9 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Morocco's High Atlas Region
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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 rolls 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 are plenty of things to do. For more ideas, see our list of the top attractions in Morocco's High Atlas region.
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1. 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, about 30 kilometers from Ouarzazate, 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.
Located on the crossroads between the Draa, Dades, and Ziz Valleys, Ouarzazate is home to the magnificent Taourirt Kasbah. Surrounded by dramatic landscapes that are beloved by film crews (scenes from Gladiator, Kundun, and Alexander the Great have all been filmed in the surrounding countryside), this town has become a popular base for excursions farther into the High Atlas region.
The weekly Sunday market is a vibrant affair that sells everything from produce to craftwork. 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.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Ouarzazate
Often visited on day trips from Marrakesh, Telouet's Kasbah 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.
From Telouet, excellent 4WD and hiking options lie within the Ounila Valley, and you can explore tiny villages that sit beside the Mellah River. In particular, don't miss Anmiter with its crumbling Kasbah.
The Tifoultoute Kasbah is a wonderfully well-preserved mudbrick fortress with jaw-dropping views from the tops of its towers, where storks can often be seen nesting. Built in the early 20th century, this Kasbah, like the one at Ouarzazate, was constructed for the Glaoui family, who once ruled over this area. It's very easy to combine a day trip from Ouarzazate to both Tifoultoute and Ait Ben Haddou, so you can get a good overview of the High Atlas' Kasbah architecture.
5. Ouzoud Waterfalls
Not far from the town of Azilal, these beautiful waterfalls are one of Morocco's top natural sightseeing attractions and are popular with both local tourists (who come here for weekend picnics) and foreign travelers. If you're lucky enough to arrive at the cascades after a lot of rain, the water runs red-brown, creating a highly dramatic and rather otherworldly effect. 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 inside the gorge. Nature-lovers should keep their eyes peeled for eagle and lammergeyer (bearded vulture) sightings, while trekking fans will simply just love the empty trails here.
Several interesting villages are in the nearby vicinity. El Kelaa M'Gouna village is the center of Morocco's rose-growing region (used for the famed rose essence), and being here in spring when the flowers bloom is delightful. A souk is held here every Wednesday.
The village of Azlag is renowned for producing the most finely worked daggers in the country, and is home to approximately 120 working blacksmiths. The kasbah is the main sightseeing attraction in the village.
7. Todra Gorge
Hemmed in by vast pink and orange-hued rock walls, the 14-kilometer Todra Gorge is a wonderful place to visit and is Morocco's prime rock-climbing destination. Although many people come here on four-wheel-driving tours, the best way to experience the gorge is to walk it. There are cafés and other services along the gorge basin, as well as some accommodation. And if you've been spending too much time in the cities on your travels, this quiet area makes for an especially peaceful retreat.
8. Draa Valley
The Draa Valley is the gateway to one of Morocco's most famous desert dune fields, but the valley itself is a thoroughly interesting place to visit, with Kasbah and Ksour (fortified village) architecture and palm grove scenery. The villages all along the valley floor are home to well-preserved ksour.
Agdz and Tamnougalt are the best places to stop off and visit these ancient ksour, and at the end of the valley, you'll find Zagora-a great base for excursions, with good accommodation options-and Tamegroute, 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.
9. Ourika Valley
One of the easiest parts of the High Atlas region to visit from Marrakesh (within easy reach for weekender tourists and day visitors), 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 farther forays, as well as being the start of the Djebel Yagour trek, which usually takes three days.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Morocco's High Atlas Region
- Full-Day Sightseeing Tour: The Atlas Mountains Day Tour from Marrakesh is a full day of exploring the High Atlas valleys, giving you a taster of the raw, natural beauty on Marrakesh's doorstep. The itinerary visits Ourika Valley, including a short (90 minute) guided hike to its waterfalls with stunning mountain vistas along the way, then drives through the scenic Oukaimeden Valley to Sidi Faris Valley, where a traditional Berber lunch is included. Afterwards, the tour continues through Asni Valley for more great photography opportunities of snow-capped peaks fronted by fertile countryside. A qualified mountain guide and all transport, with pickup and drop-off from Marrakesh hotels, is included.
- Hot Air Ballon Ride: The Hot Air Ballooning Ride from Marrakech gives you vistas of the foothills and High Atlas peaks from above; great for photographers who want to capture some panoramic early morning shots. It includes all transport, including pickup and drop-off from Marrakesh hotels, a 40- to 50-minute hot air ballooning flight, a hearty traditional breakfast, and a short camel ride in Marrakesh's Palmeraie area afterwards. All tour guests also receive a flight certificate.
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More Mountains: Morocco's countryside is a joy to explore. Head to Tetouan, from where you can delve into the Rif Mountain region with its ample hiking opportunities.