Ecomusée Berbere, Ourika Valley, Morocco

photo credit Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

photo credit: Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

Visitors to Marrakech often take a day to venture into the High Atlas Mountains, which dominate the eastern horizon, less than an hour’s drive away. Besides mountain air and gorgeous scenery, they find many villages of the indigenous Amazigh people. (The Amazighen are better known as the Berbers, a name which derives from the ancient Greek or Roman for barbarian.)  Tafza is one such village, about 37km from Marrakech, on the edge of the Ourika Valley. It’s a typical Atlas village, friendly and scenic, with at least one notable distinction – the Ecomusée Berbere (Berber Ecomuseum).

This exceptional little cultural museum is housed in the restored ksar of a former caïd (castle of the tribal chief). The collection is well curated and includes rugs, tools, musical instruments, pottery, jewelry and fascinating antique photographs of Atlas village life in the early decades of the last century. The local hosts are knowledgeable and amiable guides and proud representatives of their heritage.

photo credit Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

photo credit: Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

photo credit Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

photo credit: Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

With advance reservation, guests can have a meal on the ksar’s large terrace, with broad mountain-valley views. Also with advance notice, more extensive experiences are available, such as traditional pottery workshops and walking tours of the village and environs.

photo credit Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

photo credit: Ecomusee Berbere, museeberbere.com

The Ecomusée Berbere is partnered with another fine museum, Maison de la Photographie in Marrakech, which we wrote about here.

Two Day Trips from Marrakech to the High Atlas Mountains: Ourika & Ouirgane

High Atlas Mountain range seen from Menara Gardens in Marrakech

High Atlas Mountain range seen from Menara Gardens in Marrakech

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.

Ourika Valley, High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Ourika Valley, High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

one of seven waterfalls or

one of seven waterfalls or “cascades” near the village of Setti Fatma in the Ourika Valley, High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

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.

Ouirgane Valley, High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Ouirgane Valley, High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

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).

Ouirgane Lake

Ouirgane Lake

the Tin Mal Mosque, Ouirgane Valley, High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

the Tin Mal Mosque, Ouirgane Valley, High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

NAME THAT COUNTRY Episode 102

The village of Imlil is tucked into the High Atlas Mountains. Trekkers use Imlil as a base for climbing Mt. Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa. However, you needn’t be a mountain climber to enjoy the crisp air, soaring views and traditional charms of this Berber village. It makes a great day trip from Marrakech, only 90 minutes away.

Can you name that county? 
See below for answers.

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Rock the Kasbah at Ait Ben Haddou, Morocco

Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, near Ouarzazate, Morocco

Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, near Ouarzazate, Morocco

Click to see tours that include visits to Ait Ben Haddou.

About a 30-minute drive from Ouarzazate, Morocco, or a long day-trip from Marrakech, Ait Ben Haddou is a fortified village (ksar) in south-central Morocco. It’s only one of many ksars built by the indigenous Berbers in the area, but, thanks to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a setting for a long list of Hollywood films, this ksar, unlike its fellows, is well preserved. It sits in the southern foothills of the High Atlas Mountains on the old trade route between the Sahara desert and Marrakech. Continue reading