If you are thinking about an Atlas Mountain trekking trip for your visit to Morocco, then start here with our first timer’s guide. The Atlas Mountain region is massive and finding all the information about trekking it, can be a struggle. But this all-in-one guide will help with ALL your questions. We cover – how to get there, how to organise trekking trips from Marrakech and the best time to hike in the Atlas Mountains.
Get a better understanding about the tallest mountain in North Africa, Mount Toubkal. And identify whether this is the summit you want to trek, or maybe one of the smaller Jebels.
The Atlas Mountain range is far reaching, spanning three countries and landscapes in Morocco alone vary greatly. From the apple and cherry orchards in Toubkal valley to the kasbahs of Ouarzazate there is something for every level of trekker in the Atlas Mountains. And a visit to this region is also a great opportunity to learn more about local Berber culture and customs.
Included in this post we share our personal experience about Atlas Mountain trekking with kids. With a dedicated post coming soon. We also share an honest review of the trekking tour of our Atlas Mountain experience.
👉 Read below and click through the table of contents for answers to specific questions. And get in touch if you have any more questions!
The Atlas Mountains – Things to Know
Where are the Atlas Mountains?
The Atlas Mountain range, is made up of various peaks, crisscrossed by basins, plateaus and gorges. These span over 2,000 kilometres, covering three countries – Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The lowest point of the Atlas Mountain range starts at Agadir in the west of Morocco. It continues up through Morocco, into the north of Algeria and finishes in Tunis, Tunisia.
Understanding Berber Culture in the Atlas Mountains?
The mountains are home to many Berber villages. Some of these are now accessible by roads, but many are still only accessible by foot and mule. The Atlas Mountains are also home to several nomadic groups who continue to follow the same paths that have been in use for generations.
As you can expect life has changed greatly for those living in the mountains, with the introduction of cars, electricity, cellphones and the likes. But for others it has changed only slightly as they continue to rely on camel and donkey as their main mode of transport. They live in tents, use wood for heating and cooking and the seasons largely dictate where they move.
Alternatively, for those living in the villages, agriculture is relied on as a main source of income. However, due to population growth and land titles divided through generations, most villages can no longer produce enough to support themselves. Because of this a lot have become more reliant on tourism, as a main source of income.
👀 As such, we recommend that you choose your tour guides wisely. Opt for local guides from the villages… read our full review of local guide Trek Atlas here.
Getting to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco
As the Atlas Mountains cover such a vast area, including three different countries, this question will obviously depends on where you are coming from. So for this blog we will concentrate on Morocco and our experience of an Atlas Mountain trekking expedition.
For most travellers visiting Morocco and heading to the Atlas Mountains, your adventure would depart from Marrakech. And the gateway to the Atlas Mountains is the village Imlil, which is approximately 65 km from Marrakech or a 1 ½ hour drive.
In fact, Imlil is the starting point for 90% of trekkers looking to Summit Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa. So, depending on your specific trek route of the Atlas Mountains this starting point is likely to be where you will begin.
Taking the Bus to Imlil
Unfortunately there is no direct bus from Marrakech to Imlil. However if you are looking for the challenge, you can take bus number 35 from Sidi Mimoun in Marrakech to Tahnaout. This will take about 1 ½ hours, then take a collective or shared taxi from Tahnaout to Imlil.
If you choose this option we would advise that you to do your own homework directly via the Alsa Bus website here.
Getting to Imlil by Taxi, Private Driver or Rental Car
Alternatively, and much easier we might add, you can get a rental car, private taxi or collective taxi. You have the option of taking a private taxi or a shared taxi, these are called a collective. A private taxi should cost you around 350 MAD, depending on how hard you wish to bargain.
Or for a collective then you’ll be looking at around 50 MAD per person. You can catch a collective Grand Taxi where the roads Av. El Mouahidine and Av. Hommane Al Fatouaki meet. This is a 2 minute walk from KFC. Collectives are a great way to get around in Morocco. A short wait, 15-20 minutes is all it normally takes for a collective taxi to fill with others going in the same direction.
However, many tour providers will include a private transfer to and from Imlil. In which case, getting to the Atlas Mountains is something you will not need to worry about yourself.
Best Time to Visit Atlas Mountain
For most visitors to Morocco, the ideal time for trekking in the Atlas Mountains is from April to June and September to May. Therefore avoiding the extreme weather and temperatures of summer and winter… along with the crowds of local and international tourists during the July and August holidays.
This being said, we went trekking in August and the night temperatures were mild and hiking during the day pleasant.
And so, the Atlas Mountains are accessible all year round. Just keep in mind that the conditions are largely dictated by the season. In other words, in December expect snow and ice in the winter, which thaws in the spring filling rivers and waterholes.
Then comes the heat of the summer in July and August – but a cool escape from sweltering temperatures of Fes and Marrakech. Summer is a great time of year if you like swimming in the water-holes. And then come the milder months of Autumn to finish the year.
Is Trekking in the Atlas Mountains Safe?
Sadly in December 2018 two Scandinavian women were murdered in the Atlas Mountains. They were camping after their descent of Mount Toubkal. The killers were quickly found and bought to justice. But the ramifications were huge… this isolated and unfortunate incident, left the locals devastated.
Ahmed our tour guide from Trek Atlas told us of the heartache felt by the local people living in Aroumd. He stressed his deepest sympathy on the event, and how greatly it affected residents and the greater community.
As with all places in the world, tragedies can occur and it only takes one or two people to have a huge impact on many.
Since the attack the Moroccan government has imposed new restrictions. All foreign tourists must now be accompanied by a registered guide and must register before beginning the trek. In Around, they have also built a new police station at the entrance of the Toubkal track.
As for our experience, at no point did we feel any unease. Nor had we thought of the event and its impact until it came up in conversation with Ahmed our guide. We felt extremely safe and welcomed by all we met over our two day trekking excursion with our kids.
Imlil – The Gateway to the Atlas Mountains
As mentioned above, Imlil is around 65 Km south of Marrakech and 1800 metres above sea level. This small mountain town is known as the gateway or the trailhead to the High Atlas Mountains. And the moment you arrive, serious mountain trekkers seem to appear. This is because Imlil is a hub for those looking to summit Mt Toubkal.
The town sits parallel to the river which runs north from the valley pass between the peaks of Toubkal and Ouanoukrim. It has grown immensely with the growth of tourism, from both local and international tourist.
Visitors also flock from Marrakech to Imlil for either a day or two, to enjoy the cooler weather during the summer months. The town now has various cafés and restaurants dotted along and across the river. The restaurants are a great place to sit for some famous mint tea, in perfect shade of the flowing river.
Imlil also has an abundance of accommodation options, mountaineering equipment rental shops and of course souvenirs. And this is where most will come to meet their guide, muler and mule before embarking on their Atlas Mountain trekking adventure.
The Village of Aroumd
Aroumd is a small Berber village just South of Imlil, at an altitude of 1900m above sea level. It is located up the valley from Imlil on your way to Mt Toubkal.
The village is nestled on the Eastern side of the valley, around a ridge that has both a North and South face. With the North face looking back down the valley over Imlil and the south facing up to Mt Toubkal. It is an impressive place and one that we are glad we spent the night in.
It has agricultural land along the river valley, with houses then rising up the eastern ridge. Because of its location, Aroumd now has two access roads from Imlil, one on either side of the valley. However, trekkers tend to make their way up to Aroumd on foot with guide and muler.
The village is a quintessential Moroccan mountain postcard. Berber homes, a few guest houses and small shops servicing the local families fill the landscape. And the dwellings are built from brick and stone, then earth plastered. With the houses stacked side by side, one on top of the other, they rise up from the valley floor. With stunning vistas spanning both up and down the valley.
Places to Visit & Treks in the Atlas Mountains
As mentioned above the mountain range spans over such a vast area and there are many walks available to trekkers. Below are some options –
Toubkal Valley starts from Imlil and follows the valley up towards Mt Toubkal. With this walk you have the option to go around Mt Toubkal or summit. But you can also explore the various mountain passes, valleys, rivers, Berber villages and agricultural lands of Aroumd full of apple and cherry plantations.
This is further to the South of Toubkal where the Anti Atlas crosses into the High Atlas. It’s further afield, a little less known and harder to get to than Toubkal. Naturally Jebel Sirwa is less travelled which may appeal to more intrepid travellers and trekkers. The area is covered with breathtaking valleys surrounded by mountain peaks and dotted with Berber villages. The main agricultural crops in this part of the Atlas Mountains are almond trees and saffron.
Jebel Sahro is further east of Toubkal and borders the Sahara desert. Here the Draa and Dades valley run between Jebel Sahro and the main High Atlas ranges.
The contrasting scenery is one of the big appeals. From the barren volcanic mountain ranges and mud brick villages, to the valleys lined with palm trees and rose bushes. Jebel Sahro is a lot less frequented. So for those that like to explore those areas less travelled, this is ideal.
Along the Dades valley you also have the busy town and region of Ouarzazate. While this isn’t remote trekking, it is a beautiful part of Morocco to incorporate into your tour itinerary. Ouarzazate is frequently visited by tourists and famous for its spectacular Kasbahs and beautiful valley walks. Some of the more popular include Rose Valley, Todra Gorge and the mountain Kasbah of Ait Ben Hadou.
Amezmiz is an ideal area for those who wish to experience the Atlas Mountains, but who are restricted by time, cost or have concerns related to fitness levels. It sits at the base of the High Atlas Mountains and is only an hour from Marrakech.
From the village you can venture out and explore the surrounding area, experiencing the local Berber life as you wonder through villages and fields. All the while taking in some spectacular views at your own leisurely pace.
The Summit – Mount Toubkal
As mentioned Mount Toubkal is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains at a height of 4167m. In fact it is the highest peak in North Africa. And as such, it has become one of the most popular treks in North Africa.
The trek is normally done over two or three days and will need to be done with a qualified mountain guide. In regards to fitness and ability, the trek is described as a non-technical climb. So no experience is required, but a medium to good fitness level is advised. At certain times of the year you will require walking poles and crampons due to icy conditions.
A two day itinerary will generally see you picked up from Marrakech in the early morning. Arriving in Imlil you will meet your guide and walk up to the overnight camp. The following morning will be an early summit for the sunrise before returning to Imlil by the afternoon. At this point you will meet your driver to transport you back to Marrakech.
Atlas Mountain Trekking with Kids
If you are a family and interested in exploring the Atlas Mountains with kids, but you have reservations… then we have a dedicated post for you (coming soon).
But to briefly summarise here, kids can hike in the Atlas Mountains. You just need to do a little homework and start talking options with trekking companies. We contacted Trek Atlas who were more than happy to tailor an experience with us and our nine and seven year old.
Many guides offer private, tailored treks that can include an extra muler and mule. And they are there purely to assist the little ones as and when they get tired. It’s also relevant to note, that there are a multitude of trekking options dependent on your kids ages and experience.
👨👩👧👧 So take it from someone who went Atlas Mountain trekking with kids – it is most certainly possible.
Trekking with Trek Atlas Guided Tours
We were thrilled to find local based guide Trek Atlas for our Toubkal Valley and Aroumd trekking experience.
They were more than willing and offered us a flexible itinerary and extra muler if we wished. And our guide’s thought was to see how our girls managed the first trek from Imlil up to Aroumd. Needless to say they were fine and no extra mule was required.
On day one we took a two hour valley walk in the afternoon around Aroumd. And the following day a six hour trek From Aroumd to Sidi Shamourish and back, before taking the transport back to Marrakech.
Read our full review of Trek Atlas here. Note: we paid for our trip in full and we do not personally benefit should you choose to book your tour with them.
Atlas Mountain Trekking – Final Thoughts
If you are thinking of Morocco as your next travel destination, then we definitely recommend you take two or three days exploring in the Atlas Mountains. Whether you’re an avid mountain trekker or not, the Moroccan landscape, Berber culture and community of this region is unique and an incredible place to experience.
It wasn’t on our initial list of places to go. But soon after our arrival in Morocco we started to hear more and more about it. Therefore, deciding to alter our itinerary slightly to include the two days and we were so glad we did!
The Atlas Mountains was definitely one of our most memorable experiences of Morocco. And given we were in Morocco for three months, this is quite a statement. Our only wish – to have had more time – then we could have trekked more!
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