Top Reasons You Should Visit Morocco’s Atlas Mountains at Least Once in Your Lifetime

Kasbah Bab Ourika is a hilltop fortification that has been adapted into a luxury retreat
Kasbah Bab Ourika is a hilltop fortification that has been adapted into a luxury retreat | Courtesy of Kasbah Bab Ourika / Expedia
Photo of Julia Hammond
21 June 2021

The appeal of the Atlas Mountains lies in its many contradictions. Here, arid desert landscapes and snow-capped peaks frame lush, fertile valleys dotted with remote Berber villages. Here’s why you need to add this Morocco highlight to your bucket list.

Just a couple of hours’ drive from Marrakech, you’ll find yourself in the Atlas Mountains. No matter what time of year you visit, this place gets under your skin. In spring, fruit trees laden with blossom add a fragile beauty to the landscape. Sultry summers are made more bearable at higher altitudes, offering respite from the heat of the cities below. Autumn brings the promise of perfect hiking weather under cloudless skies. And the reward, if you come in winter, is the chance to ski somewhere wonderful. Read on to discover why you should visit the Atlas Mountains, spanning 2,500km (1,553mi) across north Africa, on your next trip to Morocco.

Climb North Africa’s highest mountain

Natural Feature, Hiking Trail
Map View
This is an image taken from the top of Jebel Toubkal (4, 167 m) the highest peak in northern Africa.. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.
© Kevin Su / Alamy

At 4,167m (13,671ft), Mount Toubkal towers over the region’s other peaks. The best time to trek the Atlas Mountains is in the spring or autumn. Hikers should allow two days to complete the challenging ascent. Mule trails lead to a mountain refuge, providing a much-needed break where you can start to acclimatise to the altitude. From here, you can make your summit attempt. Needless to say, the views from the top are spectacular.

Learn about Berber culture and hospitality

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Walkers in the High Atlas mountains, Morocco.
© Keith Beeson / Alamy Stock Photo

Berber villages litter the Atlas Mountains. One of them, Imlil, is a remote village close to Mount Toubkal. Berbers have long settled this part of Morocco, tracing their history back over 4,000 years. They were once traders, so it’s no surprise that welcoming travellers is an important part of their heritage. Take mint tea in a Berber home and learn more about their way of life.

Sleep inside a kasbah

Hotel
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Kasbah Bab Ourika_64366904
Courtesy of Kasbah Bab Ourika / Expedia

Morocco’s kasbahs were originally citadels, built as a place of refuge in times of attack. Today, some of these hilltop fortifications have been adapted into luxury retreats, such as the Kasbah Bab Ourika overlooking the Ourika Valley. Its setting is idyllic, perched above verdant slopes carpeted with citrus trees. Birdsong and fresh mountain air will clear the mind, while the extensive treatment menu at the kasbah’s authentic hammam helps to revitalise tired bodies.

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Eat the finest Moroccan food

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
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Delicious breakfast in Moroccan style served in riad (traditional Moroccan hotel)
© Michele D'Ottavio / Alamy

One of the reasons so many tourists make day trips from Marrakech to the Atlas Mountains is because of the food. Breakfast is a feast of home-made bread dripping with olive oil. Later in the day, savour tasty Berber tagines served with fluffy couscous and locally grown seasonal vegetables. Wash down your meal with copious glasses of refreshing mint tea.

Explore the beautiful Azzaden Valley

Natural Feature
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Cactus in Azzaden Valley, Toubkal National Park, High Atlas, Morocco
© John Roberts / Alamy

Many of the valleys that nestle between the mountains of the Atlas are pretty, but none more so than Azzaden, particularly in spring, when its fruit trees are covered with blossom. A stroll through this tranquil landscape reveals walnut groves nestled in sheltered hollows and gnarly junipers with a foothold in the most inhospitable rock crevices. Throw in some Berber villages and a spot of sunshine and you’ve got one of the most photogenic spots in the Atlas.

Swim under the Ouzoud Falls

Natural Feature
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Ouzoud-Falls_TWJKNY
© Alberto Loyo / Alamy

Multiple cascades comprise the jaw-dropping Ouzoud Falls, which tumble into the El-Abid river gorge. To reach the waterfalls you must follow a shady path through olive groves. There, you can take a refreshing dip in the pool beneath the falls, in the company of the macaques that call this home. In such scenic surroundings, it’s not hard to see why this is one of the most popular excursions in the region.

Spot a Barbary macaque in the Ifrane National Park

Park
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Two brarbary macaque monkeys delousing, Ifrane, Morocco
© Julian Schaldach / Alamy
Like their famous cousins on the Rock of Gibraltar, the Barbary macaques that hang out in Ifrane National Park are accustomed to the presence of humans. This reserve in the Middle Atlas supports the world’s largest population of these endangered apes, as well as wild boars, jackals and over 200 species of bird. They inhabit the largest area of woodland in Morocco – where you’ll also find a cedar tree that’s over 800 years old.

Go skiing at Oukaïmeden

Natural Feature, Ski Resort
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The ski resort of Oukaimeden in the Atlas Mountains near Marrakech, Morocco, North Africa
© Ian G Dagnall / Alamy
Although it’s less than 80km (50mi) from Marrakech, Oukaïmeden is Africa’s highest ski resort. Snow conditions are at their best in January and February. Six drag lifts accommodate beginners and improvers; those demanding a steeper gradient can jump on a chairlift to reach the most challenging run in the resort – or venture off-piste with a guide.
These recommendations were updated on June 21, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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