Berber Villages Trek : Day Trip To Atlas Mountains From Marrakech

Created by Colleen Sims * Updated 23 January 2024

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When we booked our trip to Marrakech, we had no idea what to expect nor if we would occupy ourselves for ten days. 

We quickly learned that there is a great deal to see and do in the city and a lot of day trips too, like the amazing Berber Villages Trek tour.

If like us, you love to explore nature, spend a few hours hiking and immerse yourself in the local culture then you are going to love this day trip.

If you’re worried that it will be a tad touristy then rest assured, it isn’t.  It’s authentic. 

We visited rustic Berber villages where time seems to have stood still.  Don’t expect all mod-cons but do expect to be charmed by the hospitality and traditions of the Berber people who call the Atlas Mountains their home.

Berber villages in the High Atlas mountains as seen on our Berber Villages trek from Marrakech

Can You Visit Berber Villages From Marrakech In One Day?

Absolutely! Marrakech serves as the gateway to the Atlas Mountains and is a fantastic base for exploring the nearby Berber villages. 

We opted for a day tour but if you’re interested in hiking in the Atlas Mountains, the region offers opportunities for longer or more difficult treks. 

You can also stay in the mountains in homestays and hotels too but on this occasion, we were looking for a day trip and still managed a glimpse into this wonderfully traditional Berber life.

Who Are The Berbers In Morocco’s Atlas Mountains?

The Berbers in Morocco are an indigenous population of North and Sub-Saharan Africa.  Ancient remains have been found older than 300,000 years, which suggests that the Berbers have been living in these mountains for a very for a long time.

They were nomads of the desert caravans and their villages were important staging posts along ancient trade routes.

Our guide, Karim, was born and raised in these villages and taught us so much about Berber history. 

beautiful late autumn weather during our berber villages hike

Where Are Berber Villages?

The Berber villages are rural communities, scattered across the picturesque landscapes of the Atlas Mountains.

Easily reached from Marrakech, the High Atlas region is a popular destination for visitors and perfect for tours such as this Berber Villages Trek.

Villages cling to the slopes, a little like the villages of Andalucia in Spain.  These homes aren’t white but adobe and decorated with intricate geometric patterns.

Numerous Berber villages pepper the Atlas Mountains, each with its own character.

What To Expect From A Berber Villages Trek?

What to expect from your Berber Village Trek?  Firstly, do be prepared to hike and do expect some elevation and rural terrain.  It’s easy to get carried away with the idea of glorious landscapes, charming villages and traditional meals.  Your day will be all of this, but you will also be hiking.

Remember that there are many different tours being offered from Marrakech.  Some offer driving tours and others offer treks.  Make sure that you choose the tour that suits your needs; we knew that we wanted to hike.

Also do remember that not all tours are equal.  Some vehicles aren’t as good, some guides don’t know the mountains, and some tours we heard, were more of a shopping trip.  Do read the reviews before your book and make sure that you end up having the kind of amazing adventure that we had. The tour that we took has over 8,000 excellent reviews and somewhere amongst those you’ll find ours.

arts and craft for sale in the Berber Villages in the Atlas Mountains; I loved these little clay piggies

1. Breakfast Stop At Community Argan Oil Project

Are you like us?  I am always a little bit apprehensive when a tour stops at a ‘local initiative’.  I’m left wondering if we’re about to have a sales-pitch. 

Well this was not like that. So do relax and enjoy your breakfast at this women’s co-operative near Asni.  

Here the Berber women make Argan Oil and use it to create food and cosmetic products; it was one of the by-products of the oil that was used during our Hamman.

We were shepherded into a small, covered terrace area and sitting around little wooden tables, were served fresh warm bread, local honey and a paste that the locals called Argan Nutella but was actually Argan oil mixed with peanuts and walnuts; and was very tasty.  All served with the famous hot sweet Moroccan tea.

After breakfast there was a demonstration on how the oil is made, traditionally by hand.  After you can wander around the little shop.  We rarely buy things when we travel but we did purchase two little bottles of perfumed oil.

This was a good stop and a great way to see and support a local initiative, promoting sustainable practices within the Berber communities.

berber woman making argan oil in the traditional method

2. Hiking In The Imlil Valley

We hiked for around 2 hours in total but that does include the stops.  The hike took us up into the hills above the villages.  The views were stunning and all the while we hiked in the shadow of the snow topped mountains. 

We visited in December and whilst not as green as other times, it was nonetheless spectacular. We were also spoilt with a glorious blue sky and afforded more than a glimpse of the mighty Mount Toubkal, Morocco’s highest peak, at 4,167 metres.

We hiked to a waterfall but the start was a little tough as most of the elevation starts from the car park. 

We were definitely the ‘oldies’ in our group but the guides waited for those at the back.  And the steep section didn’t last too long.

After the elevation comes a much flatter section but still watch your feet as you hike; easier said then done with the amazing views! 

Before long we were rewarded with a waterfall and some freshly squeezed orange juice. This is a little touristy but still very pretty.  We were initially the only group but a second group arrived as we were leaving.

There was plenty of opportunity to pause and take photos before heading back down the trail, this time on a slightly different route to one of villages that we had seen below.

hiking in the atlas mountains, colleen having a pause at the waterfall

Hiking Distance And Elevation Gain On The Berber Villages Trek

I should have put my GPS on and tracked the hike but sadly I didn’t.   However, having searched my app I found what I believe to be the hike;

  • The total distance there and back (without the diversion to the village for lunch) is around 4 kilometres
  • Total elevation to the waterfall is around 77 metres
  • The terrain is a mix of trail, rock and loose sandy gravel and a few wooden bridges to the waterfall

Fitness Level Required For The Berber Villages Trek

We like walking and the trek was not a challenge.  The hill at the start will get your heart pumping but it’s not mountain hiking.  The hike is only around 4 or 5 kilometres, so it’s not a long hike.

I would say that anyone who enjoys a country walk will be good to go.  However, the terrain is rustic in places and I suggest that you at least like rural walking before opting for this trek. 

When I lead groups on the Camino de Santiago, it’s always dog owners who cope best. So if you own a dog then I’m pretty sure you’ll be fit enough for this trek.

Is It Suitable For Beginners Or Only Experienced Hikers?

The answer is that it really depends on your fitness level.   This is not a technically difficult hike.

If you’ve never hiked before, you don’t have appropriate footwear and you’re not particularly fit then you may not enjoy this hike. 

But even if you are new to hiking, with good shoes and if you’re in good shape then it’s not a challenging hike. 

Top Tip : If in any doubt then check with the guide before you book.  I’m not a doctor and I don’t know you.  Be realistic about your fitness.  This is a hike and not a stroll in the park but having said that it’s not a difficult hike.

Hiking Gear Needed For The Berber Villages Trek

The most important thing is to wear sensible footwear.  This is a hike. 

I know that most folks may not travel with hiking boots or shoes but a comfortable pair of flat shoes, like a sport shoe will work for you.   Flip-flops and sandals are a no-no; unless they are specifically hiking sandals.

Apart from sensible footwear I would also suggest :

  • A waterproof jacket depending on the season.  We walked in December and we took a lightweight waterproof jacket.
  • Sunscreen because regardless of the season, it gets hot up in the mountains, even in winter.
  • If it’s really sunny then you may wish to consider a sun hat as you are exposed for part of the hike
  • We travelled with hiking trousers and a t-shirt.  You don’t need hiking gear but I would recommend long trousers and a modest shirt.  The rural villages are more conservative in their culture and women in particular may feel happier covering shoulders and knees.
  • I always travel with a little bottle of anti-bug repellent, as flying biting bugs seem to love me but this is more of a ‘just in case’ rather than needed.
  • We never leave home for a hike without some drinking water.  You can purchase it at the start but we just like to be prepared.
  • Take a camera.  The views are wonderful.
  • There are opportunities to purchase things during the day so take some cash.  Credit cards were not accepted.  
  • If you take or need medication, then do remember to pack this and it never hurts to have some basic first-aid supplies.  These villages are very rural.
Berber village lady with cattle walking along our hiking trail in the atlas mountains

3. Traditional Berber Lunch Of Moroccan Tagines

All that fresh air builds a healthy appetite and our guides led us down from the waterfall, around the villages and into one of the little village houses. 

The house was traditional but all services were modern and spotlessly clean.  We were led up to the terrace and oh my the views were amazing.

We were offered cold water to quench our thirst and the group were left to chat.  This is another aspect of tours that we adore and shouldn’t be overlooked.  The interaction and meeting other travellers is always wonderful.

When lunch was served, we were offered home baked bread and chicken or vegetarian tagines, along with Moroccan salads and freshly made hummus. Just like on our cookery class, there was a lot of food! 

For dessert there was sweet Moroccan cake and fruit washed down with glorious, sweet mint tea.

And after all that food we chatted on the terrace for a while with our guide before packing up and continuing the hike down through dried up river beds and back to another village where our minibus was waiting for us. 

4. Camel Rides and More Hot Tea

Our tour continued on into more remote areas of the Berber Villages.  Our last stop was to be a camel ride in an area of rocky desert on the other side of the mountain pass. 

The road plateaued into a vast landscape, although not the Sahara, the land is dry and we could see forever.  It reminded us of very much of our travels through Jordan.

We had always been concerned that this part of the day was going to be a tad touristy.  At first we considered sitting it out but Karim is joyful and infectious and in the end we dressed in our Berber outfits and headed off to meet our camels.

Gerry wasn’t sure.  He remembered his previous encounter in Wadi Rhum but nonetheless, hopped on and we set off. 

There were five camels tied together with one chap leading. We meandered around the hills for maybe 20 minutes before returning for yet more hot sweet mint tea. 

Ultimately, I’m glad we did the ride.  We laughed a lot. One of our group thought Gerry was called Terry and so we christened him Terence of Arabia; all very silly now but it caused much laughter and jollity and was a good end to our day.

shadows of camels during the Camel Ride in the Desert near Marrakesh Morocco

How Much Does The Berber Villages Trek Cost

Cost will vary depending on the tour that you choose.  We opted for a simple tour, with some hiking and lunch.  It was perfect for us and we felt that it represented excellent value. 

Some tours are longer and some include more than one meal, more than on guide and some offer overnight accommodation. 

Comparing other tours you can expect to pay approximately :

What’s Included In The Berber Villages Trek?

What’s included in your tour will very much depend on the tour that you have chosen, but typically most Berber Village Treks from Marrakech will include :

  • Transport to and from (or near) your hotel in Marrakech
  • Short stop for refreshments
  • Guided walk
  • Traditional lunch
  • Opportunity to visit a community project or village
  • Ours also included the camel ride

Best Time Of Year For A Berber Village Trek

Whilst the air in the mountains is cooler than the city, Morocco still gets very hot in summer.  The best times are undoubtably going to be outside of the heat of July and August.

Spring (March to May) and autumn (September-November) offer pleasant temperatures and while winter brings snow at higher altitudes, December it wasn’t a problem for us.

I read reviews for every month of the year and other visitors talk of their wonderful experiences throughout the seasons

Ultimately, wise hikers will say that there is no such thing as bad weather; just bad clothing.  This maybe true but I still prefer to hike in cooler temperatures.

Resting in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco

Cultural Sensitivities And Etiquette In Berber Villages

Firstly, I want to say that we never experienced any issues during our stay in Morocco.   But it is fair to say that Marrakech offers a different cultural experience than Bordeaux, and the Berber villages perhaps even more so.

  • Be prepared for a different cultural experience but go with it and embrace the local customs
  • Do dress modestly
  • Do ask before taking photos of people or their belongings
  • Do greet locals with a smile
  • Do be open to trying new foods and customs

On all of our travels around the world we’ve found that a smile is a wonderful thing and a great icebreaker.

Is It Worth Doing the Berber Villages Trek For A Day?

Oh Yes!

When we booked our trip to Marrakech we always knew that we wanted to hike in the Atlas Mountains.  Our day was only a short hike but nonetheless we can say that we have hiked in the High Atlas Mountains and that’s rather special.

Apart from the wonderful hike, this day was a special experience. Our guides were excellent and we genuinely felt that we had been given an insight into the Berber culture as well as enjoying the glorious landscape of the Berber villages. 

The journey from Marrakech is easy and a day hike offers a manageable yet rewarding taste of adventure, making this the perfect trip for anyone visiting Marrakech.

hiking to one of the berber villages in the atlas mountains along a dusty road

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel overseas it’s imperative to travel with a good travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve had the mis-fortune to end up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal and Ireland; every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy now for an extended global trip and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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