If you are uplifted by the peaks and valleys of mountain landscape, then the Atlas Mountains should be on your bucket list of destinations to visit. Home to a world of experiences and adventures, discovering the heights of North Africa will be a truly awesome and exhilarating time.
Where are the Atlas Mountains?
It was the ancient Greek poet Hesiod, who wrote about Atlas, a Titan who was condemned to stand at the end of the earth and hold up the celestial heavens for eternity. This myth became commonly identified with the Atlas Mountains and is how the mountains came to have their name.
The location of the Atlas Mountain is in the Maghreb, North Africa, and rises up from the flat lands in Morocco, through Algeria and on into Tunisia, providing easy access for European travellers whilst offering a dramatically different culture. These mountains separate the Mediterranean and Atlantic coast lines and beyond them to the south, they descend into the Sahara Desert.
Travel from Marrakech to the Atlas
The nearest city to the centre of the High Atlas Mountains is Marrakech. The heart of the Atlas is situated around 65 km from the centre and transport to the towns and villages in within the Atlas region from Marrakech is straight forward. Tourists have the option to hire a car and drive into the mountains themselves, with the aid of sat-nav, this is just as efficient as the local transport.
The route from Marrakech is simple to follow, with straight and direct roads out of the city heading towards the distant ridge. As the road begins to incline from the plains to the hills and then into the mountains, the twists and turns of the route can prove a little daunting for someone driving there for the first time. Alternatively, you can relax in the back of a taxi, you can catch a shared car from the city, that will cost around 6 euros and take around 1 hour 20 minutes.
Imlil a popular destination
A popular destination for tourist to head to, is the village of Imlil, a great location to begin an exploration of the Atlas Mountains, Marrakesh. You will find plenty to do in the mountains, so a few days stay is a good idea, but if you are pressed for time you can book one of the many day trips from Marrakech to Atlas Mountains, which are run by many of the travel agents and guides.
The Atlas Mountains, Morocco are home to the Amazigh people (Berber). They have been inhabitants of this region for over 12,000 years. Whilst the cities and regions along the coast of North Africa have been controlled and conquered by a multitude of rulers and religions, the Amazigh people have remained settled, living peacefully in the mountains, continuing their lifestyle.
You can discover some of their traditions, experience an authentic culture which has with-stood the test of time. In this region there are varieties of flora and fauna that are unique to the mountains of North Africa. Over the past century we are now witnessing the climate changing which has put the local wildlife at risk, some of which are sadly now endangered.
You can take an Atlas Mountain Morocco tour for some bird watching and nature appreciation, this is also a great opportunity for natural life photographers to work on capturing some images of this beautiful landscape.
Atlas Mountain Range
It took a collision 80 million years ago, between the continents of America and Africa, and the separation of the Earths’ crust over millions of years, to form what we now see as the Atlas Mountains. On the Atlas Mountain map, you will find that the Atlas range has been defined into smaller areas; the High-Atlas, Anti-Atlas, Middle Atlas and Saharan Atlas ranges.
You can set out to discover the Atlas range by each of the geographical regions: in the south-west of Morocco, the Anti-Atlas rise up towards the north-east near the city of Tafilat, this range borders the Sahara in the south. Within the Anti-Atlas range the highest peak is mount Siroua at 3,304 m.
High-Atlas Mountains Morocco
In the central part of the country the ridge is known as the High-Atlas Mountains Morocco and this stretches out towards the boarders of Algeria. Within this range Jbel Tobkal is the tallest peak, at 4,167m, it has been identified as the highest peak in North Africa and is a popular destination for the international climbing and hiking community.
The largest villages and towns in this region are Ouarzazate, Tahannaout, Amizmiz, Imlil, Tin Mal and Ijoukak with Jbel Ighil m’Goun holding the title of the second tallest peak at 4,071m.
The Middle Atlas range is entirely in Morocco, situated to the north of the High Atlas and separated by the Moulouya and Oum Er-Rbia rivers. The high point within this range is the Jbel Bou Naceur at 3,340m. This area has more rainfall throughout the year, making it an important catchment area for many rivers of the lower planes.
The Saharan Atlas range is found in Algeria and is the eastern part of the Atlas Mountains. With the highest peak rising to 2,236m. Though it may not inspire as much climbing, the scenery, better suited for agriculture than the plateau regions to the north, is just as breath taking.
Hiking in the Atlas Mountains
It is now easier than ever to explore and enjoy the excitement of trekking in Morocco at the Atlas and experience the culture of the Amazigh people who live there. If you’re interested in challenges, then you can journey to Jbel Toubkal, the tallest peak of the Atlas range.
The hike to the summit is a worth will adventure. At 4167m, Toubkal is the highest peak of the High Atlas range and in all North Africa. The summit is accessible for hikers and climbers of all abilities who feel that their bodies are in good physical condition.
If you are interested in attempting to reach the summit there is a lot of support provided by the locals of the region. You can plan a route to the top from the mountain village of Imlil, a place that caters specifically to the hiking community. When planning a Toubkal expedition, Imlil is the recognised as the most convenient location to use as a base.
Hiking around Imlil
One of the activities which is growing in popularity for tourist visiting Morocco is the invigoration of Atlas mountain trekking. In Imlil, you will find all what you need for a successful adventure; there are plenty of riads providing warm beds and food, the shops that line the main road of the small village, offer climbing gear and supplies and there are plenty of people working as personal guides to help you navigate your journey.
To reach the summit of Toubkal it is required that you’re accompanied by local a guide. There are official check points on the way so make sure that you keep your passport with you. You can find plenty of friendly guides, working in the village of Imlil and it is easy enough to connect to them. Most professional guides speak a range of languages and are very informed about the local area and history.
You may want to book a guide on-line or you can ask the staff at the raid where you plan to stay to arrange your guide. If you are just planning to turn up, you can walk through the village and ask around or head to the base of the Toubkal hike and easily find a guide there.
Apart from Toubkal, there are other mountain hikes and walks through the surrounding area of Imlil, shorter and less challenging, you will not need a guide for these. Some of the shorter hikes you can enjoy for a few hours or can be planned for a day adventure. In winter you could go skiing around.
Planning a Toubkal summit hike
If you are planning a Toubkal summit hike then you must plan at least two days into your itinerary, as the minimum time required will involve at least one overnight stay at the mountain refuge. The usual trek takes around 5/6 hours to the refuge and then following an over-night rest, an early wake-up call to begin hiking the next day at sunrise, the sumit can be reached by midday, leaving enough time for the full decent back to Imlil village before night fall.
Before you hike, inform yourself about the conditions of the Atlas Mountains weather. The ideal weather conditions for hiking happen in the Spring (April to May) or in the Autumn (September to October) this is when the daily temperature is preferable. For the hardier hikers, the winter months can create a more extreme experience with snow to be expected. An average low of -2/3 degrees C in Dec/Jan. In the hight of Summer the days can be very hot with an average high in July August of 30/31 degrees C, contrasted with cold evenings and nights.
As well as hiking in the Atlas Mountains, during the winter months, the climate is perfect for those who wish to ski in this region. To find the most reliable snow it is best to visit between late December to the end of Jan/ Feb. Within the heights of the Atlas range, you can look forward to over 10 km of slopes.
Places to stay in the Atlas
If you are not planning to visit on an Atlas Mountain day trip, you can easily find places to stay within the Atlas Mountain region; searching online, apps, accommodation booking sites, most local businesses are registered on digital platforms. Tourism is now the biggest industry for the area and so there is plenty on offer to accommodate all enquiries.
The local communities have aligned themselves to meeting the needs of the travelling community so you will find it easy to travel according to your requirements. All you need is a vision of what it is you would like to experience. From larger skiing resorts to family run homestays, the options are wide, interesting and accessible.
It can be a lot more convenient to make all your arrangements through one agent. A good agent will offer and extensive service, which means you can travel more efficiently and relax, knowing that all the details of your tour have been made by someone who is both informed and available to assist you with any changes or amendments. Planning through an agent can eliminate the stress of travelling through an unknown land, leaving you with more time to simply experience the moments.