After exploring Marrakech for a day and a half, my sister and I decided to venture out of the city to explore a little bit more of Morocco. We booked these day excursions from our riad, which was convenient and also provided us with the extra assurance that these trips were legit. You can also book day trips through travel agencies located in touristy areas like Jemaa el-Fnaa.
We had two full days left in Morocco so we chose to go on two day trips.
High Atlas Mountains
The first trip was to the High Atlas Mountains. The High Atlas Mountains are North Africa’s greatest mountain range and form a natural barrier between the northern plains and pre-Sahara. On the drive there, we were able to visit a Berber village and on the hiking trail you can see some Berber villages as well.*
We started off the hike near a river, where there are small restaurants. To combat the heat, some of the restaurants have tables actually in the water.
From there, we climbed upwards on rocky terrain surrounded by lush vegetation. Our tour guide was an expert at navigating the steep rocks and would scurry up ahead to show us the path and also help us up the trickier, steeper rocks. About halfway up the trek, we stopped at a tiny village where they sold drinks, food, and tourist trinkets. There were also couches for tired visitors to rest on. I was pretty impressed that they were able to bring up a couch on these narrow hiking trails and was glad that I wasn’t responsible for that. After pausing for a brief bit, we headed back up again. I was wearing my Nike Frees and was cautious about slipping but wiry middle-aged men in flip flops were climbing up the slippery rocks as if it was no big deal. All of this climbing/hiking culminated in seeing a majestic beast of a waterfall.
After seeing the waterfall, we ventured down the mountain a different way than which we came. Along the way, we were able to see some Berber villages.
The trail down was hot, sandy, but thankfully much more of a gradual decline than the way up. You can see just how isolated the Berber villages are and how different their way of life could be from yours.
Whether you’re looking for a casual hike or looking for some intense mountaineering, High Atlas can satisfy both desires.
- This trip cost $50 and included transportation to and from the High Atlas mountains, a tour guide for the hike, and a brief trip to a Berber village.
- Getting to the High Atlas Mountains took about 1 hour and 30 minutes via shuttle van from Marrakech.
- Bring hiking shoes!! Sandals/flip flops not recommended due to the slippery nature of the hike (unless you’re an OG like that).
- A local came up to me and said “Hi Jackie Chan!” As an Asian in Africa, I got a lot of stares and comments. Be prepared but don’t let it get to you! You just gotta rise above the fog. The sights here are still one-of-a-kind and expose a different sliver of living.
For our second day trip, we chose to venture to the fortified beach town Essaouira, a UNESCO World Heritage City. It is formerly known by its Portuguese name, “Mogador”, and was famous for its Tyrian factory that produced the purple dye that the Romans loved so much. Often called the “Jewel of the Atlantic,” its classic blue doors, whitewashed walls, and palm trees might have you guessing you’re in Greece.
Once arriving, you can visit the long strip of sandy beach, a fishing harbor stocked with bright blue boats, and the medina (medina means the old section of an Arab city in North Africa), which boasts cabinet-making and “Thuya” wood-carving artisans. For those seeking some water action, you can head out to the beach where the strong winds and the calm water create some pretty stellar conditions for kitesurfing and windsurfing.
The coastal town provided a relaxed beach vibe where the vendors were less aggressive than the ones in Marrakech and people casually milled about. It’s the type of place where you can easily walk around the town, head to the beach, and go to the market all in one day. The cooling breeze from the ocean prevents you from overheating as you stroll through the city and also, how cool is it that you’re at the beach in AFRICA.
- The trip cost $50 and this accounted for round-trip transportation, a visit to the women’s co-op of Argan oil, and a stop at a tree with goats chilling on it. Here is proof:
- It is about a 3 hour drive from Marrakech.
- If you’re in Essaouira in June, keep an eye out for the Gnaoua Festival of World Music. The festival has been dubbed the “Moroccan Woodstock” and lasts four days with music ranging from Gnaoua music (a type of African Islamic music), jazz, rock, and reggae.
(Morocco is country 11 for Heesun).
Pictures supplied by the talented Insun Lee. You can follow her on Instagram at insoleil.
*Berbers are an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa. They have their own Berber languages and are most commonly found in Morocco and Algeria.