Marrakech is Morocco’s most famous tourist destination.
The name conjures up images of spices, souks, deserts, and riads; an exotic place of bustling markets, ancient walled streets, and ramshackle houses.
It’s an exciting, vibrant and colorful place to visit; a place where you may well be as frustrated at times as you are enthralled, but where every moment is different and life is unique, noisy and seemingly chaotic.
The city is full of history, culture and excellent Moroccan cuisine, where every turn you take opens a world of new shocks and surprises that will keep you transfixed for days.
Beyond the historic walls of Marrakech, this city in the foothills of the high Atlas Mountains is the perfect launching pad to the surrounding area.
From deserts and waterfalls to Berber villages and rocky valleys, there are many day trips to take from Marrakech.
1. Ouzoud Falls
The Ouzoud Falls are an incredibly impressive set of waterfalls that plunge from high cliffs far down into a huge basin.
The multi-layered waterfall cascades from a maximum height of 110-meters, and in an otherwise arid landscape, the location is a veritable oasis in the desert, where lush, green vegetation is found amongst the rocky confines of this canyon.
The area is famous for its olive trees; after hiking to the falls, you can relax in the shade of these trees while you feel the cooling breeze of the crashing waterfall filling the air with refreshing sprays of water.
If you are really overheated, you can even swim in the Al Abid River which the falls plunge straight into.
It’s a glorious day trip from Marrakech, and one not to be missed.
Recommended tour: Ouzoud Waterfalls Full-Day Tour from Marrakech
2. Palm Groves of Marrakech
Known as the Palmeraie, the palm groves of Marrakech are a dense area of land that is completely devoted to the growing of palm trees.
It’s a strangely beautiful place; the palm trees are grown in the desert and are completely reliant on the ancient irrigation network that has been here for centuries to survive in this harsh climate.
The area is around 50 square miles and the palms are used to harvest dates, so expect to be given plenty to try by the local growers and sellers that you find here.
Many people will choose to join an adventurous quad bike tour to ride around the desert and the Palmeraie, a unique way to experience this beautiful and surreal landscape.
Suggested tour: Marrakech Desert & Palm Grove Quad Bike Tour
3. Sahara Desert
Marrakech is surrounded by desert, however, the really brutal and almost unbelievable landscapes of the famous Sahara Desert don’t truly begin until you are at least a few hour’s drive outside the city itself.
The Sahara is the world’s largest hot desert.
It’s a place of extremes, where little water is found and sand dunes tower high on the horizon.
It’s an almost mystical place – especially locally – and a trip even to the edge of the Sahara is an enlightening experience.
Many people will choose to undertake multi-day expeditions through the desert guided by locals; however, if you are short on time, you can still travel to where the Sahara begins and admire the harsh, natural beauty before returning to Marrakech for the evening.
Multi-day tour: From Marrakech: 2-Day Zagora Sahara Desert Tour
4. Agafay Desert
If you would rather stay closer to Marrakech and experience a desert closer to your accommodation, then the Agafay Desert – although not quite as famous or as sandy as the Sahara – is within easy reach of the city.
Found between the Atlas Mountains and Marrakech, the Agafay makes for an excellent day trip.
You won’t find the distinctive sand dunes here that you may be imagining, but you will find a rocky, barren and seemingly lifeless terrain that is difficult to fully comprehend in its sparseness.
It’s a humbling place to visit – you may be able to tour some of the local villages and marvel at how people have managed to thrive here for thousands of years.
Suggested tour: Quad Biking Tour in Agafay Desert
Essaouira is a vibrant port city found on the Atlantic coastline of Morocco.
It’s a welcome escape from the desert and the dry climate of Marrakech, and a trip here makes for a long but rewarding day trip.
Enjoy the beautiful sea breezes along the coast, as well as the colorful culture and buildings of the city.
The Medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s begging to be explored, while the narrow maze of alleys and souks are as quintessentially Moroccan as you can get.
Recommended tour: Day Trip to Essaouira from Marrakech
Agadir is another coastal Moroccan city that’s found a good three-hour drive from Marrakech.
The city is making a name for itself in tourist circles as a sun-drenched, windswept and relaxed place to visit.
There is an ever-growing number of resorts taking advantage of the beautiful beaches and coastline, while the city itself is an interesting example of modern Moroccan culture and life – it’s large enough to easily escape the tourist trail and discover something new.
Casablanca is the only other city that could rival Marrakech in terms of international fame.
The name Casablanca has gone down in history, thanks to the movie and the romantic connotations associated with it.
The reality is probably very different to what you might expect, and it’s a good thing to only make a day trip to the city – it is a sprawling, urban mass.
It’s worth the journey to see this famous place for what it really is, to walk through the old streets and the new and experience an inseparable piece of Moroccan history.
8. The Atlas Mountains
The Atlas Mountains make up a vast and towering range that rises sharply close to Marrakech.
The mountain range stretches through three countries and the highest peak stands over 4000-meters tall.
The Atlas Mountains are an integral part of not only local geography but local Berber history and culture.
Marrakech is an excellent location from which to launch yourself into the mountains; many of the valleys and villages can be reached on day trips from the city.
Recommended tour: Berber Villages & 3 Valleys Atlas Mountains Day Trip
9. Ourika Valley
The beautiful Ourika Valley is found 50-kilometers to the south of Marrakech in the cool shadows of the Atlas Mountains.
The valley is full of small, local villages that have stood here for centuries, while the cool climate makes it a lush and verdant place to explore, particularly during the hot summer months when Marrakech can become scorching.
There are waterfalls, a mountain backdrop, and epic scenery wherever you turn.
Available tour: Ourika Valley & Atlas Mountain Full-Day Tour
Imlil is a local Berber village that’s found high in the Atlas Mountains.
Standing at 1800-meters, it’s set in spectacular surroundings.
Many visitors will use Imlil as a base for getting even further into the mountains on multi-day treks, including to the summit of Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in the range.
But it’s perfectly fine to simply explore here for the day – see the way the Berbers have lived here and adapted their lifestyle to the mountains and even make a few small hikes into the surrounding area.
Lower down than Imli but perhaps easier to reach, Asni is the gateway into the Atlas Mountains when you travel here from Marrakech.
It’s a quaint place of mud-brick buildings and dusty streets, where you can see local life happening on the streets.
12. Ait Benhaddou
Ait Benhaddou is a marvelous UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s found on the outskirts of the Sahara Desert.
It’s an ancient, fortified town that has stood guarding the trade routes through the desert for centuries.
Today, the town is more famous for the huge number of movies that have been filmed here.
You will most likely recognize the walls, towers, and streets from at least one film that you have seen.
Despite its now touristy, star-studded fame, the town is still an incredible and distinct example of Moroccan architecture and history and it’s well worth the dusty three-hour drive from Marrakech to see.
Suggested tour: Day Trip to Ouarzazate and Ait Benhaddou
Further along the road, to the south of Ait Benhaddou, can be found the fortified town of Ouarzazate.
Like its neighbor, Ouarzazate is also used as a filming location by many studios and has featured in countless historical epics and desert-based movies.
This is really where the Sahara begins too – after the high plateau that the town is built upon disappears to the south, the sandy dunes of the desert truly begin.
Suggested tour: Ouarzazate Full-Day Tour from Marrakech with Lunch
Found in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, just an hour’s drive from Marrakech, Amizmiz is an excellent example of a relatively untouched Moroccan Berber town.
Life here is slow.
The town is colorful but there is little of great interest to see except on a Tuesday, when the weekly market arrives as villagers from the mountains and surrounding area descend upon Amizmiz to buy and sell their produce.
It’s an incredible sight to witness.
Oukaïmeden is a very high altitude resort that’s found in the snowy peaks of the Atlas Mountains.
At the right time of year, it makes for an incredible contrast to the lowlands and Marrakech.
No longer is there sun, heat and desert, now there is snow, wind, and cold.
It’s a famous ski resort within the country, and being only a two-hour drive from Marrakech, you can quite literally spend the day skiing before heading back to the warmer climes of the city for the night.