Trekking in Morocco offers a rich and colourful experience, where spectacular scenery and great walks are mixed with friendly locals and ancient cultures. The Atlas mountain range in North Africa runs for 1,000 miles forming a spectacular barrier between the sea and the Sahara. The mountains are not continuous but rather form a series of ranges, interspersed with plateaus, basins and gorges. The most prominent is the High Atlas, which contains the highest peak in North Africa, Toubkal. Its stunning summit rises 4,167 metres providing some exciting and challenging walking, as well as fantastic views.
The High Atlas has a scattering of traditional Berber villages decorating the hillside. The life of the Berber people in this area has changed little over the centuries. Shepherds still lead their flocks on the mountainside, women still gather at the village wells and mule trails still carry walnuts to the weekly souks. The Berbers are a friendly, independent people who are proud of their origins. Known for their hospitality, you should enjoy the company of your guide, cook and muleteers.
Morocco has a population of over 33 million and has a coastline both with the Atlantic and the Mediterranean sea. It has borders with Algeria to the East and Mauritania to the south.
The area of present-day Morocco has been inhabited for at least the last 10,000 years as attested by remains from the Caspian culture, a period when North Africa was less arid than it is today. Many theorists believe the Amazigh people, commonly referred to as Berbers probably arrived at roughly the same time as the inception of agriculture in the region.
About three-quarters of all present-day Moroccans are of Berber descent, Approximately 12 million (40% of the population), mostly in rural areas speak Berber – which exists in Morocco in three different dialects– either as a first language or bilingually with the spoken Arabic dialect.
Morocco is an ethnically diverse country with a rich culture and civilization. Through Moroccan history, Morocco hosted many people coming from the East (Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Jews and Arabs), South (Sub-Saharan Africans) and North (Romans, Vandals, Andalusians). All those civilizations have had an impact on the social structure of Morocco. It conceived various forms of beliefs, from paganism, Judaism, and Christianity to Islam.
Morocco's capital city is Rabat; its largest city is its main port, Casablanca.
Morocco is known for its wildlife. Birds represent the most important fauna which includes a total of 454 species, of which 156 are rare.
Moroccan cuisine has long been considered as one of the most diversified cuisines in the world. This is a result of the centuries-long interaction of Morocco with the outside world. The cuisine of Morocco is a mix of Berber, Spanish, Corsican, Portuguese, Moorish, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and African cuisines.
Spices are used extensively in Moroccan food. While spices have been imported to Morocco for thousands of years, many ingredients, like saffron from Tiliouine, mint and olives from Meknes, and oranges and lemons from Fez, are home-grown. Chicken is the most widely eaten meat in Morocco. The most commonly eaten red meat in Morocco is beef. Couscous is the most famous Moroccan dish along with pastilla, tajine and harira. The most popular drink is green tea with mint.
Marrakesh or Marrakech is known as the "Red City", and has a population of about 1 million. It is the capital of the mid-southwestern region lying close to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.
Marrakesh city has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco and also has one of the busiest squares in Africa and the world, Djemaa el Fna. The square bustles with acrobats, story-tellers, water sellers, dancers, and musicians. By night, the square turns into food stalls, becoming a huge open-air restaurant.
Like many North African and Middle Eastern cities, Marrakech comprises both an old fortified city and an adjacent modern city (called Gueliz). It is served by Ménara International Airport (RAK is the code for the airport) and a rail link to Casablanca and the north.
The Mountains of Morocco
The Atlas Mountains run down the backbone of the country, from the south west to the north east. Most of the south east portion of the country is in the Sahara Desert and as such is generally sparsely populated and unproductive economically. Most of the population lives to the north of these mountains, while to the south is the desert. To the south, lies the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that was annexed by Morocco in 1975
The Atlas Mountains extends for about 2,400 km (1,500 miles) through Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. The highest peak is Jbel Toubkal with an elevation of 4,167 metres (13,671 ft) in southwestern Morocco. The second highest mountain is the M’Goun rising to 4,071 metres (13,356 ft).
The mountains are divided into separate ranges, including the Middle Atlas, High Atlas, and Anti-Atlas. The lower Tell Atlas running near the coast and the larger Saharan Atlas running further south terminate in the Aurès Mountains located in Algeria and Tunisia.
The High Atlas in central Morocco rises in the west at the Atlantic coast and stretches in an eastern direction to the Moroccan-Algerian border for about 700km. At the Atlantic and to the southwest the range drops abruptly and makes an impressive transition to the coast and the Anti-Atlas range. To the north, in the direction of Marrakech, the range descends less abruptly. The High Atlas is a succession of peaks among which ten reach above 4,000 metres (13,000 ft)
On the heights of Ourazazate the massif is cut through by the Draa Valley which opens southward. In this chaos of rocks the contrasts are astonishing; water runs in some places, forming clear basins. It is mainly inhabited by Berber people, who live in small villages and cultivate the high plains of Ourika Valley.
Toubkal National Park lies in the High Atlas mountain range, 70 kilometres from Marrakech. Established in 1942, it covers an area of 380 km2. At its heart lies Jbel Toubkal, the highest point in North Africa at 4167m. The ascent of the mountain proper starts from the Nelter shelter at 3207m. From there, a path crosses the stream, climbs a steep slope to the east and enters a valley, before climbing another steep slope to reach the col Tizi'n'Toubkal at 3,940m. At the col the route turns northwards to the summit ridge of Jbel Toubkal. The 4,167m summit provides great views that take in most of the Atlas and Anti-Atlas Mountains.