Wild Weekend: Hiking in Morocco - Toubkal National Park and Imlil
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 are the mountains and a small village called Imlil.
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.
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.
Trips can also be arranged by your guesthouse or online before you arrive if you prefer to know what you are doing in advance.
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 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 aragan oil co-operative and the berber co-operative along the way as well as other locations reducing your time in Imlil.