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Morocco is a country of rugged peaks and endless trails. You’ll find the highest peaks in this North African state, dominated by the Atlas Mountain range in the north and Sahara Desert in the south. The Atlas Mountain range stretches across Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, extending for more than 1,200 miles (2000km). The striking lush green and white rim rises to form a backdrop for this region and livelihood of the people here. I promise you’re going to take in some of the world’s most spectacular views, making the challenges to hike here more than worth it.
The real draw here is Mount Toubkal, also known as Jebel Toubkal. The first hiking groups came here in 1937, summiting from the village of Imlil for the first time. This village is the main starting point for the hikes and is known as the “Little Chamonix of the Atlas Mountains.” The point of real interest is the Toubkal summit reaching 13,665 feet (4,167m), the highest peak in North Africa, surrounded by high snow-capped peaks. The Toubkal trek is the nearest point to Marrakech and the most interesting place to visit in the region. This starting point, and the place where we live, is about 40 miles (65km) from the main city from the Marrakech.
Little Chamonix in the middle of Morocco
Imlil sits at the base of the highest peak in North Africa at the Mount Toubkal National Park. The village of Imlil got its name “Little Chamonix” thanks to French visitors a long time ago. It’s diverse outdoor offerings are similar to Chamonix, so you can go skiing, climbing and hiking. As part of the Atlas Mountain trekking, we are welcomed by the local Berber people living in Berber Village as pictured in the mountains. As the last stop, Imlil has become the heart of Moroccan mountain tourism as this is where many visitors pick up mules and guides to lead them up into the mountains.
Tips for Planning Your Atlas Mountains Hike
Before I get into the best hikes in the Atlas Mountains, here are some things to consider when planning your Morocco hiking trip:
Why hike Morocco with a local guide
At Trekking in Morocco, we’re focused on local guides to give an authentic Atlas Mountains tour. Our team of 15 guides includes city guides, mountain guides and guides who can also take travelers out skiing. We do a lot of Atlas Mountain treks in the desert, as well. I started as a second guide in 2008, but became certified for mountain guiding in 2012. I’ve always wanted to be a guide, since I was a child, because I was born in a local village in the Atlas Mountains at 6,069 feet (1850m) above sea level.
I had my education locally and then traveled to the city where I studied at a university. My aim was always to end up hiking in the Atlas Mountains because I love the mountains, and I love my local village. That’s why I decided to walk a lot and follow another local guide to see how he worked. I wanted to show people about our culture, about our traditions and about trekking in Morocco. I do everything I can to share with people from here or outside Morocco. My love for the place I grew up in is where the decision came from to become a guide. I love the Atlas Mountains and love to share my experience with people from all over the world.
How long does it take to climb Mount Toubkal?
The difficulty level is designed to accommodate everyone. If you want a challenge, there are challenging hikes to go a bit farther up in elevation in the mountains. It’s all customizable. The full day trip starts at 9 a.m. and will last until 6 p.m. upon the return to the city. In winter, the days are much shorter, so you’ll return to Marrakech around 5 p.m. before the sun sets.
What is a typical Atlas Mountains tour?
Atlas Mountain hiking tours are anywhere from one day to 16 days. Every day, we walk at least five to seven hours depending on the fitness level of guests. We’ll then stay at local guests houses owned by Berber families. We also camp outdoors overnight near the villages during the warm months. In winter, for most of the hiking trips, travelers will stay in the villages due to the cold and winds.
We do our best to accommodate a range of schedules. For example, travelers prefer to have one to three days as a compliment to seeing other places in Morocco. Other guests choose to usually do four days maximum. Many of our visitors are short on time for trekking in Morocco with the Toubkal trek as a priority. They often decide to spend a short time in every place to try to cover the whole country. Our guests start in Marrakech, and hike around three or four days in the mountains. Typically the maximum is four days.
A typical day hiking in the Atlas Mountains is season dependent. Short trips are usually mixed with cultural elements and areas to take in the surrounding beauty.
A one-day trip from Marrakech starts at the weekly markets
On a one-day trek, you’ll start in Marrakech and return to the city at night. Beginning at 9 a.m., we drive through the valley and make stops where there are nice views or for weekly markets. Every Tuesday and Saturday, people from around the Atlas Mountains region will gather to buy and sell animals, crops and other goods. Here, you’ll see what traditional foods are grown and what animals there are to buy. This is just one glimpse into the livelihood of the people in the area. Another stop along the way are cooperatives run by local women, which are a newer development, offering handicrafts for sale and to view. It’s another way to connect with the local Moroccan culture.
Start Atlas Mountain trekking in Imlil with traditional Berber families
We’ll continue driving toward the Atlas Mountains stopping at the foothills at “Little Chamonix” to prepare for the hiking trip. Before getting on the trail, you’ll be invited by a Berber family from the village to have Moroccan tea and local snacks, usually on a roof terrace of a local house. After that, the group will cross a couple waterfalls. On the trail, you’ll have incredible views of the Mount Toubkal trek because the mountain is always in full view, in front of the trail. You’ll end in a local village to enjoy dinner prepared by a local family. Here you’ll get to enjoy the views before heading back down to Marrakech.
Extend the Atlas Mountains trip to multiple days
For the extended trips, we meet in Marrakech at 8:30 a.m., before driving to the starting point. An extension covers two or three days. Aside from that, it depends on what the guests want. If people want an easier trip, they’ll visit more villages to meet locals and take in the views. You’ll enjoy a leisurely pace at the villages and valleys.
If people want to climb the highest mountain in North Africa, then that can be done in two days as well. It’s a five-hour walk to the basecamp at 7,568 feet (2307m) above sea level. There you can stay in a mountain hut or camp outdoors. It also depends on the weather conditions, and if it’s rainy or cold, you can stay inside. If you’re planning a trip for trekking in Morocco, then consider exploring the Atlas Mountains — it will almost certainly offer an adventure for everyone.
Tips to prepare for Atlas Mountains backpacking
If you have any trouble with the elevation, spend a couple of days taking in the sights in the villages before the ascent. You’ll be able to tour through the nearby villages at the lower altitude to help you acclimate. Taking a day or two at the higher elevation is a common method for preventing altitude sickness and gives you a fantastic opportunity to explore more of the Atlas region.
What to bring on your Atlas Mountain hiking trip
Prepare for a typical alpine hiking trip by bringing your own sleeping bag, jacket, hiking boots, hats, warm clothes and first aid kit. For winter treks, you’ll need specialized equipment for snow and ice. Equipment shops are available in Imlil to rent gear for anyone who needs to pack light. We always say, it’s better to bring your own but the option is there.