VISITING MOROCCO AND HIKING MT. TOUBKAL
Morocco: The land of mint tea, camel rides, and colorful riads will leave you enchanted. A week here is barely enough time to scratch the surface, especially if you want to get out in to the Atlas mountains or the Sahara Desert for some unique adventures.
3 RANDOM FACTS YOU PROBABLY DIDN'T KNOW
Besides Arabic and Berber, French is the most common language.
Mount Toubkal is the highest peak in North Africa at 13,671ft.
Go Ahead, Spend All Your Cash
The Dirham is a closed currency and can only be traded in Morocco.
Things To Do In Marrakesh
When in Rome…
If you’re like me, and pretty much everyone else in my group, the real draw in coming here was to get up in to the mountains. That being said, if you’re going to spend a few days in the city before heading to the Atlas Mountains you might as well do all the touristy things. A few of these may be walkable from your hotel or riad, but taxis are an option. Negotiate your price before getting in. Here are a few notes on the top things to do in Marrakech:
–Bahia Palace: Normally I wouldn’t hire a guide to tour a palace, but ours was hilarious and helpful, and made the experience better. It’s beautiful. Busy, but not as busy as what you’d expect from a palace in Europe, and worth it.
–Jardin Majorelle: This felt like the most “touristy” place in Marrakesh. You’ll need a ticket, and they are timed-entry every half hour. It makes sense, since this is an Instagrammers paradise. (If you’re not in to that, prepare to be annoyed). But it’s unique. The bold colors and contrast are stunning, and worth seeing.
–Quad Biking: If you want something that feels a little more playful and adventurous, do this. Just don’t commit the faux pas that I did and show up wearing white. There will be dirt and sand everywhere.
–Camel Rides: If this is something you want to do while in Morocco, I would recommend going outside of the city to do it. If you’re just on the outskirts of Marrakesh, it feels little silly. You’re not in the actual desert, you’re basically in someone’s back yards. If we had more time I would have found a tour or guide that goes in to the Sahara.
–Jemaa el-Fnaa: This is the main square in Marrkesh. You can find pretty much anything in this old city marketplace. Souvenirs, street food, restaurants, henna tattoo artists, and <gag> even snake charmers. There are a few rooftop restaurants that offer you a birds eye view of the square, but one thing you’ll be hard pressed to find is alcohol. There are definitely places that serve it, but they are few and far between. If you find one, stick to something that comes in a bottle or a can – we had a pretty hilarious experience trying to order a mixed drink.
-Others in our group did a hot air balloon ride (and weren’t happy about the 5AM start time), or went to Ouzoud Falls (recommended, but requires a full day).
–Other helpful notes: You’ll definitely need to carry cash. Many of the market vendors, taxis, and even some restaurants won’t take cards. And don’t wait until you get to the main square to use an ATM – you might encounter long lines or empty machines. Ladies, it’s possible to bounce around Marrakesh alone, but you might have an easier time if you have a man in your group, or hire a guide. Remember that Morocco is mostly an Islamic country and many will honor the call to prayer multiple times a day. While Marrakesh is more ‘progressive’ than other areas in Morocco, you still want to be respectful, including dressing more conservatively than you might at home.
Hiking Mt. Toubkal
Nat'l Park Entrance
Hike To Refuge
Cozy Summit Vibes
The excitement starts to build as soon as you drive out of the city and start to see the rugged outline of the Atlas Mountain range in the distance. Mount Toubkal is the crown jewel for hiking fanatics, as it holds bragging rights as the highest peak in all of North Africa. On this hike you’ll have no shortage of jaw-dropping views while you weave through traditional Berber villages, share the trail with pack mules, and experience the transition through various ecosystems. This mountain is a doozy with hefty elevation gain as well as shortage of oxygen as you near the summit at 13,671 feet. You may even be asked to wake up at an absurd hour (3am) to start the hike in the dark (don’t forget to charge your headlamp). But as soon as you see the mind-blowing amount of stars in a sky with no light pollution, you’ll forget that you’re really, really tired. If you’re up for the challenge, nothing beats that euphoric “We-made-it!” moment of getting to the iconic pyramid structure at the top. Here are some notes to help you on your journey.
What You Need To Know
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? It took our group 3 days. Day 1: We started in Imlil and hiked to Aroumd. The actual hiking distance is only about 1.5 miles, but we detoured through Imlil to explore, see the waterfall, and stop for lunch. Day 2: We hiked from Hotel Armed to the Refuge du Toubkal. Total distance was about 5.5 miles, and the elevation gain is about 4,000 ft. Day 3: We hiked from the refuge to the summit. Distance is only 2 miles, but with another 3,000 ft. of elevation gain it’s pretty rough. After the summit we hiked back to our starting point at Hotel Armed. For our group, day 3 started at 4am and we arrived back at our hotel at about 5:30pm. That included multiple stops for lunch, photos, and some of the group struggling with altitude sickness.
DO I NEED A GUIDE? Yes. You are required to have a guide to hike Mt. Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains. You can hire one individually (I suggest using TripAdvisor for referrals) or you can use a group like Intrepid or G-Adventures.
WHAT DO I NEED TO PACK? The basic hiking essentials: good/sturdy shoes, rain gear, a backpack that can carry enough water, headlamp for early start times, extra food/snacks, sunglasses, sunscreen. If you are staying at the refuge you may also need a sleeping bag or blanket, a towel or wet wipes, and hand sanitizer. Consider trekking poles, winter hat/gloves, altitude sickness medication, electrolytes.
WHAT IS THE FOOD LIKE? As you’d imagine staying on the side of a mountain, the food is simple. But good. Every meal offered a variety of options, and there was never a shortage of anything. Morocco is known for ‘tagine,’ so that is a staple. A lot of bread, olives, pasta, mixed nuts, root vegetables, instant coffee and (always & everywhere) mint tea. There are also several stops along the route where you can buy your own snacks and beverages.
WHAT IS THE WEATHER LIKE? We did this hike May 22-24 of 2023. I expected the conditions to be freezing at the summit, but it was still fairly cold the entire time. The weather here can change quickly and if it’s cloudy and windy you’ll definitely keep your layers on all day.
HOW HARD IS THE HIKE? Pretty f**king hard. Our guide told us that people have said it’s “easier” than Kilimanjaro because you have more elevation gain over a shorter period of time.
WHAT IS STAYING AT THE REFUGE LIKE? Mentally prepare yourself not to sleep, shower, or (if you’re shy like me), use the bathroom. It’s about as basic as you can get. Apparently our group of 11 people was “lucky” because we were all in one room. Had we been a smaller group, they might have combined us with others. Think ‘bunkbeds at summer camp.’ The guest capacity at the refuge is 180. We were in the main building and I only counted 4 bathrooms, so there is absolutely no privacy. Even in the middle of the night. (Did I mention people were sleeping on the floor right outside of the bathroom? Yes, that’s a thing.) The food is basic but plentiful. And YES there is coffee! The is one small area on the property where some people were able to get Wi-Fi, but plan to go without it.
Aroumd & Imlil
You will most likely start your hike from one of these two mountain villages.
View of the refuge from the trail. The mules also rest here after carrying up the luggage and supplies.
The Saddle At Sunrise
Totally worth the 4am start time, but it’s very cold and windy! On a clear day they say you can see the Sahara.
What's With The Wearable Sleeping Bag?
This might just be the best $30 I’ve ever spent. I didn’t have a sleeping bag for the trip, but didn’t want to spend a lot of money on one. On a whim I checked the REI Used Gear site and saw what I can only describe as “the best thing ever.” A sleeping bag that you can wake up in, and not take off.
The “Cozy Summit Vibes” picture above is what it looks like all the way down. The picture to the right shows how you can cinch it up at your waist – so you can actually walk in it. Did I look like a giant idiot? Perhaps. Was I happy with my decision (and also the warmest person on the summit?) 100%.