Morocco

  1. Mount Toubkal

    Missing ben on 8th June 2012 | 2 comments

    At 4,167m, Mount Toubkal is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains. It is a non-technical summit requiring only a reasonable degree of fitness and determination. Toubkal (often called Jbel Toubkal) is easily reached from Marrakech and lays at the heart of a network of trekking trails that offer striking high altitude mountain scenery, lush valleys and relatively untouched Berber communities. Toubkal is climbable year round, albeit in winter, from Nov – May, snow settles above 3000m and crampons and ice axes are required.

    The Trailhead: Trails all start from Imlil (1740m), a large picturesque village set at the head of the Imlil Valley surrounded by walnut groves, apple trees and bisected by a rushing river.Toubkal

    Imlil – Toubkal Refuge: The most direct route to the Toubkal Refuge is a 4 hr uphill walk from Imlil via the shrine of sidi chamharouch (2350m). As this is a busy trail and is usually the descent route, most opt for a more scenic approach via the neighbouring Azzaden Valley.Toubkal

    Toubkal Refuge (3207m): Whichever route you take there is no avoiding a night at the refuge. Dorms are crowded and bathroom facilities leave much to be desired. In good weather avoid the dorms and camp.Toubkal

    Toubkal Refuge – Tizi n Toubkal Pass (South Col): From the Refuge, the trail zig-zags up the South Col, a long and moderately steep scree slope ascending 750m to the Tizi-n Toubkal Pass Toubkal

    Approaching the Tizi n Toubkal Pass at 3950mToubkal

    Tizi n Toubkal Pass – Summit: From the pass, the trail traces a dramatic ridge to the summit, with spectacular mountain views to the N/S/E/W. It is an easy scramble set well back from the precipitous drop of the ridge.DSC07569

    Summit 4167m: With good visibility, the summit of Toubkal offers stunning views over the surrounding High Atlas Mountains and out to the Sahara Desert in the far distance.Toubkal

    Optional Descent via North Col: The majority head back down the same route, but for the adventurous there is a longer more dramatic descent via the North Col, requiring moderate scrambling from the summit.Toubkal

    The North Col: The North Col is a classical U-shaped Valley offers cracking scenery and a more remote feel, with few other trekkers.Toubkal

    Remains of a 1960s Portuguese Army cargo plane: The plane went down with its four crew in the 1960s and much of the wreckage remains scattered eerily about the mountain-side.Toubkal

    Back to the refuge: Anywhere between 4 -6 hours later, weary trekkers arrive back at the refuge for a well-deserved lunch. Many descend back to Imlil and Marrakech the same day.Toubkal

    Toubkal Route choices

    2 Days: The two day route is a simple up & down via the same trail from Imlil. The first day is spent getting from Marrakech to the mountains with an afternoon walk up to the refuge. The second day tackles the summit, before the long descent back to Imlil and on to Marrakech.

    3 Days: With three days, you can tackle Toubkal via the neighbouring (and very picturesque) Azzaden Valley. This is a reasonably challenging trek with long days on day two and three. A highlight is the traverse from the head of the Azzaden Valley over the Aguelzim Pass (3450m) on day two. See our 3 Day Toubkal Circular Trek.

    4-5 Days: Arguably the most balanced route, offering a great taster of relatively untouched remote Berber villages, valley walking and high passes and peaks. The five day route crosses from the Imlil Valley to the Azzaden Valley and on to the remote D’knt Valley via low passes before weaving its way back via up-valley passes to tackle Toubkal on the final day. See our 4-5 Day Villages and Toubkal Trek.

    6 Days: For seasoned trekkers. The 6 day route follows a trail through remote areas over several stunning high passes, wild camping at night. The trail passes by Lak D’Ifni where there is usually an opportunity for a spot of relaxation and swimming. It is a more demanding trek, but the rewards are immense. See our 6 Day Toubkal Trek.

    Weather on Toubkal

    It is possible to climb Jebel Toubkal any time, but spring is arguably the best. In winter the mountain is covered in snow and a skilled guide, crampons and ice axes are a must. In spring the weather is warmer and there is still some snow cover over the loose scree making for perfect trekking conditions. Summer and Autumn can be hot, and the scree is loose, but an early start makes it more than manageable.

    A detailed weather forecast for Toubkal and at varying elevations in the Atlas Mountains can be found at mountain-forecast.com

    Health, Fitness & Experience Requirements

    Outside the winter months, Jebel Toubkal is accessible as long as you are reasonably fit and determined. No specialist gear is required and with a guide and mule to take the load the task is made much easier. It is tough work and if you prefer to take it a little easier, there are some lovely trails featuring passes and fantastic mountain views (for example see our three day valleys trek LINK)

    In winter it is recommended you have some prior experience with crampons and ice axes before attempting Toubkal.

    Toubkal is at altitude and altitude sickness is a possibility, severe conditions are rare (primarily because the highest overnight is only 3200m), but mild symptoms such as head-aches, lack of appetite and mild nausea can be common on the summit day.

    What equipment do you need to trek Toubkal?

    You don't really need any specialist equipment outside winter months, but common sense applies. You will need hiking shoes or boots with a full-tread sole and good weatherproof clothing, a good sleeping bag (these can be rented) and of course, a first aid kit.

    The Refuges

    There are two refuges on Jebel Toubkal (right next to each other), the Neltner Hut (Club Alpin Francais) and the newer Mouflons Refuge. Both offer very basic dormitory style accommodation and passable shared bathroom facilities. It is possible to avoid the dorms and camp in the summer months.

    Maps and Guide Books

    Toubkal Hiking Map: Superb 1:50000 map covering the majority of the trekking area around Toubkal (and with a handy Marrakech Medina street map on the reverse)
    Moroccan High Atlas Mountaineering Guide: Detailed mountaineering guidebook to the area.

  2. The Atlas Mountains

    Missing ben on 3rd May 2012 | 3 comments

    With snow-capped peaks, lush valleys & traditional mud-built Berber villages, the Atlas Mountains offer superb trekking and a wonderful respite from the madness, heat and noise of Marrakech. Read on for our guide to accommodation in the Atlas Mountains, trekking options and weather.

    The High Atlas Mountains are the most easily reached section of the Atlas Mountains and arguably the most spectacular, the High Atlas Mountains, are only a 2 hr drive from Marrakech centred around the trail head town of Imlil and peak of Toubkal. This guide is primarily concerned with this area.

    The area can be reached in a (long) day trip from Marrakech. However given the 2 hr drive each way, we would rather recommend staying overnight. Multi-day treks are a wonderful way to experience the landscape and traditional Berber culture, or you can simply relax on the rooftop terrace of a charming mountain guesthouse and take in the views over a good book and a few gentle short walks.

    Accommodation in the High Atlas Mountains

    Kasbah Du Toubkal Terrace

    Since the arrival of the (deservedly) legendary Kasbah Du Toubkal, the Atlas Mountains have built a reputation for indulgent and stylish hotels. Kasbah Bab Ourika stands out for pure indulgence and majestic situation. Douar Samra wins the charm award hands down with a wonderfully earthy rambling village property with a just-so shabby chic. And whilst the Kasbah Du Toubkal is more expensive, the superb terraces, lounges and views pull together to create an superb stay.

    Hotels are clustered around three broad areas, the Ourika Valley, Ouirgane and Imlil. The Ourika Valley is closest to Marrakech located in the foothills of the Atlas range. It is an incredibly picturesque valley, but is much more densely populated and heavily frequented by tourist coaches with less good walking options. Generally speaking we don't recommend this area with the exception of Kasbah Bab Ourika, a very high class boutique hotel that occupies a prominent hill in the heart of the valley. The Ouirgane area has a number of good options including the superb Domain Malika. However, if you are trying to avoid the heat of summer and or you are keen on walking then the Imlil area is our favoured choice, the scenery is most dramatic, temperatures are a little cooler and the village is at the heart of a wonderful network of walking trails. 

    Trekking in the High Atlas Mountains

    Toubkal

    Basing yourself in a hotel (or even on a day trip from Marrakech) there are several good day walks possible in the Imlil area and the near-bye Ouirgane National Park. The area around Imlil offers walks to neighbouring high passes or up to the shrine on the main trail to Toubkal, whilst Ouirgane and Ourika offer less dramatic more low key scenery and gentler walking. See here for our guide to trekking in the Atlas Mountains with children

    A nicely balanced itinerary might include 2 to 3 nights in Douar Samra (or Kasbah Du Toubkal if you can afford it) with one or two day walks and plenty of time to soak up the views from the roof terraces and gardens. It is quite feasible to walk on your own, but trails aren’t marked and guides are very good, relatively in-expensive and highly recommended.

    A multi-day trek really is the best way to experience the mountains. Most hotels reside in relatively modernised villages, but on a multi-day trek you can explore more traditional mud-built Berber villages, some beautiful valleys and high mountain scenery. All our multi-day treks include a guide, cook (who will prepare a cooked picnic lunch on the trail, dinners and breakfast all from delicious fresh ingredients) and mules to carry your gear.

    Two to three day valleys and villages treks are not dis-similar to the concept of a Nepalese tea-house trek. These treks are designed with a lighter itinerary (typically 5-6 hrs max walking per day), stay overnight in traditional village gites and where possible your guide will take you for tea in a village home. These treks avoid the more difficult high passes staying below 3000m, making them perfect for winter and for those whose primary objective is enjoyment rather than testing peaks and passes. We tend to focus most of our valleys treks around the Azzaden and D'knt Valleys as the combination of scenery, varied trails and traditional villages is hard to beat. We have recently discontinued the traverse trek from Imlil to Ourika Valley traverse, because a recent road has been built along most of the route.

    Toubkal can be climbed on treks from 2 days up to 6. We don’t recommend the 2 day route as it heads up and back down via the same, over-trafficked route. In three days, you can summit Toubkal and enjoy the wonderful scenery of the Azzaden Valley. In four or five days, there is also time to explore the more remote valleys and villages. The 6 day Toubkal Circuit is the ultimate Atlas Mountain trek, taking a broad circle around Toubkal, reaching the remote and striking high alpine areas around Lak D’Ifni.

    It is worth noting that you will need a good sleeping bag (it gets cold at night at altitude), waterproofs and good walking shoes or boots if you are planning on going on a multi-day trek.

    DSCF1736

    Accommodation on multi-day treks usually involves some combination of camping, village gites (guesthouses) and mountain huts (where necessary). Gites are traditional village homes that serve as an inn for guests and can be a wonderful cultural experience. Rooms are very simple and there are bare bones shared bathrooms. If you’d rather not experience the shared facilities, then we can offer two to three day treks staying at the Azzaden trekking lodge, a three (en-suite) bedroom village outpost of the Kasbah Du Toubkal in the Azzaden Valley.

    Weather in the Atlas Mountains

    The Atlas Mountains offer a typically warm, dry and sunny climate that makes them a perfect year-round destination. However trekkers need to be aware of snow and freezing temperatures at high altitudes in winter:

    Spring (April - May) & Autumn (Sep - October) are unarguably the optimum time to visit, with perfect temperatures and the added bonus of spring growth and autumn colours.

    Summer (July - August): In summer the high Atlas Mountains offer a cool respite from the 40 degrees C plus temperatures in Marrakech. The valleys of the High Atlas around Imlil typically experience temperatures in the range of low 30 degrees C during the height of the day, with the lower altitudes of the Ourika Valley and Ouirgane National Park hotter (often too hot for walking). There is a risk of afternoon thunder storms and heavy rain.

    Winter:(November - March): Expect mild day time temperatures (10-20 degrees C), cooler night-time temperatures (down to 5 degrees at Imlil, and well below zero at altitude on Toubkal) with the high passes and peaks thick with snow cover. If you are planning a multi day trek, please note that during these months, crampons and ice axes are required for any treks above 3000m.

  3. Camel Trekking in the Sahara Desert

    Anna x country skiing Anna on 17th January 2011 | 0 comments

    Deep in South East Morocco, lie two sets of Saharan Ergs, or sand dunes. Measuring around 22km by 5km, the Erg Chebbi dunes form an intriguing island in the otherwise flat and rocky desert that marks out the Moroccan portion of the Sahara Desert. The journey to the Sahara Desert from Marrakech is long and in the summer months, hot as well. However, the trip is more than worth it. Sleeping under the stars in traditional (and very basic) Berber camps, the rest of the world feels like a lifetime away. Added to this romanticism, you reach your camp by camel. I headed off for 24 hours in the Sahara desert and couldn't stop taking photos (which is not easy to do when on top of a camel!) Here are my favourites from the trip:

    Approaching the dunes, you drive across rocky desert for several miles, before you see the magnificent Erg Chebbi dunes looming in the background.

    The camel treks depart from a local kasbah. After arriving and a brief mint tea, I caught a quick glimpse of the camels having a feed.

    Once we had our pre-trip briefing, we were off. Led by Said, our guide for the 2 days, we perched atop our mounts and headed off into the dunes for the sunset.

    There are other people around, but the dunes are so vast that we only saw people in the distance. The silence in the Sahara is like nothing else. with views of seemingly endless dunes from every angle.

    After trekking for a couple of hours, you reach your lodging for the night. Sahara accommodation is basic; a thin mattress on the sand and that's about it. The blankets that form the top of the tents have holes in  them, meaning that you can star gaze while all tucked up in your sleeping bag.

    An early start the following morning means mounting the camels in the dark so that you can reach a good vantage point for the sunrise.  It may sound a little glib, but it is a genuinely spiritual experience.

    This may look easy, but running up a sand dune is actually very hard to do!

    The beasts of burden - our two camels, enjoy a rest while we watched the sunrise.

    A well-earned breakfast back at the Kasbah before the journey back to Marrakech

    Our Sahara Desert Tours in Morocco

     

    3 Day Tour to Erg Chebbi from Marrakech from £300pp
    It is possible to reach Erg Chebbi on a 3 day tour by 4wd from Marrakech. It is a long drive but along the way the scenery is spectacular and stops at Ait Benhaddou and the Todra Gorge are worth the journey alone. 


    7 Day trekking & 4wd Tour in the Middle Atlas and Sahara Desert from £725pp
    For those with more time on their hands, this is the ultimate itinerary. In addition to the delights of Erg Chebbi there is time to trek in the Todra Gorge and Jbel Sarhro. 

  4. Imlil Valley in The Atlas Mountains

    Missing ben on 23rd December 2010 | 0 comments

    I'm always fascinated by hub towns, where travellers and tourists congregate before heading out on their own adventures. There is usually a very distinctive atmosphere, with a polarised transient community split evenly between the newly arrived and those resting up from their exertions. It is the same feel you get in Queenstown, Sapa, Chiang Mai, Chamonix and countless other mountain towns and it was no different in Imlil. The small town of Imlil acts as the hub for anyone attempting anything more than a day's hiking in the Atlas Mountains. It can thank its proximity to Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in Northern Africa for that right, but its setting is spot on too, sat as it is at the confluence of the Tamatert Valley and Imlil Valleys. Whilst the Imlil Valley isn't the most photogenic in the Atlas Mountains (The Azzaden Valley takes that prize in my mind), it is isn't exactly camera shy: Enjoy...

    The drive from Marrakech takes you past the buzzing market town of Asni and then past Richard Branson's exclusive tented hotel Kasbah Tamadot.
    Kasbah Tamadot

    At the floor of the Imlil Valley, the Asif N'au Mizane carries meltwater down to the Marrakech plains. In spring it is a raging river, in autumn more of a gentle brook with lush green river banks and walnut groves.Imlil Valley 

    A number of the guesthouses and Kasbahs in Imlil take full advantage of the setting. The Kasbah du Toubkal is arguably and justifiably the most famous, with a stunning rooftop terrace and wonderful warm atmosphere, even if you aren't staying, it is worth a visit for tea on the terrace.
    View from the terrace of Kasbah Du Toubkal

    The path heading up the valley out of Imlil passes its last house before getting into the mountains proper. Imlil is a relatively prosperous town with electricity and modern construction methods. More traditional Berber villages in the Atlas Mountains consist of mud walled squat red houses built almost atop each other.
    last house on the right

    There are a number of seasonal stalls along the path between Imlil and the Toubkal Mountain Refuge. This was unfortunately shut for us (I say unfortunately, as I was thirsty)
    Path from Imlil to Toubkal

    Mules are a common site on the trails in the Atlas Mountains. They are frequently used to carry heavy loads (up to 100kg per mule) to the mountain refuges and of course to transport trekkers backpacks!

    The tiny settlement of Sidi Chamharouch is built around a Muslim shrine (marabout) which is out of bounds to non muslims. So not everyone heading up the path out of Imlil is headed all the way to Toubkal. 
    Sidi Chamharouch

    There are two mountain refuges below the peak of Toubkal, both of which tend to fill up in the busy summer months with trekkers preparing for the ascent.
    Toubkal Refuge

    Finally at the head of the valley is Toubkal, the second highest mountain in Africa behind Kilimanjaro.
    Toubkal

    Treks that feature the Imlil Valley

    Day trip to the Atlas Mountains from £80pp
    Day trip from Marrakech for those short on time. Includes a short hike in the Valleys around Imlil and a traditional tagine and salad lunch in a Barber Village.


    Atlas Mountains - Short Valley Tours  From £135 pp
    On these two or three day guided Atlas Mountains Valleys tours you’ll hike along winding mule tracks, cross high passes and overnight in traditional Berber Villages. These treks are available year-round.


    Climb Toubkal From £145pp
    Classic 2 day / 1 night trek from Imlil up to the peak of Toubkal. We also recommend the circular 3 Day / 2 Night  trek including the Azzaden Valley and ascent of Toubkal.


    Discover Berber Villages and Climb Toubkal from £300pp
    Explore the Atlas Mountains around Marrakech and hike up Mount Toubkal on this five-day trek. The route takes you through the Azzaden Valley and a number of traditional Berber Villages en route to Toubkal


    6 Day Toubkal Circuit from £375pp
    This is the route for trekking enthusiasts. This trek takes you in a broad sweep around Toubkal and culminates in the ascent of Toubkal. Highlights include camping out in the mountains away from the crowds, Lake Ifni and countless high altitude passes.

  5. Azzaden Valley in the Atlas Mountains

    Missing ben on 25th November 2010 | 2 comments

    I recently spent a week trekking in the Atlas Mountains and it was a fantastic time to visit. Whilst the weather back home was beginning to get bitingly cold, just a few hours flight away in Morocco it was still warm and sunny. One of the highlights of the trek, which I'll write about at greater length later, was the Azzaden Valley (also sometimes spelt the Azzanane Valley). Whilst the Ourika Valley grabs most day visitors from Marrakech and the neighbouring Imlil Valley attracts the hordes of trekkers keen to summit Toubkal, Azzaden is the quieter and just as spectacular counterpart. With Autumn setting in, the colours of the Walnut Trees that hug the valley floor were at their most spectacular making for some incredible photography. Enjoy...

    The Walnut groves were particularly photogenic, providing a wonderful contrast to the monochrome valleys.Walnut Trees in Azzaden Valley

     

    Juniper trees dominate the vegetation and I was on the lookout for the most gnarled juniper I could find. There were definitely more gnarly juniper trees, but this had the best view...Juniper Tree in Azzaden Valley

     

    The berber villages mostly consist of simple earth and stone buildings and narrow winding streets. This shot was taken in Tizi OussemStreet in Tizi Oussem

     

    Again in Tizi Oussem, this was one of the smarter Gites (local guesthouses) the terrace shown has wonderful views over the valley.Gite in Tizi Oussem

     

    This shot was taken higher up the Assaden Valley with the gate to a shepherds pen in the foreground.Azzaden Valley

     

    There are several simple mountain refuges in the higher reaches of the Azzaden Valley for trekkers. This is Refugio Azib TamsoultRefuge Azib Tamsoult

     

    The valley closes up into a narrow gorge towards it's head. Just visible is the Cascadas d'irhoulideneTop of the Azzaden Valley

     

    The aforementioned Cascadas d'irhoulidene resplendent with rainbowCascadas d'irhoulidene

     

    The final ascent out of the valley towards the peak of Aguelzim at 3500m was a tortuously steep scree slope with exactly 99 zig-zags. Trust me, I counted every one....Ascending Aguelzim

     

    The pay-off, the view from close to the peak of Aguelzim was wonderful and arguably as good as anything from the peak of ToubkalView from Aguelzim

    Our treks that include the Azzaden Valley

     

    Atlas Mountains - Short Valley Tours (Imlil, Azzaden and Imnane Valleys) From £200pp
    On these three day guided Atlas Mountains Valleys tours you’ll hike along winding mule tracks, cross high passes and overnight in traditional Berber Villages. These treks are available year-round.

    Toubkal Circular Route From £206pp
    3 Day / 2 Night Circular trek including the Azzaden Valley and ascent of Toubkal.

     

    Discover Berber Villages and Climb Toubkal from £258pp
    Explore the Atlas Mountains around Marrakech and hike up Mount Toubkal on this four or five-day trek.