Morocco trekking expert Alan Palmer gives his recommendations for those heading to the High Atlas
am regularly contacted for advice by first time trekkers in Morocco, who often fall into one of two camps. Either they have set their hearts on climbing Jebel Toubkal (4167m), the highest mountain in north Africa, and simply want to know more about the logistics, or they have very little idea about trekking in Morocco at all and ask for an overview of the range of possibilities.
This piece is written with both groups in mind, and concentrates on five of the best summertime (May to October) hikes to be enjoyed in the Toubkal Region, the trailheads all easily accessible within 90 minutes from Marrakech.
The great majority of first-time trekkers in Morocco choose to head straight for lofty Jebel (Mount) Toubkal. The Toubkal Region, however, has much more to offer than reaching the summit and other equally rewarding, arguably more beautiful, lower altitude treks are here to be enjoyed, too.
Jebel Toubkal Ascent (2 to 3 days)
From the trailhead town of Imlil (1740m), many strike straight for the historic Refuge du Toubkal (3207m), sleep overnight, then set off early the next morning for the summit itself, leaving enough time to return to Imlil and even take onward transport back to Marrakech on the second day.
It would be much better, however, to spend a first night at Imlil, to allow for acclimatisation, and to take three days altogether over this trip.
Jebel Toubkal Ascent and Circuit (5 to 6 days)
Even better, allow five or six days to complete both the ascent and the circuit of Jebel Toubkal. This would allow you to visit Tacheddirt, the highest village in the High Atlas Mountains, to enjoy the sights of pilgrims arriving from near and far at the ancient shrine of Sidi Chamharouch, and to take a swim in the clear green mountain waters of Ifni Lake.
High Atlas Valleys and Berber Villages (2 days)
However, altitude isn’t everything. Why not take a more leisurely stroll over the mountain pass of Tizi Mzik (2488m) for a view of the celebrated Cascades (Waterfalls) d”Irhoulidene, visit traditional villages set in less frequented valleys, and then wind over Tizi Oudite (2219m) back to Imlil?
Imlil to Setti Fatma (3 days)
Or, how about undertaking the three-day cross-country trek over Tizi n’Tacheddirt (3172m) to the popular destination of Setti Fatma, nestling in the green Ourika valley? You could finish your trek by climbing up to the series of beautiful waterfalls which plunge high above the valley.
Yagour Plateau Traverse (3 days)
Alternatively, if you want to get away from the crowds altogether, climb up onto the lush pastures on the idyllic Yagour Plateau, scattered with wonderful summer flowers and prehistoric rock engravings.
Here, you can meet several generations of Berber families, from the villages in the valleys below, who have come to spend the summer in simple, stone azibs, to graze their flocks of sheep and goats and prepare enough butter (using age-old techniques) to last them the whole year.
Alan Palmer is author of Moroccan Atlas the Trekking Guide (Trailblazer Publications). His passion for the Atlas Mountains led him to set up his company Trek in Morocco, recently re-launched as Yak Travel, which offers bespoke treks and tours throughout Morocco for individuals and small groups, including all of the above treks and many more besides.