Tizi n’Tichka is North Africa’s highest mountain pass, traversing the magnificent High Atlas Mountains between the cities of Marrakech and Ouarzazate. Combining spectacular high altitude scenery, snow-capped peaks and small, traditional communities, it is not a road to be rushed. Immerse yourself in the landscapes and people along its route on this 4 day/3 night trip, escaping the chaos of Marrakech for this region of wild beauty.
Trek along the forested slopes of Toubkal National Park, backed by towering white peaks, then soak your toes in the fast-flowing Ourika River as you feast on tagine, just like the locals do! Take the dramatic switchback road that ascends into the High Atlas, passing small villages clinging to the mountain slopes and multi-coloured valleys that stretch out far beneath. Stay with a local Berber family in a remote community that farms these high-altitude slopes before descending to the evocative ksar of Ait Benhaddou, nestled postcard-perfectly into the foothills.
Leave the bustling chaos of Marrakech’s souks behind, travelling to the picturesque town of Ourika, set beautifully on the edge of Toubkal National Park in the High Atlas foothills with snowcapped peaks towering behind. From the mountains the Ourika River winds its way down into a valley where guesthouses and artisan shops line its banks and Moroccan holidaymakers sit sipping mint tea with their feet immersed in its flowing waters. Spend the afternoon hiking along the densely forested slopes from where the road ends at Setti Fatma, passing through small stone-built Berber villages where women tend agricultural plots, then return to the river to soak your weary feet in the soothing Ourika waters while feasting on an authentic tagine, before being lulled to sleep by the burbling waters passing by your doorstep
For the adventurous with more time, the summit of Toubkal at 4,167 metres can be summited in 2-6 days, depending on the route selected, offering unmatched views across the High Atlas. The two-day route feels somewhat rushed, but in three days you have time to take in the spectacular Azzaden Valley and in four to five you can explore some of the regions more remote villages and valleys. For the ultimate in Atlas Mountain trekking, opt for the six-day Toubkal Circuit which takes in the magnificent high-alpine region of Lak D’Ifni. Winter sees heavy snow cover across the high passes and peaks and trekkers need to be experienced and well-equipped with crampons and ice axes during this season
Depart late morning to start the ascent into the High Atlas, passing along spectacular mountain roads where valleys drop away dramatically to one side and traditional Berber villages cling precariously to the slopes. Watch as the vegetation slowly transforms from lush forest to sparse scrub as you switchback up the final ascent to the Tizi n’Tichka’s highest point at 2,260 metres. From here there are incredible panoramas across the High Atlas at every turn as the road teeters on the mountain edge.
Slowly descend at turn left off the main road, travelling through the small town of Telouet and on to the beautiful and remote Tighza Valley. Here you will meet with your Berber homestay family and delve into the culture of Morocco first people. Stay in a traditional stone and earth house, sample authentic home-cooked cuisine, and experience the daily lives of these rural people within a stunning natural setting.
Immerse yourself in Berber life with a traditional cooking course, learning how to make authentic dishes using the locally-sourced produce available in this high altitude region.
Spend the morning hiking in the Tighza Valley, taking in the impressive High Atlas scenery, and exploring the village with your home stay family. Following lunch, descend further into the foothills of the Atlas, arriving at the ancient ksar of Ait Benhaddou, nestled on the edge of the desert at a strategically important location on the southern slopes of the High Atlas mountains. This collection of dwellings is one of the most impressive surviving examples of the region’s typical architecture and held a strategically important post on the trade route between ancient Sudan and Marrakech. Its fortifications, public square and mosque date back to around the 17th Century and are adorned with motifs moulded into the earthen clay brick. In the late afternoon hike to the highest point of the ksar to witness the rich red colours that deepen as the sun sets over this beautiful old town.
Wake early for sunrise over Ait Benhaddou and spend the morning touring the ancient ksar at its most authentic – before the artisan shops open and the majority of tourists arrive. Then continue on to Ouarzazate, following the river bed and stopping to take in the magnificent views en route.
Ouarzazate is one of Morocco’s most aesthetically beautiful cities, situated on the fertile banks of the Asif Tidili River. It was traditionally a meeting point for people of the Atlas, Drâa and Dadès Valleys who came to trade in its now crumbling Taourirt Kasbah. While French colonial rulers established a garrison town in the 1920s, it wasn’t until thirty years later that the town really made its mark on the world stage when Hollywood came to town. Its traditional and alluring surrounding landscapes provided the backdrop for countless movies and the studios of what became known as ‘Ouallywood’ began to spring up. Today it is home to museums exploring traditional Berber culture, together with studios celebrating its illustrious recent past.
Spend the night in a traditional Berber tent in the leafy surrounds of a former date palmeraie, complete with a resident peacock, ‘Leo’.
Once home to Thami El Glaoui, the Pasha of Marrakech from 1912 to 1956, this elegant old kasbah is packed full of Moroccan antiques, carpets and artwork. Relax in its expansive courtyard and take in the magnificent views across Ouarzazate from its terrace.
Following breakfast, travel 13 kilometres south of Ouarzazate to the lush, palm-lined river of the Oasis de Fint. Backed by a beautifully sculpted canyon wall and flanked by small mud-housed villages, it is one of the country’s most idyllic oases and remains low-key and relatively undeveloped. Indulge in a traditional three-course Berber lunch in the cool interior of a mud hut and return to Ouarzazate in the late afternoon where the trip ends.