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 | Courtesy of Kasbah Bab Ourika / Expedia
The appeal of the Atlas Mountains lies in its many contradictions. Here, arid desert landscapes and snow-capped peaks frame 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 is 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, which spans 2,500km (1,553mi) across northern Africa, on your next trip to Morocco.
Climb North Africa’s highest mountain
Natural Feature, Hiking Trail
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, allowing two days to complete this 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
© Keith Beeson / Alamy Stock Photo
Berbers have long settled in this part of Morocco, with a history dating back more than 4,000 years. They were once traders, so it’s no surprise that welcoming travellers is an important part of their heritage. Head to Imlil, a remote Berber village close to Mount Toubkala, to enjoy mint tea in a Berber home and learn more about their way of life.
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 authentic hammam helps to revitalise tired bodies.
Eat the finest Moroccan food
Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
© 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
Many of the valleys that nestle between the mountains here 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
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. Once there, you can take a refreshing dip in the pool beneath the falls, in the company of the macaques that call this spot 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
© 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 more than 200 bird species. They inhabit the largest area of woodland in Morocco – where you’ll also find a cedar tree that’s more than 800 years old.
Go skiing at Oukaïmeden
Natural Feature, Ski Resort
Although it’s less than 80km (50mi) from Marrakech, Oukaïmeden is the highest ski resort in Africa. 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 September 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.