Marrakech is Morocco’s newest excitement-filled city. Your senses become bombarded with wavering smoke smells, flashing hypnotic lights and thumping drums and screeching voices. Perhaps, though, you’ve been there for some days: You have seen most of the city’s vast treasures; you’ve spent time exploring the market souks. You’ve watched the performers in the markets. You may now be ready for some peace and quiet. Consider taking a day trip or two just outside of your Marrakech holiday. Your Morocco tour operator would be happy to set one up for you. You can even enjoy the scenic countryside during the day and be back in the comfort of the city by night.
Marrakech has before it a playground called the High Atlas Mountains. South of the city is the Ourika Valley. Fairly close to Marrakech, it’s a perfect place for a short day trip. Emerald green valley floors and towering walls make it picture perfect. When Marrakech is baking in the hot summer sun, the Ourika Valley is cool and relieving. So much so that local Marrakech city dwellers flock here to escape the heat.
Once you are headed to the valley, you can stop at the village of Tnine where there’s a tourist center. You can pick up a Morocco map or get info on the places to visit such as quarries, salt mines or prehistoric carvings. Or tell you tour operator, and they will give you an itinerary to follow that best suits your pre-planned day.
Ourika Valley is located just east of Jebel Toubal. During the winter this is a popular skiing area, while the summer proffers an abundance of short hikes. Needless to say, the highlight of any day trip from Marrakech would be to the peak itself, though this will both take longer than a day and some pre-planning.
Jebel Toubal is the highest peak of the High Atlas Range and can boast itself as the tallest mountain in North Africa. Berbers call these peaks the mountains of mountains. Of course, here is the best trekking or hiking in Morocco found anywhere. Roads in the area are fairly new, built in the twentieth century. Before that, traveling across here was done by camel caravan or on foot.
Jebel Toubal has been home to the Berbers for millennia. Berber villages are a natural part of the landscape, usually placed above the orchards and terraced gardens. If you don’t look closely, you might even miss an entire village. The area has been transformed from an inhospitable region to one of productivity. Unfortunately, because of the agriculture in the area, indigenous plants have all but disappeared. You might be lucky enough to see some wild animals that still live in the area, such as mountain sheep known as mouflons, wild boars and smaller wildlife. Many birds, notwithstanding, can be found – And you might get a glimpse of a golden eagle or Egyptian vulture.
Oukaimeden is another place you might head on a day trip. Best known as a ski resort, it is a good place to go trekking or hiking in Morocco. Or heading to Setti Fatma, allows you to spend a day sitting by the river or exploring a side valley known for its seven waterfalls. If you time your visit for August, there is a four day festival at the Koubba. Setti Fatma or Oukaimeden are great places to start longer treks to boot. Just let your Morocco tour operator know and it can be arranged for you.
If you still have time to spend, head East out of Marrakech. Your Morocco tour operator will be glad to set up a car and driver. Then you can visit the Cacades d’Ouzoud, Morocco’s most spectacular water falls. The Ouzoud (Berber for olives) River drops down in a series of tiers to the Oued el-Abid Canyon. Starting at the top, you can work your way down, stopping for a swim in one of mountain pools. You might run into a family of Barbary Apes. Another walk takes you to the Berber village of Tanaghmelt or follow the path to the Gorges of Ouzoud el-Abid.
On the way to the falls consider stopping at the village of Demnate, especially if you are day tripping on Sunday. This is Morocco market day and Demnate is famous for its varnished pottery and olives. While you are there, you might as well take a side trip and check out Imi-n-Ifri, a natural bridge spanning the gorge. A short hike will take you to the valley floor and you can view the bridge from below.
Ait Bou Goumez (aka Happy Valley) is a good destination for a day trip. This unusual valley is lush and green. Once this valley was inaccessible in winter, but now the roads are open year round. Even so, the area looks and feels remote. If your day includes a hike, Ait Bou Goumez has ample opportunities. Start in the village of Tabant.
One sight worth your time is the marabout of the Sidi Mountains. It’s built on the top of a pyramid shaped hill. Its claim to fame details that this is where young women come to seek a husband or help in getting pregnant. The best part of a hike here is to see the landscape. Views from the shrine will truly take your breath away. Imagine if you will a deep green valley, Berber villages hanging on to rock outcroppings overlooking terraced hillsides.
There are many other places to visit. However, some them have little to see or require four wheeled drive vehicles. If you want to go to those places see your Morocco tour operator can arrange everything for you.
Enjoy Marrakech and all the day-trips just outside the lively city.
by Carole Morris