I always get a little nervous when someone asks me to recommend a beach when they are visiting Asilah, just a short thirty minute drive from the Mediterranean digs of the city of Tangier. While there are kilometers of beautiful unspoiled coastline, the more popular (and thus populated) beaches are generally a bit of a disappointment.
At the more popular, easier to access beaches, you can expect stepping over mounds of garbage and general detritus to get from the car to the beach. Meanwhile, a romantic stroll along the gentle surf collecting seashells often involves sifting through empty bottles and cans, discarded bags, and other charming bits of trash along the way.
Quite simply, if you are looking for a magical day at the beach, my advice is to head as far away from town as your mode of transport allows.
With this in mind, all of my recommendations involve a little driving, a taxi journey, or at the very least, a pastoral horse and cart ride. Make a day of it, head out of the historic small town of Asilah, and it will all be worthwhile!
What Are the Seasons Like in the Beaches of Asilah?
The beaches around Asilah are very seasonal in their activity, and it is in summer (June, July, August – depending on Ramadan) that they come to life. As summer approaches, the clean-up begins, and the discarded winter debris thrown out by the Atlantic is replaced by the ubiquitous seasonal beach cafes, better known locally as chiringuitos. The bamboo buildings are repaired, and the barbecues rebuilt for an endless supply of fresh sardines. Either side of these months some of the beaches could feel a little desolate, but in these summer months you will be able to hire a sun lounger and enjoy fresh grilled food in the shade of your own raffia fringed umbrella.
What to Wear for the Beaches of Asilah
Appropriate beach attire is a frequently asked question – primarily by women. Understanding that Morocco is a muslim country and socially more conservative than its European neighbors, appropriate dress differs a lot according to where you are in Morocco. The north and its beaches are fairly laid back compared to, for example a more remote village in the High Atlas Mountains. Come summer, Moroccans and tourists all hit the beaches. In my experience everyone gets on with enjoying themselves without too much concern for what other people are wearing. I have sat on a beach with a djellaba clad family on one side and young girls in bikinis on the other. There are no hard and fast rules other than simply be sensitive and pay attention to your environment. Take your lead from the people around you and possibly just throw that cotton kaftan you bought in the medina into your beach basket as a back up. Oh! And whatever you do, don’t forget your sheshia hat – a Moroccan reed hat that is perfect for protecting your face from the strong Moroccan sun.
My Four Favorite Beaches of Asilah
Starting with my favorite, Sidi Mghait beach is also the hardest to get to. It is a bumpy fifteen kilometer (eight mile) drive from Asilah.
The beach itself is clean and unspoiled with loads of space and some great swimming. You can take your own umbrella and deckchairs and head away from the crowds (although crowd is a relative term here), or you can enjoy the comfort of one of the lounge chairs with umbrellas for rent down on the far end of the beach. Here, there are plenty of chiringuitos to barbecue up the freshest catch of the day, making a day of the beach with a tasty seafood lunch a tempting proposition.
In the summer it’s a relaxed and cosmopolitan mix of people and cultures, while during other times of the year you might just have this entire stretch of sand to yourself.
A short walk south along the beach from Sidi Mghait takes you to another of my favorite beaches: Rada Beach.
This is a relatively deserted beach attached to the restaurant and cabins of Chez Mounir. You can get to Chez Mounir by car or taxi and can also book to stay overnight in one of the cabins attached to Chez Mounir’s restaurant.
Pack your bags, book a table for a lunchtime tajine, and make a day of it on this stretch of the pristine undeveloped coastline.
Paradise Beach is mentioned in the guidebooks a lot for a few reasons, but the main one being its proximity to Asilah and relatively easy access. This beach is a quick ten minute ride south of Asilah. You can easily find taxi drivers or, perhaps more interestingly, horse and carts, ready and willing to take you to Paradise Beach all summer long!
The downside to the proximity to town is the garbage you will see along the way as you drive past the weekly market site, as well as along the beach. However, this is improving all the time as plastic bags are no longer allowed in Morocco. Because of this, there is an awareness of plastic pollution starting to filter through to the public.
All that aside, Paradise Beach is a breathtaking sweep of beach with bustling chiringuitos all summer and is a great place to kick back and enjoy the sunset.
On the other side of town you will find the final beach on my short list: Briech Beach. Roughly eight kilometers (five miles) to the north of the town, Briech Beach is clearly signposted and easy to drive to.
Briech has seen quite a lot of changes over the last year with a few new cafes and most interestingly a new venture in the shape of Dar El Pirata. This is a guesthouse/surf school/retreat initiative that is involving the local Briech community in its projects. The projects are both creative and environmental. This is an exciting initiative and one that will hopefully grow and spread across the beaches in and around Asilah. If you are in town and thinking about doing a spot of surfing these are the guys to connect with and support.
Get the Most From the Beaches of Asilah
At the end of the day, don’t rush home. Make sure you have a cold bottle of Moroccan Gris somewhere in the depths of your cooler bag. Fish it out and discretely sip on a sundowner with your special someone or your friends as the drama begins. Watch people surfing, a friendly evening football (or ¨soccer¨) match which you are often welcome to join, and of course the requisite camel loping along the beach in the cool of the late afternoon. As the day winds down, share a laugh or a moment of quietude as the sun dips down over the horizon of the vast Atlantic Ocean in a cocktail of warm Moroccan colors.
A Last Thought About the Beaches of Asilah
While I point out the negative impact of pollution and plastic on Moroccan beaches in this post, I would like to end on a more positive note and shine a light on the people and organizations working hard to combat plastic pollution in Morocco.
As mentioned before Dar El Pirata concern themselves with both the environment and the community of Briech Beach.
Mika.eco is based further south but is actively engaged in cleaning the beaches of plastic pollution and then working with local communities to translate this into a fair trade business initiative.
Initiatives like these, along with the state ban on plastic bags and a large government-supported initiative dubbed “plages propres” (“clean beaches¨) all mean that the times and tides are indeed changing. “Shwiya-shwiya”, little by little, Moroccan beaches are moving back into the sunshine!
About the Author
Pauline de Villiers Brettell is a freelance writer and designer who lives between the UK and Morocco. When in Morocco she is based in the small seaside village of Asilah, and spends time working with local weavers and sourcing textiles in between attempting to grow enough olives for an annual supply of olive oil! She writes about all of these things — the olives, the carpets, and other elements of design inspiration on her blog Tea in Tangier: www.teaintangier.com.