15 Best Things to do in El Jadida, Morocco
Best Things to do in El Jadida, Morocco
Jutting out into the Atlantic at Cap de Mazagan, El Jadida is a port city with an unexpected European Renaissance accent.
On the water are the walls of a Portuguese fortified city, built in the early 16th century and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can walk through these walls and go underground to see a dream cistern in the Portuguese Manueline style.
After experiencing the feverish activity of the dock in the port and looking at the Portuguese city from the top, you can set a course for one of the many Atlantic beaches minutes from the city.
Let’s discover the best things to do in El Jadida city:
1 – Portuguese city (Cité Portugaise)
What was known as Mazagan was a Portuguese fortified city, founded in the early 16th century and finally taken over by Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah in 1769. The Portuguese city was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2004, for its preserved Renaissance design, bastions, walls, and atmospheric cistern, all ready for exploration.
This place is also fascinating because of the way it has established itself as a Moroccan city, with a minaret adapted from its old watchtower.
We’ll talk about some of the standout features below, but one sight to hunt for is the Church of the Assumption, which has held on to some of its Manueline Gothic ornamentations.
2 – Portuguese cistern
If there is one thing to see in all of El-Jadida, it is the amazing underground water reservoir in the Portuguese city.
This space, measuring 34 by 34 meters, actually started out as a warehouse or armory before being converted.
The cistern has five rows of five pillars that support elegant Manueline vaults.
There is a shallow layer of water, illuminated by a shaft of light from a circular opening above and reflected in diamond patterns on the ceiling.
By the 18th century, the reservoir had been forgotten and rediscovered in 1717 when a Jewish merchant knocked down a wall of his shop.
In 1951, Orson Welles chose the Portuguese Cistern as the filming location for his film adaptation of Othello.
3 – Mosque of the Portuguese City
One of the most seductive places in the city is the mosque, which stands next to the entrance and dates back to the resettlement of El Jadida in the early 19th century.
By order of Sultan Hassan I in 1879, the city’s former pentagonal watchtower was turned into an unusual minaret.
This peculiar construction, with rounded edges, is a sought-after photo opportunity, looking most impressive against the sky and through the citadel’s arches.
Unfortunately, as this is a working mosque, non-Muslims are not allowed inside.
As a sign of the cosmopolitan atmosphere in the Cité Portugaise in the 19th century, there are three churches, a Masonic hall, and a temple, all within walking distance of the mosque.
4 – Plage El Haouzia
Still, in the province of El Jadida, this dune-edged beach is 15 kilometers outside the town of Azemmour.
The only blue flag beach in the region in 2019 was Plage El Haouzia.
But beyond the supervision of the lifeguards, the facilities, and the highest level of hygiene, the reason to make the trip is for the cinematic beauty of this piece of the sandy Atlantic coast.
El Haouzia’s ocean is teeming with activity, and the beach is among the best in the area for surfing.
Not far away and battered by the waves is the blaster bow of a Korean container ship that ran aground in the 1980s.
If you don’t stay in the shallows, the ocean at Plage El Haouzia is agitated and not suitable for a leisurely swim.
Outside of the tourist season, there is horseback riding in the arena.
5 – Sidi Bouafi Lighthouse
Erected in 1916, the Sidi Bouafi lighthouse stands far from the water at the highest point of the city, 65 meters above sea level.
This remains a vital navigational aid for vessels sailing between Madeira, the Azores, and mainland Africa or Europe.
The beacon emits a rotating white beam, flashing three times every five seconds, making three revolutions per minute and visible for 30 nautical miles.
At the foot of the lighthouse is the taxi rank to the town of Moulay Abdellah Amghar, which we will cover later.
The lighthouse has no published opening hours, but if the gates are open, you can scale the 248 steps to the top for a full panorama of the city and coastline.
6 – Marché Central of El Jadida
Nestled between Avenue Hassan ll and Avenue Mohammed Errafi, El Jadida’s central market is housed in a two-story French Protectorate building that may have seen better days.
You shouldn’t let the peeling paint and missing floor tiles put you off, because the market is a memorable experience for the uninitiated, with stalls selling fish, meat, fruit, and vegetables and selling a few items that can’t be found elsewhere.
Lively haggling continues well into the night, and this is one of the only places where you can buy alcohol in El Jadida.
There are small restaurants linked to stalls, allowing you to choose the fish you want for your meal.
7 – Deauville plage
The municipal beach of El Jadida stretches from the port in the west to the racecourse in the east and is named after the elegant resort in Normandy.
The name is apt, as, in Deauville, this beach is absolutely huge when the tide is out and it is washed away by low waves.
Whether you want to swim so close to the port is another matter, but it’s worth walking this immense stretch of gently lying sand.
Camel and horseback riding are available and you’ll find a small children’s play park right on the shore.
There is also a promenade that curls around the bay, and most of the cafes are situated towards the western end.
8 – Port of El Jadida
The fishing port next to the town is a place of business, and what you’ll get here is a gritty, unfiltered taste of working life in a Moroccan city.
And as with any port, things get going long before dawn, when buyers, armed with basins, plastic bags, and baskets, come to haggle over fresh fish from the trawlers.
In the commotion at the waterfront fish market, you can watch fishermen and buyers noisily debate the price of sardines, mackerel, whiting, and deep-sea fish.
If you are a late riser, there is an activity in the harbor throughout the day, with new trawlers and felucca docking throughout the day, supplying the city’s restaurants, souks, and supermarkets.
High season is a special time in port when sardines and other catches are grilled over charcoal right next to the water and served with salad and bread.
Wrapping around the north side of the port is the El Jadida mole, for a global panorama of the port, the Portuguese city, and the beach of the Sidi Bouafi lighthouse.
9 – cups
Inside El Jadida, normally in the vicinity of the douars, you will come across these peculiar dry stone structures, made up of two cylinders, both widened at the base.
There are at least 450 of these, which go by the name of Tazotas.
Many of these limestone structures are deserted, however some are still in use as shade structures for people and animals.
They date back to the early 20th century when in the early days of the French Protectorate the nomadic population was forced to become sedentary.
You can look up maps online pointing out these structures, but if you push for time, you’ll see a couple of miles from El Jadida on the R318.
10 – Chateau Rouge (Château Buisson)
This transplanted castle is a great photo opportunity as you pass Annassr Avenue, which follows the rocky shoreline north and west of the Portuguese city and port.
The Château Rouge does not look like another building in the city.
It was built in the style of a romantic castle, complete with towers, battlements, and machinations in the late 1920s by a merchant, Monsieur Buisson.
He originally hailed from Auvergne and presumably wanted to build himself a residence that would remind him of home.
The castle wasn’t painted red until a Moroccan family purchased it in the 1960s.
The Château Rouge is still private property, but it’s worth a photo, especially for the colorful garden that bursts from the walls.
11 – Plage Sidi Bouzid
About 15 minutes from the Portuguese city on the road to Moulay Abdellah Amghar is the small seaside resort of Sidi Bouzid, which has a fantastic golden sandy beach.
This is in a gently arching bay, surrounded by a high dune ridge with dark green vegetation.
One of the best things about Plage Sidi Bouzid is its western orientation and the magical sunsets over the bay.
One thing to remember is that the beach is open to the full force of the Atlantic, so the surf is strong and briskly cold, even in the height of summer.
And if you need refreshments, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes in the complex at the north end of the bay.
12 – Kasbah Boulaouane
Further afield, Boulaoune is in the southeast of El Jadida province, a good hour from the city.
The reason to go this far is for the incredible kasbah here, built on top of a bend in the Oum Er-Rbia river, and looks like a movie backdrop.
This Alawite dynasty fortification was built in this vital strategic location in the early 18th century.
In an irregular quadrilateral plan, the kasbah is a partial ruin, but with almost all of its outer walls and defensive towers intact.
Above the main door, there is a frieze with the completion date of the kasbah and the name of its chief architect.
Visible inside is a mosque, a cistern, stables, storerooms, and a residential tower with signs of opulent decoration.
An exciting detail is a secret passage leading from the eastern wall, zigzagging towards the river and the canals used to water livestock in times of siege.
13 – Moulay Abdellah Amghar
Ten kilometers from the coast you can see what remains of a 12th-century city, destroyed in the 14th century and containing two of the oldest minarets in Islam.
Remarkably, these two structures are still standing, albeit heavily altered, and are now minarets for the town’s zaouia (religious school). Every August, this is the setting for one of the region’s great spectacles, at a Moussem (Maghreb festival) in honor of Moulay Abdellah Amghar, the religious leader for whom the city is named.
This event attracts up to 500,000 people and involves a massive recital of the Qur’an, but also falconry and amazing (fantasy) riding shows.
14 – Plage Sidi Abed
Continue along the coast from Moulay Abdellah Amghar and before long you’ll be on a perfectly secluded beach.
The draw to Plage Sidi Abed is the peace you’ll find in a 40-minute retreat from El Jadida proper.
Of course, you’ll need to bring everything you need for a day in the sun on these remote pale sands.
There is no private area with umbrellas, but the good news is that you can rent a tent or a gazebo.
After that, you can spend an afternoon bathing in the shallows, building sandcastles, and strolling along the shoreline.
15 – Azemmour
The next town east along the coast is Azemmour, which has a wonderful location on the left bank of the Oum Er-Rbia River, just before it enters the Atlantic.
For a small fee, you can take a small river cruise in the summer.
Azemmour had a brief Portuguese period in the first half of the 16th century, when Magellan, who later led the first circumnavigation of the globe, was posted here.
There are traces of the old Portuguese walls in the medina, while the kasbah was built on the ruins of the Portuguese fort and defended by historic cannons.
The historic gunpowder magazine, also known as the Dar El Baroud tower, is the most visible reminder of Portuguese rule in the area.
In the Mellah, the Jewish portion of the Medina is the shrine to the Jewish saint Rabbi Abraham Moul Niss, celebrated for healing the daughter of a French governor during the protectorate.
Although Azemmour’s Jewish community emigrated in the 20th century, its shrine is still revered and is the site of a festival each August.