In our A Total Trip franchise, writers document what they spent on a recent getaway. In this edition, Sally Kirby, shows us how she combined budget spending in Morocco's Essaouira with some luxe treats.

I’m a writer and yoga teacher based in Taghazout, Morocco. While I love the ebb and flow of my simple life at home in Morocco’s surfing capital, recently I felt ready for a road-trip adventure and some city vibes.

Accompanied by a friend who was visiting from the UK, I drove up the coast to Essaouira, excited to introduce her to some of my favorite experiences in the city – and discover new ones together.

We opted for an inexpensive hotel in the center as we were most looking forward to spending our money in the boutiques and spas and exploring the city’s diverse restaurant scene. 

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Interior shots of Mama Souri hotel, including reception area with vintage movie posters and bedroom with two single beds draped in white linens
The reception area and bedroom at Mama Souri, Essaouira © Sally Kirby / Lonely Planet

Pre-trip spending

Accommodation: $88 for two nights at Mama Souiri. It’s a beachside budget hotel recommended for its central location overlooking Moulay Hassan Square, within easy walking distance of most things we wanted to visit. Breakfast is served on the bright roof terrace. It’s worth noting that live music from nearby Taros cafe can make sleep...challenging.

City taxes: $.40 per person per day 

Total: US$90 (or $45 each) or 877 MAD (Moroccan dirham)

Traditional spice market in Essaouira
After checking into the hotel, Sally and her friend walked to the traditional spice and fish souks © Shutterstock / Bizroug

On the ground

Sunday 

Breakfast: We set off on our adventure to Essaouira from Taghazout at 10am. The three-hour road trip was fueled by snacks from a patisserie ($1 for two pains au chocolat) and coffees from a back-of-the-van cafe en route ($1.40 for two).

Arrival: We left our car in Essaouira’s port lot as our hotel had no parking facilities. It cost $6.15 per day, but we later learned this could be cheaper (as low as $2 per day); the rate depends on your parking attendant and your haggling skills.

Lunch: We needed to kill some time before our 2pm check-in, so after dropping our bags off at the hotel we wandered over to the Loft, a tiny restaurant serving fresh Mediterranean-style dishes. Lunch was a plateful of juicy king prawns in a saffron sauce and colorful salads. With a plate of fresh watermelon on the house, the total bill – including water, orange juice and two mains – came to $35 for two. 

Activities: We returned to the hotel to check in before our hammam booking at nearby Azur Spa, where we opted for the “Tradition” scrub (a 35-minute exfoliation with black soap) for $23.50 each.

Seafood dinner of octopus and rice at Umia
Dinner at Mediterranean-style tapas bar, Umia © Sally Kirby / Lonely Planet

With newly glowing skin, we wandered along Avenue de l’Istiqlal as far as the Spice and Fish Souks, watching locals purchase fresh produce among the many colorful stalls. The noise, scents and colors helped awaken our senses and get our bearings.

On our stroll back to the hotel, we stopped to pick up mineral water from a local shop ($.75 for two liters) en route. 

Drinks: Refreshed and dressed to party, we arrived at the lively Taros rooftop bar to see the sun set over the Atlantic. Toasting our day with cocktails (a punchy Margarita for $9.25, a San Miguel beer for $4.60) we relaxed and soaked up the live Afrobeat music.

Dinner: We’d booked a table at nearby Umia, a stylish tapas bar where many ingredients come straight from the local markets. We shared the octopus carpaccio ($12.30) and pancakes with smoked trout ($14.25) from the seasonal menu with a glass of delicious Beauvallon wine from Morocco’s Meknes region ($7 per glass). 

Total: $161 (or $80.50 each)

Interior and exterior shots of Patisserie Driss in Essaouira
Starting the day with freshly baked treats from Patisserie Driss © Sally Kirby / Lonely Planet

Monday 

Breakfast: Across from the hotel is Patisserie Driss, founded in 1928 and filled with art-plastered walls, patio seating and homemade sweet treats. We popped in for coffee ($1), orange juice ($1.25), and pastries ($.50 each), soaking up the old-school ambiance of one of the city’s oldest cafes. 

Activities: We wandered around the Medina, stopping in the shops lining the streets and ducking into art galleries before finishing our morning explorations on the city’s ramparts, Skala de la Ville, for a panoramic Atlantic view. 

The interior of a concept store in Essaouira selling glassware and trinkets
Shopping at Essaouira's stylish concept store, Koulchi © Sally Kirby / Lonely Planet

Lunch: Enjoying the ocean breeze, we walked to the nearby fishing port to check out the daily catch available at the stalls. We opted for glossy-eyed sea bream, grilled squid and king prawns for $10.25 per person, including salad, fries and a soft drink. The food was grilled right in front of us, with seagulls flying overhead and well-fed cats snoozing nearby. 

In the afternoon, we hit the concept stores, checking out the colorful displays of upcoming local designers in Histoire des Filles and Koulchi. With little wind, conditions were perfect for a beach walk, a sea swim and a snooze on the sand. Our only expense was a two-liter bottle of mineral water ($.75).

Place Moulay Hassan, Essaouira, Atlantic Coast, Morocco
Lunch was spent at the open-air Place Moulay Hassan © Getty Images / iStockphoto

Snacks: We dropped our swim stuff at the hotel and settled into Dolcefreddo, an open-air cafe on the main square. This beautiful open space fills up with buskers and street performers each afternoon: perfect for people-watching. We tucked into crêpes filled with Nutella and amlou, a nut butter with argan oil ($2.50 each), orange juice ($1.50) and Moroccan mint tea ($1.50). 

Dinner: In the evening, we explored the Medina’s alleys in search of something authentic for dinner – and loved the simple, tasty Moroccan menu Cafe Berbere. We tried a few dishes to share: a Moroccan salad ($1.50), savory puff pastries known as briwates ($3.60), vegetable couscous ($6), and seffa, a cinnamon-and-almond pasta dish ($6), plus water ($1.50). 

Total: $75 (or $37.50 each)

Exterior and interior shots from Mandala Society, a breakfast and brunch spot in Essaouira
Breafast at Mandala Society © Sally Kirby / Lonely Planet

Tuesday 

Breakfast: Still full from the previous night’s feast, we wandered to Mandala Society, a meat-free and mostly organic cafe. I opted for a smoothie ($4.60); my friend went for a chia pudding breakfast bowl ($7.70). This barista-style cafe with Icelandic roots offers a taste of Scandinavia in Morocco. 

Activities: In the afternoon, we drove to the countryside for a pool day at Jardins de la Villa Maroc, an 18th-century riad turned boutique hotel. This was our splurge: having chosen a simple hotel in Essaouira’s Medina to be close to everything, we wanted to end our trip in a more peaceful and relaxed setting. A day pass to the hotel includes a shuttle to and from Essaouira’s center, a Mediterranean BBQ lunch and access to the heated pool. The excursion cost $32.80 per person, not including drinks (we ordered a cappuccino for $2.50, orange juice for $3 and a two-liter bottle of sparkling water for $3). 

From here, it was a three-hour drive home; we arrived feeling nourished by all we had experienced in Essaouira.

Total: $92.25 (of which my share was $44.60)

Pool and deckchairs at Jardins Villa
Relaxing by the pool at Jardins de la Villa Moroc © Sally Kirby / Lonely Planet

The final tally (for one): pre-trip spending ($45) + on-the-ground spending ($162.60) US $207.60 or 2032 MAD (Moroccan dirham)

Extras

Since Essaouira is a great place to buy affordable original art, I brought linocut prints ($5 each) from Salam Atelier. My friend purchased handmade linen trousers ($22.50) from Mohammed, across from Pumpkin on Avenue de l’Istiqlal; he tailors items on the spot.

Cost vs value

Essaouira has something for all budgets, and we experienced a well-balanced mix. We enjoyed the free experiences of meandering through the Medina and chilling on the beach – plus the simple enjoyment that comes from people-watching, snacking on street food and enjoying open-kitchen Moroccan dining. It was also nice to be able to balance that with some splurging like dressing up for cocktails, a pool day and dinners at chic restaurants. 

Notes 

It is certainly possible to do Essaouira on a tight budget. For those arriving by plane at Essaouira Airport, the airport transfer to the city center is $27. Car rental can also be arranged from $36 per day. 

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