Kasbah du Toubkal – Luxury Trekking in the High Atlas

As we sit sipping sweet mint tea gazing out the sculpted slopes of the Imlil Valley, the call to prayer echoes up from the Berber villages below. I adjust the cushy pillows around me and lean out to take in the mountain panorama that surrounds the Kasbah du Toubkal. Behind our hill-top refuge rises the barren, rocky peak of Mt. Toubkal, which at 4,167 m (13,670 ft) ranks as the highest mountain in North Africa. Opposite us, a wondrous waterfall pours into an oasis of walnut, apple, and – most importantly – cherry trees. It’s literally raining cherries in the valley below.

When trekkers talk dream destinations, the conversations often turn to distant lands such as Nepal, northern India, Tibet or Peru. Scanning our archives will prove that these reputations are well deserved. But trekkers-in-the-know keep a few dazzling finds to themselves, off-the-beaten-track treasures where the hiking enthusiast can walk the trails without the crowds. One of the best kept secrets Continue…

Shades of Merzouga

Merzouga is one of Morocco’s top desert destinations. The sweeping dune sea, which has been featured in films such as The Prince of Persia and The Mummy, is where everyone comes to live out their desert dreams. Of course, we showed up in the middle of a series of raging sandstorms with blistering 105+ temperatures, so our desert dream felt a bit more like a very sandy, very hot hallucination.

Yes, we spent a great deal of our time in our hotel room watching the dunes push their way through the gap under our door. When the winds dropped a bit, me moved to the hotel restaurant and sipped mint tea with clouds of sand swirling around us as the hotel owner sat staring out an open door wondering aloud why his hotel was so empty. (Gee, I wonder why!) On two occasions, the wind stopped and we ran out the door into the Continue…

Ait Benhaddou and the Oases

If our lead picture looks familiar, it’s probably because it is one of the most filmed locations in Morocco. The ksar (fortified village) of Ait Benhaddou has been popping up in movies for decades. From The Man Who Would Be King to The Mummy to Gladiator, Ait Benhaddou is arguably Morocco’s most celebrated big screen legend. And if you are a Game of Thrones fan, this is the epic city of Yunkai (minus the giant CGI pyramids.) Can you believe it, we’ve visited Yunkai and Astapor in the same trip?

The UNESCO world heritage site was our entry point to the river valleys and remote oases of the Moroccan Sahara. The whole region is a playground for culture junkies and adventure travel fans. We grabbed another rental car in Ouarzazate, Morocco’s desert take on Hollywood, and set out on an epic seven-day exploration winding and bumping our way from ksar to ksar, kasbah to kasbah. I would officially like to thank Thomas for Continue…

Reveling in Taroudant

We came for Morocco’s best preserved city wall and wished we had stayed longer for the food. Yes, Taroudant regularly makes it into lists of the world’s top walled cities (and you know I love those.) It’s stunning pisé walls studded with crenelated towers and gates stretch for eight kilometers. We explored them in one of the local horse-drawn caleches and wound our way through the fortified kasbah district on foot thinking that the fabulous fortifications would be the highlight of our visit to the city. But that was before we found Riad Maryam. Continue…

Discovering Tafraoute and the Ameln Valley

At the heart of the Anti-Atlas lies Tafraoute, a town situated on a beautiful boulder-strewn plain which is perfect for hiking and long walks. Just a few kilometers down the road, the Ameln Valley beckons with towering granite mountains and crumbling villages. Locals are noticeably more conservative here. Women dress in long black veils trimmed with tribal embroidery, their colorfully flamboyant shoes embroidered to indicate marriage status. On several occasions, as we were driving around, older women actually stopped walking along the road and turned their backs to us as we drove by. Wow! Continue…

Entering the Anti-Atlas

From Mirleft, we wound our way up into the exotic Anti-Atlas Mountains, a southern extension of the better known Atlas range. The desert mountainscapes here are harsh and extraordinary with huge geological uplifts and vertical layers of earth that leave visitors gasping at every turn. Overloaded trucks, goat herds, and psycho Moroccan drivers barreling down the middle of the road also leave them gasping. (Thomas dodged and weaved like a pro!)

When I first visited this remote region in 1989, the slopes were dotted with beautiful peach-colored mud villages full of traditional families living the way they had lived for generations. The adobe architecture was carefully maintained and houses were decorated with white outlines and gorgeous tribal designs. We discovered that in the last 27 years a lot has changed. Many of the picturesque villages have Continue…

Witnessing Legzira

Working our way south from Essaouira, we stopped in Agadir overnight to pick up a rental car for our explorations of southern Morocco’s Souss region. From Agadir, we drove south via the walled city of Tiznit. (Tiznit was where we suddenly realized we literally had no idea where or how to park in Morocco! We improvised.) After exploring the walls and checking out the town’s crazy minaret, which seems to be sprouting branches, we wound down the barren yet beautiful coast to our real destination Legzira Beach near the town of Mirleft Continue…

Kicking Back in Essaouira

Just a few hours to the west, the walled city of Essaouira has a much more relaxed vibe than frenetic Marrakesh. Perhaps, it’s the seaside setting, or quite possibly its the town’s history as a key destination on the hippie trail. Both Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens found their way here in the ’60s, and – more importantly – I happened through in the late ’80s. If those ramparts look a little familiar, that might be because they were used in Orson Welles’ Othello and they pop up in Continue…

Escaping to Riad Les Yeux Bleus

Yes, Marrakesh is madness, mayhem and pure melodrama, so of course we totally love it! But even for culture-chaos junkies like us, there are moments when you just need an oasis of calm. To be honest, every single time I left the medina, we really needed a place to chill. Luckily, many of the city’s old riads, traditional Moroccan houses or palaces, have been converted into luxurious boutique hotels which make for the perfect place to hide away (especially when it is 100 F outside!!!) Continue…

Marrakesh Madness

Twenty-seven years ago, I told my parents I was going on a camping trip to Wisconsin with my friend Robin. Instead, I secretly took off on a wild adventure to Morocco, which marked the beginning of a lifetime of independent travel. Now, I have returned with Thomas to relive a bit of those early days and dive back into one of the craziest, most colorful adventure travel destinations on the planet. Continue…