Toubkal National Park is located within the High Atlas mountains. Hikes to the highest peak is north Africa, Mount Toubkal start from the small village of Imlil. This guide explores hikes in the national park.
This article contains links to products and services that I think you will find useful. I may earn commission on any purchases you make at no cost to you. Read more HERE
After a few days in the chaos of Marrakech an escape is needed, to unwind and to see another side to Morocco. Many people escape north to the coast in Essaouira, but to the south is the mountains of Toubkal National Park and a small village called Imlil. This small village is the perfect place to start hikes into the High Atlas Mountains and Mount Toubkal.
Toubkal National Park
Toubkal National Park is located in the High Atlas Mountains in southwestern-central Morocco and is just over 70km from Marrakech by car.
The national park was established in 1942 and covers approximately 380 km2. Over 80% of the park is arid mountains with just 15% being forested areas.
The park has 8 mountain peaks over 3660m, the highest and most well known being Toubkal which stands at 4167m, the highest peak in North Africa. Other peaks include
Mountain Peaks in Toubkal National Park
As well as the mountain peaks, Toubkal National Park has ancient petroglyphs that can be found with local guides close to the ski resprt of Oukaimeden. Many have been destroyed in recent years but some still remain. These 5000 year old (maybe more) rock engravings depict wild animals, domestic animals, weapons, warriors and scenes from hunting expeditions and battles.
Wildlife in Toubkal National Park
Toubkal National Park provides a range of environments from arid mountains to grasslands. There are forests of native Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) and thuriferous juniper (Juniperus thurifera) as well as holm oaks (Quercus ilex) and walnut trees (Juglans regia).
The grasslands come alive in the spring months when prickly pears and poppies can be seen across the lower slopes of the Atlas mountains.
The are a range of birds of prey who make the park their home including the endangered bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) and the golden eagle.
Toubkal National Park has one of the largest colonies of Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia) in North Africa. These hardy sheep are adapted to live in the arid and harsh conditions found in the park. They can often be seen balanced on steep cliffs, feeding on vegetation that other animals cannot reach. They have distinctive spiralled horns and brown coarse coats with a ‘beard’ below their chins.
Imlil sits in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains, at the end of the Mizine Valley at an altitude of 1800metres. The village has a population of 5,000 during the summer hiking months, but over the harsh winter months many move away. The mountains around Imlil are dotted with Berber villages, small buildings clustered around a central mosque.
Driving into Imlil the valley, the landscape is lush and green, prickly pears edge the road, gradually being replaced by small restaurants and guesthouses. The desert heat that suffocates Marrakech dissipates and the cool mountain air makes exploring so much easier. The annoying touts and menu holders that grab you throughout the souks and squares of Marrakesh are gone, replaced by calm and tranquility.
This is off the beaten track, but well known in the trekking world as the start of the trail to Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa. This can make the village busy at the beginning of the day as everyone heads off and again when the day visitors leave to head back to Marrakech. With accommodation being cheaper than in Marrakech, staying in this mountain retreat when everyone else returns is not a hardship. The stars are stunning and the atmosphere is relaxed for those who stay over night.
What to Do in Imlil
If you don’t like trekking then Imlil is not for you unless spending time with views of a mountain from your guesthouse is what you enjoy. This is the place to come to trek. Walking is the whole reason for this village’s expansion over the years. There is a whole range of walks from short meanders up to the waterfalls to intense treks to the summit of Jebel Toubkal.
Trekking in Imlil
The biggest challenge in Imlil is to reach the summit of Jebel Toubkal. Reaching Jebel Toubkal is a two day hike with a night at a mountain refuge from Imlil. The peak of this mountain is at 4,167 metres, the 22nd highest in Africa and can have snow on the summit as late as June. It is not an easy trip with altitude being uncomfortable for some. It is best completed with a local guide. These can be arranged in Marrakech or picked up in Imlil. Omar, who looked after us was fantastic. A lucky find for us!
Hiking to Armoud Morocco
If Jebel Toubkal is too much for you, but you have a full day for hiking, then there are still lots of options. Donkey tracks head into the mountains from Imlil. Guides can take you exploring these paths to Armoud Morocco, initially through walnut and cherry tree groves following the path upwards, eventually rounding a sharp bend (one of many). From the bend the village of Armoud Morocco can be seen with amazing views of Jebel Toubkal beyond. Reaching the village is the perfect excuse for mint tea with the villagers before heading back to Imlil along the irrigation channels and the numerous waterfalls.
Above Azib Tamsoult is the stunning waterfall called Cascades d’Irhoulidene. This waterfall is the perfect warm-up before attempting Mount Toubkal or as a long day hike in their own right.
Hiking to the Waterfall of Imlil
A shorter hike visits just the waterfalls at Imlil. This is a circular route taking just a couple of hours. The path is rough and uphill all the way to the falls. It wanders through walnut groves along the irrigation channels that keep this valley so lush.
The falls are beautiful with numerous drops and you can work your way up and down the various plunge pools. However, the rocks are slippery and paths are extremely rough. As you approach the falls there are orange juice sellers, making the most amazing juice or mint tea for hot walkers!
Hiking Toubkal National Park
There are a lot of hiking options in the Toubkal National Park. If you are looking for something extreme then the 7-10 day Toubkal Circuit can be completed in summer months. Guides and guesthouses can suggest routes and help with planning.
Mountain Guides in Imlil
Most people arrive in the village with guesthouses, tours, and guides prearranged. If you haven’t got anything arranged the Bureau des Guides will help you find someone to take you on your adventure. They speak English and will make all the arrangements for you. Their prices usually include accommodation and food as well as the guide.
We arrived without a guide and met Omar who was fantastic and took us exactly where we wanted to go. A guide is highly recommended as the paths are not well marked and the routes can be difficult. An assisted trek with a guide and cook is good value and makes for an enjoyable experience. Currently all treks to Mount Toubkal have to be guided.
Trips can also be arranged by your guesthouse or online before you arrive if you prefer to know what you are doing in advance.
Is Toubkal National Park Safe
The hiking in Toubkal National Park can be strenuous and a local guide is essential. Around Imlil ther is a calm feel, very different to the bustle of Marrakech, but this is a remote mountin region and personal safety should be considered.
In 2018 two Scandinavian women lost their lives on Mount Toubkal. Since then, the local authorities have introduced a number of measures to ensure all travellers are safe.
These measures include:
- All attempts at Mount Toubkal should be completed with a qualified local guide. Qualified guides will hold a professional identification card issued by the Ministry of Tourism.
- All individuals have to spend the night in an authorised hut or campsite
- No attempts at the summit are allowed after 3pm
Food in Imlil, Morocco
Food in Imlil is standard Moroccan food. Tagines and couscous are easy to find in many of the small restaurants and tea houses. There are also a few small grocery shops selling bread, vegetables and snacks for your adventures.
Where to stay in Imlil
There are lots of guesthouses and beautiful riads in Imlil. There is even the Kasbah de Toubkal hotel linked with National Geographic if you want luxury. Imlil Refuge is a good option if money is tight with clean rooms and helpful staff.
Getting to Imlil and Toubkal National Park from Marrakech
There is no public transport to Imlil but you can take a grand taxi to Asni and then a second to Imlil. This will cost about 30 dirham in total. These taxis usually leave in the mornings from the centre of Marrakech and will take about two hours to get to Imlil. The grand taxi is like a car share, where you share the cost with others going to the same place.
A private taxi from Marrakech will cost about 500 dirham and can be organised by your guesthouse or online. A private taxi is good if you want to stop on the way to take photographs or explore corners that catch your attention. A private taxi also means you can leave Marrakech early before the heat rises.
Imlil can be reached on some group tours, but time in this mountain village is limited and you will visit the argan oil co-operative and the Berber co-operative along the way as well as other locations reducing your time in Imlil.