Follow our intrepid Kristy Larson on this hiking adventure into the stunning Atlas Mountains of Morocco!
Morocco is an enchanting country steeped in culture and tradition with incredibly diverse landscapes—the orange sand dunes, volcanic outcrops, and crumbling kasbahs of the Sahara; the blue-gray peaks of the Atlas Mountains; plus intriguing walled cities full of tiny winding alleys where veiled women peek from behind doorways. It’s also a great country for hiking (it’s not all desert), and this trip zeroes in on a fabulous trek through the remote M’Goun Valley, an oasis-like valley with cultivated crops, a string of Berber villages, and a backdrop of the snowcapped High Atlas Mountains (the snowy peaks of the High Atlas come as a surprise to those who think of North Africa as solely desert). This is one of the most stunning areas in Morocco, with spectacular canyonlands and escarpments reminiscent of the American Southwest.
We’ll wander through small villages of Berber farmers and shepherds and enjoy the picturesque landscape of great escarpments, oasis like valleys, and orchards of almond and walnut trees. We’ll drive through the Dadès Valley, with its fabulous kasbahs and date-palm oases, for a trek through the remote M’Goun Valley. Walking upriver through towering narrow canyons, we share the trails with proud white-robed Berbers astride sturdy mules. Then we’ll meander through a series of remote villages strung out along the M’Goun River as it flows through a fertile, cultivated valley. Traditional dress and cultures have not changed here for centuries (some say this is the way Nepal used to be in the early days of trekking), and hospitality ranks high among the local Berbers (be prepared to sample offerings of sweet mint tea).
Our adventure is enhanced by in-depth visits to Fès and Marrakesh, whose grand walls, ornate gates, and striking mosque are testaments to an illustrious history. A pre-trip extension to the 17th-century Portuguese harbor-fortress of Essaouira is also available.
7 days of moderate to strenuous hiking on varied terrain (maximum elevation is 9,514'), some long drives, cultural touring
- Trek through a stunning oasis-like valley of Morocco's High Atlas Mountains
- Discover remote Berber villages where traditions and culture have not changed for centuries and hospitality ranks high
- Enjoy in-depth visits to Marrakesh and Fes, whose cultural monuments are testaments to an illustrious history
Duration: 14 days Start Location: Marrakesh End Location: FesDownload Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 : Arrive in Marrakesh
Your trip leader or a Mountain Travel Sobek representative will meet you outside the customs and immigration area at the airport upon your morning arrival and escort you to your hotel. You should plan on arriving by 10:00 a.m. (If you arrive later, you may miss some of the easy sightseeing planned for this day.) After lunch and a trip briefing by the leader at the hotel, we’ll take an optional afternoon walk to the medina, the mysterious old town of Marrakesh, where we’ll wander its narrow streets and enjoy the circus of entertainment of Marrakesh’s famous square, Djemma El Fna, full of snake charmers, storytellers, and entertainments of every kind—a veritable scene out of The Thousand and One Nights! Dinner at a marvelous restaurant in the French section.
Day 2 : Marrakesh
The very word “Marrakesh” drums up visions of the exotic. Called the “pearl of the south,” Marrakesh was founded in the 11th century and is one of Morocco’s oldest and most beautiful cities. With the mountains of the High Atlas in the distance, the city is replete with pink Moorish style buildings and gorgeous gardens. We will spend the day exploring this mysterious, walled city, and be overwhelmed by its sights, sounds, and smells. We’ll visit some of the most important religious and public monuments and the medina (the old Arab town) with its maze of souks. If you are looking for exotic herbs, love charms, or golden slippers, you can happily get lost in the dark alleys of this endless bazaar. Tonight we’ll enjoy a “welcome” feast at one of the fine palace restaurants in the medina.
Day 3 : Drive to Ait Ben Haddou
Today’s journey takes us over the peaks of the High Atlas Mountains, which rise above a landscape of oasis pastures, willow and poplar groves, and picturesque villages. In this region, the slopes of the mountains drop dramatically away to valleys and streams, and there are often small Berber villages terraced on the valley sides. The houses in these villages are stacked on top of each other, appearing almost as though they have grown out of the rocky slopes. The Berbers in the High Atlas have their own distinct culture and traditions; they are the oldest established inhabitants of Morocco and have never adopted a totally orthodox version of Islam. Their language, Tachelhait, bears no resemblance to the Arabic language, and their music, dance, and architecture are unique. Until the 1920s and ’30s, the Atlas way of life was essentially feudal, based upon control of the major mountain passes, and their kasbahs were used for the purpose of defending the community. We spend the night in a modern kasbah, built to blend in with the local environment, located less than a mile from Ait Ben Haddou.
Day 4 : To M'Goun Valley
This morning we will explore the incredible kasbah village of Ait Ben Haddou, UNESCO World Heritage site and scene of Gladiator and numerous other films.. We will then drive on through Ouarzazate and then head eastward along the Dadès Valley, passing crumbling kasbahs and Saharan villages en route. We’ll stop to take a brief walk through the lush Skoura Oasis, with its giant kasbahs, then continue to El Kelaa M’Gouna (M’Goun Valley), known for its abundance of wild roses in bloom in May.
From here we'll drive back up into the foothills of the High Atlas to a very traditional and remote area. Our camp will be located near the mountain village of Bou Thrarar and there we will meet our team of mules who will be carrying our luggage and camping equipment up the M'Goun River.
Day 5 : Issoumar Camp
We’ll begin our trek through another Berber tribal region along the M’Goun River, where kasbahs—once used as fortresses along this “Berber highway”—are scattered on many of the rocky promontories. In this area, Berber women gather baskets of fragrant pink wild roses in the spring, which they dry and make into a potpourri or rose water. A four- or five-hour hike brings us to our camp near the scenic village of Issoumar (5,576'), where we’ll have great views of the surrounding mud-bricked villages along the M’Goun River and see local Berbers working in their lush green fields of barley, figs, and almonds. (4-5 hours hiking.)
Day 6 : Tiranimine Camp
We’ll begin the day by hiking through the stark Berber villages that stretch along the M’Goun River. The local women, dressed in brilliantly colored haiks or amalhafs, will be going about their age-old work in the fields. We’ll spend most of the day hiking in and along the M’Goun River, which is bordered by the shiny dark green leaves of oleander trees that burst forth with pink blossoms in the spring. Continue to our camp at Tiranimine (5,904') on a ridge overlooking the village and river. (5 hours hiking.)
Day 7 : M'Goun River Gorge Walk
Hike in the narrow canyons of the spectacular M’Goun Gorges toward the mountains. These gorges are similar to Zion National Park in Utah and we’ll walk in shallow rivers hemmed in by towering rock walls. In this section of the M’Goun, the water is remarkably warm and almost an emerald-green in some places. We’ll be “canyoneering” most of the day through this incredible Berber “highway,” passing proud Berber patriarchs on their way to market astride their most important possessions—sturdy mules saddled in hand-woven wool tapestries. Then we’ll enter a canyon that has remained unchanged by time in this remote stronghold of Berber culture. Camp near the village of Imi n’Ikcht (6,560'). (5-6 hours hiking.)
Day 8 : Tighermt n’Aït Ahmed
Today we’ll meander through the traditional villages of the Ouzirimt Valley, dramatically situated at the base of a great escarpment that is sometimes rimmed with snow. We’ll be meeting a people and culture so very far removed from the modern world. Tonight we’ll camp at the northwest end of the valley near Tighermt n’Aït Ahmed (7,200'), an ancient granary majestically perched along the river and surrounded by the High Atlas. (6-7 hours hiking.)
Day 9 : Hike to Ait Bougoumez Valley
Hike up the Tizi n'Aït Imi Pass (9,512'), where we’ll have great views of the M’Goun Range and Mount M’Goun (13,356'), one of the highest mountains in Morocco. We’ll pass nomads tending their sheep and goats and hike through vast areas of broom that blossom with yellow and purple flowers in the spring. Descend to Aït Imi springs and the Aït Bougoumez Valley. Overnight at a charming Berber lodge where we enjoy a hamam, the Moroccan equivalent of a Turkish bath. (6-7 hours hiking.)
Day 10 : End trek - Bin el Ouidane Lac
Hike through the Berber villages of the Aït Bougoumez Valley to where we meet our vehicles. We drive through spectacular forested gorges with ancient kasbahs dotting rocky promontories and spend the night in a hotel along the edge of Lake Bin el Ouidane.
Day 11 : Drive to Fes
We begin our drive to Fès, stopping to explore the cedar forests near Azrou in search of the once common Barbary ape (that also populate Gibraltar). We continue north through Ifrane, with its Swiss-style village architecture, then on to the city of Fès, considered the most “complete” medieval city in the Arab world. Lunch en route at an old French chalet, where we can dine on pink trout from the King’s trout farm in Azrou.
Day 12 : Fes
Sightseeing in Fès. This medieval city, surrounded by walls of marvelous old masonry, is like no other place in the Arab world—it really has the flavor of another age. An important religious center, Fès contains a huge and ancient medina in which thousands of craftsmen ply their trades. We’ll observe the magnificent medina from north and south scenic viewpoints and then visit the King’s palace, Fes el-Jedid with its old Jewish quarter, Fes el- Bali (the oldest section with original old walls). Here we’ll wander through some of the best and most authentic souks in the world, including the henna, brass, and leather tanners souks. We’ll marvel at the fabulous architecture, passing by Bab Bou Jeloud (the main entrance to Fes el-Bali), Zawiyya Moulay Idriss II, and the great Kairaouine Mosque, the largest in Morocco. We’ll enjoy lunch at a palace right in the center of the action.
Day 13 : Meknes & Volubilis
We tour some of the lovely and interesting sites near Fès, including the hill town of Moulay Idriss, the holiest Muslim town in Morocco, and spectacular Volubilis, once capital of the Berber kingdom of Mauritania and one of the most important Roman ruins in Africa. After lunch at a palace in the medina of the walled fortress city of Meknès, we’ll continue sightseeing in this magnificent city of the tyrant sultan Moulay Ismail. He built more than 50 palaces, 20 gates, and 15 miles of exterior walls (and perhaps fathered as many as a thousand children!). (If you wish, you may spend today on your own in Fès.) Return to Fès for a final dinner together.
Day 14 : Depart Fes
Transfer to the Fès airport and depart on homeward-bound flight via Casablanca or Europe. Your flight can depart at any time, but most flights depart early in the morning.
DATES: Best time to go: May - June, September - October Departures: Sep 21, 2014 - Oct 4, 2014
Es Saadi HotelMarrakesh, Morocco
Located in the heart of Marrakesh on 8 hectares of flowering parkland, this resort is comprised of the hotel, the palace, and 10 individually themed villas. Next to the Casino de Marrakesh, and walking distance from the old city, the hotel offers spectacular views of the High Atlas peaks.
Riad Ksar IghndaAit Ben Haddou, Morocco
The Riad Ksar Ighnda is located close to Ait Benhaddou and Ouarzazate, overlooking the Atlas Mountains and the edge of the Sahara desert. In an authentic yet modern setting, the hotel blends in with the environment.
Traditional bedrooms are spacious with modern comforts including private bathroom, air conditioning, satellite TV, DVD/CD player, minibar. A refreshing swimming pool offers a place to cool off after a day sightseeing, the hotel is also equipped with a spa, hammam and Jacuzzi.
Hotel Les MerinidesFès, Morocco
Perched atop a hillside overlooking The Imperial City of Fès, this 4-star hotel boasts an excellent reputation. The rooftop restaurant serves up traditional Moroccan fare and the guest rooms are beautifully designed with decorative carpets and contemporary furniture.
Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.
Kristy fell in love with Morocco about 20 years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer. After all these years she is still startled by its seemingly endless mountains and desert valleys, and the colorful, exotic Berber culture living in a long-forgotten age. Kristy has a passion for traditional Moroccan arts and handicrafts, speaks some Arabic and Berber dialects, has a great rapport with the Moroccan people, and will open the doors of understanding for you.