3 days hiking around Imlil (Morocco)
My 3 days in this area (almost) made me forget Marrakesh. That’s a good thing. It is among the most spectacular scenery I’ve seen in my life.
The main town in the area, situated about 60 km south of Marrakesh, is Imlil. It is a pretty little town situated in a valley looking up at Mount Toubkal, the 2nd highest mountain in Africa at 4,167 m (ie 13,671 feet). Toubkal is the highest mountain in Northern Africa as well as the highest peak in the Arab World. It is 36th as far as the highest mountains in the world (for those curious, Kilimanjaro is the highest Africa mountain at 5,895 m high. It is the 4th highest mountain in the world).
Related: My 5 week Morocco Itinerary. And on dealing with liars, scammers and bullshit.
But while Imlil is a cute tourist town, much more impressive is Aroumd, an even smaller town and the access town to Mount Toubkal. Aroumd is about 40 minutes by “taxi” from Imlil which sounded strange to me being that Aroumd is just a couple of kilometers up the mountain from Imlil. Until I found out that when my hotel host said “taxi” he meant a “mule”. A mule apparently is how tourists get their luggage up the mountain to Aroumd.
Not knowing all that, I had luckily arranged for our “Grand Taxi” driver in Marrakesh to drive me to Aroumd (there is a road, but it needs a car with a very strong engine). So after dropping off the other passengers in Imlil he continued up the road for 100 dirhams (the same I would have paid for that mule). What I didn’t know was the road ended at the bottom of the town – and that my hotel was situated at the very, very top of the town. 20 minutes later, after navigating a road full of switchbacks (carrying my Samsonite, whose wheels were useless in the gravel), I arrived at Dar Imperial a sweaty mess. But this was the view.
As much as getting to Aroumd is difficult, it is 100% worth it and a better option than Imlil. Imlil is in a valley. You have views but there are trees and buildings. You don’t get many great views from town itself. In Aroumd you have views everywhere you look – you’re basically on a spit of mountain that looks out towards Mount Toubkal on one side and the valley (and Imlil far below) on the other side.
Day 1. Walk around Aroumd
I have arrived mid-afternoon in Aroumd and had no plans. But just walking around the dirt and gravel roads around the town I got to see some incredible scenery. On one side, you can walk the road back towards Imlil. About 30 minutes gets you to a big electric pole. Look at some of the views along that stretch.
Back in town, I took a walk in the other direction, leading to a waterfall I had seen from the big electric pole.
Dar Imperial is a very nice hotel with 3 floors of rooms, all with fantastic views (and at 300 Dirhams, about $35 US/night including breakfast and supper, it’s a great deal). But I was the only one there that first night. I made the 3rd floor hallway “my office”. A few photos.
Day 2. Hike to the shrine at the base of Mount Toubkal.
I had a hike the next day with Omar. The destination was the shrine at the base of Mount Toubkal.
This is actually quite an easy hike and I would call it more of a walk. It takes 2 hours to get to the shrine. It’s a clean, wide mountain path that skirts the valley below. You’ll see a river running the length of the valley. You’ll meet other people and a lot of mules – some will be doing the same hike you are, some will be coming back from an overnight stay at the summit of the mountain (I’ll explain that below). Along the way the views open up until you are surrounded by snow-clad mountains. There, at the base of Mount Toubkal, are a few buildings: a couple of cafés and supply stores (you can buy water, snacks, hats, gloves etc). There is even a refuge where you can spend the night. You’ll also see a big white rock (painted) with a flag on it. That’s the shrine and many Moroccans come here to pray. The views are great and you’re looking straight up at Mount Toubkal. There’s a waterfall, which is the source of the river you’ve been following along the valley.
You can continue a bit past the shrine. The path gets a lot steeper and rougher. But if you walk up about 20 minutes you’ll have even more amazing views on the mountains around you.
We sat at one of the cafés and had some mint tea before going back. If you’re in Aroumd/Imlil for 1 day this is the hike you have to do. You’ll see Mount Toubkal, the snow covered mountains all around you, and you’ll meet the diehard hikers who are either going to or coming back from the summit.
Note: to get to the summit of Mount Toubkal. It’s 2 hours to the shrine. From there its 3 to 4 hours to the refuge where you spend the night. Most people wake up at 3 am and climb the 3 hours that it takes to bring you to the summit. You see the sunrise from the summit. After the sunrise people start the descent back down the mountain. You should always have a guide, a good sleeping bag, lots of water, and crampons when climbing in winter. I spoke to a bunch of hikers coming down and they loved their experience. I almost wished I had done it.
Omar and I had started the hike at 10 am and, even with a 30 minute stop for tea, were back at the hotel at 3 pm. Cost 300 dirhams (about $42 Canadian or $33 US). Glorious hike.
Day 3. Hike to Tizi n’Tamatert.
My guide on this day was Hassan, a young guy with a perpetual smile on his face.
This hike goes behind Aroumd, up that spit of mountain I was describing, and then skirts a mountain plateau to a viewpoint where you look straight down on Imlil. It then continues up a valley to the large radio transmission tower (which you can see it from a distance when in Imlil). Right by the tower is a pass called Tizi n’Tamatert.
The hike is a mix of different scenery: from rocky and flat mountain plateaus to green hills covered with brush, to a valley along a mountain stream where you could swear you were in Switzerland, through a small town where you’re likely to see goats, followed by a steep climb through Juniper trees (which look and smell like pine), to a summit with views overlooking two valleys – on one side the green valley looking down towards Imlil, on the other side an incredible arid valley featuring primarily bare rocks in grey and red tones. Tiny little towns are seen in the distance. On both sides are snow clad mountain peaks. The views are phenomenal. A few photos from the hike.
It was a great hike with amazing views. The entire hike took 5.5 hours and was much more strenuous than the previous day’s hike.
Below: Coming back, close to Aroumd, we met this couple on a daytrip. That mule was meant to be my taxi down the hill early the next morning – but he never showed up and I had to hike down to Imlil carrying my Samsonite. I’ve found out that Moroccans are not early risers.
My time in Aroumd was more than I ever expected coming to Morocco. It is an absolutely gorgeous area. The hiking was fabulous and it really is some of the most beautiful mountain scenery I’ve seen anywhere. I don’t think the photos above even give it justice.
I was surprised by what a popular spot it is. While many people come here on day trips from Marrakech, there are others who come here independently for a few days of hiking. There are tons of adventure activities and we saw people hiking, mountain biking, riding on mules, even some running down the mountain. And that’s not including the serious hikers who come here to do the 2 day hike to the summit of Mount Toubkal.
A. If going to the area independently.
Getting there. You can take a Grand Taxi from Marrakech which should cost you 35 to 50 dirhams (USD 3.70 – 5:30). It depends on the number of passengers, they try to get a total of 250-300 dirhams for a car. The Grand Taxi stand is south of Djemma El-Fna. Look up “Hotel Narjisse” – the Grand Taxi stand for Imlil is right across the street. Getting to Imlil will take about 1 hr 45 minutes. The first hour will be flat driving, the last 45 minutes will involve a lot of curves in the mountains. Total distance 63 km.
Coming Back. Same as above in reverse. After hiking down from Aroumd (about 30-40 min), we arrived in Imlil at 9:30 on a weekday morning. We were surprised that there was nobody else looking for a Grand Taxi for Marrakesh. We ended up paying 250 dirhams for 3 of us (ie. 80 Dirhams each).
If trying to get to Ouarzazate or Aït Benhaddou. Although you may think that there must be a more direct way than to go back to Marrakech…there isn’t. You have to go back to Marrakech to get to either of these towns.
Accommodation. There are many hotels in both Imlil and Aroumd. I recommend Aroumd, I think it’s one of the most beautiful places anywhere. And I recommend Dar Imperial where I stayed. Incredible location and very nice hotel (simple, but very nice). They serve breakfast (included in the rate) and you can pay extra for diner which I recommend. I paid a total of 300 dirhams/day (ie. $35 USD) for everything (the room, breakfast, diner). Beware though: getting up to Dar Imperial means either hiking up yourself or getting a mule to help you with your luggage (for which you should pay between 70 – 100 dirhams).
Tours. Dar Imperial set me up with both Omar and Hassan. Both were great guides. If you want to organize a hike in advance, you can write Hassan at [email protected]. I paid 300 dirhams (about $35 USD) for both of my hikes. Each was 5 – 6 hours long and I saw some incredible geography. Very much recommended.
B. Organized Tours
The majority of people come here on organized day tours from Marrakech.
Here are the most popular organized tours people take:
- Ride a camel, drive through the valley, have a traditional lunch.
- Visit Imlil and do a 2 hour hike, stopping at many viewpoints.
- A 2 day hike TO THE SUMMIT OF MOUNT TOUBKAL. (I highlight it because I wish I had gotten to the summit)
- Visit Aroumd and do some mule riding/hiking. (that’s the tour the couple above were doing)
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Either way you visit you’ll be blown away by this region. It is spectacular.
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Yeah, from new reports, it’s sounding like it was a “terrorist-linked” attack on those Scandinavian hikers. At least one had terrorist links while the others were local shepherds. Such a shame those women were so young, still studying, an innocent hike suddenly doomed. Reading about this reminds me of how i felt when i read about the 4 foreign cyclists going across the Pamir highway this past summer were deliberately run down by some manic who then finished them off with a knife or gun. …..certain situations just seem to hit home harder than others.
Yes, I’ve been following the news since you told me about this Don.
These motherf*ckers it seems even posted the video of the beheading online. It seems, from accounts I’ve heard here, that they following these girls starting from a Facebook posting by one of the girls. They camped for 3 days waiting for these girls. There’s not enough hell for people like this.
I was right there, walking in the same footsteps 2 weeks ago. Just when you think a place is so remote that something like this could never happen…
Why didn’t they do this to a man like me? Instead they choose two young girls. Cowards.
They were 3 men Frank and would probably have killed you. The two girls camped alone and were warned not to do this by a guide. Seems like these fu*kers were loyal to IS. I was surprised to read that approximately 1500 maroccans are believed to be loyal to IS.
Take care Frank and let hope these fu*kers gets the most severe punishment
Yes, what I’m saying though is why target young women? It’s cowardice. Most of the hikers you’ll meet are guys, spoke to a few that day along their way up to the refuge. Not sure why the girls camped (were they intending to go to the summit? Or were they trying to save a few bucks?). But you’re right, this is a country where a couple of women should not be camping alone. Very sad. And I also feel bad for the people in Imlil who depend on tourism.
Sawadee Frank from BKK…..back in Thailand for the winter…..soon heading down to PKK for a couple weeks then the Andaman for some diving.
Hey some brilliant photos Frank, the hiking in the Toubkal area -would definitely appeal to me, the scenery reminds me of south Bolivia. Did you catch this bit of unfortunate news? https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/17/bodies-of-two-female-tourists-found-in-moroccos-high-atlas
Not much in the way of details yet.
Keep on trekking!
That’s terrible. I can’t imagine what could have happened to these 2 girls.
If that happens in Imlil it can happen anywhere. I mean Marrakech has all these shady characters….but Imlil? Not good. We’ll see what they come up with, I would think they should find the culprits pretty quick.
Horrible, horrible news.
Oh, and I forgot to say, enjoy PKK 🙂
Wow…Stunning landscapes. I would love to these hikes, the scenery is breathtaking. Although hard to get to the hotel in Aroumd, it was no doubt a great option. Also very cheap, just the view would command a very high rate if it was here in the UK. I will definitely like to visit this area in the future and will follow on your footsteps. Thanks for a great post, love your photos ?
Thanks Gilda. I’m in Fez now…and although I’ve enjoyed many things the Imlil area still my favorite. Maybe because I love hikes. I know you do too so would recommend it…and yup, very inexpensive for those views.
Anita @ No Particular Place To Go
A rose is a rose is a rose but evidently a ‘taxi’ in Morocco takes on a whole ‘nuther meaning. Yep -This part of your trip beats Marrakesh all to hell. What incredible scenery!
I can see you on a mule Anita 🙂 I think you would like it.
I was on a camel yesterday – amazing the geographical diversity in Morocco.
Today just arrived in Fez, the city you were so amazed with. Look forward to exploring tomorrow.
Terrible views. Tough life you have.
I pray everyday that it gets better 🙂
Awesome trip. For some reason, photos from the third day impressed me the most. Taking notes from your experience for our future extended stay in Morocco. This is definitely an activity that I would like to experience. Have a great time for the rest of your journey through Morocco. Cheers!
Thank you Elena. That area was actually my highlight so far. Probably because I enjoy hiking. I look back at my photos from Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland and I swear you could mix some of the photos between the two. Really recommend going there.
This I would like Frank. A couple kliks-I’d walk it. From what I see, getting off trail by yourself should be pretty easy, I prefer that. There’s water up there, so no problem. Definitely better than Marakesh.
We think alike Ted!
Happy you had a great time here to rid you of that Marrakech stress. At the moment I’m unsure if I will get here, because other the arrival destination, I am planning one day at a time, but it definitely looks like a grand experience. Fantastic post Frank!
Thanks Paula! I know, you’re arriving in Fez, right? (I’ll be there in a week or so).
It depends what you like, but if you’re into hiking the Imlil area is fantastic. Other warning – gets darn cold at night!! You’re in the mountains.
If you do end up going let me know Paula!