Atlas Trekking in Morocco - Toubkal National Park
Group Departure Dates (2015):
Price: US $1479 Per Person
Introduction to Atlas TrekkingThe Atlas Mountains of Morocco is one of North Africa's (if not all of Africa's) great trekking playgrounds. On first impression, it seems a magical land where an ancient land holds native populations (known as Amazigh, or more commonly as Berbers) who have maintained much of their cultural heritage while other more urban parts of the country rapidly modernize. The Atlas range itself acts as a barricade between the lower Sahara Desert region and the northern rolling Middle Atlas and Rif Mountains, which means it catches both the dryness of the south and the greener regions to the north - a place of contrasts, colors, and stunning topography.
Trekking in the region can take you to remote corners, staggering peaks (known as jebels), and over saddled passes (known as tizis, or cols), and up several peaks towering over 4,000 meters above sea level. While Europeans have been trekking the Atlas of Morocco since before World War I, others are now discovering the tremendous allure of the region's centerpiece (and well trodden) Mount Toubkal (the tallest peak in North Africa at 4,167 meters), secluded villages, as well as equally stunning peaks dotting the horizon as far as the eye can see.
Natural & Cultural HighlightsThe Atlas Mountains can, in theory, be hiked all year long. The area does indeed have four, northern-hemisphere seasonal varieties, although one day can bring changeable weather. This means that trekkers should prepare for not only the time of year they'll be trekking, but essentially, plan and prepare for all sorts of possible weather patterns that could come through. While snow in summer is rare, it has (and does) happen! Each season brings does bring it's own flavor; winter can mean an inundation of snow, summer a sun so intense uncovered body parts can blister, while spring and fall can bring freezing nights coupled with a risk of flash floods along the serrated glacier-cut valleys, gorges, and canyons.
The aforementioned weather is not meant to bring alarm, but awareness to the exceptional land that demands respect on a professional level. In addition, the area does have well-trodden paths, but some of these jut off into directions with unbeknownst peripheries. This is why hiring a local guide (and their muleteers with animals of labor) comes highly recommended and make walking the region both enjoyable, but also safe and well implemented.
Geography & GeologyThe Atlas Mountains stretch from the Atlantic through Morocco, splitting in three parallel tracks that form the High Atlas (home to Jbel Toubkal and the Mgoun Massif of Ait Bougmez), the Anti-Atlas (home to Jbel Sirwa and Jbel Sahro), and the Middle Atlas (home to the cedar forested regions of Ifrane and Azrou).
Geologically, it's thought that the Atlas Mountains were formed when the North of Africa and the Americas collided and squished into each other during the Paleozoic Era and then again when they separated during the Mesozoic Era - all of this occurring well beneath the surface of the ocean (to which one can still find fossilized oceanic remains on the top of both Toubkal and Mgoun). The Moroccan ranges came to surface when Africa and Europe collided, raising the current Atlas range, as well as the Pyrenees and Alps in Europe.
Flora and FaunaThe flora and fauna of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco is impressive given that many of the larger game animals, such as elephant and lions, once abundant in the region are no longer present, driven to extinction. The High Atlas is home to the elephant shrew, as well as rabbits and ground squirrels. Of the larger variety, the region supposedly is home to gazelle, hyaena, and jackal and rarer still the Lynx and African wildcat. In the Middle Atlas, one can find wild boar, the famed Barbary Macaque (monkey), foxes, jackals, among other woodland creatures. The drier regions are also home to various reptiles, including the gecko, lizards, snakes, and chameleons. The desert is home to the infamous horned viper. The birds of Morocco are impressive and the mountains are home to falcons, kites, eagles, buzzards, and vultures. The flora of the Atlas Mountains is more lush in late spring when the barren, rocky terrain pops to life from snowmelt and sunshine. The summer brings drier conditions and rarer sights include hardy flowers able to proliferate in the windswept landscape.
Amazigh (Berber) PopulationsThe Amazigh populations (known as Berbers) in the Atlas Mountains are omnipresent and their kindness, generosity, openness, and friendly nature don't go unnoticed. Hikers frequenting their villages have made foreigners more commonplace and partially more accepted given the job creation their visitings can bring. Many villages now have one or two auberges (rustic mountain guesthouse) providing a bed and warm meal to various passersby. Don't be suprised when walking by if you are not invited in for tea and to share a moment in the lives of locals. While a few dirham left behind for the supplies can be appreciated, invitations are mostly genuine in that these locals are honored to travelers as their guests, sharing stories, and even discussions on politics and religion, which are often best kept superficial and accepting.
Local Amazigh people are less controlled when compared to their urban counterparts. Local communities rarely pay taxes to the government and often take care of matters of infrastructure and village issues in meetings help by village people and their elders. Each region does have a local authority called a caid, a type of mayor who is connected and reports to the government.
Amazigh populations speak one of three languages: Tashelhit (High Atlas and Anti-Atlas regions), Tamazight (Mgoun Massif and Middle Atlas), and Tarifit (Rif Mountains region). The first two can communicate relatively easily with each other, whereas Tarafit isn't understood by the latter. Picking up a few words of Tashelhit to use along your trek is recommended and can be a great icebreaker to further conversation and even invitations to Berber households and festivities.
Regions of the Atlas MountainsIn the High Atlas Mountains, you'll read about a variety of areas to explore as either day trips (which are team does as a part of longer cultural itineraries) or overnight to multi-day treks. Here are some of the more common regions and villages that you'll encounter while researching or reading about the Atlas Mountains.
Setti FatmaOnce a decent hotspot for day trippers from Marrakesh, the region of Setti Fatma has lost some of its appeal over the last decade or so. But still, guidebooks still report on it as a hotspot, so travelers keep going. It's still an escape from the summer heat of Marrakesh (especially for Moroccan locals) and does serve some of the better tajines (meat stews with vegetables) that you'll have in the country, but the loss of appeal happens since a number of mediocre restaurants have popped up and the region is often littered at the end of each day. For those staying in a riad and getting advice from foreign residents (who may be riad owners), you'll still be able to arrange day trips here if you are interested.
OukaïmedenBetter than Setti Fatma, but harder to get to on one's own, Oukaïmeden is home to some decent walking and in the winter, if luck provides snow, some decent skiing (the other spot for skiing in Morocco being Ifrane at Michlifen, which is more of an over-hyped bunny hill than a ski resort). One of the more impressive sights in the region are some ancient rock carvings just as one enters the area; a new information center seems to provide further details (mostly in French). In the summer, this is a nice spot for day trekking too, but again, finding a good guide and quality transport to the region can be a bit difficult).
ImlilConsidered by many guidebooks as the best point to arrange treks in the Atlas of Morocco, Imlil is more of a roadside re-supply town rather than a village worth spending too much time. In reality, getting your trek arranged before venturing here is key to ensuring that you are well supplied and have a certified, trustworthy guide. It's here where most tourists and even Moroccans come to negotiate deals on food, excursions, and supplies. Guesthouses are aplenty and the range has gotten impressive; from rustic to slightly luxurious, you'll be able to find accommodation to fit.
Armed (Aroumd)The more alluring village of Armed (Aroumd) is just a 30 to 40-minute walk from Imlil (and 4x4 transport can get here too along a hairy gravel zigzag road). Armed is a honest-to-goodness Berber village overlooking the impressive river valley and from certain vantage points, Toubkal looms in the distance. This is a good spot to get acclimated overnight to the altitude (2000 meters) before heading up to the Toubkal Basecamps the following day (which takes about 6 hours) and is better outlined in the full itinerary (which can be read by clicking on "Full Itinerary" above).
Getting There & AwayWe have over a decade of on-the-ground experience to ensure your trek with our team is unmatched. We have top-rated, certified guides who will provide you with a high-quality experience (with top gear provided). You can join a hike by checking our group-departure dates here, or by contacting us to help you get started!
A map of the trails inside Toubkal National Park. You’ll receive our exclusive maps once you’ve booked a trip with our team.
The Grand Toubkal Circuit
Airport Transfer, Dinner
Today, you’ll arrive into Marrakesh with an airport transfer that will take you to your riad for the evening. You can also arrive into Casablanca and book a transfer with us to Marrakesh (or simply take a train). You’ll be able to enjoy a scrumptious dinner this evening in the riad and catch up on sleep before tomorrow’s guided visit of the city.
Private Guided Visit, Lunch
Today, you’ll be able to enjoy a private guided visit of Marrakesh with our amazing local city guide. He’ll meet you at your riad at 9:30am and will have a quick chat to outline the day’s plans. You’ll then head out into the medina to enjoy some touristed and slightly lesser-known sights. You’ll have lunch before enjoying an afternoon visit before settling into the riad this evening.
Private Transport (2hrs), Breakfast, Dinner
This afternoon you’ll head out from Marrakesh to the more-removed Berber village of Armed (Aroumd). You’ll be able to settle into the village and enjoy a local dinner as you get used to the altitude for tomorrow’s ascent to the Toubkal Basecamps.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Gain 1308 meters; Walk 6-7hrs
Early this morning, you’ll make your way from the village of Armed along the river valley before making a slowish ascent to the site known as Sidi Charmouch - a local shrine that is said to heal those with mental disorders. This is one of the last spots to buy a quick snack or soda before you reach the basecamps this afternoon. The rest of the day is a slow ascent with picnic lunch until the basecamps (Les Mouflons and Nelter) come into view. We prefer camping here to have our own special nook on an outcrop with a view of the whole region. You’ll have a gourmet (for camping) dinner in preparation for tomorrow’s summit.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Gain, Loss 959 meters; Walk 6-7 hrs
This morning before dawn you’ll head out with warm gear and headlamps shining brightly as you make the slow and steady climb up North Africa’s tallest and most renowned peak. The rocky ascent and return takes most trekkers five to seven hours; at the top you’ll enjoy a quick snack and celebration with photos before heading back down to the basecamp area where you’ll arrive by lunch time where an earned rest awaits. You’ll sleep in the camp before moving onward past this slightly touristed mountain and into the real heart of the Atlas Mountains.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Gain 477 meters; Loss 815 meters; Walk 6-7 hrs
Today’s walk takes you from the Toubkal refuges in the Atlas Mountains up to the Tizi Ouanoums pass (3664m) which offers a partial view of Lac D’Ifni (2312m), which looks much closer than it actually is, as well as a stunning view of Jebel Sahro ahead and Jbel Sirwa to the right. You’ll start today’s initial ascent of Tizi Ouanoums at the head of the Miziane Valley. The path is relatively well graded and zig-zags to the col, taking most trekkers around two hours to reach the pass, a narrow gap from which another otherworldly landscape opens up.
As you begin to descend towards Lac d’Ifni, the trail becomes much rougher and the descent is not for those with weak knees! As you continue downward, your day may brighten as you intersect some wary souls coming in the opposite direction - making the grueling climb up the col which is one of the hardest ascents in the entire Atlas range.
Two to three hours later you’ll come into the Assif N’Moursaine riverbed which offers pleasant views (but ankle-splitting walking) until you reach the serene Lac d’Ifni where in summer a refreshingly frigid swim can be had. A variety of camp sights await those arriving early enough in the busy season.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Loss 595m; Walk 4-6 hrs
Today’s walk is a deserved leisurely stroll compared to the last couple of days. You’ll start walking around 8am along the north side of the lake. As you ascend, plenty of picture-perfect panoramas come in and out of view. The top of the hillside offers you a last view of the lake where you can sit at the local marabout (shrine area) of Sidi Ifni (the brother of Sidi Charamouch). From here, you’ll descend a gravel piste towards the village of Ait Igrane. This stunningly fertile valley and have the various villages that truly bring the region to life. The scattered villages eventually bring you to the lovely hamlet of Amsouzart (1797m) where you’ll call home for the night. The village offers some nice exploration and the guesthouse offers decent showers (or warm bucket baths at the least) and sometimes laundry service. Mobile phone coverage and the re-charging of electronics can also be done.
*From here, it’s possible to go from here to Ouarzazate to begin a Sahara Desert trip if you want to combine trekking with a desert adventure.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Walk 8-9 hrs
Today’s walk takes you from the village of Amsouzart to the Tizi N’Ououraine (Tizi N’Ourai) pass (3109m) and down into the Tifni Valley (2600m) where the spotted pastures of Azib Likest await. From Amsouzart, you’ll climb steadily for the next 4-5 hours. Making your way to the Tizi N’Ouraine pass, which can be cold and windy with gusts topping 50 kilometers an hour. As you climb, the peaks in the blue distant horizon begin to reveal themselves. From the pass, you’ll head steepily downhill to an azib (shepherd’s hut) where in the summer and early fall a nice picnic lunch can be had. It’s here where you’ll descend into a gorge filled with wild grasses along the Assif Tinzart riverbed. You’ll mount a small col before entering the Tinfi Valley and to Azib Likemt.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Gain 955m, Loss 1241m; Walk 6-8 hrs
You’ll be heading away from the valley floor of Azib Likemt and heading to the tranquil village of Tacheddirt. But, it comes at a price as one must make the slow and long zigzag ascent to the pass of Tizi Likemt - both cold and windy (and possibly fog covered) any day of the year. The actual walk begins opposite the Assif Tinzart and behind Azim Likemt, where a set of shepherd huts. The ascent begins here and lasts for the next 3-4 hours as you steadily make your way to Tizi Likest at 3600 meters. The grueling walk is made worthwhile at the peak where if no clouds or fog are present (or if you wait a few minutes) you’ll have an angelic view of the Imnane Valley below - the first village of the cluster being Tacheddirt. The scree-ridden descent seems as if it might be quick. However, prepare for a two to three hour heels-as-breaks descent to the valley floor. A real treat is also the village of Ouanesekra before you meet your transport and return to Marrakesh for one last night before your departure tomorrow.
We say goodbye today and we hope you enjoyed your journey with our team!
Extensions available to the laid-back coastal town of Essaouira.