Trekking in the Anti Atlas

The arid, pink- and ochre-coloured Anti Atlas, the last significant mountains before the Sahara, are little visited by trekkers, and yet they offer some wonderful trekking opportunities. Taliouine is well set up for trekking, and Tafraoute is the centre of the region. The quartzite massif of Jebel El Kest (2359m), the ‘amethyst mountain’, lies about 10km north of Tafraoute, and the twin peaks of Adrar Mqorn (2344m) are 10km southeast. Beneath the jagged mass of these peaks lie lush irrigated valleys and a string of oases.

At the eastern end of the Anti Atlas near Taliouine, almost due south of Jebel Toubkal, Jebel Siroua (3305m) rises starkly above the landscape. This dramatic volcano makes an excellent centrepiece of varied long-distance treks.

For further advice, and to arrange guides, mules and gear, contact operators in Tafraoute, Taliouine and Taroudant.

Around Tafraoute

Morocco has such a wealth of trekking options that perhaps it is not surprising that an area with the potential of Tafraoute has not yet been fully exploited. The adventurous trekker will find here, as elsewhere in the Moroccan south, many challenging and rewarding treks. Because of local depopulation caused by movement to the cities and the decline in the use of mules for agriculture, many paths are partially abandoned, and nature is particularly wild here. Trekkers might spot Cuvier's gazelles, wild boars, Barbary sheep and rich endemic vegetation.

This is a tougher area than the M’Goun Massif or Tichka Plateau, and trekkers will need to cope with a lack of facilities and the harsh climate. This close to the Sahara, summer (June until mid-September) is blisteringly hot, and winter sees the occasional snowfall on the high passes and peaks, so the region is best walked at the end of winter. Late February is ideal. Daytime temperatures may be 20°C, but at night it can drop below freezing.

Other than the odd small shop, you won’t find many supplies in the area, so the great challenge is carrying enough food and water to keep you going. As with other remote Moroccan areas, it is often possible to stay in village houses, but you must still be prepared to camp and to carry food and water.

The best way of doing this is by hiring a guide and mules; there are trekking guides – and faux guides (unofficial guides) – in Tafraoute. As ever, insist on seeing a guide’s ID card before you start discussing possibilities. As a rule, trained mountain guides do not tout for business in the street. Mules are rarely found around Tafraoute, but you may be able to arrange this through your guide.

Jebel El Kest and the approaches from Tafraoute are covered by the 1:50,000 map sheets Had Tahala and Tanalt, while the whole area is covered by 1:100,000 sheets Annzi, Tafrawt, Foum Al Hisn and Taghjijt. You should be able to find these maps in Au Coin des Nomades, in specialist bookshops or in good big-city bookshops in Morocco.

This part of the Atlas is not well developed for tourism, and transport is an issue throughout. Camionettes (pick-up trucks) and minibuses provide a reliable though infrequent service to some villages and grands taxis run on souq days, but at other times you may need to hire one to get to trailheads.

Adrar Mqorn & Around

Southeast of Tafraoute the possibilities are also exciting. The scramble up Adrar Mqorn (2344m) is hard but worthwhile. Due south of its twin peaks are the palm-filled gorges of Aït Mansour and Timguilcht, which make up Afella-Ighir oasis.

Ameln Valley

There are some 26 villages neatly spaced out through the Ameln Valley, which runs along the south side of Jebel El Kest, and they make for a great walk. You’d need weeks to do a full circuit, but a stunningly beautiful and suitably stretching five-day walk would start in Oumesnate, take in several villages and head up to Tagdichte for an ascent of Jebel El Kest. Alternatively, the ascent could be tackled as part of a gentle trek east through the valley from, say, Tirnmatmat to Oumesnate, both just off the road. You could also base yourself at Oumesnate Maison d’Hôte and go on treks from there.

Jebel El Kest

The area’s star attraction is this massive quartzite ridge that stretches away northwest of Tafraoute. Despite the harshness of the landscape, the Berbers who live in local villages manage to grow the mountain staples of wheat, barley, olives, figs and almonds. The village of Tagdichte is the launching point for a day ascent of Jebel El Kest (2359m). Tagdichte can be accessed by minibus or taxi, and homestay accommodation can be arranged there.

Jebel Aklim

Jebel Aklim (2531m) sits in an even remoter area than Jebel El Kest, yet is surrounded by Berber villages in valleys guarded by old kasbahs. From the top, there are great views over to the High Atlas and Jebel Siroua. It makes a great focal point for a four- or five-day walk out of Igherm, which is roughly equidistant from Tafraoute (to the southwest), Taroudant, Taliouine and Tata.

Jebel Siroua

Some way south of the High Atlas, at the eastern edge of the Anti Atlas, the isolated volcanic peak of Jebel Siroua offers unique trekking opportunities. Remote villages, tremendous gorges, a tricky final ascent and some dramatic scenery all make this an excellent place for trekkers in search of solitude, stark beauty and a serious walk.

The Jebel Siroua ascent is the most obvious walk, but, as ever in Morocco, lasting memories will be found elsewhere: in the beauty of lush valleys, in the hospitality shown in Berber homes, in the play of light on rock and in the proximity of the Sahara. So if you don’t fancy the climb to the summit, the mountain circuit still makes a wonderful trek, with diverse scenery, traditional activities in the villages and beautiful, well-maintained agricultural terraces.

Mules can also be hired at short notice (often the next day) at villages around the mountain.

The 1:100,000 Taliwine and 1:50,000 Sirwa maps cover the route. In winter it can be fiercely cold here, so the best times to trek are autumn, when the saffron harvest takes place, and spring. You should be able to find these maps in Au Coin des Nomades, in specialist bookshops or in good big-city bookshops in Morocco.

If you need supplies, there are small stores in Taliouine and Tazenart, and weekly markets take place in Taliouine, Aoulouz, Askaoun, Tazenakht and Igli.

Routes

There’s a challenging, week-long trek that allows you to walk out of Taliouine along a gentle dirt trail, which heads eastward up the Zagmouzen Valley to Tagmout. The route then heads northeast through Atougha, from where the summit of Jebel Siroua is best reached in two days, with a night at Tegragra. Walking at a regular pace, you’ll ascend the summit on the morning of the fourth day.

After descending into the gorges, you’ll reach the extraordinary cliff village of Tizgui, where you can spend the night, before continuing to Tagouyamt on the fifth day. The village has limited supplies and, in case you can’t find a room, a good place to camp in the amazing Tislit Gorge. From Tislit, the valley continues to Ihoukarn, from where you can head south to the Taliouine–Ouarzazate road at Tizi n’Taghatine (organise beforehand in Taliouine to be picked up here); or complete the circuit by walking west back to Taliouine (two days from Tislit via Tagmout and the Zagmouzen Valley).

An alternative circuit that is even less trekked starts at the village of Tamlakout, where there is a classified gîte, and takes in Aït Tigga, the Assif Mdist and the foot of Jebel Siroua. It then ascends the mountain, continues to Aziouane and exits via the Amassines. Some of the trek is strenuous but should not involve more than six hours’ walking in any day.

Taliouine and Anezale (for Tamlakout) are both on the main Taroudant–Ouarzazate road, regularly served by grands taxis and buses.