How to Visit and explore the Atlas Mountains in Morocco? | A complete guide
The mountainous mass of North Africa, the Atlas spans three countries in the region: Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. 2,500 kilometers long, the massif forms a barrier between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara. Its Moroccan part is probably the most interesting. It is shared between three massifs: Anti, the Middle and the High Atlas. The latter attracts most visitors. Many come to climb Jebel Toubkal, its highest peak, which rises to 4,167 meters.
Shared between the three Maghreb countries, the Atlas Mountains are among the must-sees in this region. No matter what country you go to, be sure to go there. Magnificent landscapes, canyons, oases and rivers await you. So to help you on your adventures, we will discuss in this guide all the ways to discover the Atlas Mountains.
The Atlas Mountains in a few words
This massif takes its name from a deity from Berber and Greek mythology. According to Greek myth, the giant Atlas is condemned by Zeus to support on his shoulders the sky. Petrified by Perseus thanks to the head of Medusa, the giant is transformed into a mountain range. Herodotus reports in a work on the Berbers that the locals consider the mountain as the column that supports the sky. The word Atlas thus seems to come from the Berber word assalas meaning "beam".
At the heart of the myths and legends of the Mediterranean, the Atlas Mountains are to be discovered both for the diversity of landscapes that they shelter and for the sports activities that can be practiced there. Swarming with fertile plateaus, old deserted and eroded mountains, canyons and freshwater basins, they can only amaze visitors. The massif has a number of unique sites to visit. On the Moroccan side, we can thus mention the National Parks of Ifrane, Khénifra and Tazekka, but also the Toubkal National Park in the High Atlas and the Paradise Valley.
1. Hikes to discover the Atlas Mountains
We are not going to hide it from you, the hikes and treks in this ancient massif are numerous, very numerous! This activity is probably the best for discovering the Atlas Mountains. In the Moroccan part, there are several hikes, some easy and others more difficult, but all exceptional. Generally, they are rather well marked and indicated. Here are a few :
The Tislit Gorges: located between Taznakht and Taliouine in the Anti-Atlas, this hiking circuit immerses you in a unique site in the world, with its volcanic peaks, its changing colors and its peaceful river.
The ascent of Jebel Toubkal: this hike is for experienced athletes and practitioners! Lasting 2 days, it starts in the authentic village of Imlil with stops at stop-over gites.
Lake Ifni: also accessible from Imlil, it presents spectacular scenery. The hike presents a medium difficulty.
The Dades Gorges and the Valley of Roses: easy to medium difficulty, this hiking circuit will make you discover a labyrinth of colorful valleys, splendid gorges and pink canyons dug by the M’gou wadi.
Guided walking tours of the Atlas
To discover the Atlas Mountains, you can obviously opt for guided day tours. Accompanied by a local guide, you will be able to learn more about the region, its particularities and its history. Typically, a full-day guided tour focuses on a unique and special Atlas site. Among the most popular excursions, we can for example count the Imlil Valley, the Ouzoud Waterfalls, the Paradise Valley or the village of Tamatert and its views.
For the modalities, you will generally be taken care of at your hotel or accommodation in Marrakech. The latter is the starting point for many excursions to the Atlas Mountains. By minibus, you will then reach the start of the hike. You are generally accompanied by a French or English speaking guide. Stops are sometimes planned in stalls or villages to discover local crafts. These day trips allow you to visit a natural site on foot.
In terms of prices, you will have to count from € 25 to € 55 per person depending on the excursion and the location chosen. Note that there are obviously longer circuits, spanning several days, which are aimed at more experienced hikers. In this case, the rates range from € 200 to over € 600 per person. Accommodation and meals are then taken care of.
2. Excursions and camel rides
Not all visitors to the Atlas are accomplished hikers. Fortunately, it is possible to explore the Atlas Mountains in a different way! And one of the best is obviously an excursion or ride on a camel. From one day to several, these adventures are excellent for gently discovering the landscapes of the Atlas Mountains. Accompanied by a guide, you will dive into steep valleys, admire canyons and peaceful rivers, waterfalls and water basins. Some even pass through sections of deserts, allowing you to appreciate its tranquility and beauty.
When they last more than a day, they frequently include typical dinners and breakfasts. The nights are also an opportunity to observe the stars without the light pollution that we know in town. In short, these camel trips have everything to attract all types of travelers!
One of the most popular camel rides is a day trip from Marrakech. Departure is at 9 a.m. A driver will then take you from your accommodation to Imlil. Your English or French speaking guide (your choice) will then take you on a tour of the surrounding Atlas Mountains. At the end of the day, you will meet your driver who will take you back to Marrakech. These day trips frequently include lunch, as well as refreshments, such as mint tea.
As for multi-day excursions, they also include transfers to and from Marrakech, as well as breakfasts, dinners and refreshments. Water and lunch are not necessarily included, so be careful on this point before booking! Note that these multi-day excursions are not always done only by camel. Some portions can be done in 4 × 4 or on foot depending on the excursion chosen.
At what price ?
For a day trip on a camel, usually count from 35 to 40 € per person.
For excursions lasting several days, prices range from 100 to 200 € per person. These obviously depend on the number of days, activities and services offered.
Like walking, cycling is a great way to explore the Atlas Mountains. Many mountain bike trails cross the entire Moroccan Atlas. In winter, we will favor the south of Morocco. This region will delight you with its arid mountains, its oasis valleys and its desert on a mountain bike circuit. In summer, the Berber High Atlas is open to hikers on bikes. You can then cross high passes, follow the wadis, walk through hidden green valleys. In short, no matter the time of year, you will find what you are looking for in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains!
Fortunately for aspiring mountain bikers, many mountain bike excursions are organized in this region of the world. Passionate guides and organizations can help you discover the most beautiful circuits and natural sites for one or more days. Of course, you can also organize your own mountain biking adventure in the Atlas Mountains.
As with any day trip, you will generally be picked up from your hotel or accommodation in Marrakech or a nearby city. A driver will take you to the starting point, where your guide will now pick you up. French and / or English speaking, he will make you discover the Atlas Mountains during an adventure which generally includes lunch.
Tours of less than or more than a week generally include your transfer from and to your arrival airport, or accommodation. Your accommodation and meals during the mountain bike adventure will also be taken care of in most cases. Be sure to check this point before your reservation. A French and / or English speaking guide will also accompany you during this unique experience.
Please note: your mountain bike will generally be provided for a day trip as well as for a multi-day tour. Also check this point before booking your experience.
At what price ?
For a day of mountain biking, prices generally start from € 70 per person.
For a longer circuit, the price obviously depends on the duration. In general, count from € 250 to € 400 per person for a 2 to 3 day circuit and up to € 1,000 for 8 to 9 days of mountain biking.
4. Excursions in 4 × 4
As mentioned earlier, you can opt for a day trip or more in the Atlas Mountains. These activities are largely carried out in 4 × 4, sometimes including a camel ride or a walking tour. These excursions are therefore ideal for combining several experiences and discovering several sites in the Atlas Mountains. Some also include a passage through the Sahara. The two natural monuments stand side by side.
Most organizations offer 4 × 4 excursions lasting one to eight days. Generally not starting in Marrakech, you will be taken care of at your accommodation in the city. You will then return to the starting point. From there, you will begin your 4 × 4 adventure in the Atlas Mountains.
Day trips usually include lunch. They can also be accompanied by other ancillary activities: camel ride, visit to Berber houses or local craftsmen, hiking, etc.
For excursions lasting several days, your meals and accommodation are generally taken care of. We recommend that you carefully check the services included in the excursion. You will also be accompanied by a French and / or English speaking guide, whether for a tour or a day trip.
At what price ?
For a 4 × 4 day trip, you will usually need to pay € 70 per person.
For a multi-day excursion, prices range from 200 € to over 1000 € per person. These prices obviously depend on the duration of the tour.
Do not hesitate to consult several sites and organizations before booking. You will usually be able to request a quote before deciding.
5. Quad or buggy expeditions
Do you want to combine thrills and discovery of fantastic landscapes? Then quad or buggy excursions are made for you! As with 4 × 4 outings, many quad or buggy excursions are organized to explore the Atlas Mountains easily. Most outings from Marrakech follow the same route. You will then discover the foot of the High Atlas mountains, with part of the excursion in the desert.
You will travel through the Berber countryside, pass through orchards, meadows, eucalyptus forests and the desert. In the background, the Atlas Mountains will make you watch. You will be able to admire them at each of your stops. Some guided quad excursions even offer tea in a typical house, with the snow-capped mountains of course as companions. In addition to the Berber villages, most of the excursions make a detour to the magnificent Lake Takerkoust.
Just like the 4 × 4 or camel excursions, you will be picked up from and to your accommodation in Marrakech. For a half-day expedition, you will generally have the choice between morning or afternoon.
4 × 4 expeditions do not generally start in Marrakech. A driver will take you to the starting point. Day trips usually include lunch, as well as refreshments. A French-speaking and / or English-speaking guide will also accompany you during this sporting adventure!
For excursions lasting several days, your meals and accommodation are generally taken care of. We recommend that you carefully check the services included in the excursion.
At what price ?
The price obviously depends on the duration of the quad expedition.
For half a day, count from 65 to 75 € per person on average.
For a day trip, prices generally range between 120 and 160 € per person.
6. Overview of the Atlas in a hot air balloon
If the Atlas Mountains are ideally visible from the ground, admiring them from the heavens is certainly memorable. A balloon flight, but also by plane or helicopter, offers you a different and spectacular perspective on this natural monument. Fortunately, there are quite a few such visits and the prices are not as high as you might think at first.
So you can opt for a one hour balloon flight from Marrakech for 200 € for example. Picked up at your hotel, you will enjoy the flight, but also a camel ride in the surrounding desert. From the heavens, you will observe the Moroccan countryside, as well as the valleys and hills of the desert. These flights often take place at dawn, the rising sun will tint the landscapes with beautiful gold, orange, red and yellow colors. No doubt this experience will leave you with lasting memories!
7. Sleep in the Atlas Mountains
The massif is, as you know, quite large. Thus, it is home to many villages and towns, and therefore many places to stay. Sleeping in the Atlas Mountains will allow you to multiply visits, on foot, by bike or by other means in the mountains. But above all, you can enjoy its unique atmosphere, its landscapes and its serenity. Far from the big cities, closer to the heavens, you can take the time to discover, contemplate and let yourself go.
On the Moroccan side, there are several places that we can recommend to you. From these accommodations, you can easily explore several exceptional sites in the Atlas Mountains. Here is our selection:
The Kasbah of Toubkal
Nestled in the Toubkal National Park, the Toubkal Kasbah is an ecological and authentic guest house. Open all year round, it offers all the services and facilities for exploring the surrounding Atlas Mountains. This establishment is ideal for a stay of adventures, while benefiting from modern but authentic comfort.
The fruit of a creative partnership between Berbers and Europeans, it offers activities for all types of travelers. The Toubkal Kasbah has indeed set itself the objective of making accessible to all the wonders of this national park! Prices for one night start from € 160 for a room.
The Amandier hotel
Located in the Ougangan valley, the Amandier is a luxurious and fantastic establishment just 45 minutes from Marrakech. As with the Kasbah of Toubkal, exceptional views of the mountains await you. But the strength of the establishment lies in its exceptional facilities: an infinity pool, comfortable rooms with beautiful views of the peaks, its spa and restaurant.
With nothing but nature miles away, it's also the perfect place for travelers looking for a break from it all! From the Almond Tree, you can also start superb half-day hikes through the valley. The hotel rooms are available from € 270 per person.
Located in Imlil, less than 10 kilometers from Toubkal National Park, Douar Samra is a charming and authentic Moroccan guest house. It’s the perfect place to explore the Atlas Mountains. The establishment is located in Imlil, known as the starting point for treks and hikes to the highest peak in the Atlas: the Jebel Toubkal. With its comfortable rooms, affordable prices and attentive staff, we can only recommend this hotel for your stay in the Atlas Mountains.
Rooms at this property are available at much more affordable prices than previous hotels. Rates for one night start from € 47. Douar Samra also offers a free shuttle service to and from Marrakech Airport-Menara.