9 Top-Rated Day Trips from Marrakesh
As well as being Morocco's most popular tourist destination - full of the color and chaos of the souqs yet home to sophisticated accommodation and dining - Marrakesh is also perfectly placed to experience plenty more of what the country has to offer. The city lies on the edge of the arid plains, with the rural vistas and mighty mountains of the Atlas region just on its doorstep. But Marrakesh is still near enough to the Atlantic coast and offers bundles of great day trips for when the crush of the medina starts to wear you down.
1 Ourika Valley
About 77 kilometers from Marrakesh, the mountain valley villages of the Ourika Valley are one of the most popular day excursions from the city. The little villages and towns, surrounded by lush orchards and fields, are a welcome escape from the city heat and provide a quick snapshot of typical Moroccan rural life. If you plan a trip for Monday, don't miss the weekly market held in the village of Tnine, which is full of the bustle and color of local life.
Most visitors to the Ourika Valley area head to the ski resort of Oukaimeden, set within stunning alpine scenery of barren rippling mountains. Unless you're here for the skiing (the ski season lasts from around December to February) the highlight is the road trip here itself with hills scythed into a tumble of terraced fields and snoozy villages hugged by the foothills.
A lovely seaside break from Marrakesh's labyrinthine medina, Essaouira, about 184 kilometers away, has much more than fresh sea breezes to offer day trippers. Snug on the seafront, the old town area of Skala is the major point of interest for visitors with its well-preserved fortified walls and ramparts that date from the 18th century. Walking along the walls is a wonderful way to soak up the seaside vistas and Essaouira's fishing harbor full of colorful bobbing boats. Just inland from the ramparts, the old town is a meandering squiggle of narrow streets that are made to get lost in. Here, you'll find the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah Museum that has a well-curated ethnological collection of costumes, textiles, photography, and musical instruments in a restored riad (traditional Moroccan mansion house).
3 Dadès Gorge
Highly dramatic and stunningly beautiful, the deep verdant valleys sandwiched between the rust-colored walls of the Dadès Gorge are prime walking territory, with excellent day hiking available as well as longer overnight treks between the Dadès Gorge and Todra Gorge. About 309 kilometers from Marrakesh, the valley here is home to pretty villages and fertile fruit orchards as well as weird and wacky rock formations hewn into their shape by a millennia of wind action.
The mighty mud brick walled Kasbah of Ait Youl, built by the Glaoui dynasty with a prime position overlooking the mountains, is only a few kilometers into the gorge area and is definitely worth a stop off before you venture further into the gorge. While the fantastic, and mildly terrifying, twisty-turny switchback road you have to traverse to enter the valley is one of the highlights of a visit here.
4 Tizi-n-Tichka Pass
Rimmed by majestic mountain scenery, the road between Marrakesh and Ouarzazate traverses the Tizi-n-Tichka Pass, about 120 kilometers from Marrakesh, and is one of Morocco's greatest road trips. For many travelers, this is the doorway to the desert, but for those looking just for a day trip, simply driving this road is a great way to take in the changing scenery of the orchards and farms of the lowlands up to the heights of the Atlas Mountains. A great diversion off the main road along the way is to the village of Telouet, which has a well-preserved Glaoui kasbah.
5 Ouzoud Waterfall
Hugely popular with both local Marrakshis and foreign visitors wishing to take a break from the city heat, this series of cascades lies about 150 kilometers north of Marrakesh within the Oued el-Abid Canyon. The water here plummets over three terraces, dropping a total of 110 meters to the bottom of the canyon. There are numerous viewing platforms where you can take in the thundering water on the way down to the canyon's base, and along the footpath, there is a good chance you'll see Barbary apes. The best months to come are between March and June, when the winter melt produces the most water.
6 Hassan II Mosque
One of the finest modern mosques in the world sits in Morocco's business capital of Casablanca, about 242 kilometers from Marrakesh on the Atlantic coast. The Hassan II Mosque was designed by French architect Michel Pinseau and constructed between 1986 and 1993, costing approximately 583 million Euro. The mosque is a startling blend of traditional Arab-Andalusian and contemporary styles with lavish detailing in zellige (Moroccan mosaic) tilework, tadelakt plastering, and carving. Its minaret soars above the complex, and at 210 meters high is the tallest minaret in the world, while the mosque building itself is the third largest in the world. Entry to non-Muslims is by guided tours, which take place four times daily between Monday and Thursday and three times per day on Fridays and Saturdays.
Address: Aisi Mohammed ben Abdullah Boulevard, Casablanca
7 Toubkal National Park
Central Morocco is home to North Africa's highest mountain. Jebel Toubkal towers 4,167 meters above the landscape and lies at the center of Toubkal National Park, one of the country's most popular trekking destinations, about 70 kilometers from Marrakesh. If you're just here for a day trip, there won't be time to bag the summit for yourself - the ascent is a two-day climb best tackled in summer and early autumn - or to set out on the famous Toubkal Circuit trek, which takes seven to 10 days, but the landscape is a fascinating place to spend a day out from Marrakesh. The village of Imlil is Toubkal National Park's main base, and if you only have time for a taster of the rural vistas, there's a great return-hike from Imlil along local dirt tracks to Aroumd village, which offers up incredible mountain vistas and only takes an afternoon.
8 Ahansal and Ait Bougomez Valleys
About 160 kilometers from Marrakesh, the Ahansal and Ait Bougomez Valleys of the High Atlas are often combined together as a day trip for visitors who want to experience some of Morocco's most iconic High Atlas mudbrick village vistas, snug between terraced hillside fields. A typical itinerary to this area would combine visits to the petroglyphs of the Tizi n'Tirghist Pass and a visit to the Cathedrale des Rochers, near the Tamga Nature Reserve, as well as plenty of stops along the way to appreciate the tiny villages tumbling down hillslopes. If you come on Sunday, don't miss the chaotic and colorful weekly market at Tabant.
A trip to this old Portuguese trading post, about 200 kilometers from Marrakesh, is a great way to escape the mayhem of the city for a day. It's a sleepy and rather laid-back place, with a maze-like medina of narrow alleyways that lead out to the preserved ramparts and bastions of the 16th-century fortress built by the Portuguese. Don't miss walking along the ramparts overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and then getting lost in the squiggle of lanes below. Inside the rampart area is a Portuguese-built cistern that gained international fame when it was used as a location in the 1954 movie Othello. When history-hounds have had their fill of the old town, El-Jadida also offers some decent beaches. In particular Haouzia Beach, just to the northeast, is a great place for a picnic and swim.