From the bustling Jama El-fena square, to the palaces and gardens, there is certainly no shortage of things to do or places for families to see in Marrakech. Yet, for those seeking some solitude, and a change of scenery from the hustle and bustle of city life, there are several hidden gems within a 1-2 hour drive of Marrakech, oftentimes accessible by micro-buses or private cars. Here are just 7 of our favorites:
The Atlas mountains, which can be seen from the city of Marrakech, are more than just a glorious backdrop to this bustling city. Just an hour drive southeast will put you in Ourika, well known for its restaurants that feature outdoor seating just feet away from the river. My personal favorite is a town just a bit further into the mountains, Siti Fatima, which also feature a small but beautiful waterfall.
What to do
In the fall and spring, grab a light sweater and head to one of the riverside restaurants to enjoy grilled meats and sweet mint tea. In the summer, the kids can bring their swimsuits and wade around in the small pools that are created between the large river rocks. The river's current is weak and the water is shallow; nevertheless, parents should be within very close proximity of their little ones. Do note that decent bathrooms are hard, if not impossible, to come by.
Also on the way to Ourika, you'll find Anima Gardens, considered one of the most unique gardens in the world. It's not just a garden, but a sensational fusion of art and nature. André Heller's Anima Garden is home to 250+ types of plants, from bamboo to palms to cacti, with pieces of art by Pablo Picasso, Keith Haring, and undiscovered local talents intricately placed throughout the gardens. This garden would likely suit older children who appreciate creative art and botany, though my children, then 6 and 8, enjoyed wandering the premise.
What to do
Anima Gardens is an easy walk for both children and the elderly. The paths are clearly marked, and the size of the garden, covering roughly 2 hectares or 1/2 acre, isn't too vast for most to handle. The springtime is the absolute best time to visit the gardens, as the snow-peaked Atlas Mountains serve as a breathtaking backdrop, but the gardens are still worth a visit in early fall. The summer heat can make this outdoor activity quite grueling, and I can't comment on how it is in wintertime, nor confirm if it's even open then. For information on hours and pricing, visit their website at http://www.anima-garden.com/.
Amizmiz Mountain Village
Just over an hour southwest is the village of Amizmiz which lies at the foot of the High Atlas. With a population of just 11,000, predominately of Berber lineage, the main hallmark of this small village is the wonderful hiking trails that begin here, which are suitable for beginner hikers and children who are relatively experienced in rough terrain.
What to do
This is an especially beautiful venture in the early spring before the snow melts on the mountaintops. In both the spring and fall, be sure to dress in layers, as it can get quite cold. The weather varies in the summer and winter, so check the temperatures before traveling to ensure you dress appropriately. If you take a private car, simply ask anyone where to begin your hike, and you'll most certainly be pointed in the right direction with a smile. There are various trails and levels of difficulty, but again, locals are more than happy to help. Just expect to pay a small tip if they guide you for any length of time. The trail that leads to the waterfall is relatively easy and suitable for children, but further up offers spectacular, breathtaking views.
After your hike, stop by one of the riverside restaurants for a tagine and tea. Better yet, head to Amizmiz early on a Tuesday morning to catch their weekly market, which is well-known in the area and chock full of fresh, local produce and inexpensive merchandise that makes great souvenirs (at a fraction of the cost of those found in Marrakech).
While the Agafay Desert cannot be likened to the sandy dunes of the Sahara desert, it's a happy medium for families who aren't able or interested in making the trip to the Sahara desert, which typically requires 1.5 day traveling there and 1.5 day traveling back. The Agafay desert is a rocky desert located about halfway between Marrakech and Amizmiz, only 40 minutes from Marrakech.
What to do:
Pack a suitable-sized picnic and to enjoy in a picturesque spot, where you can marvel at the vast rocky mountains surrounding you. Enjoy hiking through the rocky terrain -- the level of difficulty is completely up to you, and you'll find plenty of paths suitable for both beginner to intermediate hikers.
There are also coordinated tours and quad bike companies here, as well as desert camps and other accommodation options, but my visit here was limited to an all-day picnic and hiking with my two children, then 6 and 8, and friends.
Roughly 2/3 of the way to Amizmiz Mountain Village is also gorgeous man-made lake where you'll find activities to suit everyone's taste. In the vicinity is numerous trails for walking, mountain biking and horse riding, as well as both public and private beaches used for picnicking and swimming. Jet ski and kayak rentals are available, as are pedal boats and quad bikes.
What to do:
Keep it simple by packing a picnic to enjoy on the shores while wading in the water, or go all out by booking a lakeside riad and exploring the surrounding beauty on quad bikes. The choice is yours! There is no shortage of activities to do here, so you can easily customize it to your family's wishes and budget. I have done both simple day trips and overnight stays with quad excursions, and can attest that both were well worth the short drive out of the city.
Jarjeer Donkey Refuge
Located shortly before Lalla Takerkoust is Jarjeer Donkey and Mule Refuge, a haven of rest for working animals, many of whom have suffered a lifetime of mistreatment at the hands of their owners. Founded in 2014, Jarjeer rescues old, oftentimes abused, donkeys and mules, provides any necessary medical treatment or therapies, and offers them a safe, loving forever-home. The equines here are accustomed to human interaction and enjoy the company and attention of visitors.
What to do:
Contact the facility ahead of time to ensure they are receiving guests. Contact info and hours can be found at https://www.jarjeer.org/. This facility would likely be enjoyed by children of all ages, as long as they are not particularly fearful of equines or dogs, who roam the premise freely but are very docile. Avoid wearing anything that hangs, such as clothing that is very loose, purses, or necklaces, as the equines tend to pull at this. This facility relies solely on donations, so do consider donating in person or via Paypal.
Les Terres D'amanar
An hour south of Marrakech lies an outdoor adventure park in the small town of Tahannaout. Les Terres D'amanar is located in the mountainside but is easy to reach by car, and boasts a wide range of outdoor activities for both children and adults, as well as a restaurant, pool, and on-site eco-lodges available for overnight stays, all of which offer spectacular views of the surrounding mountaintops.
What to do:
There are numerous zip-lining adventure courses suitable for children ages 5 and up. For adults to dare, there is a zip-lining course that includes a swinging ladder and zip lines that take you flying over the canyons. They also offer horseback riding, archery, hiking trails, and more. You can also purchase a pool pass and meals at the restaurant on site.