Essaouira, Morocco: a photographer's dream destination
- Recommended for:
- Activity, Road Trip, Short Break, Budget, Expensive, Mid-range
Travel photography is both rewarding and exciting - and the Moroccan coastal town of Essaouira, a World Heritage Site, provides the perfect backdrop for your pictures
Essaouira (formerly Mogador) was founded in 1760 by Sultan Muhammad ibn-Abdullah and its name means literally "image", making it the perfect destination for photographers. Situated just a two-and-a-half-hour drive or bus ride (€5 single fare) from Marrakech, it sits on the southwest coast of Morocco and enjoys the warm sea breezes of the Atlantic Ocean. This is a marvellously vibrant destination, and provides many wonderful photographic opportunities in and around the imposing fortifications that define the town as well as a working fishing port that bustles with life from dawn to dusk.
A good base is essential when you are out shooting all day, so I stayed in the Riad Casa Lila (94 Rue Med El Qorry Medina), which seemed to be a 10-minute walk from everywhere. At around €70 per night for a double room, it's not that expensive for the luxury it provides, and a handy addition is the free wi-fi service in the public lounge area, which allows travel photographers to share and back up their images at the end of the day as well as keep in touch with home if needed.
To get your bearings in this white-washed town, take a stroll in the plaza (Place Prince Moulay el Hassan ), which is a landscape in its own right. Large pine trees line the open-air eating area, where the staff of the fresh fish stalls almost fight each other to get visitors to eat at their cafe tables. There are many stalls to choose from, and, on average, €15 will buy two diners a choice of fish, salad and a soft drink each, with no dodgy tummy. The fish is really fresh, tasty and well cooked, and there's a friendly atmosphere - at least once you're sat down away from the scrabble to get you in in the first place!
As early evening beckons, fishermen line the wall that runs from the plaza to the fishing port, selling some of their catch to locals and tourists alike. Seagulls flap their wings and screech "mine, mine", creating drama-filled backdrops along the skyline for any photography to embrace. Head through the main fishing port arch, and another world reveals itself. This is a world from a bygone age, filled with scenes of boat repairs, fishing net maintenance, boat loading and unloading, and the general rush of a working fishing port. At times the sheer buzz of the place can take a photographer's breath away trying to decide which image to frame next. This is a place that needs repeat visits throughout the day to catch the ever-changing light and scenes as they unfold.
To the north of the plaza, the Essaouira medina, or old city, is full of cobbled streets and interwinding alleyways, providing more opportunity for travel photography. As well as the people of the town, who add character at every turn, there is the beauty of the fading, sun-worn buildings, displaying colours rarely seen outside glossy travel magazines. Doorways, windows, white-washed walls and hidden gardens all add to the charm and beauty of this photo-friendly place.
Just one word of warning, though: some locals will not want their photograph taken and some may charge a dirham or two for your chance to take an image of them. Respect this and your enjoyment of the photographic experience will be much greater. A smile and a nod also goes a long way to engage with your potential subjects.
To the east of the plaza there are the stretching beaches of Essaouira, which can be incredibly windy at times and therefore attract kite surfers. This makes for another great photographic opportunity, especially if one of the competitions that attract the top world riders is taking place. The sea is seemingly all around Essaouira, deep blue at midday, white and wave-whipped in the afternoon and sometimes orange-red as the sun sets behind the distant small islands that lie just off the coast. Camel excursions are also available on the beach.
One of the best places to enjoy an Essaouira sunset is the roof garden of the Heure Bleue boutique hotel. This one-time hang-out of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley is an oasis of luxury and an escape from the busy medina street it lies on, and even if it's out of your budget to stay there, the roof garden is open to all to enjoy for the cost of a drink or snack.
For a breather from taking photographs and for a break before the sunset shoot, try a traditional Moroccan meal at Le Patio (28 bis, Rue Moulay) in the Rachid district. Although the staff can seem uninterested in you and service a little slow, the traditional vegetarian and meat tagines served are just wonderful. The food, candlelit ambiance and almost tent-like decorations are relaxing after a long day's shooting. If your budget is smaller, or you just want something quick and easy, then there are many fast food-type cafes on the plaza and set back under the westerly fortifications. Here, you can get a decent pizza for no more than €3 per person.
Travel photography can be extremely rewarding; having a place like Essaouira as your canvas makes it doubly so. And it's only around a half-day's travel from the UK - so what's holding you from going and practising your passion?