The first time you visit Marrakech there is so much to see in the medina and in the close proximity of it that if you're only in town for just a few days we seldom recommend making any longer excursions. But if you come for more than three-four days, or it if you are returning to the Red City, there are so many cool places to see also outside the medina. The beautiful Atlas Mountains for instance, on a clear day you can see them from the rooftops in Marrakech and it's only a short drive to visit the blooming Ourika valley and the amazing Imlil valley.
A lunch in the Atlas Mountains with breathtaking views is just amazing!
Easiest way to get to the gorgeous Ourika valley is to book a private car with a driver for the day and ask them for the scenic roads and that you want to visit the authentic parts with some Berber villages that cling on the side of the hills and perhaps an Argan oil co-operative. There you can get your hands on some real Argan oil (and not the fake you are risking to get when shopping in the medina). In the middle of the valley you will find the Setti Fatma falls, 7 cascading waterfalls that go into the Ourika River. Depending on the day you will also be able to visit local typical Berber markets.
A private car and driver is the best way to go!
If you go a bit further south you get to see even more spectacular valleys in the Imlil valley. Here you can visit the highest peak in Northern Africa, Mount Toubkal (4 167 metres). There are loads of authentic Berber villages here and you can also do a lot of interesting trekking excursions.
Beautiful Imlil Valley
To see some amazing waterfalls and apes you should go to Ouzoud in the Grand Atlas village of Tanaghmeilt where you will find the prettiest waterfalls in Northern Africa. It is about 150 km north-east of Marrakech and on the way you will pass lots of beautiful landscapes with fields of olive trees. At the waterfalls you should stroll along the network of trails leading to the lake below the falls. If you are lucky you get to see some of the Barbary apes that live here.
Why not see some huge waterfalls and apes?!
If you are a film buff and want to do something extraordinary you should take a day trip across the High Atlas Mountains to Ouarzazate and the dramatic stone and mud-built fortresses known as Kasbahs and the fortified villages known as Ksars. You will visit Telouet and Taourirt Kasbahs as well as the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ksar at Ait Ben Haddou. This is where a lot of films have been shot including "Gladiator", "The Mummy", "Alexander", "Babel", "Prince of Persia" etc.
The architecture of the Ksars and Kasbahs are just the coolest!
Another great excursion is to the stunning coastal town of Essaouira, an UNESCO world heritage site. This picturesque place has been the favorite retreat for both hippies and stars for decades. Here you can explore the atmospheric alleyways of the ancient Medina, and the old ramparts that protect from the strong winds. You should also visit the long white sandy beaches and the bustling fishing port with excellent seafood and all the blue wooden fishing boats.
The harbor in Essaouira is filled with fortresses and blue boats.
If you want to see the desert, Sahara is unfortunately too far away to make it just for the day. But there is a stone desert just one hour from Marrakech that you could visit instead. The Agafay desert is not exactly the same as the Sahara with the magnificent sand dunes but it's all the same a very cool desert excursion. You could take a 4x4 car and drive off the beaten tracks as an adventure! After the desert you should go and have lunch or a mint tea by the beautiful Lake Takerkoust.
The stone desert just outside Marrakech has camps where you could stay over night in cool tents. This is the Scarabeo Camp.
If you come to Marrakech in the winter (Jan-Mar) and it has been snowing in the Atlas Mountains you could take a day excursion to go skiing in Oukaimeden, a ski resort about 80 kilometres from Marrakech. The skiing area is at an altitude of around 3 000 metres and there are two ski lifts.
The ski lifts go above the clouds!
You could rent skis and snowboards on location.
There are so many more suggestions on excursions and there are a lot of guiding companies that can help you with your plans and booking. We always use the very professional tour operator Toubkal Guide for our trips and excursions, they are brilliant!
Excursions are even more fun with some best friends!
So to summarise, the best 1-day excursions are:
1) Ourika Valley
2) Imlil Valley and Mount Toubkal
3) Ouzoud and the waterfalls with the apes
4) Ouarzazate and the Ksars and Kasbahs
5) Essouira by the Atlantic coast
6) Agafay, the stone desert
7) Oukaimeden (in winter)
Adventure is always around the corner in the Red City! Keep exploring!