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The Top 3 Hiking Trails in Morocco: Visit the Stunning Atlas Mountains

The Top 3 Hiking Trails in Morocco: Visit the Stunning Atlas Mountains

Mustapha Bouinbaden, founder of Toubkal Trekking, a multi-generational family business, takes us on Morocco’s best hiking trips

 

Written by: Arianna Meschia for The Nopo

It’s easy enough to identify Morocco with the vibrancy of a spice market in Marrakech, the tranquility of a Riad in the Rabat medina, or the crashing blue waves of the ocean in Essaouira, Morocco’s Windy City. But travel only a few kilometers out of Marrakech and away from the coast, and a whole different world of mountainous landscapes, Berber villages, and winding paths awaits - the Atlas Mountains.
The severe, permanently snow-capped peaks guard over verdant valleys dotted with small Berber villages, where livestock roams free, spring water gushes out invitingly from the rocks, and men and women continue their centuries-old traditional way of life. Over the centuries, the Berbers have learned to bend these sometimes inhospitable lands to their will and needs, and it’s precisely from one of these ancient families that our guide Mustapha Bouinbaden comes. 

Originally from Imlil, the small Berber village where most treks start from, Mustapha comes from a family of hikers. His father Mohamed was one of the first mountain guides in Morocco, and he vividly remembers being taken up the rocky paths ever since childhood.

 

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“I was born in Imlil but moved to Marrakech when I had to start school. I remember feeling like Marrakech was too hectic for me, and every year I longed for the summer holidays when I would be able to visit my friends and family back in Imlil.”

 

Mustapha’s love for his mountains is obvious in the way his eyes sparkle and his mouth bends in a nostalgic smile when we chat over Zoom from his apartment in Marrakech, where he is now based with his own family. While less congenial of a place to him, Marrakech is still the main hub for tourism, and Mustapha, ever the perfect host, is very keen to meet and greet every single one of his hikers and travelers, be it at the airport when they land or in their Riad before the local teams take them on various organized trips.

 

A professional through and through, Mustapha joined the training center for mountaineering guides after his University degree in Marrakech. The training, hosted in the beautiful mountain village of Tabant, lasted seven months and was a life-transforming experience for Mustapha. Already rich in his own hiking experience following his father up the mountains during his adolescence, Mustapha was finally able to learn all the theory behind his practice. After graduating, he started guiding trips for other companies, before setting up his own company in 2005.

 

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Today, Toubkal Trekking works with tourists and hikers from all over the world, collaborating with many foreign travel agencies and taking people around the four corners of Morocco, from the Atlas to the desert, from the Imperial Cities to the beautiful coastal villages. 

Ready to dust off those hiking boots and sport your lightest kaftans? Read on to find out about Toubkal Trekking’s best trips.

 
 

Jebel Toubkal Trek - 2/3 days

Mustafa’s most popular trip, the hike up Mount Toubkal is a favorite among hikers worldwide. The highest peak in northern Africa, Mount Toubkal soars a whopping 4,167m/13,671 ft above sea level and is not one for the fainthearted. While the hike is not technically difficult, a good level of fitness is required, because of the high altitude. The hike can be done either as a two- or three-day trip, allowing you to set your own pace and go as fast or as slow as you wish.

The first day is spent driving to Imlil (1740m/5708ft above sea level), then hiking for 4 to 6 hours through the Aït Mizane valley, towards the village of Aremd, and the sanctuary of Sidi Chamarouch with its waterfall. You’ll arrive at the Toubkal base camp after a total ascent of about 1467m/4812ft, and spend the night in one of the two refuges available. 

The following morning you’ll get up bright and early for your summit hike, which crosses streams, rocky paths, and a beautiful plateau overlooking the Marrakesh plain and the High Atlas in the north and the Anti-Atlas and the Sahara to the south. After about 3 hours and 960m/3149ft ascent, you will reach the top of Mount Toubkal, where any fatigue or discomfort will be wholly forgotten as your eye sweeps around the 365º views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, fading out into the hazy horizon. 

You’ll then head back to base camp for a quick rest, before trekking back down to Imlil and driving to your final destination. For those who are happy to take it slower, there is an option of spending an extra night at base camp after descending from the summit.

 

 

The Atlas Mountains Berber Villages Trek - 2 days

If you enjoy the landscape but are more about the mint teas and tajines than the potential of blisters on your feet, then Mustapha’s Berber Villages Trek is the trip for you. A gentle two-day trek around several traditional Berber villages, you’ll have a chance to walk through beautiful valleys full of contrasting colors, landscapes, and vegetation, while meeting local people and exploring traditional Berber architecture along the way. 

The first day you’ll be driven to the starting point of the trek, where you’ll meet the local team, and if lucky, you might get to meet Mustapha or his father who, despite being old, sometimes still joins on the gentler hike - a true mountain man! 

After a quick cup of sweet mint tea, you will start the hike towards the pass of Tizi N’Tacht, with stunning views over Imlil & Azzaden valleys. You’ll then carry on till lunch when you will be able to enjoy a fresh meal prepared by the trip’s cook. The day will end with a trek along a rough road leading to the village of Tizi Oussem where you will spend the night at a Berber lodge. 

The following day you will enjoy an early breakfast before setting off uphill to the Tizi Mzik pass, the highest point of the trip at 2489m/8166ft, from where you will enjoy breathtaking views over Imlil valley. After a short break on the pass, you will continue back downhill to Imlil, where a delicious lunch awaits before your transfer back to your final destination.

 
 

Jebel Toubkal & Sahara Desert Trek - 5 days

Last but not least, the crown jewel in Mustapha’s roster, the Jebel Toubkal & Sahara Desert Trek combines two of the best-selling trips Mustapha has developed over the years. During this five-day adventure, you will have the chance to experience the best Morocco has to offer, from its highest peak to its hottest sand dunes. 

After your two-day hike up Mount Toubkal (see above), the journey will continue from Imlil through the Tizi N’tichka Pass (2260m/7414ft), crossing over to Ait Benhaddou, where you will have lunch and visit a traditional kasbah. After a quick stop in Ouarzazate for a visit to the city center and the Kasbah Taourirt, you’ll head to Boumalne du Dades for the night. 

The following day is the highlight of the trip. After driving through Dades Valley and Todra Gorges, you’ll reach Merzouga, where your next steed awaits… A camel! A beautiful ride through the desert will take you to the Dunes of Erg Chebbi, where you’ll be hosted in a Berber desert camp. A fire and a camp-cooked meal will keep you company while the light fades slowly into a full range of colors you didn’t even know existed. After a night of star-gazing in the vastity of the desert, you’ll wake up to the stunning hues of a desert dawn, before riding your camel back to Merzouga and driving back to Marrakech.

 

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Toubkal Trekking is a local travel agency organizing trips all around Morocco, during every season. From summer coastal holidays to winter skiing trips, there is something for everyone! Mustapha and his local teams of friendly guides will be on hand to make sure you have the experience of a lifetime. Find out more and book your trip at https://toubkal-trekking.com/ / @toubkaltrekking

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