Adventure Travel Blog

  1. Hotels, Kasbahs & Riads in the Atlas Mountains

    Missing ben on 15th June 2011 | 0 comments

    Whilst most travellers head straight from Marrakech and out into the mountains for treks, there are several good reasons to sit back and relax in of the lovely riads in and around the Atlas Mountains. After the hectic rush of Marrakech, there are plenty of fantastic lodges to unwind and take in the fresh mountain air and incredible scenery. Most stay in Imlil, which is easy to get to and the perfect base for trekking expeditions. There are plenty of options in the mountains, but these are our favourites.

    Accommodation in Imlil

    Imlil is a Berber village located in the High Atlas Mountains, about an hour from Marrakech. A beautiful village to visit in its own right, most of the visitors who come here are heading off for a trek in the mountains, or to Climb Toubkal, North Africa's highest mountain. At an altitude of 1740m, the village offers a welcome respite from the heat of the city in the summer. Dotted with walnut, apple and cherry trees and encircled by high peaks, it is an incredibly picturesque place, perfect for a couple of days soaking up the sun and views.

    Trekking & Tailor-made Atlas Mountains

    Email your enquiry to us at help@tourdust.com or call us on 0203 291 2907.

    We are open Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm.

    Kasbah Du Toubkal (from 160 Euros per room per night)

    The legendary Kasbah Du Toubkal, a stunning traditional building set in the heart of Imlil, fully deserves its reputation. Occupying a prominent spot in the Imlil Valley with majestic views of towering snow-capped peaks, traditional village homes and glistening far-off waterfalls. The roof terrace is simply divine and the traditional Berber salon easily the cosiest space in the Atlas Mountains when winter sets in (think country mansion library in Morocco). Some hotels have a je ne sais quoi and the Kasbah has it in reams. What this does mean alas, is that it is fully justified in charging high end prices for cosy but modest rooms.

    Riad Dar Imlil (from 130 Euros per room per night)

    Located in the village of Imlil in the Atlas Mountains, this riad looks directly at North Africa's highest mountain, Mount Toubkal. With beautiful rooms and sophisticated decor, this is the perfect to kick back and relax after some heavy trekking in the mountains. Riad Dar Imlil is situated just on the outskirts of the village by a small river, leaving you about a 5 minute walk to get into the village itself. Set over three floors, there is a spacious roof terrace with breath taking views and several lounge areas, complete with wood burners for cool evenings. There are ten rooms in total, meaning that it retains the quiet and laid back atmosphere that some of the larger hotels in the region can lack.

    Le Village Du Toubkal (from 110 Euros per room per night)

    Le Village Du Toubkal is a new property in Imlil. There are 4 large bedrooms (soon to be six) and a large terrace, all with great views. The spa and hammam is very well done and rooms are furnished to a high standard. Although it is hard to find specific fault, as with many new properties, it does lack character and as such wouldn’t be our first choice in Imlil. Due to the size of the rooms (several of which could fit a double and 3 singles), it would be a good choice for families.

    Douar Samra (from 80 Euros per room per night)

    Douar Samra is an utterly charming modern and earthy take on the traditional Berber guest-house situated in a wonderful position overlooking the Imlil Valley. Comfortable cosy atmospheric rooms with small private terraces are set amidst beautiful gardens. There are large vegetable gardens, well-kept ducks and a donkey. The staff are lovely and clearly have a great affection for the place. The tree house is not quite a home run - a touch of Switzerland imported into Morocco that is not hugely in keeping with the remainder of what is a very traditional building, but a fun touch nevertheless. This is a place to relax and enjoy a good book in unpretentious surroundings. There are several terraces on roof-tops and in the garden, all with cracking views. Perhaps not surprisingly this degree of je ne c’est quoi comes at a price, the room rates are above average for the size of room, but taking the ambience, gardens and service into account, this is a fantastic choice for a mountain retreat and a fraction of the cost of the nearby Kasbah Du Toubkal which has some similar qualities at a more refined and substantially more expensive level.

    Riad Dar Adrar (from 30 Euros per room per night)

    If you are on a budget you can't go far wrong with Dar Adrar. This is the kind of place that independent travellers dream of. Great rates, superb food, a lovely ambience with plenty of space to relax on the rooftop, free wifi and reasonable rooms. What more can you ask for? Dar Adrar is situated almost adjacent to the Kasbah Du Toubkal.

    Accommodation in Ouirgane

    Ouirgane is a small Berber village in the High Atlas Mountains, at about 1000m above sea level. A quiet village, located at the side of a recently dammed reservoir, it is said to be the preferred destination of the Royal Family when they choose to holiday in the mountains, and it is easy to see why. The winters are mild and the summers relatively cool and there is a constant tranquility. The red earth is criss-crossed by mule tracks and eucalyptus trees and juniper bushes line the dusty roads. The area benefits from several properties with pools (unlike the Imlil area).

    Chez Momo (from 110 Euros per room per night)

    Set against a backdrop of the High Atlas Mountains, Chez Momo offers rustic chic accommodation set in lovely gardens around a pool, the perfect respite after a long trek. Chez Momo was built in 2008, a replacement for the original inn, which was flooded when the government built a reservoir lake. Undeterred, the owners have built a sympathetic building, overlooking the reservoir and the mountains beyond. The accommodation is set in large gardens and laid out in terraces, with the swimming pool in the centre. The main house contains the reception, bar and restaurant, the individual rooms are laid out to the back of the property amongst rose gardens. This is a very tranquil place, with views of the mountains from the terrace. It is the perfect place to come to escape the hustle and bustle of Marrakech, or, even better, to reward yourself after a long trek in the Atlas Mountains. The swimming pool (unheated) will be especially welcoming after a long trek in the summer. Families with children are welcome here. This is not the most luxurious option in the area, but we love it because it offers a rustic chic feel - comfort, but not at the expense of authenticity.

    Dar Tassa

    Dar Tassa occupies a wonderful spot deep in the Ouirgane Valley and very much tucked away from the world. The views are simply stunning and the lovely terrace takes full advantage. In winter the lounge area is a cosy space great for lounging with a book. The Dar is well situated for some lovely day walks, and puts on a cooking class that some travel all the way from Marrakech for. The draw-back of Dar tassa is that the rooms are fairly middle of the road, twins with shared facilities are a little Spartan, and the suites, although spacious have little wow factor. This is a simple unpretentious retreat deep in the mountains, a cracking base for day walks, or just to retreat from the world for a while without breaking the bank balance.

    Accommodation in Ourika Valley and the foothills of the Atlas Mountains

    There are several 'treat' hotels between Marrakech and the high Atlas. Easily reached, and at a lower altitude, they make a perfect spring/autumn sun destination. If you aren't keen on trekking and just want somewhere peaceful with a pool, then these places are perfect.

    Kasbah Bab Ourika (from 150 Euros per room per night)

    Kasbah Bab Ourika must have the finest setting of any hotel in Morocco. The Ourika Valley, whilst more densely populated and less suited to trekkers than the Imlil Valley, is incredibly picturesque, a broad valley with a stunning glistening river surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Everything about this place is just so, from the pristine vegetable beds to the elegant dining area and lovely pool set within the gardens, every angle is carefully crafted to take advantage of the stupendous view. There are more rooms than is ideal (over 20), but with so many separate spaces to enjoy it never feels that big. Of course, this degree of quality doesn’t come cheap.

    Domaine Malika (from 150 Euros per room per night)

    Domaine Malika is a gorgeous 7 bed boutique guesthouse in the Ouirgane Valley in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains. The stylish pool and gardens have stunning views over the mountains, a perfect small chic hotel to unwind after a trek.

    Kasbah Angour (from 150 Euros per room per night)

    Kasbah Angour is a slightly larger property than our usual preference (with 25 rooms) set within absolutely wonderful expansive flower & lawn gardens with great views of the High Atlas Mountains. The pool is impressive and the food we experienced was superb, with carefully arranged flavours and a degree of finesse. Bedrooms are large, relatively modern spaces, furnished simply, but to a very high quality, these are rooms you would happily retreat to in the heat of mid-day. The terrace dining area is lovely, the drawback is that the main dining room and lounge / bar areas do betray the scale of the operation a little. Set within the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and easily reached from Marrakech, this is a great choice to unwind at the beginning of a holiday in Morocco.

    Trekking & Tailor-made Atlas Mountains


    We have a deep knowledge of the Atlas Mountains so get in touch for advice and tailor-made travel arrangements including the Atlas Mountains.

    Missing Ben, Tourdust Morocco Expert

    Email your enquiry to us at help@tourdust.com or call us on 0203 291 2907.

    We are open Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm.

  2. Riads in Marrakech

    Missing ben on 15th June 2011 | 0 comments

    Marrakech's medina is chock a block full of riads - traditional buildings built around a courtyard which have been converted into boutique accommodation. Located mostly in the winding derbs that branch off from the small market streets, these hidden oases provide a calm antidote to the lively souks. Don't be misled by their less than salubrious exteriors, riads tend to be upmarket, often luxurious affairs. There are simply too many to keep a track of, so here are some of our favourites.

    Riad Taghazoute (from 40 Euros per room per night)

    A gem of a find in the centre of the medina. This budget riad has lovely traditional styling and a great location for the price. If you aren't looking for luxuries, this is usually our first recommendation. More information...

    Riad Tzarra (minimum stay 3 nights from 130 Euros per room per night)

    A lovely riad, with welcoming staff and its own hamman, located in the medina, north east of the main square. The four rooms are all beautifully furnished with fantastic bathrooms to boot. Riad Tzarra is situated north west of the Djemma El Fna, (the central square in Marrakech), about a 5 minute walk. It is just a brief 3 minute walk from the spice markets of the souk, which are a highly evocative part of the medina to wander around. The riad has four bedrooms, all of which have their own unique and individual style. The rooms all look out onto the courtyard and there are several communal areas including a lovely roof terrace decked out with sun loungers. There are also communal areas including a lounge with an open fire and a honesty box bar. For those wanting the full pampering treatment, there is also a hamman on site, where you can book a treatment. This riad is in a pretty central location and is located very near to one of the many mosques in the medina, meaning you may hear the call for prayer at sunrise. That said, the singing does not last long and is pretty evocative, so we wouldn't really see that as a hindrance. More information ...

    Riad Tzarra


    Riad Adore (minimum stay 3 nights from 140 Euros per room per night)

    A contemporary riad in the heart of Morocco's medina, Riad Adore offers stylish decor and modern furnishings in a quiet location close to the souks and the Djemma El Fna. Perfect if you are looking for sophisticated accommodation within the medina. Riad Adore is situated north west of the Djemma El Fna, about a 10 minute walk. The riad has five bedrooms, including one suite, all of which have their own unique and individual style. The rooms all look out onto the courtyard and there are several communal areas including a beautiful roof terrace (complete with open fire for cool nights and shade for hot days) There is also a small pool where you can cool off after a long day out in the souk and a lounge with an honesty bar. The first thing you need to know about staying in a riad is that they are all designed to face looking inwards over a courtyard, there are no external views - these are saved for the roof terrace. That does not mean that you will feel claustrophobic, all the rooms are very well lit and overlook the peaceful mezzanine or courtyard. This riad is in a pretty central location and has the added benefit of not being next door to a mosque, meaning you are unlikely to be woken up at 5 am by the call to prayer. More information...

    Riad Adore

    La Mamounia (from 350 Euros per room per night)

    If you want to go all out on luxury, then you might want to consider Winston Churchill's favourite hotel, La Mamounia.  Located just on the walls of the medina, the hotel is named after the 20 acres of Mamounia gardens which were given as a present by the king to his son, Prince Mamoun.  The hotel is, as you would expect and hope for the prices (starting at around £450 per night), extremely upmarket and geared towards travellers wanting a 5 star luxurious experience.  Further outside of Marrakech, in the Palmeraie area of the city, there are many larger resorts, including spa and golf complexes, which offer large hotels with all the 5 star facilities you would expect. More info...

    Tourdust can arrange your stay at any of these riads and combine with your choice of cooking classes, Atlas Mountain treks and visits to the coast. Email us on help@tourdust.com with your enquiry.

     

  3. Travel photos - with or without you?

    Picajsxs andyjarosz on 15th June 2011 | 7 comments

    'Excuse me, do you mind taking our picture?' Almost every time we take a walk past a London landmark someone stops us with this request. They then line up their pose in front of the famous backdrop (Big Ben, London Eye, a red phone box, Tesco) and strike their pose. 'Take two please. Just in case!'

    Posing for photos

    Why do we insist on capturing a picture of ourselves wherever we travel? 'To prove we were there' is the most common reply you're likely to hear. But who are we proving it to: ourselves? Surely we can remember where we've been (although Paul Theroux might disagree if he believes his own over-used quote about tourists not knowing where they've been); our friends? Surely they don't require proof of the authenticity of our travel adventures, if indeed they care in the first place. So why do we do it?

    I'm sure that part of the photo-mania that takes place at any famous photo stop is fed by those around us. Stand at the Trocadero in Paris and watch hundreds of people adopting the most ridiculous of poses in front of the Eiffel Tower and it's almost guaranteed that you'll soon be copying the masses. Whether it's a deadly serious photo or a ironic take on others' poses the result is the same. Those around you will inevitably observe and copy.

    Peer pressure is certainly part of it: Everyone else is posing in front of the Taj Mahal. You'll probably never come back and if you don't take one now you'll always regret not having a photo of yourself here. Then there's the feeling of association that the picture brings. Look at that people-free photo of Sydney Opera House ten years later and it looks no different to a postcard. Now pull out the one you asked that strange American couple to take for you. You can remember the favourite fleece you wore (the one you left on a bus in Auckland the following month); you remember how brown you look after overdosing on sunshine up in Queensland; even the partner with you in your photo may be no more!

    A photo connects a person, a place and most importantly a time. It acts as a gateway to a set of memories that can be otherwise locked away in our long-term memory. When we look at that photo taken at the Statue of Liberty in 2000 it's up to us whether we notice first that awful pair of glasses we had at the time or whether we observe the Twin Towers still standing tall in the background. The memories that our photos provoke are deeply personal and the same picture can tell a thousand stories. Putting ourselves in the middle of that picture just adds another layer of context to that captured moment. 

    So perhaps we should include ourselves in our travel snaps. As for the silly poses, I'm not so sure about those... 

     

     

  4. Ethiopia travel guide

    Missing ben on 10th June 2011 | 0 comments

    Information on getting to Ethiopia, getting around, vaccinations, visas and money in Ethiopia

    Getting to Ethiopia

    Ethiopia’s national airline, Ethiopian Airlines is arguably one of the best in Africa. International services are reliable with good seat pitch, whilst domestic flights are serviced by a brand new fleet of twin props. Ethiopian flies direct from London, Frankfurt, Paris and Rome in Europe. The flight takes around 8 hours. Great deals can be had if you book your international flight direct with Ethiopian with your domestic Ethiopian flights – you will need to call them to get these fairs.

    Getting around Ethiopia

    Because of the state of the roads, the distances involved and the quality of the alternative (flying) most short term visitors use internal flights in Ethiopia. There are reliable daily flights between most of the stops on the Northern Circuit (Addis, Gondar, Lalibella, Axum, Bahir Dar).

    If you have more time, or delight in the joys of overland travel, there are loads of options on the road. Local bus services are super cheap, regular and exceedingly uncomfortable. They’ll certainly give you a story to tell. Alternatively Skybus offer a reliable upmarket coach service from Addis Abbaba to Gonder, Jimma, Bahir Dar, Awassa, Harrer and Dire Dawa. Schedules and prices are available at http://www.skybusethiopia.com/site/schdule.html 

    Many tours include transportation in private vehicles. These tend to be 4wds because the roads are mostly dusty, bumpy affairs.

    When to go

    The Ethiopian Tourist Board proudly promotes their slogan “13 months of sunshine” to anyone who will listen, but they are not far off the mark. The rainy season in the North is in July and August, but whilst that might stop you attempting a multi day trek in the Simien Mountains, it won’t really affect you if you are planning on touring the Northern Historical route. The best time to visit the North is in Autumn, after the rains when the mountains are full of lush green and the views are unimpeded by haze.

    The rains in the South are in April, May and October which make the roads in the Lower Omo Valley impassable, so you’ll need to avoid these if you’re planning on an adventure down here.

    Entry Requirements

    Nationals of most Western countries can get a Visa on arrival at Bole International Airport. It currently costs US$20 and is valid for a stay of up to one month. Visas can be extended for up to three months in Addis Ababa.

    Money

    Bir is the currency in Ethiopia, although some hotels and major companies also accept US dollars. There are a growing number of ATMs in the country but not all work with international debit cards, so it is wise to bring US dollars to the country and exchange them on arrival (it is not possible to get hold of Birr outside Ethiopia). It can also be difficult to exchange Birr when you leave the country so budget accordingly.

    Health

    For up to date vaccination information, please visit the UK NHS travel advice website. As a general rule, most of the usual vaccinations are required for Ethiopia e.g. diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, hepatitis A, typhoid and yellow fever. Some doctors also recommend tuberculosis, meningococcal meningitis, hepatitis B, rabies and cholera.

    A yellow fever vaccination certificate is also required if you are coming from areas with risk of yellow fever transmission. 

    There is conflicting advice about Malaria in Ethiopia. The official NHS line is that “Malaria precautions are essential in all areas below 2000m, all year round. There is no risk in Addis Ababa.” This means in theory that if you are headed on the Northern Circuit and / or trekking in the Simien Mountains it won’t be necessary as you are in most cases above 2000m. Exceptions being if you plan on heading to Bahir Dar.  Having said that the NHS malaria map for Ethiopia somewhat contradicts the previous statement showing the vast majority of the country at risk. Best advice is to speak to a travel clinic

    View our collection of Ethiopian treks, tours and holidays

  5. The Kenyan Coast: A tale of two stories

    Missing ben on 9th June 2011 | 0 comments

    On paper Kenya’s coast is an enticing prospect. Warm Pacific water, miles upon miles of sandy beaches and a Swahili rich cultural heritage. The perfect top and tail to a safari holiday you’d think. The reality unfortunately, rarely lives up to expectation, as miles upon miles of beach boy plagued beaches are backed by large bland resorts with the charm and grace of a warthog.  Despite this, there are real diamonds in the rough, places good enough to compete with the best.

    Dhow race

    By far and away the gem of the Kenyan Coast is Lamu. A wonderful archipelago offering protected beaches and a UNESCO World Heritage town to explore.  Lamu Town itself is a melting pot of rich aromas, crumbling colonial buildings and narrow winding streets with an overwhelmingly laid back charm. Just 5 minutes away by speed boat, the village of Shela and Manda Island offer desert island bliss, beach-side bandas, blissful sunsets and solitude. Lamu is more expensive to get to than further South, but the journey is worthwhile. 

    Lamu boasts a wealth of good accommodation, and if you willing to splash some cash, there is no shortage of options, but for fantastic value without cutting corners it is hard to beat the Robinson Crusoe-esque Diamond Beach Village on Manda Island and the cool colonial charm of Fatuma’s Tower in Shela. Both come in around the $100 per room mark. Other’s to look out for include the higher end but not up itself Kipungani Explorer and Kijani Hotel in Shela.

    Further South, the highlights get more and more sporadic. Your entry point to the South and Central Coast is likely to be Mombasa. Mombasa itself is worth a visit if you have time (at least the old town) but a stay at the nearby coastal resorts is to be avoided wherever possible by anyone with a semblance of independent spirit left in them.

    Working North to South, Che Shale is a simple, stylish, trendy, yet pleasingly affordable option near Malindi. Situated on a vast deserted beach, the place is a favourite of Kite surfers world-wide, but don’t let that put you off. Prices are again around the $100 per room mark.

    Nearbye, Mida eco camp between Watamu and Malindi is a very simple but charming eco camp set amidst the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Mida Creek. Prices are exceedingly affordable at around $30 per room. The place is run with real heart and there’s plenty to do from exploring the mangrove boardwalks and wildlife to learning a bit of Giriami drumming and dancing.

    Most tourists who don’t get sucked into the Mombasa resorts head to Diani Beach. It is still way over developed with a real beach boy problem. If you do stay, then the Diani Marine resort is a diving specialist resort that also serves as a great mid-range spot. Backpackers should head straight to Stilts Backpaka’s which according to the Rough Guide to Kenya Editor Richard Trillo, is still “the only real backpackers on the coast”.

    For clients interested in combining their safari or Mount Kenya trek with a spot of R&R on the beach, Tourdust can arrange extensions at any of the above recommended accommodation. We can also arrange stays at Mombasa Resorts, just don’t be surprised if we try very hard to persuade you out of it.

    View our Collection of Kenya treks, safaris and community tours...