Things to Do in Central Morocco
Capped with snow throughout the winter months and cloaked with wildflowers through the summer, the rocky plateaus and lush valleys of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains provide a striking backdrop for hiking and mountain biking treks, as well as cultural visits to Morocco’s remaining Berber tribes. Sprawling along the frontier of the Sahara, the range runs from the Atlantic coast to the northern Rif Mountains.
An outdoor market by day and packed to bursting with diners, shoppers, storytellers, and singers by night, Jemaa el-Fna (also written Djemaa el-Fna or Jemaa el-Fnaa) is the epicenter of Marrakech life, where locals and tourists come night after night to see the clash of colors, sounds, smells, and sights that make up this memorable location.
With its bold blue color scheme, towering palms, and gigantic cacti, set around pools of water lilies and gardens filled with exotic plants, the Majorelle Garden (Jardin Majorelle) is one of the most idyllic spots in Marrakech. Owned by designer Yves Saint Laurent, it’s also one of the city’s most visited attractions.
The largest and most famous of Marrakech’s many mosques, Koutoubia Mosque (Mosquée Koutoubia) is also the city’s most prominent navigational landmark. Just a short stroll from Djemaa el Fna square, the mosque’s soaring minaret stands proud at the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed medina.
A lush expanse of terraced fields, forested hillsides, and cascading waterfalls in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains, the Ourika Valley ((Vallée de l’Ourika) is a natural oasis just an hour from the city of Marrakech.
The historic heart of Marrakech and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Marrakech Medina (Medina of Marrakesh) is the first port of call for most visitors to the city. Known for its famous Jemaa el-Fna square, a dizzying maze of souks, and a magnificent array of mosques and palaces, this is Marrakech’s most atmospheric district.
The name of the Bahia Palace (Palais Bahia) nods to its greatness: "Bahia” translates as “Brilliance.” Part of Marrakech’s UNESCO-listed medina and located on the northern edge of the Mellah (the Jewish quarter), the palace was the 19th-century residence of Si Ahmed ben Musa (or Ba Ahmed), the Grand Vizier of Marrakech.
Located by the village of Tanaghmeilt in the High Atlas Mountains, the Ouzoud Waterfalls (Cascades d’Ouzoud) are Morocco’s highest falls. They are a magnificent sight, tumbling 361 feet (110 meters) through a dramatic red-rock gorge of El Abid River.
A short taxi ride from the bustling Djeema el Fna, Palmeraie (Palm Grove) offers a tranquil escape from the lively souks and traffic-laden streets of the Old Medina and Marrakech’s most affluent district has often been nicknamed the ‘Beverly Hills of Marrakech.' A quiet, sun-soaked oasis of palm and orange tree-fringed boulevards, neatly-tended rose gardens and vast swimming pools, Palmeraie is home to many of the city’s most extravagant resort hotels and luxurious private villas.
Even if you can’t afford to stay in the Palmeraie, the scenic district makes a worthwhile detour from downtown Marrakech and the 32,000-acre stretch of palm groves provides a shady backdrop for leisure activities. As well as walking and biking tours, horseback riding and camel riding are popular pastimes, and there’s also a beautifully situated golf course overlooking the villas.
Towering 13,751 feet (4,191 meters) above sea level, Mount Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains is the highest peak in all of northern Africa. The trail up the mountain to the summit is more of a long, very steep stroll than a technical climb (no ropes or special equipment are needed), takes two to three days, and is accessible all year round.
More Things to Do in Central Morocco
Winding through the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco from southeast of Marrakesh to Ouarzazate, the Tizi-n'Tichka Pass (Difficult Path) offers one of the nation’s most dramatic and hair-raising drives. This high mountain pass offers stunning views of the Atlas Mountains around every hairpin turn — and there are plenty of them. Built by the French for military use in 1936, the road follows Route Nationale 9 and reaches an altitude of 7,415 feet (2,260 meters).
Constructed by Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur during the 16th century, the Saadian Tombs (Tombeaux Saadiens) are home to more than 200 crypts belonging to members of the Saadian dynasty. The magnificent mausoleums are renowned for their lavish design, featuring stunning zellige tiles, exquisite woodwork, and gold and marble embellishments.
The UNESCO-listed Kasbah of Aït Ben Haddou (Ksar of Ait Benhaddou) is one of Morocco’s most impressive historic landmarks and a popular film location for Hollywood movies. Sculpted from traditional mud bricks and fortified by walls of dark red pisé, this kasbah lies on the old trans-Saharan trade route, at the border of the High Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert.
For over 500 years, Ben Youssef Madrasa in Marrakech’s buzzing medina has served as a temple to education—and while students no longer memorize the Quran or study Islamic law here, visitors can enjoy the school’s special ambiance and magnificent Andalusian design details.
Just minutes from the bustling medina of Marrakech, the Menara Gardens (Jardin de la Ménara) offer a tranquil oasis with olive groves, towering palms, and citrus trees. Arranged around a 12th-century pavilion, the botanical gardens feature a large lake and a stunning view of the distant Atlas Mountains.
The rugged highlands of the Kik Plateau (Plateau du Kik) make a popular destination for hiking in the High Atlas Mountains, with numerous trails running from nearby Berber villages like Asni, Moulay Brahim and Ourigane, and easily accessible from Marrakech.
Renowned for its unique limestone topography, the plateau is a scenic spot, blanketed with alpine wildflowers and wheat fields, and offering magnificent views over the surrounding peaks, including the looming Mount Toubkal, Northern Africa’s highest peak.
Spread over 24 acres (10 hectares) just outside the city, Oasiria Marrakech (Oasiria Water Park) offers a perfect place to get away from the city and cool down in sunny Morocco. The water park has a bit of everything you’d expect, including thrilling river rapids and water slides, as well as a lazy river, splash tower, adults-only pool areas and Africa’s largest wave pool. Young visitors enjoy their own pirate-themed splash zone and mini toboggan slides.
While Oasiria doesn’t permit outside food or drink (except water), the water park does have five eating establishments to choose from, including a sit-down restaurant, two fast food counters and a dessert cafe serving waffles, pancakes and pastries.
Built in the 16th century by King Ahmad al-Mansur of the Saadi dynasty, the lavish el-Badi Palace (Palais el-Badi) was designed to be one of the grandest in the world: "el-Badi” means “The Incomparable.” Today, this architectural masterpiece lies in ruins, but it’s still among the most visited monuments of Marrakech’s UNESCO-listed medina.
Few places on earth compare to the Sahara Desert, a natural wonder of vast plains and sun-baked dunes that dominates the south and east of Morocco. The world’s largest hot desert, the Sahara stretches a staggering 5.6 million square miles (9 million square kilometers) over several countries. Hemmed in by the Atlas mountain range, the Saharan sands are one of Morocco’s many highlights.
With its deep-blue waters set against a backdrop of sweeping desert plains fronting the Atlas Mountains, Takerkoust Lake (Lac Lalla Takerkoust) is a world away from the heat and bustling atmosphere of Marrakech. The French made the lake in the 1920s to provide the city with water and electricity; today it’s a recreational area popular with both locals and visitors.
Housed in the 19th-century Dar Mnebhi Palace, at the heart of the medina, is the Marrakesh Museum (Musée de Marrakech). Founded by Moroccan journalist and activist Omar Benjelloun in 1997, the museum houses a small but impressive collection of Moroccan art and artifacts.
Established in 1980, the dinner show at Chez Ali restaurant is a Marrakech institution. Dine on Moroccan signature dishes as musicians and dancers perform folk songs and dances from around the country. Then transfer to the arena for a traditional show that includes a cavalry charge and horseback riders, as well as belly dancers, acrobats, fireworks, and more.
ANIMA Garden, a fantasy landscape of exotic plants and quirky installations framed by the Atlas Mountains, is the brainchild of Austrian multimedia artist André Heller. Besides over 250 different plant species, works by the likes of Keith Haring and Pablo Picasso deck the 5-acre (2-hectare) grounds. There’s also a museum and a café.
Dar el Bacha Museum of Confluences (Dar el Bacha Musée des Confluences) was built in the Marrakech medina by Pasha Thami el Glaoui in 1910. Visit to see the lovely gardens and zellige mosaic tilework of this opulent palace, and to enjoy exhibitions focused on Moroccan culture.
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