Top Sites of the High Atlas Region
Morocco's rugged High Atlas region, and the desert that lies just to its east, is home to the country's most raw and spectacular scenery. Villages snuggle into deep valleys, or cling precariously to mountain slopes. Snow-capped peaks shimmer on the horizon, while below a carpet of lush green fields roll out before you. This is the number one destination in Morocco for outdoor activities, and the attractions of hiking and mountain biking bring thousands of outdoor enthusiasts here every year. Even if working up a sweat isn't your thing, this region has plenty to offer. The kasbahs of Ouarzazate, Ait Ben Haddou, Tifoultoute and Telouet should convince even the most seasoned city slicker that there's sightseeing aplenty here.
Located on the crossroads between the Draa, Dades and Ziz Valleys, Ouarzazate is home to the magnificent Taourirt Kasbah (fortress). Surrounded by dramatic landscapes that are beloved by film crews (scenes from "Gladiator", "Kundun", and "Alexander the Great" have all been filmed here), this town has become a popular base for excursions further into the High Atlas region. The weekly Sunday market is a vibrant affair that sells everything from produce to craft-work. Don't miss it if you're in town at the time. Taourirt Kasbah is town's only real sightseeing attraction. Built in the 19th century, the kasbah was used extensively by the Glaoui family in the early 20th century who ruled over much of this region during that time.
2 Ait Ben Haddou
The astonishingly beautiful Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah has to be one of Morocco's most photogenic buildings. Its bulky orange adobe walls stand amid a field of almond trees, looking as if it has burst organically from the ground. As one of the finest mud-constructed buildings in the country, it is UNESCO World Heritage listed and its beauty has charmed Hollywood for decades with scenes from "Lawrence of Arabia", "Jesus of Nazareth" and "Gladiator" all being filmed here. If you climb up into the kasbah turrets, you get panoramic views across the village.
Location: 30 km from Ouarzazate
The Tifoultoute Kasbah is another wonderful fortress with jaw-dropping views from the tops of its towers. Built in the early 20th century this kasbah, like the one at Ouarzazate, was constructed for the Glaoui family.
Often visited by day-trippers from Marrakesh, Telouet is a mighty mountaintop eyrie. Although only built in the early 20th century, it is a bizarre medieval-style castle constructed by the Glaoui family as their home base. It's an atmospheric place with a warren of rooms inside that still feature some of their original sumptuous decorations.
5 Ouzoud Waterfalls
Not far from the town of Azilal, these beautiful waterfalls offer an extremely pretty setting that's suited to swimming, picnicking and camping. The lush countryside here spans many different shades of green, which adds to the soothing and tranquil appeal of this little corner of Morocco.
6 Dades Valley
The Dades Valley is one of Morocco's prime walking and hiking destinations due to the weird rock formations and stunning mountain scenery. Nature-lovers should keep their eyes peeled for eagle and lammergeyer sightings, while trekking fans will simply just love the empty trails here.
There are several interesting villages in the vicinity. El Kelaa M'Gouna village is the centre of Morocco's rose-growing region (used for the famed rose essence), and being here in spring when the flowers bloom is delightful. There is a souk held here every Wednesday. The village of Alzag is renowned for producing the most finely worked daggers in the country, and is home to approximately 120 working blacksmiths. The Bou Taghrar Kasbah is the main sightseeing attraction in the village.
7 Todra Gorge
Hemmed in by vast pink and orange hued rock walls, the 14 km Todra Gorge is a wonderful place to visit. Although many people come here on four-wheel-driving tours, the best way to experience the gorge is to walk it. There are cafes and other services along the gorge basin, as well as some accommodations. And if you've been spending too much time in the cities on your travels, the quiet area makes for an especially peaceful retreat.
8 Draa Valley
Tamegroute is a great base for excursions into the picturesque Draa Valley. The town is home to a famous mosque and its influential medersa (madrassa: Islamic school of learning), with a library collection that includes magnificent illuminated Qur'ans. This village is also known for its characteristic green and brown pottery. Green is obtained from manganese and copper, while brown comes from antimony and copper. Prices here cannot be beaten.
Once you've spent time in town, pull on your hiking boots and head out into the Draa Valley's countryside. Visitors will encounter prehistoric rock drawings, kasbah architecture and gorgeous scenery at every step.
9 Ourika Valley
Not far from Marrakesh (making it within easy reach for weekender tourists), the Ourika Valley is one of Morocco's most popular regions for outdoor activities. Surrounded by lush green fields, this valley is home to stunning waterfalls and some excellent hiking trails. The village of Setti Fatma is a good base for further forays as well as being the start of the Djebel Yagour trek, which usually takes three days.