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The coastal landscape along the Atlantic provides a variety of striking scenery from long beaches of fine sand to lagoons, to fishing villages and fortified towns set up by the Portuguese in the 15th and 16th centuries, like El-Jadida, Safi, Essaouira or Agadir. Small fishing villages, a jagged coastline, as in Essaouira, and little islands that were used as lairs by pirates: the list is endless.
North and south of Essaouira many tours and various activities cater for all tastes: walking, trekking, surfing, studying the fauna and the flora. The whole coastline is earmarked with panoramic views on the ocean where one can stop and observe birds or indulge in dreams at sunset. Nature’s lovers may search the countryside for this amazing tortured little tree which is endemic in this region: the argan tree from which the argan oil is extracted. Along the coast, very close to the back of Essaouira, the ever moving dunes longing for roots and steadiness, offer a rich variety of plants and species planted there when the dunes were being stabilized.
The Purple islands in the bay of Essaouira accommodate a bird sanctuary where seagulls and the last of Eleonora’s falcons – a species threatened with extinction- come to rest. One can see the remains of a prison and of a mosque built by the Sultan Moulay el-Hassan in the 19th century.
At about fifteen kilometres south of Essaouira, as the seagull flies, Cape Sim juts out into the ocean; the constant onslaughts of this combination of yellow limestone, rocks and sand onto the headland alter and transform it; the whole environment is in constant motion. On top of the cliffs, the interlacing barkhanes hide a sparsely covered forest of thuja trees where a whole fauna has taken refuge: gerbils, tortoises, chameleons, scorpions…This is probably the windiest place in Morocco. The incoming swell is powerful and consistent and the place is very popular with surfers. To reach the Cape, two possibilities are open to the visitor: one is to take the direction of Sidi Kaouki and just before reaching it, to take the new road to Ouassene, the site of the wind farm. From the village and when the weather is clear, the views on Sidi Kaouki beach and beyond onto the mouth of the wadi are really stunning. A very experienced driver – because of moving dunes - in a 4X4’s can use the mule path leading to the Cape. The second possibility is to start from the town and walk along the beach- that is if you have lots of time to spare.
Beaches follow one another with edges stretching to the horizon. They unfold, one after the other, sometimes separated by cliffs and reefs. Essaouira bay merges into Sidi Omar bay. Small fishermen’s shacks rest on the sand, in the middle of nowhere: at low tide one can see motorbikes or bicycles on the beach driving to them; this makes for a surrealistic show. In the back country, mimosa trees perfume the air, tortoises wander, trouble free. Further on, following the coast, one discovers Cape Sim, Tagenza beach and its small fishing village and Sidi Kaouki beach, famous for its mausoleum: looking as if it rose from the water, it contains the tomb of a wise man who can cure sterility in women. This beach is particularly popular with windsurfers as is Moulay Bouzartoun, 27km north of Essaouira along the coastal road to Safi. A few kilometres further on, a yellow limestone cliff blocks your view, then it is again the infinity of sea and sand with strange sculptures scattered here and there: some driftwood washed up on the shore. The walker sometimes meets a lonely soul in the company of a donkey or a camel. From Essaouira to Agadir, one could make an endless list of all the places to explore: Iftane, Tafelney, Imsouane, Tamri….
Imzi bird sanctuary, home to the bald ibis, is located 8km before Tamri, at the mouth of the wadi with its huge banana plantation; it appears after a bend in the mountainous road going down to the South- site of huge dunes of white sand, fifty metres above sea level. Under constant attacks from the merciless wind, they tend to disintegrate, shedding their top shelly sand which in turn becomes a fine powder. Speaking of the haze of suspended particles, local people say that” the dunes are smoking”. This protected site, which is of a breathtaking unspoilt beauty, is part of the other bird sanctuary of Souss Massa, 50km south of Agadir. The bald ibis is a large and stocky wading bird, 70 cm high, whose plumage is totally black and which has a long down curved red bill. True to its name, its red head has no feathers apart from some wispy ruff on its hind neck. Souss Massa reserve is one of their main nesting sites.
The afternoon fades into the Atlantic mellow surroundings: here, some interlacing dunes, there, some rocky cliffs; all blend wonderfully with the arid environment of the back country. The reddening sun splashes the sand and the ocean with an infinite range of hues.
The waves are wrapped in a foam scarf and their crest lead the sea to a merry dance. The coastline is still concrete free from Essaouira to Cape Ghir and a few kilometres beyond. The beaches are still empty for a good part of the year and they are magnificent.