Why exploring Morocco’s mountains and rivers is a wonderful way to spend a holiday in June, July or August, the northern hemisphere summer.
The sharp chill of Winter has us bundled up in coats, scarves and woolly socks – and somehow we’re still cold. As Australians, despite our reputation as sunburnt beachgoers, every year we’re shocked to re-discover that yes, it does actually get cold here. The dark, short days and constant flow of emails remind us that we really could use some time off. Morocco will teleport you to a place far, far away from the chaos of your day-to-day life, and into a world where time, place and people often operate on a simple, mystical level.
While the tourist season in Morocco is September through to April-May, many Australians also choose to escape the cold and travel in July – the height of Moroccan summer. Because temperatures can be almost unbearably hot at this time, we at Aussies In Morocco Tours™ think it’s an ideal time to visit Morocco’s magical mountains and rivers.
Because the higher altitudes mean cooler temperatures, you’ll miss the high season crowds and be diverted away from Morocco’s well-known tourist routes. Our trusted guides have the inside knowledge that will take your holiday beyond Trip Advisor recommendations and top ten lists. So put your map down, forget what day it is, and allow our local guides to help you discover Morocco’s authentic character on one of our non-published, bespoke 4-7 day tours.
We recently did an investigation involving the following delightful itinerary.
Casablanca airport to Lake Bin el Ouidane (2 nights)
We were picked up from Casablanca in a modern, airconditioned 4WD and set off on our 3-hour journey to Hotel Bin el Ouidane located in the countryside on an unsealed road. Upon arrival, we were met with spectacular views of the Bin el-Ouidane Lake, which was created by the father of Morocco’s king to fuel much of the kingdom’s electricity needs.
Hotel Bin el Ouidane has a relaxed vibe. Complete with a swimming pool, spotted frogs that hop around a beautiful garden and star carvings etched into the ceilings – reminiscent of past times when the owners’ Berber ancestors slept under the stars. Tension melts away from your body as you get into the groove of this enchanting place.
If you’re feeling a little more energetic, for a modest price of about 500 dirhams (circa 50 euros) the hotel management can organise a sunrise boat trip, where you will explore the lake’s little islands and find lots of great photo opportunities.
Near Imilchil (1 night)
After spending a couple of nights at Lake Bin el Ouidane relax into the slower Moroccan pace of life as you head towards Imilchil in the Haut Atlas region.
Imilchil is a small town with an arid climate and mountainous terrain, famous for a mass wedding festival that occurs every September. While the celebration is jovial and vibrant, its real purpose is for fathers to present their daughters and find husbands for them (albeit in reality much has already been pre-planned between the families). When a woman accepts her suitor’s proposal, she will declare “You have captured my liver” (Tq massa n uchemt).
During summer, you may happen upon a bride waiting roadside to be picked up and taken to her nuptials. You will recognise her as dressed in white, draped in an extravagant cloak of sequins and colourful embroidery. She wears amber beads around her neck and Christmas-like decorations adorn her red head-dress, which completely obscures her face. We must mention that it is important to gain her permission before taking any photos, as much as you may wish to capture this extraordinary sight spontaneously.
After passing through Imilchil, we made our way to the Gîte where we would spend the night, with the family who owns it. Although the little house doesn’t have air-conditioning and the shower drizzles out at the same pace as Moroccan life (slowly and carefree), it is a little piece of authentic paradise. Traditional Berber carpets kept in immaculate condition drape the walls of every bedroom, and outside a garden of olives, pomegranates, grapevines, and apple trees stand proudly, defying the odds of life in the desert. Frogs hopping around leisurely are unperturbed by the call to prayer (called in Morocco: the “Adhan”) that rings out in the distance 5 times a day, but the men of the house excuse themselves to go and pray.
After a dinner of kebabs, you lie down on a mattress that has just been brought outside and gaze at the cluster of stars shimmering above you. The father with a physics degree sings nursery rhymes to his children in Berber, Arabic, and French, and his wife washes your dust-laden clothes. In this moment, away from the frenetic pace of life back home, Morocco reminds you that human connection, culture, and gentleness are amongst the most important things in life.
Before leaving we gave the lady of the house a small gift of scented moisturising cream; it seemed to be really appreciated, but obviously, it wasn’t obligatory. The family gave us a pot of their own cultivated honey scented with a rare flower that we had earlier enjoyed at breakfast in the garden, with our pancakes.
While the value of this experience is in absorbing the beauty of the present, family, tradition, and a culture that is thousands of years old, it cannot be considered luxurious. If you are after something a little bit more high-end, Imilchil has many more options due to its status as a meeting point for Berber families intent on marriage. We also use: Chateau Imilchil: https://chateauimilchil.com/
Boumalne Dades (2 nights)
This area is cool in summer and has many delightful spots in nature to explore such as hidden waterways with an abundant birdlife. We stayed at a guest house located at a fascinating rock formation that emerges from a river beneath, known locally as “Monkey Fingers”, run by an Amazigh self-taught artist called Fatima Mellal who has exhibited internationally, and her sister. The accommodation is priced modestly and very clean, but more importantly it is serene and the location is breathtaking. Why not sit on the carpet and pillow clad terrace outside, while enjoying traditional food such as tagine or brochette, digesting the beauty of the gorge?
Early the next morning, we went to a lesser-known gorge nearby. Birds sang merrily around us, bathing intermittently in the crystal clear water that was moving peacefully through the rocks. To get there we drove less than 10 minutes along the main road from Fatima’s place, got out of the car and descended into the locals’ luscious, green, common garden flourishing next to the waterway. We were pleased at the nice drop in temperature to which the stream treated us. Later that day women would come there to wash their clothes, whilst keeping each other company and chatting at the same time. We were also surprised, midmorning, upon opening our eyes after a brief doze, to see two Moroccan women had suddenly joined our little haven, silently wading towards us through the waist-deep water, transporting heavy loads of grass on their backs.
The next day we did a short tour that included the Valley of the Roses, which is like a sea of fuchsia – even the taxis there are bright pink! The valley is famous for making rose products and it is a great opportunity to invest in some genuine rose water, rose oil and other rose-based cosmetics, before returning to the Guest House.
On the day of departure from Boumalne Dades we visited the cave-dwelling nomads nearby. Most of the men were out with their flocks, leaving their wives and children at home, but we had the chance to drink tea with one man in his nineties, nearly blind and his similarly aged wife, whose face was covered in traditional Berber tattoos. During the course of our tea-drinking we asked them what was the most amazing thing that they had ever seen in the desert. The man answered (through our interpreter/guide): “Rain and grass”. He also spoke a little French and when our departure was imminent he kissed us on the cheeks goodbye, French style.
If you would like to stay at a guest house that has more western style food options and is and more lux than Fatima’s homely offering, Dar Blues is a beautiful place with a stand-out garden and a host who cannot do enough for you. As with so many other Moroccan riads, you may have difficulty reading your map or travel book at night there. Lighting is dim like firelight. It is as if they do this to protect the sanctity of darkness, a time that was always destined to be for relaxation, contemplation and quiet talking amongst family and friends.
Ouzoud (2 nights) (Cascades d’Ouzoud)
Many tour operators offer day trips to Ouzoud Falls from Marrakech but we don’t recommend doing this. It is a long way to drive, a little under three hours each way, leaving you with a scarce amount of time to enjoy this spectacular part of Morocco. Instead, we suggest staying overnight in the area, allowing you to skip the swells of day-trippers and enough time to admire the spectacular waterfalls and the people’s lives that have been built up around them.
The long walk down the stairs to the bottom of the Falls takes you past smoking tagines in readiness for lunch, brightly coloured traditional robes for sale and little nooks to stop for a mint tea. Some Moroccan parents engage laughingly with the monkeys and encourage their children to feed them as they skip cheekily in front of the family. A beautiful sight to see, but we wouldn’t recommend doing this as the monkeys can be a serious human health risk. Once at the bottom you can bathe in the water or board one of the many brightly decorated barges and the driver will row you all the way to the outer edges of the cascading waterfall (if you want to get up close and personal). Prepare thus, to be soaked!
Photography enthusiasts will find unbelievable photo opportunities here, bearing in mind what we said earlier about the need to ask permission before aiming your lenses, particularly at women. We suggest you go earlier in the morning when the crowd is thinner, even at sunrise if you can make it.
The next day a visit to the lovely river community nearby is a great idea. At the carpark, you will be greeted by boys on donkeys offering to take you along the rivers’ edge for about 10 dirhams (circa 1 euro). If this is appealing to you – go for it, but we think walking is just fine. On a sunny day you walk past locals cooling drinks in the stream, making and cooking bread in woodfire ovens, and little handmade bridges that connect two sides of the stream, lined with sunflowers. Rather than ride a donkey, you might like to watch them graze peacefully on the luxuriant green grass, while teams of ducklings propel themselves down the stream in unison behind their mothers.
We recommend staying at Hotel Palais Ouzoud, owned by a Dutch-educated Moroccan who has given up his successful international career as a tax lawyer to return to his roots. He speaks excellent English and has a very hands-on role in the management of the place. This venue is lovely and is a little more focused on catering to western taste. The guest’s terracotta accommodation frames the hotel’s wide, deep blue pool, and green mountains roll lazily in the background. The location has previously been the site of many professional photoshoots and is a fantastic place to get that perfect Moroccan holiday shot whether yourselves or with the assistance of our guide, (an avid amateur photographer) and his Nikon camera.
Casablanca (final night before departure)
Then it is back to Casablanca for a flight the following day. It takes most of the day to get there, driving through some magnificent natural mountain scenery. When you arrive you could squeeze in some shopping at the boutiques there that sell dresses from Mali, or a visit to the Mosque by the sea, or you may wish to just relax and prepare for your flight the next day. If this is the case, we would suggest a hotel close to the airport; more expensive but if you have an early flight, the 15-minute commute is invaluable.
If you like the sound of this itinerary but aren’t sold by all of it, don’t worry. We can always adjust the number of days at each location, the places you visit and where you stay based on the time you have available and your interests. Life in Morocco is all about letting go of the small things and living in the moment, allowing yourself to open up to nature’s poems and secrets. Join us on a tour and allow our guides, descendants of the traditional inhabitants of the land, to open Morocco’s doors and heart to you.