As part of last year’s trip to Morocco, I really wanted to get out of the city and see some of the countryside, and decided on an overnight hike in the Atlas Mountains, staying with a family in a traditional Berber village. It happened to be New Year’s Eve, so definitely a different way to celebrate!
After plenty of research I chose a company called Berber Travel Adventures, as they are locally owned and I wanted to support the local community. They are a sustainable tourism company, and they try to have a positive economic, environmental and social impact. The villages they visit are very small, and definitely not on the tourist trail.
With four hours gentle hiking each day, we didn’t need to take up valuable space in our hand luggage with hiking gear. However, it’s FREEZING in the mountains in winter so bring plenty of warm clothes.
We were picked up from our riad in Marrakesh in a ‘grands taxi’, a kind of unofficial city-to-city transport system, and dropped in Amizmiz. This is a small town with a busy market, and we had some mint tea with our guide, Saeed, while watching the comings and goings of daily life.
Then we gathered out things, packed up our friendly donkey and set off for Tidli where we would have our first stop and lunch with a traditional Berber family. It was a beautiful, clear day, and the views of the High Atlas mountains and the countryside were breathtaking. We had the first of three delicious tagines, with homemade bread – I would hike back for the food alone!
After lunch we set off for the village of Ait Irghit. We passed some local children, who waved and spoke to us in French, shouting ‘Bonjour’ (hello) and ‘un stylo, un stylo’ (a pen, a pen). While it’s tempting to give items such as pens (instead of money) to local children when abroad, it can also have a negative impact, encouraging begging and dependency on foreign tourists. If you want to give, find a local charity, or donate items to a school. When we booked our trip, Jamal, the owner of BTA advised us to bring small gifts of soap, or pens, to give to the households where we stopped for lunch/dinner.
We arrived at Ait Irghit, a stone village that looked like it had been unchanged for hundreds of years, although there is electricity, but this is a relatively recent introduction. We did some exploring, met some goats, and had an early dinner with our Berber family. We had little Arabic, and they had no English, so we communicated through smiles, gestures and some help from our guide! Then we settled in for a very early night, and were asleep well before midnight with no champagne, no countdown and huddling together for warmth. You can see my looking cosy in the photo below 🙂
We woke early the next day, ate a traditional breakfast and hiked back to Amizmiz in beautiful sunshine. I loved the hike, and the insight into life in the Atlas Mountains. For traditional Berbers lack of infrastructure and access to healthcare and education – especially for girls – remains a problem. I would definitely recommend Berber Travel Adventures and hope that responsible tourism to the area can bring sustainable benefits.