Mount Toubkal in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains is certainly a hike not to be taken lightly. At 4,167 m/13,671 ft the high altitude makes this a challenging adventure. Not only is Mount Toubkal the highest mountain in Morocco but it is also the highest mountain in North Africa. But I love a challenge and trekking in the Atlas Mountains was a great adventure.
Situated in Toubkal National Park and a short drive from Marrakech, trekking is a great way to explore the beautiful Atlas Mountains and local Berber villages. Many people opt for a one day trip to the Atlas mountains but I chose a 4-day hike with a group tour via GAdventures. Their tours trekking the Atlas Mountains take place between May and October each year.
The trek doesn’t need any technical ability, just a good level of fitness. It is also a great hike for your first high altitude challenge as it’s not too high but useful to see how your body copes. Ideal, if you’re thinking of doing a bigger trek, such as Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania or the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.
Here’s my experience trekking the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.
4 days trekking The atlas mountains
Day 1 – Marrakech – Imi Oughlad – Tizi Oussem
Hiking time – 6-7 hours
Leaving Marrakech we jump on a minibus. I distinctly remember it was a twisty journey as my travel sickness creeps up on me. Never a good start to a mountain hike! After an hour and 40 minutes, we arrive at the start point in the Atlas Mountains Imi Oughlad.
I booked my hike in the gorgeous summer month of July. Thinking that it wouldn’t be as cold at the top of the mountain. But this leads to another issue. Starting a hike uphill in the Atlas Mountains at 40 degrees plus temperature is pretty tough. Especially considering I had felt sick from the bus journey!
Thank goodness for the walnut trees, we can stop under for some shade and drink water. I think we have only been walking 30 minutes. Wow, this heat really makes it tough. Alongside the path, there are small shrubs and thistles growing but luckily the track is well-trodden so makes things easy for trekking.
As you trek in the Atlas Mountains you’ll meet several characters on the way up. Huge herds of goats bleat and give you added support on the hike. Honestly, some of them sound so real, it’s very amusing and takes your mind off trekking. The first herd of goats had some seriously over-protective dogs with them. Really snarling at us as we walked by, I guess just doing their job. Deep breaths and keep walking. Phew, I made it!
Most of the hard trekking is done by lunchtime. Our reward is an amazing Moroccan salad, with pasta and sauce prepared by our team. We have plenty of time relaxing under yet another walnut tree. I am beginning to like walnut trees!
Arriving at our gite is a fantastic feeling, it’s basic but there’s a hot shower and the food is amazing. Which is all you want after a day’s hike. Shortly after we arrived there was a crazy downpour, wow good timing! But a few hours later the sky clears and darkness creeps in.
One of my favourite things about being in the mountains is being away from light pollution. The sky looks amazing, there are so many stars. And more you stare up the more stars you see. So we all dragged our mattresses outside and spent the night under the stars. With the rule if anyone woke up and felt rain they had to wake everyone else up too!
Trekking Atlas Mountains – Becky’s Tips
- Drink lots and lots of water, you don’t want to get dehydrated before you have even done day one.
- And secondly, don’t get too close to the goats, you never know who is watching you!
- And a special sleeping bag tip, dedicated to one of our group. When buying a sleeping bag, check it is for adults, not children!!!
Day 2 – Tizi Oussem to ArmEd
HIKING TIME – 6-7 HOURS
It’s a beautiful day, lovely and warm. Not quite as hot as Day 1! The hike today starts straight uphill, which is always a great way to wake yourself up. Now one of my favourite stops. Fresh orange juice seems to be available everywhere in the Atlas Mountains. One of the guys from the gite has set up a little orange juice stall and it’s freshly squeezed right in front of us. Out mules stop for a break too and they are treated to the leftover oranges which is lovely to see.
After the amazing orange juice break, we then have the steepest path to climb. It’s a switchback path, perfect because you can’t see how far you have to go! And more importantly, lots of mini breaks to breath and drink more water.
Tizi N’Tizibert Pass – Atlas Mountains
Lunch stop is 4 hours into the hike, at a dizzy height of 2,930m/9,613ft. The high altitude is making the air is so much thinner than before. There’s a great chance to chill and enjoy the view. More importantly, you can see where you are going next and it’s all downhill. It’s a good hour break for lunch again which is fantastic, chance to recharge your energy and catch your breath.
Starting the trek again after lunch you can see in the distance the village Armed where we were staying. This is back to a normal height 1,900 m/6,234 ft. And is all part of helping you to acclimatise for the big climb ahead. Arriving at about 4 pm, it’s the normal queue for the shower, then you have time to explore the local Berber village in the Atlas Mountains. There is also a walk right to the top of the village with a 360 degrees view.
Dinner at the gite tonight is another amazing Moroccan stew with beef and loads of vegetables. I can really get used to this food, it’s so lovely and perfect hiking food.
Trekking Atlas Mountains – Becky’s Tips
- Have a good breakfast and drink lots of water too.
- Take your time on the steep uphill hike, there’s no hurry. Slow and steady helps you acclimatise better
- Orange juice stops are a must – supporting the locals too 🙂
Day 3 – ArmEd – Mount Toubkal Base Camp
hiking time 4-5 hours
An early wake-up call today as the 5 am call to prayer wakes me up! We leave the gite around 8.30am and make a slow steady hike out of the village. Shortly into the trek on day three, you can see Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains.
We have another orange juice stop. There are only 5 glasses so it’s a drink up, quick wash so everyone can have a glass. It is like some super juice, gives you just enough energy to keep going!
This part of the trek is a lot busier, we walk at a lot slower pace and regularly have to stop to let mules pass. You really don’t want to get in their way. But that’s great, just an opportunity to take more photos.
Fancy another Moroccan’s experience? Read about Miss Filatelista Arabian nights experience in the desert
Arriving at Mount Toubkal base camp just before 1 pm, it’s such an amazing sight. The mountain weather is starting to creep in, thunder is rumbling away and very soon the rain comes. It’s a mad dash to quickly put all the tents up before everyone gets wet!
When it rains in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains it really rains. We all hang out in the big tent until it stops. I am so glad we are not out hiking. Then its chance to adjust our tents we hurried to put up. The ground is hard difficult to put tent pegs in but there are plenty of big boulders you can use to secure it.
Basecamp is a well established and pretty busy place. There are a lot of people preparing for the early morning hike the next day. This is where the mules hang out to rest too. The main block has proper toilets and showers. Plus a tuck shop so chance to treat yourself!
Dinner is an amazing banquet, laid out for us in the tent. The food just keeps coming and it’s amazing. We have a tough hike ahead so it’s a good excuse to eat lots! Bedtime doesn’t come soon enough at 10 pm, ready for the early start the next day.
Trekking Atlas Mountains – Becky’s Tips
- Make sure your tent is well put up otherwise a big downpour might cause a few leaks!
- A pack of cards is a great way to pass the time in the rain.
- I love my Thermarest mattress – lightweight and ensures a good night’s sleep. Seriously, the ground is just rock so this really is a must!
Day 4 – Mount Toubkal Base Camp – Mount Toubkal SuMmit – ArmEd
hiking time – 3-4 hours up and 5-6 hours down
Our guide shines a torch in our tents to wake us up around 5.30am. It’s still dark outside. Breakfast is porridge with cinnamon, it’s difficult to eat so early in the morning but I know I need the energy to get me to the top.
Finally, we are all ready to leave at 6.30am. The path starts steep straight away so it’s slow and steady, trying to keep my breathing as normal as possible! Our guide is fantastic, “we are nearly halfway” he tells us, that’s good for keeping us motivated. Then 40 minutes later “we are nearly halfway”, hmm something strange is going on! I actually have no idea where half way was but the important thing is to keep walking and making progress. The path starts to get quite rocky so you need to pay attention to where to put your feet. There’s no way I want to twist my ankle.
Now the path changes again. The next section trekking is great fun, huge boulders so a mini challenge. The best way is to scramble and use your hands to help steady you. Much better than falling over!
Keep focused and slowly trekking further to our summit. There’s a scree section next, I love how there are so many mini challenges on the hike up. Our guide groups us all together at a great viewing spot. Chance for some nuts and photos before the final push to the summit.
So apparently, we have another 15 minutes to go from here, haha well I am not sure if I believed my guide or not! But yes he’s right, another 15 minutes and there I was standing at the top of Mount Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains. Wow, what a feeling! There are 360-degree views and it’s a spectacular sight.
So we have done the hard uphill, the fun part is now to come. The scree path that we struggled to climb an hour earlier now becomes a huge slide. I absolutely love the downhill, I used to cautiously make my way down but now I do a half run/slide kind of thing. For me, this has less impact on my knees but do whatever you are comfortable with. I don’t want to get in trouble for telling you to run down a mountain haha!
We all make our way back down to base camp and arrive between 12-1pm. There is an amazing lunch laid out for us and I am so hungry! There’s plenty of time to rest before we set off on our final hike back to Armed. The path is the same route we walked up just a day before so we know exactly how far it is to go. Finally, the little village is in sight and we arrive back at 5.30pm. Tired but happy.
What a great feeling and such a massive achievement. Our Atlas Mountain challenge is complete, we have all conquered the mighty Mount Toubkal.
Time for another Moroccan experience now, the Moroccan Hamman a traditional spa.
Trekking Atlas Mountains – Becky’s Tips
- Drink as much water as you can, this is great to help prevent altitude sickness
- Loss of appetite is a common side effect of high altitude but you really need to start with a good breakfast and lots of snack on the route too.
- Decent walking boots are a must, protect those ankles. I love my Scarpa walking boots
Worried about the high altitude whilst trekking Mount Toubkal? Read my full guide here on tips for preventing altitude sickness.
- You can check out tour prices and availability with G Adventures group tours here. (Tours currently on sale at the moment – November 2018)
Are you ready for trekking in the Atlas Mountains? Are you worried about the Mount Toubkal high altitude? Ask me any questions in the comments below.
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