of Morocco.
Had us feeling like…
Life and Culture of Mirleft and Sidi Ifni
As mentioned before…the beach, these two cities in particular, were the best part of Morocco with its peace, tranquility, and constantly changing and evolving landscapes along the way. You can tell people are just happier here. Women wear hijab but they’re head-to-toe tie-dyed with all these brilliant colors of purple, blue, orange pink, and looked gorgeous against the landscape, instead of the drab black and gray you see in Marrakech. Everyone is super friendly. The managers at the few restaurants we stopped at invited us back for free meals on the house. People generally hitchiked or walked the 30 minutes (by car) between Sidi Ifni and Mirleft. In general, people were more trustworthy and willing to help.
Just a few hours more south, you would have been in the Sahara and onto Mauritania. My only regret is not skipping the rest of Morocco and trading it in for more time on the beach. I would definitely plan a trip to come back here, but I would say it is extremely dead outside of the beach, so bring company and don’t stay long enough to get incredibly bored.
For general tips on the country see my overview.