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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in Central Morocco
When you think of the Sahara, Northern Africa, or the sunny Moroccan plains, things like snow, ice, and crampons usually aren’t part of the picture. When climbing Mt. Toubkal (Jebel Toubkal or Jbel Toubkal in Arabic), conditions quickly go from hot to brisk, mountainside cold. Towering 13,751 feet above sea level, Mt. Toubkal (occasionally written Mt. Tubkal) is not only the highest mountain in central Morocco, but also the highest in the Atlas Range and all of Northern Africa. It’s a trail that’s accessible all year round to a wide range of hikers, and is more of a long, very steep stroll as opposed to a technical climb.
Toubkal trips begin from the town of Imlil about an hour south of Marrakech, where temperatures can still be blazingly hot despite the hillside perch. By the end of the first day of walking, however, the trail levels out at Toubkal Refuge near 10,000 feet elevation, where the air is suddenly crisp, cool, and a welcome break from the heat. Reaching the summit means rising early—often well before dawn—for the final, 3,000 foot vertical climb on a steep, scree-laden slope. Going up is often easier than down, though the view from the top is more than worth the six hour round trip climb. Finally, while climbing Toubkal in two days is possible, most hikers break the journey up into a slower, three day climb.
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.
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.
Some say the entrance to Ben Youssef Madrasa (Medersa Ben Youssef) is purposefully humble and bland. Little more than a wooden door facing out towards the buzzing medina, the entrance is nothing more than perhaps a storefront, office, or home. The inscription, however, written above the door, beckons travelers in further: “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded.” Indeed, once you duck through the narrow entrance and the medina noise fades behind you, what emerges before you is the soaring courtyard of a 16th-century madrasa.
Constructed back in 1570 as an Islamic place of learning, Ben Youssef Madrasa would swell to include over 900 dedicated students. At its peak, it was North Africa’s largest Islamic school and had 132 dorms—some of which are so tiny and small you must crouch down low to enter. Though the madrasa formally stopped educating students back in 1960, extensive refurbishment has turned it into an informative site for visitors. Learn how the patterns, archways, and styles are of Andalucian design, similar to those of Granada’s Alhambra or the Alcanzar in Sevilla. Stroll around the reflection pond that shimmers within the courtyard, and soak in the silence and calming surrounds away from the bustling medina. For over 500 years this building has served as a temple to education—and while students no longer memorize the Quran or study Islamic law, visitors continue to learn today through windows into the past.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Get a very visual understanding of Morocco by visiting the Photography Museum of Marrakesh (Maison de la Photographie de Marrakech). A small, photo-dense museum, it's tucked away on a tiny street in Marrakech’s medina, or old quarter. Housed in a former fondouk—a building to lodge merchants and travelers—the museum’s collection of images highlight life in Morocco over the course of roughly 100 years, from the 1870s to the 1950s.
Not just photos are on display either: you’ll also find glass photographic plates, postcards, and documentaries, including the first color film taken in the High Atlas Mountains. The collective images – of which the photography museum has thousands --provide a thought-provoking and visually intriguing overview of the country’s culture and history, especially as it relates to its Berber people.
A relatively small venue, the Marrakech Photography Museum spans several floors, on top of which sits a rooftop terrace. It is there that visitors are rewarded with sweeping views of Marrakech and even the Atlas Mountains beyond. The rooftop is also home to a café, so to take full advantage of your visit, plan to stop for a snack or even light lunch at this delightful and scenic spot.
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.
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