Were you an intrepid backpacker in your previous life? Exploring distant and exotic lands on a budget, getting off the beaten track and feeling like you were doing something different? Now that young kids are in the picture, travel priorities may have changed. But you don’t have to get sucked into the package holiday bubble.
Let us suggest Essaouira (pronounced ‘essa-weera’). If you haven’t heard of it before, Essaouira is a bustling port city, with a beautiful windswept beach on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. easyJet fly direct from London Luton, with a manageable flight time of 3 hours 40mins. It’s so much more laid-back than hectic Marrakech, but still retains a quintessential Moroccan charm and character, with a fascinating culture to satisfy the latent explorer in you. It’s a very gentle introduction to an Islamic country and you will be travelling with your kids in Africa!
We visited as a family in May earlier this year (2016) when the average daily temperature was a perfect 24°C (also meaning we could pack light) and during the school term when flights are cheapest. We had the best time and this is why we think Essaouira is the perfect intrepid travel destination for young families:
No jet lag.
Morocco is in the same zone as the UK. So no adjustments required to the daily nap routine whatsoever. Easy.
No travel vaccinations are required
As long as your little ones are up to date with their standard vaccination schedule at home, you’re good to go. Just ensure you have adequate health insurance before you travel as the national health service isn’t that great and the private hospitals in Morocco are very expensive.
Reasonable flight time and no visas
Okay, so you’ll probably be flying easyJet as they’re the only airline that fly direct from London. So it won’t be as comfortable as a major airline. But the flight time is only 3 hours 40 mins. That’s bearable. Especially if you time the flight with their naps. Plus, it’s made even easier with just a 30 mins transfer time to the city.
As for visas, they are not needed for most visitors to Morocco (including Brits) and you are allowed to remain in the country for 90 days. You also get a very cool stamp in your passports.
Now you have a family, your pennies just don’t go as far as they used to. Accommodation, travel, food and activities are a fraction of what they are in the UK. Just be prepared for some light-hearted haggling at times. Plus, easyJet have off-season return flights for only £42 per person. Now that is very tempting.
Good selection of Airbnb accommodation available
There is so much choice available with Airbnb in Essaouira. When travelling with young kids, staying in a house is much more preferable to staying in a hotel. Firstly, it means you’re not stuck in the same room with the lights off when the kids go to bed. Many Airbnb houses in Essaouira have roof top terraces; listening to the call to prayer whilst watching the sun set over the city after the kids had gone to bed was a definite highlight for us parents. Secondly, it means you will have a kitchen to prepare food (so you don’t have to eat out all the time), with a fridge (to store your milk and other food). Some places even have a washing machine and a selection of toys! A house makes you feel like you’re living in Essaouira, rather than holidaying and is often much cheaper than booking a hotel!
Warm, friendly and open locals
The locals absolutely adore children. We spent most afternoons just roaming freely around the medina; waving, high-fiving and chatting to locals. Even down at the port, the hardened fishermen wanted to meet our boys and teach them how to mend their fishing nets.
There’s so much to do on your doorstep
Sandy beach with safe, shallow waters, camels to meet and ride, the medina, souqs, fishing port and ramparts to explore. Essaouira is the perfect sensory playground for your little ones. There is enough to easily fill a week-long holiday, without having negotiate transport outside of the city. Plus, so many of these activities are FREE!
Meal times made easy
Eating out anywhere in the world with little ones is not exactly a relaxing experience. Keeping them entertained until the food arrives can be a challenge, only for them to gobble it up in 5mins and the meal is over. In Essaouira, street food is available everywhere. From tajines and fresh seafood from the port, to the more familiar pancakes, shwarmas and fries. Vendors pile their carts high with fresh fruit and there are even French pattisseries dotted around the medina. There is so much on offer that all family members are happy. A big hit for our boys were the fresh orange juice stalls. Pick up whatever you fancy, whenever you fancy. Snack away whilst you continue your leisurely discoveries around the medina, or if it’s dinner time, make a pit stop on your way back to your accommodation to enjoy round the dinner table. Just don’t forget pick up some lovely Moroccan bread for breakfast the next morning. It’s rather sweet and the kids love it.
This asside, there are plenty of restaurants that are very welcoming to children. Just have the kids tablet and sticker book handy for entertainment, as even a pancake may take 20mins to prepare.
Nappies and essentials are available everywhere
And we really do mean everywhere! You will see bags of Pampers hanging from every other street stall! And the staples of milk, eggs, bread, crisps are easily purchased on your doorstep. Your kids will love the interaction with the individual stall holders; allow them to ask for/point to what you need, give them the money to pass over, whilst perhaps attempting a bit of Arabic if they can (‘es salaam alaykum’ – Hello, and ‘shukran’ – thank you).
Useful Travel Info:
Best time to visit: Mar-Jun & Oct-Nov
How to get there: easyJet fly London Luton to Essaouira twice per week (Tuesdays and Saturdays). Lowest return price we could find is in January for £42 per person!
Where we stayed: www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/636382
Currency: Dirham (Dh) divided into 100 centimes (as of Sep 2017 – £1=Dh12.32, US$1=Dh9.33)
ATMs: Plentiful and easily accessible in the medina
Visas: Not required for most nationalities for stays of up to 90 days. Passports must be valid for 6 months beyond date of entry.
Language: Morocccan Arabic (Darija), Berber and French
Government travel advice: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/morocco
Where would we be without our trusted Lonely Planet.