Discover the Atlas Mountains: complete guide

Have you planned a trip to the Maghreb? So do not miss to discover the Atlas Mountains!

Summary

  • The Atlas Mountains in a nutshell
  • 1. Hikes to discover the Atlas Mountains
  • – Guided walking tours of the Atlas
  • 2. Excursions and camel rides
  • – The terms
  • – At what price?
  • 3. Bike rides
  • – Examples of organized mountain bike excursions
  • – The terms
  • – At what price?
  • 4. 4×4 excursions
  • – The terms
  • – At what price?
  • 5. Quad or buggy expeditions
  • – The terms
  • – At what price?
  • 6. The flight over the Atlas in a hot air balloon
  • 7. Sleep in the Atlas Mountains
  • – The Kasbah of Toubkal
  • – The Almond Tree
  • – Douar Samra

A mountain range in North Africa, the Atlas extends over three countries in the region: Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. 2,500 kilometers long, the massif forms a barrier between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara. Its Moroccan part is probably the most interesting. It is shared between three massifs: the Anti, the Middle and the High Atlas. The latter attracts most visitors. Many come to climb Djebel Toubkal, its highest peak, which culminates at 4,167 meters.

Shared between the three Maghreb countries, the Atlas Mountains are among the must-sees to visit in this region. No matter what country you are going to, be sure to get there. Magnificent landscapes, canyons, oases and rivers await you. So to help you in your adventures, we will discuss in this guide all the ways to discover the Atlas Mountains.

The Atlas Mountains in a nutshell

View of the Atlas Mountains

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Mikadun

This massif takes its name from a deity from Berber and Greek mythology. According to the Greek myth, the giant Atlas is condemned by Zeus to support the celestial vault on his shoulders. Petrified by Perseus thanks to the head of Medusa, the giant is transformed into a mountain range. Herodotus reports in a work on the Berbers that the people of the country consider the mountain as the column which supports the sky. The word Atlas thus seems to come from the Berber word assalas meaning “beam”.

At the heart of the myths and legends of the Mediterranean, the Atlas Mountains are to be discovered both for the diversity of landscapes they shelter and for the sports activities that can be practiced there. Scattered with fertile plateaus, old desert and eroded mountains, canyons and freshwater basins, they can only amaze visitors. The massif has a number of unique sites to visit. On the Moroccan side, we can thus evoke the national parks of Ifrane, Khénifra and Tazekka, but also the national park of Toubkal in the High Atlas and the Valley of Paradise.

1. Hikes to discover the Atlas Mountains

Man hiking in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco

Photo credit: Shutterstock / tenkl

We are not going to hide it from you, the hikes and treks in this ancient massif are numerous, very numerous! This activity is probably the best to discover the Atlas Mountains. In the Moroccan part, there are several hikes, some easy and others more difficult, but all exceptional. Generally, they are rather well marked and indicated. Here are a few :

  • The Tislit Gorges : located between Taznakht and Taliouine in the Anti-Atlas, this hiking circuit immerses you in a unique site in the world, with its volcanic peaks, its changing colors and its peaceful river.
  • The ascent of Jebel Toubkal : this hike is for athletes and seasoned practitioners! Lasting 2 days, it starts in the authentic village of Imlil with stops in stopover gites.
  • Lake Ifni : also accessible from Imlil, it presents spectacular scenery. The hike is of medium difficulty.
  • The Dadès Gorges and the Valley of the Roses : easy to medium difficulty, this hiking circuit will introduce you to a labyrinth of colored valleys, splendid gorges and pink canyons carved out by the M’gou wadi.

To discover the Atlas Mountains, you can of course opt for guided day tours. Accompanied by a local guide, you can learn more about the region, its particularities and its history. Generally, a one-day guided tour focuses on a unique and special site in the Atlas. Among the most popular excursions, we can for example count the Imlil Valley, the Ouzoud Waterfalls , the Paradise Valley or the village of Tamatert and its views.

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For terms and conditions, you will usually be picked up from your hotel or accommodation in Marrakech . The latter is the starting point for many excursions in the Atlas Mountains. By minibus, you will then reach the start of the hike. You are usually accompanied by a French or English speaking guide. Stops are sometimes planned in stalls or villages to discover local crafts. Lasting one day, these excursions allow you to visit a natural site on foot.

On the price side, you will have to count from 25€ to 55€ per person depending on the excursion and the place chosen. It should be noted that there are obviously longer circuits, spread over several days, and which are aimed at more seasoned hikers. In this case, the prices range from 200€ to more than 600€ per person. Accommodation and meals are then taken care of.

2. Excursions and camel rides

Camels in the Atlas Mountains

Photo credit : Shutterstock / Edler von Rabenstein

All visitors to the Atlas are not necessarily accomplished hikers. Fortunately, it is possible to discover the Atlas Mountains in many different ways! And one of the best is obviously an excursion or ride on the back of a camel or dromedary. From one day to several, these adventures are excellent for gently discovering the landscapes of the Atlas Mountains. Accompanied by a guide, you will dive into deep valleys, admire canyons and peaceful rivers, waterfalls and water basins. Some even pass through sections of desert, allowing you to appreciate its tranquility and beauty.

When they last more than one day, they frequently include typical dinners and breakfasts. The nights are also an opportunity to observe the stars without the light pollution that we know in the city. In short, these camel excursions have all the assets to seduce all types of travellers!

The conditions

One of the most popular camel rides is a day trip from Marrakech . Departure is at 9 am. A driver will then take you from your accommodation to Imlil. Your French-speaking or English-speaking guide (your choice) will then show you the surrounding Atlas Mountains. At the end of the day, you will join your driver who will take you back to Marrakech. These day trips frequently include lunch, as well as refreshments, such as mint tea.

As for multi-day excursions, they also include transfers to and from Marrakech, as well as breakfasts, dinners and refreshments. Water and lunch are not necessarily included, so be careful on this point before booking! Note that these multi-day excursions are not always done only on camels. Some portions can be done in 4×4 or on foot depending on the chosen excursion.

At what price ?

  • For a one-day camel ride, generally count from 35 to 40€ per person.
  • For excursions lasting several days, prices range from 100 to 200€ per person. These obviously depend on the number of days, activities and services offered.

3. Bike rides

Cycling in the Atlas Mountains

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Francois Seuret

Just like walking, cycling is an excellent way to discover the Atlas Mountains. Many mountain bike trails cross the entire Moroccan Atlas. In winter, we will favor the south of Morocco. This region will delight you with its arid mountains, its oasis valleys and its mountain biking desert. In summer, the Berber High Atlas opens up to bike hikers. You will then be able to cross high passes, follow the bed of wadis, travel through hidden green valleys. In short, no matter the time of year, you will find what you are looking for in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains!

Luckily for budding mountain bikers, there are plenty of mountain bike tours in this part of the world. Passionate guides and organizations can help you discover the most beautiful circuits and natural sites for one or more days. Of course, you can also organize your own mountain biking adventure in the Atlas Mountains.

Examples of organized mountain bike excursions

Here are some examples of organized excursions and their itineraries to discover the Atlas Mountains:

  • Mountain bike circuit from three to eight days in southern Morocco : you will discover the desert landscapes of Saghro, the great Saharan spaces of the Draa Valley, as well as the canyons of Mgoun.
  • One-day mountain bike excursion in the Toubkal massif , between the Kik plateau and the Asni valley.
  • Mountain biking day trip to the preserved Berber villages of Toubkal.
  • Two to three day mountain biking circuit combining these two experiences.
  • Mountain bike circuit in the High Atlas from the Bougmez valley to Imilchil, passing through the Anergui valley and the nomadic highlands of the central Atlas.
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This type of mountain biking excursions is organized by the company “Terres Nomades”, a specialist in adventure travel and hiking in Morocco. Focused on ecotourism, it notably organizes treks in the Atlas, hikes in the desert and especially routes in southern Morocco by mountain bike or 4×4. This organization is recommended by mountain bikers, sportsmen and travelers in Morocco in general.

The conditions

As with any day trip, you will usually be picked up from your hotel or accommodation in Marrakech or a nearby town. A driver will take you to the starting point, where your guide will now pick you up. French-speaking and/or English-speaking, he will make you discover the Atlas Mountains during an adventure generally including lunch.

Tours lasting less or more than a week usually include your transfer to and from your arrival airport, or accommodation. Your accommodations and meals during the ATV adventure will also be covered in most cases. Be sure to check this point before booking. A French-speaking and/or English-speaking guide will also accompany you during this unique experience.

Please note : your mountain bike will generally be provided to you for a day trip as well as for a circuit lasting several days. Also check this point before booking your experience.

At what price ?

We have mentioned above some of the day trips or circuits of several days that an organization like Terres Nomades can organize.

  • For a day of mountain biking, prices generally start from €70 per person.
  • For a longer circuit, the price obviously depends on the duration. Count in general from 250€ to 400€ per person for a circuit of 2 to 3 days and up to 1000€ for 8 to 9 days of mountain biking.

4. Excursions in 4×4

4x4 in the Atlas Mountains

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Jose Ignacio Soto

As mentioned earlier, you can opt for a day trip or several in the Atlas Mountains. These activities largely take place in 4×4, sometimes including a camel ride or a walking tour. These excursions are therefore ideal for combining several experiences and discovering several sites in the Atlas Mountains. Some also include a passage through the Sahara. The two natural monuments are in fact side by side.

As previously mentioned, the company “Terres Nomades” organizes excursions and circuits in 4×4, as well as mountain biking. If you are not interested in cycling, you can always call on this organization for your 4×4 adventures. Oriented towards ecotourism, it makes the effort to find accommodation that respects nature and traditions, often in discreet and therefore preserved places.

The conditions

Most organizations offer 4×4 tours lasting from one to eight days . Usually not starting in Marrakech, you will be picked up at your accommodation in town. You will then return to the starting point. From there you will start your 4×4 adventure in the Atlas Mountains.

Day trips usually include lunch. They can also be accompanied by other related activities: camel rides, visits to Berber houses or local artisans, hiking, etc.

For multi-day excursions, your meals and accommodations are generally taken care of. We recommend that you carefully check the services included in the excursion. You will also be accompanied by a French-speaking and/or English-speaking guide, whether for a circuit or a day visit.

At what price ?

  • For a day trip in 4×4, you will generally have to count 70€ per person.
  • For a multi-day excursion, prices range from €200 to over €1000 per person. These prices obviously depend on the duration of the circuit.

Do not hesitate to consult several sites and organizations before booking. You can usually request a quote before deciding.

5. Quad or buggy expeditions

Buggy ride in the Atlas Mountains

Photo credit: Shutterstock / pixinoo

Do you want to combine strong sensations and the discovery of fantastic landscapes? Then quad or buggy excursions are made for you! Just like for 4×4 outings, many quad or buggy excursions are organized to easily discover the Atlas Mountains. Most outings from Marrakech follow the same route. You will then discover the foot of the High Atlas Mountains, with part of the excursion in the desert.

You will travel through the Berber countryside, passing through orchards, meadows, eucalyptus forests and the desert. In the background, the Atlas Mountains will catch your eye. You will be able to admire them at each of your stops. Some guided quad expeditions even offer tea drinking in a typical house, obviously with the snow-capped mountains as companions. In addition to the Berber villages, most excursions take a detour to the beautiful Lake Takerkoust.

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The conditions

Just like the 4×4 or camel excursions, you will be picked up and dropped off at your accommodation in Marrakech . For a half-day expedition, you will generally have the choice between the morning or the afternoon.

4×4 expeditions do not generally start in Marrakech. A driver will take you to the starting point. Day trips usually include lunch, as well as refreshments. A French-speaking and/or English-speaking guide will also accompany you during this sporting adventure!

For multi-day excursions, your meals and accommodations are generally taken care of. We recommend that you carefully check the services included in the excursion.

At what price ?

The price obviously depends on the duration of the quad expedition.

  • For half a day, count from 65 to 75€ per person on average.
  • For a day trip, prices generally vary between 120 and 160€ per person.

The price is generally lower for companions and younger people, who cannot drive. For a multi-day quad expedition, the rates are even more variable. In this case, do not hesitate to consult several sites and organizations before booking. You can usually request a quote before deciding.

6. The flight over the Atlas in a hot air balloon

Hot air balloon at sunset in the Atlas mountains

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Emily Franklin

If the Atlas Mountains are ideally discovered from the ground, admiring them from the skies is certainly memorable. A flight in a hot air balloon, but also by plane or helicopter, offers you a different and spectacular perspective on this natural monument. Fortunately, there are quite a few such tours and the prices are not as high as you might think at first glance.

Thus, you can opt for a one-hour flight in a hot air balloon from Marrakech for 200€ for example. Picked up at your hotel, you will enjoy the flight, but also a camel ride in the surrounding desert. From the skies, you will observe the Moroccan countryside, as well as the valleys and hills of the desert. These flights often take place at dawn, the rising sun will tint the landscapes with beautiful colors of gold, orange, red and yellow. There is no doubt that this experience will leave you with unforgettable memories!

7. Sleep in the Atlas Mountains

Moroccan living room in Douar Samra, Atlas Mountains

Photo credit: Booking

The massif is as you know quite large. Thus, it is home to many villages and towns, and therefore many places to stay. Sleeping in the Atlas Mountains will allow you to multiply your visits, on foot, by bike or by other means in the mountains. But above all, you can enjoy its unique atmosphere, its landscapes and its serenity. Far from the big cities, closer to the heavens, you can take the time to discover, contemplate and let yourself go.

On the Morocco side, there are several places that we can recommend to you. From these accommodations, you can easily explore several exceptional sites in the Atlas Mountains. Here is our selection:

The Kasbah of Toubkal

Nestled in the Toubkal National Park, the Kasbah du Toubkal is an ecological and authentic guest house. Open all year round, it offers all the services and facilities to discover the surrounding Atlas Mountains. This establishment is ideal for an adventurous stay, while enjoying modern but authentic comfort.

The result of a creative partnership between Berbers and Europeans, it offers activities for all types of travellers. The Kasbah of Toubkal has indeed set itself the objective of making all the wonders of this national park accessible! Prices for one night start from €160 for a room.

The Almond Tree

Located in the Ouirgane valley, the Amandier is a luxurious and fantastic establishment just 45 minutes from Marrakech. As with the Kasbah of Toubkal, exceptional views of the mountains await you. But the strength of the establishment lies in its exceptional facilities: an infinity pool, comfortable rooms with beautiful views of the peaks, its spa and its restaurant.

With nothing but nature miles away, it’s also the perfect place for travelers looking for a break from it all! From the Amandier, you can also start superb half-day hikes through the valley. Hotel rooms are available from €270 per person .

Douar Samra

Located in Imlil, less than 10 kilometers from the Toubkal National Park, Douar Samra is a charming and authentic Moroccan guest house. It is the ideal place to discover the Atlas Mountains. Indeed, the establishment is located in Imlil, known as the starting point for treks and hikes to the highest peak of the Atlas: Jebel Toubkal. With its comfortable rooms, affordable prices and caring staff, we can only recommend this hotel for your stay in the Atlas Mountains.

Rooms at this property are available at much more affordable prices than previous hotels. Rates for one night start from 47€ . Douar Samra also offers a free shuttle service to and from Marrakech-Menara airport.

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Mohamed SAKHRI

I am Mohamed SAKHRI, the creator and editor-in-chief of this blog, 'Discover the World – The Blog for Curious Travelers.' Join me as we embark on a journey around the world, uncovering beautiful places, diverse cultures, and captivating stories. Additionally, we will delve into mysterious and, at times, even bizarre destinations.

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