Trekking in the Mountains of Morocco is, for many, the highlight of a trip to Morocco. The alpine landscape reveals traces of the range’s glacial history (for real!), and is a far cry from the scrub of the plains or the sands of the nearby Sahara Desert. But while any trip requires planning, a jaunt to the High Atlas necessitates a slightly higher degree of preparation. As with any mountain landscape, temperatures and conditions can change quickly, and available resources will vary wildly between villages and outposts. Here, then are a few things to consider as you get ready for a trip to the High Atlas.
Guides – If you are planning to strike out on the trails, you may be curious about hiring a guide to help show you the way. There are a number of guiding/touring businesses in almost every trailhead village, as well as the larger cities. They can provide transport, food, lodging or any combination thereof you like, in addition to leading you through the mountain passes. Make sure you are clear on your price before you go, and establish exactly what is being provided ahead of time. Don’t feel guilty about shopping around for good prices or service!
Lodging – Are you planning to stay in a hotel or camp? If you’d like to go the hotel route, make sure to plan ahead and be sure your chosen accommodations have beds available. The high season, generally from May to September, can be busy even in the smallest villages, so make sure you have your place booked before you go. Also know that, while the trailhead of Toubkal may only be an hour from Marrakesh, the food and supplies available are quite sparse. Prepare to be flexible, and if there is something you know you can’t do without, bring it with you.
If you plan to camp, do your research! There are a few camping areas within Toubkal Park, but support and infrastructure is virtually non-existent. Make sure you feel comfortable in the wilderness, and pack accordingly.
Food and Water – As is the case anywhere in the world, smaller villages just don’t offer the same variety you’ll find in larger cities. While Marrakesh is close by, High Atlas villages could not feel more removed. Expect to be provided with only the basics (tea, bread, some canned goods, etc.) while in the mountains, and make sure to bring anything essential with you.
Water purification tablets should be one of your essential items. While tap water is generally safe, there are very few places to refill your water bottle once you head out onto the trail. A number of waterborne parasites, including giardia, are known to inhabit Atlas Mountain streams. Make sure you have a way to purify your water supply, whatever it may be, and understand exactly how to use it.
Clothing and Gear – While you may be boiling on the Moroccan plains, remember that there can be snow on the high peaks well into summer. This can make packing for your Morocco excursion tricky, but the key is to utilize plenty of layers. Aim for thin, warm fabrics that you can add and subtract as necessary. Also make sure you have raingear on hand, as storms can roll in quickly, as well as plenty of sunscreen.
Emergency Preparedness – While the odds are your High Atlas excursion will go off without a hitch, you should make sure you have a solid plan in place just in case something goes sideways. If you are staying at a hotel, make sure the staff is aware of your plans, as well as when to expect you back. Also be sure to carry a cell phone. Reception can be spotty to non-existent in some areas, but you should be able to find a signal within a few kilometers no matter where you are.
Written by Margaret Jackson.
Photo by katclay.