Marrakech is surrounded by dramatic desert, towering mountains and rugged coastline that’s dotted with rushing waterfalls, idyllic Berber villages and even ski resorts. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore them.
Marrakech is a great place to visit. But when the hustle and bustle gets too much, it’s time to head out and explore the surrounding countryside. With the Atlas Mountains just an hour from Marrakech, the coast only two hours away and the edge of the desert within five hours of the city, the range of day trips is numerous. This is our pick of the best.
When the heat of Marrakech gets to be too much, locals tend to head to the Ourika Valley, where temperatures are cooler and lunch by the river awaits. Climb up to the Setti Fatma waterfalls to enjoy some of the cooler air (young men and boys may try to guide you, but just insist that you know the way) before finding a rock to perch on and enjoy the views and sounds of the rushing waterfalls.
It may be hard to believe, but less than a two-hour drive from Marrakech, you can have a snowball fight. The ski resort of Oukaimeden, another 43km (27mi) south from Ourika, gets snow between December and April, with reliable powder between January and March. The resort itself is basic, but equipment and ski passes are dirt cheap and you’ll have the runs mostly to yourself. The rest of the year, the area is an ideal playground for rock climbers.
Located in Toubkal National Park, this is the starting point for trekkers climbing Mount Toubkal. While there is not a lot to see or do in the village itself – with the exception of some roadside cafés and tourist shops – Imlil is a great place to start a short walk up to one of the villages. If you’ve heard about the December 2018 murder of two foreign women by religious extremists here, rest assured that the Moroccan government has tightened up safety measures in this small, friendly village, which was shocked by the violence. Now all hikers are required to register in the village and contract a guide if they wish to climb Toubkal. A local guide is a good idea anyway if you want to explore the region through shorter hikes and learn more about Berber culture. When you’re finished, reward yourself with a local meal and espresso-strength green tea laden with sugar (ask for “atay bla skar” if you’d rather spare your teeth.)
This delightful valley feels slightly off the tourist path with its gentle rolling hills dotted with olive trees and the nearby Atlas Mountains towering in the background. The pace here is slow, with Berber villages dotting the mountainside. On Saturdays, stop at the weekly market in Asni en route, where locals gather from the surrounding villages to purchase everything from fruits and vegetables to meats, household goods, clothing and more.
Another 40km (25mi) south of Ouirgane is Tin Mal Mosque. Built in 1153, it was partially restored in the 1990s and is one of only two mosques in Morocco open to non-Muslims, except on Fridays, when it is used for prayers. Set against the stunning backdrop of the valley, the mosque is an opportunity to admire the architecture of the Almohad empire, which began in these mountains and came to rule Morocco and much of Spain.
This whitewashed, laidback town on the Atlantic Coast is a perfect escape when the pace of Marrakech gets too much. If you’re feeling adventurous, jump on an early bus (it’s about two-and-a-half hours) and try out a surf or kitesurf lesson before wandering through the souks for Moroccan goodies, with less haggle and hassle than in the Marrakech medina. Enjoy a coffee on the famous Place Moulay Hassan or the iconic Patisserie Driss. Stroll along the beach as the sun sets, and feast on fresh seafood sold at the bustling fish market as the numerous fishing boats return to shore. Otherwise, let someone else do all the hard work for you and book a tour.
Nestled in the High Atlas Mountains, Ouzoud Waterfalls never fails to impress. Start your walk at the top of the falls, where you can peer over the edge and view the many sources that make up these spectacular falls. Then follow the path down for views of the powerful water until you reach the basin below, where the scenery is both refreshing and breathtaking. Get even closer to the waterfalls by taking a boat trip around the pool.
Located on the edge of the Sahara Desert, Aït Benhaddou is a fortified kasbah made famous for providing the set for blockbusters including Gladiator (2000), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and many more. Cross the river to wander through the village, where locals are slowly starting to return to their mud-brick homes. Don’t forget to stop and enjoy the stunning views of the palm groves and sandcastle-like kasbahs as you climb to the top. If you have time, you can continue on to Ouarzazate for more movie-related sights, like the Museum of Cinema and the impressive but decaying film sets at Atlas Corporation Studios (featuring a replica of an Egyptian temple) and CLA Studios, which both offer tours.
Known geologically speaking as a stone desert, the Agafay Desert, just 40 minutes from Marrakech, is a must-see. With nothing but stones for miles, suddenly the landscape changes to include valleys and oases, palm trees and the High Atlas Mountains in the background. A day trip here is a perfect option for those who don’t have time to head to the Sahara Desert.