This past week I had the great fortune to spend a day exploring the Moroccan high Atlas Mountains. This trip has been a lifelong dream and one which I’ve now finally fulfilled all thanks to a friend who I met online via LinkedIn. Strange how some things were just meant to be…

Two years ago, Jalil Benlabhili reached out to me and invited me to join his network, and given that I’m heavily engaged in the travel industry thought it would be beneficial to us both to connect. 

Jalil runs Morocco Unplugged Tours and as you can imagine I was intrigued at the thought of exploring Morocco as it was high on my list!  🙂  We exchanged notes and soon began following each other on various social media channels.   

Prior to visiting Morocco, I messaged Jalil to pick his brain on the best things to see and do when visiting his beautiful country, and he was extremely generous with his insights.  Although my timing wasn’t great to spend some time in the Sahara Desert he did provide me with some other terrific options, not only for day trips but also for things not to miss while in Marrakech.

Jalil is based in Marrakech and so we were lucky enough to find time for a couple of private day tours with him.

As with most mornings, the air is cool and so he picked us from our Riad (local guesthouse) in the Kasbah in his 4×4 and briefed us on the day ahead.  All I knew prior to the day was that we were going to visit the High Atlas Mountains…

Wow, such an understatement!

As we headed east out of Marrakech toward the distant mountain range he began providing us with a detailed itinerary of the day ahead.  As well, he also explained the topography of this important mountain range and its part in the cultural heritage of Morocco.

Through his entertaining and rich stories, he was able to create the tapestry that makes Morocco what it is today. 

For starters, who knew that Morocco is the oldest monarchy in the world today?  Nor would I have known that Marrakech was formed by an army who ate dates and discarded the pits as they waited for a river to recede.  These dates eventually sprouted and formed an oasis which is now commonly regarded as the birth of Marrakech.

As we made our way into the High Atlas the roads became both narrower and less traveled, eventually taking us on some ancient trade routes where Berber villages have sprouted over the centuries.  

That being said, the ancient lifestyle which many of these families follow to this day are reminiscent of a bygone era.  The kids are still shoeless, and dressed in little more than rags, but like kids anywhere make their own fun.  What struck me most was that they are always smiling and incredibly happy.  Jalil would stop at chat amiably with a shepherd boy tending his goats, or in a village when the gaggle of kids would race up the road toward the car to chat excitedly with us.

His ability to relate to every person he met along our journey told me a lot about his as a person, whether they were a shepherd boy, a souk seller or a person in the street he had the ability to relate and communicate on a human level that was both respectful and friendly.  It seemed as though he could relate every person he met, irrespective of village, tribe, or location.

He stopped often for me to take photos, and had a great eye for the perfect shot.

Our first stop was to visit a traditional Souk in the town of Asni.  Not the type of sanitized Souk that you see in Marrakech or larger city, but a Souk that hasn’t changed for thousands of years…

Wow!  It was eye opening as he explained how the Souks traveled around between villages, and that you would have every type of business, or artisan represented.  I must admit to our western sensibilities the Souk was a shock!   The sights and smells were overwhelming to say the least…but clearly authentic!   Did I say I felt like I was in a National Geographic documentary??! 🙂

Prior to lunch he stopped in the village of Imlil.  This village is the jumping off point to climb the High Atlas Mountains to climb Toubkal which is the second highest peak in Africa after Kilimanjaro. 

The vistas around Imlil are reminiscent of what I would expect to see in Tibet or Bhutan, with soaring peaks rising well above village which was already quite high up in the range.  The village was festooned with places to buy all of your climbing gear, as well there were lots of guides and Sherpas willing to take us up onto the mountain, but alas time was not on our side…

Jalil dropped us off just outside Imlil so Shirley and I could at least get a little hike in along the country road.  As we walked we were surrounded by wild fig and walnut trees and scenery that would blow your mind.  This lovely 30-minute hike back into Imlil was just a small taste of this beautiful place.

Afterwards we lunched in a local establishment on the main road in Asni, eating a delicious beef and vegetable Tagine. Another authentic Moroccan experience!

As we began our journey back toward Marrakech Jalil decided to drive down onto the eastern side of the Atlas Mountains where the scenery became more arid and desolate.  If we had of kept going we would have eventually found ourselves in the Sahara.

Our day trip to the High Atlas Mountains was unforgettable!  Not only for its sheer beauty but also for what we learned about Morocco and the great stories from our trusty guide Jalil!

Until next week