Abandoned villages and curious blue rocks in serene Tafraoute
During this trekking tour you will experience the tranquility and beauty of the Anti-Atlas. We visit the pleasant and relaxed little town Tafraoute and hike through the gorgeous Ameln Valley with its abandoned villages nestled below the majestic Mount Lkest. On our way, we pass palm groves and small gorges, and if we are lucky we will spot the shy gazelle. One of the highlights of this trek are the amazing giant rocks, including the Painted Rocks, just south of Tafraoute.
The tour day by day
Day one: Agadir or Marrakech – Tafraoute
The drive from Agadir to Tafraoute takes 3,5 to 4 hours. After the halfway point the scenic road snakes up the mountain and we pass a series of fortified Kasbah villages before reaching the starting point for our trek.
A different alternative is to start in Marrakech. The drive to Tafraoute then goes through the stunningly beautiful Oued Nfis Valley and up over the Tizi’n Test pass at 2 092 meters. On this full-day drive, we stop for a visit at the highly interesting Tin Mal Mosque, which is on the UNESCO Tentative World Heritage list.
After checking into our hotel in Tafraoute in the late afternoon, we have time for a walk in this pleasant and relaxed little town. Tafraoute has a reputation for its locally handmade slippers and sandals, and also for its Argan oil products, so you might be tempted to do some shopping at the local market.
Day two: Tafraoute – Oumesnat (5,5 to 6 trekking hours)
We begin the trekking tour by walking through Tafraoute which lies at 1 200 meters on the south side of the Ameln Valley. In the outskirts of the town we walk through a small grove of palm trees, past some beautiful reddish coloured rock formations and get a good view when looking back towards Tafraoute.
After a few hundred meters climbing upwards, we arrive at a pass, and from here spectacular vistas open towards the gorgeous Ameln Valley. Before us we have the long and imposing Mount Lkest with all its beautiful villages nestled in the green vegetation under the escarpment. Mount Lkest is the highest mountain range in the area with peaks up to 2 300 meters high. Up on the mountain side the distinctive “Lion´s Face” can be seen looking down on us.
From the pass we follow the path downwards into the valley, through a landscape dotted with Argan trees and past a little oasis where the frogs croak in the water. After having crossed a little-used road, we wander through another lovely palm grove.
The villages in Ameln Valley are more or less abandoned because of long periods of drought and the resulting lack of water. Farming has become very difficult and most of the inhabitants have been forced to move to other parts of Morocco, or to other countries to make a living. Many of the former inhabitants have built new houses they can spend holidays in or return to as retirees. So what we see is a mixture of modern houses and abandoned ones, some of the latter dilapidated or in ruins, but still beautiful in their faded state of disrepair.
Today´s stretch of the trek ends in the village of Oumesnat which lies surrounded by palm trees at the foot of Mount Lkest. Close to the village mosque lies a traditional dwelling, nowadays preserved as an interesting local museum. We are told about the local culture and learn, among other things, about the traditional black dresses that are still worn by the women of the region.
If we have chosen to camp, we pitch our tents outside the village, with beautiful views of the Lkest massif. The mountain side stands as a scenic backdrop behind the rose, red and clay-coloured houses that mingle with the colours of the mountain side in the late afternoon sun. Those who stay overnight in a hotel, get picked up for transport back to Tafraoute.
Day three: Oumesnat – Ait Oussin (5,5 to 6 trekking hours)
Our route today starts along a gravel road bordered by olive trees and large cactuses. We continue through the valley along the Lkest massif and pass some more peaceful villages. Perhaps we will stop in the village Imin Tizerht to drink a glass of Moroccan mint tea and visit the handicraft shop of the local women´s collective.
We continue over a riverbed, dry for the most part, and then cross the same little-used road as the day before. Afterwards we begin to climb up a gentle slope, where a few Argan trees grow. The Argan tree is in danger of extinction and it grows in the wild only in south-western Morocco. The exclusive Argan oil that comes from the fruit of this tree, is used to heal skin diseases, in beauty products, and in cooking.
After less than a 2-hour climb, fantastic views appear behind us in the direction of the Lkest massif, “The Lion’s” eyes still follow us from above, and in the valley below peaceful villages lie spread out. We soon get to a plateau where we walk along a small gravel road, and the Lkest mountain range soon disappears behind us.
The landscape changes character and becomes barren and solitary. We see no villages, only single bushes and trees that break off the desolate landscape. Towards the end of the day we pass some isolated villages. If we have chosen to camp, we then pitch our tents on the terraced fields just outside the village of Ait Oussin. The rest of us go back to the hotel in Tafraoute, just as we will each following day.
Day four: Ait Oussin – Oyerd (5,5 to 6 trekking hours)
Today we set out by walking up a gentle slope towards the Tizi Oyerd pass at 2 100 meters. We walk along a small path past terraced almond-tree plantations, and follow a dry riverbed surrounded by low mountains. If we are lucky, we may get a glimpse of the shy gazelle or perhaps a fox, in this solitary landscape.
Just before the short upward climb to the pass, we go by an almost completely deserted village. From here we again have a wide-stretched view back towards the majestic Lkest massif. On the other side of the pass, the character of the landscape shifts again and we hike over a broad and stony plateau. Beautiful views open up revealing the mountains that lie around us, and we walk on down a gentle slope.
On our way to tonight´s camp we pass a few houses with gardens, where the remaining villagers struggle to get their crops to grow in the unfruitful earth. We pitch camp between almond and fig trees outside the village of Oyerd, at about 1 600 meters. At twilight we watch the setting sun colour Oyerd and the mountains behind, in golden tones.
Day five: Oyerd – Painted Rocks (approx. 4 trekking hours)
We start today´s stretch by hiking downwards a few hundred meters and after a while we follow a footpath that winds down through a beautiful little ravine. Different kinds of cactuses grow here, and farther down we become surrounded by palm trees and oleander bushes. Watching the mountain sides along the ravine we have new opportunities to sight the shy gazelle.
Just before lunch, we cross a new country road and approach a very expansive and desert-like landscape, with giant rocks in the most fantastically varied and fanciful shapes. Fascinating bright blue, turquoise and rose-coloured boulders surprise us, where they stand in sharp contrast to the warm earthen-coloured landscape around them. These are the so-called “Painted Rocks”, a most unusual and almost surreal art installation, originally executed in the 1980s by the Belgian artist Jean Verame.
Tonight we will camp close to some of these curiously painted rocks. When the evening sun goes down, and the colours are at their most intense, we may climb up a hill close by. From here we again can see the Lkest massif as a backdrop towards the North, and enjoy stunning views and the strange beauty of the rocks.
Day six: Painted Rocks – Tafraoute (3,5 to 4 trekking hours)
The time has come to close the circle and turn back towards Tafraoute. We leave our campsite and the cool painted rocks behind us, and walk along over a flat and open landscape in the direction of Mount Lkest.
After a while the path goes downwards and we again see new and fascinating rocks and boulders in the most amazing shapes and figures, sculpted by weather, wind, and the course of time. Just as we did yesterday we see giant stone blocks stacked on one another and building unusual pyramids and intriguing figures. Large cactus bushes border the path which takes us more and more steeply down to a little oasis with some palm trees.
At the end of today’s trek, we pass the village of Tazka with its red mosque and from here we have a fine view over Tafraoute. Just before we arrive in Tafraoute, we make a short stop to look at some ancient animal rock-carvings.
Those who are returning to Agadir are driven there after lunch in Tafraoute. Those who are instead finishing off be being taken to Marrakech, can expect a lovely afternoon and evening in Tafraoute and thereafter a day going back by car.