If you’re staying in Marrakesh, chances are you’re staying in its fabled medina.

Yet, scintillating as it all is, a few days in it can start to feel a little intense, especially if you’re visiting during high season. Fortunately, there are plenty of escapes within easy striking distance of the Red City that offer fresh air and a fresh perspective on Moroccan life.

From bucolic mountain trails to desert camps and breezy beachside getaways, art-filled gardens to organic cooking classes, exploring further afield is a great way to get to know the country on a more intimate level. Here are five of our favorite day trips from Marrakesh. And here’s a grand taxi fare calculator to help you get an idea of what you should be paying per trip.

1. Spend a day in the Agafay Desert

Travel time: 45 minutes 

If time doesn’t allow for a trip to the Sahara, an excursion to the stone desert of Agafay, a mere 30km (19 miles) south of Marrakesh may be just the ticket. Characterized by undulating rocky terrain that has formed into solid dunes framing semi-arid plains, stark valleys, occasional oases and scattered Berber villages, it invites exploration and adventure.

From horseback riding, camel caravans and buggy tours, to gentle hikes and serene picnics, there are plenty of ways to enjoy this rugged beauty through companies like Marrakech Desert Trips. If you want to make a bigger trip out of it and catch the sunset, stay overnight in one of several camps that dot this terrain. They come with a variety of treats, from campfire dining and stargazing with professional telescopes at Scarabeo Camp, to a day at the pool and lunch at the White Camel

How to get to Agafay from Marrakesh: If you’ve booked a tour, or an overnight stay somewhere, return transportation from your riad will often be provided from around 500 MAD. If you’re heading out for the day on your own, the best way to do it is via grand taxi, departing Bab Doukkala in Marrakesh, from 250 MAD one way. Remember to book your driver to take you home again.

Two large hand sculptures topped with blue eyes guard a pathway in a botanical garden
Escape the frenentic median and wander the imaginative designs of Anima Gardens © Maleo Photography / Shutterstock

2. Lose yourself in the wonder of Anima Gardens

Travel time: 45 minutes

André Heller’s whimsical, art-filled Anima Gardens provide an Alice-in-Wonderland moment loved by kids and adults alike. Spread over several acres, the lushly planted gardens incorporate mirrored glades, giant beaded heads like those you see in the souks, gleaming nazars (an amulet against the evil eye) inset into bougainvillea bushes, all interspersed between towering, flowering shrubs and trees, like a Mad Hatter’s Garden of Eden. It’s a delightful, engaging and blessedly peaceful way of escaping the frenetic energy of the medina.

When you finish exploring, stop for lunch at the onsite Paul Bowles Cafe for a seasonally changing menu built on ingredients from local farms in the Ourika Valley. You get a sensational view of Toubkal – North Africa’s highest mountain – from the rooftop. Entry tickets can be bought online from 155 MAD. It's 65 MAD for children aged between 12 and 16 and free for children under 12. 

How to get to Anima Gardens from Marrakesh: A free shuttle bus departs from the Koutoubia car park (“Parking & Lavage”, behind the Koutoubia mosque), daily at 9:30am and 2:30pm. It returns from Anima Gardens to the Koutoubia at 1pm and 5:30pm. 

Three hikers head up a track in a rocky mountain landscape
Find some respite from the heat of Marrakesh in the High Atlas © Milo Zanecchia / Ascent Xmedia / Getty Images

3. Hike the foothills of the High Atlas

Travel time: 1 to 1.5 hours

With its rugged, rouge-hued landscapes and silvery rivers framed by the mighty peaks of the Atlas Mountains, the foothills provide a stunning backdrop for outdoor exploration. Post-earthquake, stunning hiking routes are open through Ourika and Ouirgane, and local people are more reliant than ever on the money this brings into the region.

Trails wind through the valleys, leading to cascading waterfalls (note that the famous seven waterfalls of Setti Fatma are an extremely popular day trip and can get crowded), emerald green hillsides, and rammed earth villages that dot the scenery, providing ample spots for reviving pots of mint tea and Berber tagines. It’s particularly spectacular in the spring when the mountains burst into bloom with wild flowers and fruit tree blossoms, but works year round for simply getting into the fresh air for a few hours.

Within Toukbal National Park, a guide is now legally required, and there are checkpoints so don’t be tempted to go it alone. Book day treks with reputable outfitters like Trekking Morocco, or Atlas Mountain Guide, both of whom include a return transfer from Marrakesh in their fees. Prices depend on the size of your group. 

How to get to Ourika or Ourigane from Marrakesh: A CTM bus leaves for Ourika from the Gare Routière Bab Doukkala in Marrakesh several times a day and takes between 1.5 and 2 hours (45 MAD). A one-way journey to Ourika departing from Bab Doukkala in a grand taxi costs from 250 MAD for the whole car, or 50 MAD for a seat. Ourigane is not connected by bus so hire a grand taxi, which costs from 420 MAD for the whole car, or 70 MAD for a seat.

A coastal fortress at sunset
Essaouira is a long day trip from Marrakesh, but this charming coastal city is worth the journey © Carlos M. Almagro / 500px

4. Take a beach day in Essaouira

Travel time: 2 hours 45 minutes

Although it involves an early start and a late finish, Essaouira seduces many visitors with its easy-going seaside charm. From fortified Portuguese port to artistic haven with a bohemian vibe, the little town is known for sweeping sandy beaches and a UNESCO-recognized medina, knitted together in a maze of narrow alleyways fringed by whitewashed buildings trimmed in blue.

Wander down to the bustling harbor mid-morning to watch the fishing boats come in with the day's catch, while slurping freshly shucked oysters. Explore sun-splashed souks brimming with artisanal crafts, and eat exceptional food at some of the country’s most eclectic and colorful restaurants. Caravane Cafe, Dar Baba, Umia and La Table Madada are all excellent choices, especially when paired with organic wines from local winery Le Val d’Argan in nearby Ounagha. If time allows, you won’t regret staying overnight and there are plenty of options for every budget, from grand dame Villa Maroc to groovy, generously priced newcomer Mama Souiri.

How to get to Essaouira from Marrakesh: Supratours buses leave from next to the train station in Marrakesh four times a day and take 3 hours. The first bus from Marrakesh is at 9am, and the last bus out of Essaouira is at 5pm. It costs from 100 MAD each way. A grand taxi costs about 1200 MAD one way for the whole car, or 200 MAD for a seat. 

5. Cook over fire at an Atlas farm

Travel time: 45 minutes

The best food begins with the finest seasonal ingredients, and at Ourika Organic Kitchen you’ll start your class by first gathering fruits, vegetables, herbs and teas from its glorious gardens. Then, with the mighty Atlas Mountains as your backdrop, you’ll take a deep dive into Amazigh culinary heritage in an outdoor kitchen where most dishes are cooked over charcoal.

Expect richly flavored, vine-ripened aubergines and tomatoes as they char on the grill to make zaalouk de souss, locally reared chicken rubbed in chermoula (herb, garlic and spice marinade) and cooked in an earthenware tagine to smoky, tender juiciness, and the crisp, delicate pastry of a quail pastilla (on request).

Classes start from 11am and finish around 2pm, when you’ll be rewarded for all your hard work by tucking in to the fruits of your labors. Food always tastes better eaten outdoors and chances are, this will be the best dish of your entire trip.  Prices start from 2800 MAD for two people, including transfer to and from Marrakesh.

How to get to Ourika Organic Kitchen from Marrakesh: Ourika Organic Kitchen is in the Ourigane Valley. A one-way journey to Ourigane departing from Bab Doukkala in a grand taxi costs from 420 MAD for the whole car, or 70 MAD for a seat. 

This article was first published Dec 10, 2020 and updated Dec 9, 2023.

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