Morocco's Zat Valley in the High Atlas Mountains
A Trip Off the Usual Tourist Trail in the Atlas Mountains Along the Zat Valley
If you're visiting Marrakech, there are two distinctly different options to explore. The city itself is a myriad maze of visual, auditory and culinary delights. However, as you look out from the rooftops, you can see the often snow-topped majesty of the Atlas Mountains with the legendary Jebel Toubkal in the distance.
However, if the extreme hustle and bustle is not for you or you're looking for something a little more active, just a short drive from Marrakech or the coastal towns of Agadir and Essaouira, you can be deep into the amazing rugged beauty of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.
Something for Everyone in the Atlas Mountains
If you're considering a trip or tour into the Atlas Mountains, there's something for you no matter what your preference.
Walking tours in the Atlas Mountains are very popular, particularly for climbing the mighty Jebel Toubkal. At 4,167 metres above sea level, Jek Toubkal is the highest mountain in North Africa and can be seen in the distance on a clear day from Marrakech. It's possible to climb Jebel Toubkal in a couple of days, or you can spend more time in the area to acclimatise to the altitude and see more of the area. Most treks up Toubkal start from the Berber village of Imlil with a steady climb up to Mizane Valley, stopping at the CAF Neltner Refuge prior to a summit push.
There are also a large number of tours which take you up the beautiful Ourika Valley with its beautiful waterfalls.
For the more adventurous, Oukaimeden is home to Morocco's biggest and highest Ski Resort. Not many people would think of heading to Morocco to go skiing, but the altitude means that there can be plenty of snow throughout the winter. Alternately the area offers excellent opportunities to go ski touring in the Atlas Mountains.
If you're looking to get away from the crowds, a trip up the Zat Valley offers an excellent alternative. Whether you're looking for a 4x4 tour to see more of the Atlas Mountains or looking for an alternative trekking holiday option to see the real Morocco, the Zat Valley won't disappoint.
4x4's Are a Great Way to Explore the Zat Valley
The Zat Valley Is a Closely Guarded Trekking Secret
The Zat Valley is one of the most pristine valleys you could wish to find in Morocco's High Atlas Mountains. Lush greenery contrasts with the rocky outcrops, while cooling breezes help to provide contrast to the uncomfortable heat of Marrakech a mere 50 kilometres away.
How to Get to the Zat Valley From Marrakech
By Car/4x4/Coach from Marrakesh, take the N9 road signposted Ouarzazate until you cross over the River 'Oued Zat' at the market town of Aït Ourir. From Aït Ourir, head due south towards Tighdouine.
Tighdouine is pretty much the last frontier before you can travel along the magical river valley.
Where Is the Zat Valley?
Imlil, Start of many treks up Jebel Toubkal.
North Africa's premier Ski Resort. A great area to ski off the beaten track and try ski touring.
The town of Tighdouine is the hub of activity within the Zat Valley and the gateway to further exploration. With plenty of roadside eateries too!
After Tighdouine, It Gets Magical
Whether you're touring by foot or by 4x4, once you head past Tighdouine, everything becomes like a fairytale land. Distinctly rustic, yet with the impression that the clocks have simply stopped ticking and time has stood still.
A rugged road allows 4x4 travel up the valley at a slow pace which showcases further the sheer beauty of the area. You drive past market gardens, mountain goats and rustic stone houses adorned with brightly coloured doors which could give inspiration to any fairytale castle.
The Zat Valley for Walkers
Many trekkers have kept the Zat Valley a secret from the hoards of tourists but it offers excellent opportunities to see a Morocco that feels far from the tourist stalls on the trek up Jebel Toubkal.
L’Association des Amis du Zat help to organize walking tours of the Zat Valley. These trips offer overnight opportunities to stay with the locals or in gites run by the association with the help of donations. These stays offer opportunities to spend time living around the hardworking families who make a simple living from the land. It's a humbling experience when they offer to share their wares and treat you to amazing herbal teas which will never taste the same at home.
Walking in the Atlas Mountains
We Loved Our Trip to the Zat Valley
We really enjoyed our trip to the Atlas Mountains and up the Zat Valley and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking to see the real Morocco.
Our trip was arranged through Atlas and Sahara Tours, who offer small scale tours across Morocco and specialise in trips in the Atlas Mountains and activity tours.
What would you prefer? Tourist Morocco or Real Morocco?
When on holiday what are you looking for?
© 2013 Liam Hallam