With the increase in direct flights to Morocco, more and more people are visiting not only the tourist coastal resorts of Agadir and Essouaria, but are flying into Marrakech to experience the sights and sounds of the bazaars and souks – so different from anything in Europe.
For those with a bit more time and a sense of adventure the Atlas Mountains are a relatively short distance away and are well worth visiting. Toubkal, North Africa’s highest mountain, at 4167metres is a demanding but exhilarating climb, while there are many other walks for the less energetic or adventurous.
In 2008 a group of us decided to do an 8 day trek to the Atlas in early May.
We had been told that the Atlas Mountains of Morocco offered challenging walking, fantastic scenery and the opportunity to experience the largely unchanged Berber way of life. After some research on the web, we decided it would be best to hire a guide and mules. Up till then we had always been strong believers in independent trekking – camping wild where possible, carrying everything with us and choosing our own routes.
The Atlas was different. First there was the possible language problem – as we discovered not everyone speaks English or French – the trails are often not waymarked and are sometimes very difficult to find. Food is also difficult to obtain: the small villages often have no shops (as we know them) and accommodation and campsites are uncertain.
The other factor which led us to hire a guide was to give us a greater insight into the way of life of the Berber people who are the main inhabitants of the area. We would also be contributing more to the local economy which is still largely based on subsistence farming. There was also the attraction at our ages (between 50 and 65) of having mules carry our rucksacks (we carried only day packs) and muleteers and cook who set up camp and provided excellent, traditional meals conjured up with basic equipment at idyllic camp and picnic sites. A big improvement on our usual “boil in the bag” meals!
Our guide Ahmed was superb. He spoke excellent, colloquial English and took a pride in explaining and showing us the Berber way of life as we walked through the small high mountain villages. When one of our group had severe altitude sickness and was doubtful of continuing, Ahmed organised an extra mule and muleteer to enable him to carry on – which we would probably have been unable to do on our own. Ahmed’s local knowledge and language carried us through.
The climb to the summit of Toubkal was the highlight of the trek. Unusually for the time of year it was snow covered – we had a fall of snow overnight – and as we set off at dawn the scene was stunning and the sense of achievement when we finally reached the summit was exhilarating despite the bitterly cold wind. The hot picnic lunch – delicious Moroccan omelettes – which Ahmed had arranged for us when we returned to the refuge was very welcome!
At the end of the trek as we celebrated with a meal out in Marrakech, we had no regrets about our “package” trek. Apart from the obvious benefit of not having to fly out with tents and camping equipment, we had been picked up at our hotel for the drive to the trailhead in Imlil. As we had no responsibility for route and campsite finding we could concentrate on the walking and the scenery.
In fact the Atlas offers something for everyone: day walks, easy and difficult treks and accommodation under canvas, in refuges, Berber homes or hotels. Take your pick! Of particular interest for those staying a week could be a tour including time in Marrakech, in the Atlas and at a coastal resort – an ideal combination of retail therapy, physical activity, sightseeing and rest and relaxation! It is now easy to book any of these in advance on-line.
You can probably get the best deal by using a local tour company such as www.trekatlas.com .