Northern Africa’s Tallest Peak
Morocco is magical—and climbing Jbel Toubkal, the highest mountain in Northern Africa, is one of its most spellbinding experiences. But it’s no small feat; it takes will, determination, and a spirit of adventure—not to mention a sturdy pair of hiking shoes and strong legs. The best time to go is during the late spring and summer, when you can ascend without special climbing skills or equipment.
Just 64km (40 miles) south of Marrakesh, the eco-friendly Kashbah du Toubkal—a secluded mountain retreat run by the local Berber community—makes a perfect starting point for your trek and feels much farther than it is from the bustling city. Unless you recognize it from Martin Scorsese’s film Kundun, arriving at this “Berber hospitality center” feels like uncovering a hidden palace. For the 90-minute ride from Marrakesh, you can take a bus or hire a car and driver. Toward the end of the journey, you’ll wind along a steep mountain road until you reach the village of Imil, where it’s time to start using your legs.
Along with a guide and a couple of mules to carry your luggage, your adventure begins. You’ll walk for 15 minutes or so along a gravel path, up some stairs, into a grassy garden, and finally through the kasbah’s heavy wooden doors. On the terrace, as you sip a small glass of sweet mint tea, you’ll see the snow-capped peak of Jbel Toubkal in the distance. It takes about 2 days from here to reach the summit at 4,167m (13,665 ft.).
The journey begins with a fairly steep zigzag route to an easier roadway that takes you through a small gorge, past the village of Aremd. After crossing into a valley of fields and orchards, you’ll continue trekking for about 2 hours, along the mountain paths with only sparse vegetation, sheep, and goats until you reach Sidi Chamharouch (2,320m/7,612 ft.). There are several small shops and cafes at this settlement, as well as a white-roofed mosque and water that is supposed to have healing powers. About 2 hours later, you’ll approach Neltner Hut. If you’d rather not sleep in the tented encampment here, which is quite nice by camping standards, you can arrange accommodations in a local Berber family’s home or at the Toubkal Lodge.
The next day, hiking begins again after crossing a small river gorge and walking up a steep slope for about 2 hours until you reach Tizi-n-Toubkal (3,940m/12,927 ft.). The altitude here can make you dizzy and nauseous, so remember to walk slowly and drink plenty of water as you follow the mountain ridge for another 3 to 4 hours until you reach the summit.
At the summit are a large, iron, pyramidal structure and excellent views—haze and weather permitting. Look toward the south, where you can see the Saharan plateau broken by the extinct volcano Siroua. After you descend, plan to spend another night at the kasbah and relax your tired muscles with a long scrub in the beautiful hammam (Morocan bath).
Moroccan Tourist Office ( 212/537-67-4013 or 212/537-3918; www.visitmorocco.com).
Tour: Mountain Voyage Morocco ( 212/524-42-1996; www.mountain-voyage.com).
When to Go: Apr–Oct.
$$–$$$ Kasbah du Toubkal, Imil ( 33/052-905-0135; www.kasbahdutoubkal.com).