Atlas Mountains in Morocco Travel Guide

The Anti-Atlas range, which runs through central and southern Morocco, is generally lower and easier to hike through. These mountains are home to several kasbahs, or mountaintop fortresses, many of which have now been turned into hotels or guesthouses that make excellent jumping-off points for exploring the Anti-Atlas.

One popular spot in the Anti-Atlas is the mountain called Lion's Head, near the town of Tafraoute. Lion's Head offers two separate challenges. Rock climbers can try to ascend the mountain's south face, while hikers can take the "normal route" up to the summit. Also near Tafraoute are the famous Blue Rocks, a huge installation created in the midst of the wilderness by Belgian artist Jean Veran, using gallons of multi-coloured paint to transform some of the desert rocks into a striking panorama. The Blue Rocks are an easy half day's walk from Tafraoute.

More experienced hikers can challenge the massif of the High Atlas, which offers the highest altitudes in North Africa, broken up by deep, dramatic gorges. The High Atlas, even in high and seemingly inhospitable places, are dotted with small Berber villages, with flat-roofed houses perched on mountainsides and groves of olive, apple, or other trees. A visit to a Berber village can be a fascinating diversion -- and much more comfortable than sleeping out on a bare mountainside! Many of these villages are not used to foreigners, but the Berbers are generally friendly and hospitable to travelers.

One Berber village, Imlil, is the usual starting point for ascents to the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains, Jebel Toubkal. This mountain is also North Africa's highest, coming in at 4,167 meters. It is not a particularly difficult climb, and can be ascended in two days. But unless you're a veteran mountaineer you should plan on hiring local guides. And if you're not physically fit, you should give Toubkal a miss. Even in the summer, temperatures can be bitterly cold at high altitudes, and the effects of being at over 3,000 meters can cause altitude sickness if you do not acclimatize correctly.

If you're planning to visit the Atlas Mountains for a trek, the best time to go is between April and the end of June, although September and October can be nice as well. The weather can be wet and stormy in summer, with a danger of floods, and in the lower altitudes of the Anti-Atlas, it becomes too hot to trek safely. During late fall, winter, and early spring the temperatures turn bitterly cold and, in the High Atlas, snow blocks most trekking routes.

You won't need much in the way of special equipment to trek in the Atlas Mountains. A good, comfortable pair of shoes will be enough for short walks, but you may want to invest in hiking boots for longer treks. Note that Morocco is a conservative country, and shorts are generally considered inappropriate wear for both men and women. The Atlas Mountains are a dry area -- you won't be far from the Sahara Desert -- so bring a canteen, water bottle, or Camelbak with you. Many villages in the Atlas area have trekking shops where you can buy or rent equipment for longer trips into the wilderness, including tents, sleeping bags, camp stoves, and more.

Whatever your plans, a trek in the Atlas Mountains will show you sights like nothing else on earth and leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.

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