The three ranges of the Atlas Mountains create a striking, sometimes harsh barrier between the arid Sahara and Morocco’s milder coastal climate. The middle of these ranges, the High Atlas Mountains, begins close to the Atlantic in Agadir and run in a jagged line northeast through the country, encompassing some of the region’s most authentic pockets of culture as well as offering some of its best opportunities for walking.
The mountains’ broad russet slopes are dotted with scrubby pines and lacy cedars, and the peaks gleam with snow even in the warmer months. Dirt roads and narrow footpaths snake through the otherwise pristine landscape, and in the moist, green valleys you’ll wind past herds of goats, wild herbs and small, remote Berber villages.
High Atlas Mountains, High Atlas MountainsA 9 0-minute drive from Marrakesh, the range is easy to visit and you can opt to explore on foot or in a 4×4. If you choose to go on foot, there are a variety of routes you can take, from moderate walks to challenging multi-day treks.
One of the most rewarding walks is up the slopes of Mount Toubkal, the highest point in North Africa. The three-day climb to its soaring summit (4,167 m or 13,671 ft) requires a good level of fitness but no technical expertise. And, at the wind-scoured top, you’re rewarded with seemingly endless vistas of crags and valleys retreating back to the distance-hazed horizon.
The Berbers are the original inhabitants of these vast mountains and their civilization reaches back more than eight millennia. Their traditional flat-roofed homes, made from packed stone and earth, seem to have grown from the mountains themselves. They make a living farming and herding livestock, using age-old techniques to live in the fertile valleys between the forbidding slopes.
The modern world has little impact on the villages that cling to the rocky slopes. When you visit, you’ll see a way of life that’s largely unchanged over thousands of years. Because their lives are so closely tied to the mountains, Berbers are respectful of the land. This sustainable attitude translates even to the hotels that have sprung up in the past few decades, ecolodges designed to limit their footprint on the rugged, but delicate, landscape.
This ancient culture is known for being particularly warm and welcoming to visitors, and you might find yourself welcomed into a home for a cup of steamy Moroccan mint tea (nicknamed le whiskey Berbere). You can also opt to spend a day with a Berber family, learning to bake bread, cook meals or create pottery from the red-brown clay.