Atlas Mountains travel guide

Atlas Mountains travel guide


2 MINUTE SUMMARY

As if Morocco couldn’t get more interesting geographically, with the Mediterranean and Atlantic on one side, and the Sahara on the other, the Atlas Mountains spread their greatness right down the middle. Like never the twain shall meet. Divided into the three sections, the High Atlas in central Morocco, south of Marrakech, are home to Mt. Toubkal and the eponymous national park, the highest peak in North Africa. These drop down to the lower peaks of the Anti-Atlas further south, where you can hike to peaks such as Jebel Aklim (2,531m) with spectacular views across to the biggies in the north. The Middle Atlas in the far northwest are the backdrop for Fez and Meknes, more set up for daytrips than full on mountain immersion. One thing all the mountain ranges have in common: The Berber people. Traditional, trusting and tuned in to sustainable, mountain living, they guide you into their world with expertise and nobility.
Find out more in our Atlas Mountains travel guide.
The Atlas Mountains are...

the height of Moroccan greatness. With valleys and villages that transport you to ancient times.
The Atlas Mountains are not...

far away. A four hour flight from the UK takes you into another world of Berbers and beauty. Mountains and meditation.

Is an Atlas Mountains vacation for you?


RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL RECOMMENDS

Go to the Atlas Mountains if…


… you love to trek in untouched wilderness. There are plenty of expert mountain guides to lead you, with muleteers to carry your bags, and the valleys, canyons, peaks just go on forever – with hardly another person in sight.
… you have experienced Morocco before and love the culture, but want to see something other than the souks , sea or Sahara. This is the land of the Berber, and they will welcome you and look after you, as long as you respect their mountains.
… you are nervous of Morocco’s heat. The Atlas Mountains are much cooler than the rest of the Morocco, even in summer, where there can be a 15°C difference. Bring plenty of layers.
… summits are your thing. Mount Toubkal is one of the world’s greatest climbs, and the highest peak in North Africa at 4,167m. It must only be tackled with expert high mountain guides, however, as this is a strenuous trek in all seasons, and in winter you will need training in alpinism.

Don’t go to the Atlas Mountains if…


… your idea of luxury is all swimming pools and cocktail lounges. You can stay in beautiful kasbahs leading out to some of the world’s best trekking but you won’t find swimming pools and cocktails. Respecting real mountain and Berber tradition is what the Atlas are all about. And many Atlas vacations involve camping or staying in basic mountain gites.
…you want desert heat. There can be snow until April, rain at any time, and the temperatures are significantly lower than the rest of Morocco.
…you are more into Michelin Stars than star gazing. Fresh mint tea overlooking the great summit of Jebel Toubkal is the taste you will never forget. And the Berber food is what has kept these guys mountain fit for generations.
…you don’t do adventure. Just staying in a remote, stunning kasbah is adventure enough for many travelers, because the Atlas and adventure do usually go hand in hand. Even if they are just an hour from Marrakech or Fes. Canyoning down waterfalls, six-hour treks, cycling through canyons and wild camping on plateaus is the territory you are dealing with here.

What do trips to the Atlas Mountains entail?


OUR GUIDE TO THE BEST WAY

There are many ways to visit this colossal artery that runs the length of Morocco, depending on how much you want to immerse yourself in mountain magnificence. You can chill out at a beautiful Kasbah, breathe in the mountain air, take in the fine views and eat superb Moroccan food. You can go hardcore and summit Mount Toubkal, or you can walk at your own pace on a tailor made trip, driving across the high mountain passes. You can go hiking in all seasons, and go for High, Middle or Anti Atlas. And you can push the boat out and go canyoning, cycling or camping. The world is your Atlas.

Summiting Mount Toubkal


These trips are always in small groups with experienced high mountain leaders and porters. Summiting Mount Toubkal is a challenging expedition, especially in winter, with a final climb to the summit of North Africa’s highest peak at 4,167m. It takes three days to complete, depending on the route you take, most starting in the village of Imlil, just over an hour from Marrakech, and yet a veritable portal into another world. Follow ancient mule tracks up to a mountain hut at Toubkal Base Camp (3,207m) and then start the final ascent the next morning. You usually stop at another mountain gite such as Arroumd on the way back down again.
You can climb Toubkal in winter too, with serious alpinism skills needed, although you can get training for this at the beginning of the trip. However, it can snow as late as April or as early as October, so crampons and ice picks can always come into play. Altitude sickness can be an issue, and so you can also spend a week aiming for the summit, taking more time to acclimatise and taking in other peaks and valleys such as the Kissaria gorges.

Trekking the valleys


For the more moderate hikers, there are so many wonderful highlights out there. Most vacations are guided, small group tours with a duration of around a week. And many are centre based, staying in gites such as in the High Atlas village of Tijhza, from where you can do all day loop walks around giant gorges and luscious valleys. Or in a stunning kasbah in the Imlil Valley, chill out for a day, then hike out to the trekking lodge that they have in the Azzaden Valley, with its own private mountain hammam. Hike back down the next day, or take further hikes with the help of their own guides to cols such as Tizi n’Teouti and Tizi n’Tougdalt. If you aren’t centre based, then you will be staying in mountain gites or wild camping along the way.

Cycling vacations


Mountain biking in the Atlas Mountains is becoming more and more popular, traveling in a small group, and taking on cols and gorges in the High and Anti Atlas. They tend to stay clear of the hot summer months, but the rest of the year is fine, especially as there is generally no snow in the Anti Atlas. Many of the roads are tarmacked in the Atlas Mountains too, making it easier for those who don’t want to go really hardcore mountain biking. You can even stay at a kasbah in Imlil for a couple of days and hire a bike in the village.
Other cycling highlights included pedalling through the cedar forests of Ifrane National Park in the Middle Atlas, or up the (in)famous Tizi n'Tichka Pass at 2,260m in the High Atlas. In the Anti Atlas you have the joys of the Ait Mansour gorges and luscious oases as well as ever welcoming Berber villages and wonderful kasbahs.

Mountain niches


There are other ways to enjoy the Atlas Mountains life and landscape other than hiking and biking. Go on a painting vacation to capture the ancient kasbahs, oases and dramatic valleys. Stay in a Kasbah and salute the morning sun as it illuminates the peaks all around on a yoga vacation. The Atlas Mountains are also a photographer’s dream, especially when traveling in a 4X4 with an expert photography guide who knows all the best spots to capture the light. Alternatively, volunteer in a boarding school created to encourage Berber girls to study beyond primary level.

Jumping all over the Atlas


For those people who love mountains but also like to make a bit of a splash from time to time, small group, guided tours of about a week long are the way to go if you want some fun and adventure. The Middle Atlas are where the waters flow best, particularly around the Ouzoud waterfalls, where the El Abid River and falls provide the perfect features for canyoning and gorge walking. Throw in a bit of wild camping by Bin El Ouidane Lake and you can get a wild swim in, too.
Photo credits: [Top box: Tomasz DunnBy: Tomasz Dunn] [What these trips entail: Anders Fongen] [Mount Toubkal in winter: Maciej Zgadzaj] [Cycling: Monica Guy] [Mountain niches: Victoria Reay] [Help desk banner: Alexander Cahlenstein]
Written by Catherine Mack
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