Many of our travelers to Marrakech, Morocco request a day trip into the High Atlas Mountains, the white-capped wall on the city’s southern horizon. With Berber villages dotting the foothills, there’s a cultural appeal to these trips, equal to the natural one. Many of the villages have weekly markets.
Probably the best-known mountain excursion from Marrakech is to the Ourika Valley, a stunning 60-90-minute drive southeast from Marrakech. It’s long been a favorite getaway for Marrakeshis and in recent years, it has become quite popular with tourists. While still very beautiful, it can feel overrun at times, especially in the summer.
Some lament the presence of vendor stalls set up along the river, others appreciate the development or look past it to thoroughly enjoy the mountain air and views of soaring peaks, including that of Jebel Toubkal, the tallest mountain in North Africa.
Setti Fatma, clustered around the Ourika River, is the main village of the valley. Above the village is a series of seven waterfalls. The hike to the falls, especially the upper ones, is steep and involves a lot of scrambling over large rocks. Some stretches of the trail skirt significant drops and there are no barriers. Many reach the first fall and call it good. Any hiking in the area, even just along the river banks, is best done in sturdy shoes with good tread.
Considerably less busy than Ourika (but increasingly popular with tourists), Ouirgane is 90 min-2 hours southwest from Marrakech, in the heart of the Toubkal National Park. This is another gorgeous drive, through Berber villages, orchards and forests, but the destination is quite different. There’s lots of easy-moderate walking in the hills and pine forests of Ouirgane, as well as mountain biking and horseback riding. Ouirgane village has a weekly market on Thursday.
Beautiful Ouirgane Lake (aka Yacoub el Mansour) was created in 2008 when the Nfis River was dammed. Nearby, the 12th-century Tin Mal Mosque was the original spiritual home and fortress of the Berber Almohad Dynasty, which rose from humble beginnings to conquer all of Morocco, much of North Africa, Portugal and Southern Spain. It is one of two mosques in Morocco that allows entry to non-Muslims (the other is the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca).