The High Atlas mountains of Morocco are home to the tallest peaks in North Africa. But to many people, Morocco is best known as having an arid desert landscape. However once you visit the country you quickly realize how big and diverse the natural environment here is. Yes, there’s the Sahara desert in the south, but also the sandy beaches along the coast, the oases in the interior, and of course the snow capped peaks of the High Atlas.
Just 90km from Marrakech lies the tiny town of Imlil, one of the gateways to the High Atlas range and Toubkal National Park. From any of the numerous rooftop terraces in town you can see the majestic snow capped peaks whilst sipping on mint tea (aka Berber whiskey) and enjoying a tajine. A fast flowing river runs right through the middle of town, providing a tranquil soundtrack to the already relaxed atmosphere.
Getting to Imlil is easy. From any of the “grand taxi” stands in Marrakech, you can get a direct ride to Imlil. Prices are negotiable but if you’re good at bargaining you might be able to get a fare for 330 dirham (appx 30 euros) one way for the entire taxi, not per person. The ride takes about 1.5 hrs and there’ll usually be a short stop for tea and photos at a viewpoint along the way. The heavy rainfall and flash flooding in late Nov 2014 damaged many of the roads but repairs were underway immediately after. There are grand taxis available in Imlil for when you want to return to Marrakech. There is no bus service to Imlil. If you’re on your own you can take a bus to Asni, then take a grand taxi to Imlil.
Hiking is the main draw here. At 4167m, Mount Toubkal is the tallest mountain in North Africa and can be climbed in just 2 days from Imlil. In the winter months, it’s covered in snow so crampons, axes, ropes, and other standard bits of climbing equipment are required. When there’s no snow it’s a straight hike to the top, although it will still take 2 days. Day 1 consists of a 5-7 hour hike up to base camp which is at around 3200m. Day 2 you wake up around 06 or 07h, have breakfast, hike about 3 hrs to the summit, return to base camp, then back down to town. Prices for a guided trek vary but you can expect to pay anywhere from 800 – 1000 Dh (appx 73 – 92 euros) per person depending on the season and what equipment you need to hire.
A far less exerting hike is along a gently sloping path up to the nearby town of Aroumd. For this hike, you can take a guide or go it on your own. We took a guide because we were a bit pressed for time although I did see the value in it because the path is not well marked and it would’ve been easy to get lost, but not lost as in a “search and rescue” sense of the word. The views of the mountains and valley were stunning. It’s exactly what I wanted to see. Living in the Netherlands, you just don’t see these kinds of landscapes so it was a real treat for my mountains-starved self.
Finding a place to stay is also easy. There are lots of riads and hotels in town. Since it was low season in mid December, almost all of them were empty. When we arrived in town we were just looking for a nice rooftop to eat on at first and by chance we stumbled into a really nice place called Riad Imlil which didn’t look like much from the outside but felt like an old Swiss chalet inside. And they can cook up a mean tajine. In the high season however, it’s advisable to book ahead before heading to Imlil.