From Marrakech to the Mountains: Trekking Adventures in Morocco's Backcountry


, by Charlie Boscoe

Photography by: intotheworldmap

Embark on a journey of discovery through the breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural tapestry of Morocco's mountains.

Sunrise over the mountains is a special moment wherever and whenever you see it, but add in the emotive sound of the adhan - the Islamic call to prayer - and it's an otherworldly experience. The fact that you can live this experience just a short ferry ride from the southern tip of Spain is even more surreal, and one which should put hiking in Morocco on the bucket list of all European adventurers.

On the long and spectacular summit ridge of Mgoun (4,071m), Morocco’s third highest mountain. Photo Boscoe Collection.

Morocco is reached via a short flight from all major European cities, but even more adventurous hikers might tackle the drive from Spain, which includes the wonderfully scenic ferry ride across the Strait of Gibraltar. Once on African soil, it's utterly bizarre to ponder your proximity to Europe as you travel through rural villages, wander maze-like souks and trek amongst high and barren mountains over just a few days. Morocco is on a different continent, but feels like a different planet.

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Most hiking trips begin in Marrakesh, one of the most fun and exciting cities on the planet. The famous Jemaa el-Fnaa square is full of snake charmers, magicians, stalls selling all kinds of food, and a whole lot of other random sights! Marrakesh isn't really a city with specific landmarks that are " must-sees;" (although the Koutoubia Mosque is pretty cool!) - it's a place best enjoyed by wandering aimlessly and following your interest where it leads you. Expect to return to your hotel with a belly full of delicious, interesting food and a raft of stories to tell! The city used to be virtually alcohol-free, and whilst, over recent years, it has become easier to find a drink in Marrakesh, overtly consuming alcohol is still frowned upon - be aware of local sensitivities if you go hunting for a cold beer!

Photography by: Serenity-H

When it's time to head into the mountains, it's a short drive to the Toubkal region and a little further to the Mgoun area. Both are beautiful destinations, with Toubkal slightly more developed and famous and the Mgoun region feeling wilder and more remote. Which one you head for will depend on the experience you're seeking, but even in the relatively busy Toubkal region, you need only stray a little off the main trails to be in villages which have barely changed for centuries. For Westerners, these overtly Islamic villages may feel incredibly foreign, and you might find yourself being stared at as you pass through them. You may also notice that as you approach, the women of the village look away or even scurry inside. The key is to be respectful, not stare at anyone or take photos. Experiencing the culture in these valleys is one of the most fascinating elements of trekking in Morocco, and the best way to enjoy them is to pass through them as subtly as possible. 

Tizi Oussem village, one of the least visited parts of the Toubkal region. Photography by: franfar

As I mentioned at the start of this piece, hearing the adhan is a unique way to start the day, and it's how every morning begins in the Moroccan mountains. It means that there's no such thing as a lie in (!), but after a full day of hiking and immersing yourself in the local Berber culture, you'll probably get to bed pretty early, and a corresponding early start shouldn't feel too rough. Go and stand outside to soak in the sound and ambiance as the adhan echoes around the valleys at first light for the full Moroccan mountain experience.

When you've had breakfast (usually consisting of excellent homemade bread and jam), the hiking can begin, and the scenery quality more than matches the cultural interest. The mountains in Morocco are somewhat barren, with trees few and far between, and the landscape has a wild and desolate feel. As you crest a ridge or look down into an empty valley, it's easy to picture yourself as an explorer - the first person to discover this enchanting place. On virtually any hike other than the Toubkal trail, you're likely to see few fellow trekkers, and this sense of isolation adds further to the mystique of the Moroccan high country.

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Once you're clear of the valleys, the scenery changes completely, with many of the peaks snow-capped for much of the year, and the huge, sweeping plains of Eastern Morocco and Algeria stretching off into the distance. It looks like nowhere else on Earth, and the cultural experience of the valleys is replaced by the more familiar feeling of staring out across a beautiful vista. Morocco is home to a series of 4000m peaks, and countless slightly smaller ones, so once you've ticked off the more famous summits, there's still a lifetime's worth of mountain adventures in the country.

A spectacular spot to pray - responding to the adhan high in the Atlas mountains. Photo Boscoe Collection.

When it's time to return home the locals are usually keen for you to leave with a full stomach, so the last night in the mountains before you return to the city is often marked with a feast! Moroccan cuisine is both healthy and hearty, so expect superb tagine with warm, homemade bread, and you are likely to be satisfied!

Serviced by budget airlines and with cultural and natural interest, Morocco is a hiker's paradise! 

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