Trekking in Morocco: where and when to go

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Most people looking to trek in Morocco set their sights on Jebel Toubkal; indeed, there is much about this to recommend. However, the Atlas Mountains stretch over 2000km (1200 miles) from the Atlantic port of Agadir in the southwest of Morocco as far as Tunisia in the northeast. So we asked trekking expert Alan Palmer to set out the distinct and varied attractions of five very different trekking regions in Morocco.

The Toubkal Region
Best months: mid-May to mid-October
Highest point: Jebel Toubkal (4167m/13,667ft)
The Toubkal National Park is by far the most frequented region of Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, chiefly on account of the attraction of Jebel Toubkal, itself the highest summit in north Africa. However, there is much more to enjoy here besides including its beautiful, traditional Berber villages and a swim in Lake Ifni, the largest body of water in the High Atlas. The region is consequently also the most affected by tourism. The most popular starting point for treks in the Toubkal region is the rapidly expanding market town of Imlil, easily accessed from Marrakech within 90 minutes.

The Mgoun Region
Best months: mid-May to mid-October
Highest point: Ighil n’Oumsoud (4068m/13,343ft)
Located in the Central High Atlas Mountains, the Mgoun massif, dramatically scoured by long-departed ancient glaciers, is the second most popular trekking destination in Morocco. The area is distinguished by Ighil n’Oumsoud (Mgoun summit), the only mountain above 4000m outside the Toubkal region.
Most treks in the Mgoun region start out from the charming, green Ait Bou Guemmez Valley and climb over Aghouri Est pass (3400m/11,152ft) before descending to the glorious rolling summer pastures of Tarkeddid Plateau (2900m/9512ft). From here trails diverge in all directions, including to the summit of Ighil n’Oumsoud itself.

Western High Atlas
Best months: mid-May to mid-October
Highest point: Amendach (3382m/11,096ft)
The Western fringes of the High Atlas Mountains are the least frequented and most difficult to reach of the five regions described in this article. Private transport is very helpful to reach it, you will need to bring all your own food provisions with you, and you absolutely must have a tent. Visiting these parts will leave you feeling as though you are stepping back in time. Indeed, without any appreciable infrastructure to support you, a trek through this region gives a special insight into how other parts of the High Atlas used to be perhaps 20 years ago. Its mountain peaks and passes are greener and generally of lower altitude than those in the Toubkal and Mgoun regions but are not without their own physical challenges.

Jebel Sahro Region
Best months: mid-September to mid-May
Highest point: Amalou n’Mansour (2712m/8897ft)
A trek through more southerly Jebel Sahro, at the eastern end of the Anti-Atlas Mountains, offers the opportunity to trek a lower, less physically demanding route than in the High Atlas Mountains, whilst still presenting its own particular demands.
For one, the region is not well-frequented by trekkers and consequently there is almost no infrastructure to support your trek. Also, navigation can be rather difficult: if you take a guide with you just once in Morocco, this might be the time to do so, if only to help locate its few natural water sources.
The rewards for your efforts, however, will be considerable. Although dotted with occasional small villages, isolated hamlets and azibs (farmsteads), the arid landscape is largely occupied only by nomadic goatherds of the Ait Atta warrior tribe on the move. They, and the fascinating rock formations that punctuate the terrain, can leave a sense of trekking across a different planet.

Jebel Sirwa
Best months: mid-September to mid-May
Highest point: Jebel Sirwa (3305m/10,840ft)
The challenge of volcanic Jebel Sirwa, nestling between the High Atlas and the Anti-Atlas ranges, provides a natural focus for treks in this arid landscape of wonderful rock formations, traditional villages and unique, ancient communal granaries.
Most trekkers in the region set the summit of Jebel Sirwa as their goal, from which views in all directions, including northwards to far-away Jebel Toubkal, lift the spirits and soothe aching muscles. However, although one of the most inspiring destinations in Morocco, trekkers still remain relatively scarce here and are certainly much fewer than in the High Atlas; consequently, a visit to this region offers the reward of a much greater sense of remoteness and isolation. Treks usually start and finish in the sleepy market town of Taliwine.

Alan Palmer is the author of Moroccan Atlas: the Trekking Guide (Trailblazer Publications). His passion for the Atlas Mountains led him to set up his own company, Trek in Morocco, recently re-launched as, Yak Travel, which offers bespoke experiences throughout Morocco for individuals and small groups, including treks and tours in all five of the mountain regions covered in this article.

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