The Astonishing Atlas Mountains of Morocco
Whether it’s the rustic Berber villages, the giant bearded vultures or the beautiful mountainside retreat owned by Richard Branson, there is so much to see while trekking in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. These mountains are less than an hour’s drive from Marrakesh, and one thing that surprises many visitors to the region is how few people there are around. This is due to the fact that this haven for trekkers is still reasonably unknown, and not many tour operators offer excursions to this enchanting area.
Nonetheless, the Atlas Mountains still manage to attract a respectable number of tourists, and not all of them are trekking enthusiasts. Bird watchers frequent this region as well, hoping to catch a sighting of the amazing birds of prey, like the Bonelli’s eagle, the bearded vulture, the Barbary falcon or the Moussier’s Redstart. Indeed, this latter-named bird of prey is very rare, and a highly prized find among bird watchers. Other popular activities in this region include mountain biking and horse riding, which are very easy to arrange. However, trekking is still the main draw of the area, and thousands of tourists arrive each year to scale Jebel Toubkal, which is North Africa’s tallest peak.
While trekking in Morocco, the Ourika Valley is a recommended attraction to visit. This lush green valley contains 7 separate waterfalls, each of which offers a scenic view of the peaks of Jebel Toubkal. This video shows the valley’s picturesque landscape:
Also worthy of exploration is another of the region’s highlights – the Tnine-de-l’Ourika shanty town. The souk of this Berber settlement springs to life on Mondays, when inhabitants of the local villages arrive to sell their merchandise and share local gossip. This area turns into a hive of activity throughout this time, with mule-drawn carts and hawkers promoting their products.
You will be struck by the hospitality of the Berber locals, while you are embarking on your trek of the Atlas Mountains. They know the region very well and it is not uncommon to receive an invite to a Berber family house, to sample some sugary mint tea. Berber villages are renown for their splendid Kasbahs, the best of which are situated in Ouarzazate town. Actually, Richard Branson fell so in love with the region’s traditional Berber Kasbahs, that he bought his mother one. The result is Kasbah Tamadot, which is a property set at the foothills of the mountains. This property has 24 bedrooms and its’ own hammam and spa. This makes it ideal for some relaxation, following a busy day of hiking.
Richard Branson is not the only famous person to be impressed by the Atlas Mountains. During the “Peace-and-Love” era of the 1960’s, Jimi Hendrix visited the region and christened it “Paradise”. The name stuck and everyone who hikes through this area will journey across the well known Paradise Valley, which features palm trees, limestone gorges, tree-clad hills and bubbling ravines. Often, in the 1960’s, hippies would sleep outside on the banks of the river here, over the warm winter months. Nowadays, the river banks are less busy, but you can still swim in the natural pools, visit the limestone caves and unwind on the solar heated rocks. Undoubtedly, spending the day in this tranquil hideaway will be the perfect finale to your Morocco trek.
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