Home to indigenous Berber tribes, the Aït Bouguemez valley in the High Atlas mountains is a traditional and beautiful part of Morocco. Here’s all you need to know.


Many say Aït Bouguemez is the most beautiful valley in Morocco. Sitting on the terrace of our guest house in Tabant – the main village in the valley – it’s not hard to see why. Golden light floods the valley turning wheat fields luminous against the red rock of the surrounding hills. An irrigations system cuts the valley into symmetrical patterns, glistening occasionally from the steady flow of water that keeps this area so green.

The towering summit of M’Goun massif – the third highest in Morocco at 4071m – dwarfs the steady stream of Berbers making their way home. Woman with backs loaded high with wheat, amble slowly along well-trod paths in the high grass. Behind them, similarly loaded donkeys obediently carry the rest of the days crop.

The Aït Bouguemez valley sits in the northern reaches of the High Atlas mountains. It supports the local Berber people from the patchwork of wheat and barley crops which are run through local cooperatives. The maze of irrigation channels and terraced hills showcase the ingenuity of people still living a traditional way of life and give the valley it’s lovely aesthetic.

A paved road to Aït Bouguemez was only completed at the turn of the century, but the area is still relatively untouched by tourism. With minimal services and traditional rural living, it’s a great way to connect with Moroccan culture and unwind in beautiful scenery.

During the day you can meander through the valley on several easy day hikes, visit a woman’s cooperative and drive some precipitous passes. In the evenings, there’s nothing to do except relax in beautiful surroundings and enjoy Moroccan home cooking.

Here’s what you need to know to visit the Aït Bouguemez valley in Morocco.

BEST THINGS TO DO IN AÏT BOUGUEMEZ VALLEY


CULTURE / Experience the Berbers’ traditional rural living

SUNSETS / Stunning sunset views at Sidi Moussa monument

COOPERATIVES / Understand the women’s artisan cooperative

PEAKS / Take a multi-day hike up Morocco’s third highest peak

HIKES / Meander the beautiful upper and lower Aït Bouguemez valleys

DRIVE / Drive the windy precipitous passes surrounding the valley

DINOSOURS / Visit the fossilised dinosaur footprints

EXPERIENCE THE BERBERS’ TRADITIONAL RURAL LIVING

Berbers are the indigenous pre-Arab North African’s whose lineage can be traced back to 3000BCE. While most Berbers are Muslim, they have their own culture, language and methods of cooking which have remained unchanged for centuries.

Berbers predominately live in the mountains, so Aït Bouguemez is the perfect place to enjoy some traditional indigenous Moroccan hospitality.

The Y-shaped Aït Bouguemez valley is dotted with tiny Berber villages. Except for the main centre of Tabant, these villages are nothing more than small collections of mud huts. Some have a school – identified by the brightly coloured walls that stand out from the mud tones of the rest of the buildings – and a cooperative to help support the local woman. No matter how small, each village has easy access to a nearby mosque.

Built on the slopes above the fields of the valley floor, the villages are a fascinating step back in time. Old residents peak from doors and windows, chickens peck along the narrow laneways, and children play in the dirt while their mothers, with scythe in hand and hay bundled on their backs, work the crops nearby.

It is a reminder of the way of life that almost everyone lived until a few centuries ago.

STUNNING SUNSET VIEWS AT SIDI MOUSSA MONUMENT

Behind the village of Timit, where the three legs of the valley meet, a shrine has been erected to saint Sidi Moussa – a local Muslim holy man revered for his ability to cure infertility. Legend has it that women could leave a garment at the door and spend the night inside to be cured. The legend doesn’t seem to account for any male fertility issues.

The circular earthen building served as a collective granary and has been restored through a community effort. When it’s open, the locals charge Dh10 to come inside and have a cup of tea, but it’s hard to know when that’s going to be on offer.

The real reason to come to the shrine is for the spectacular sunset views. From Tabant, take the road west and park near the École Vivante where it’s a short 10-minute steep climb up to the shrine. You’ll be rewarded with an excellent view of the lower Aït Bouguemez valley. The early evening light illuminates the reddish-brown mountains beautifully.

If you decide to go for this view at sunrise, you’ll be treated to the mist eerily sitting in the valley floor – an ideal backdrop to the very photogenic shrine.

UNDERSTAND THE WOMEN’S ARTISAN COOPERATIVE

For over a millennium, Berbers have been treated as second class citizens to their Arab conquerors. And women as second class citizens to men. So the life of a Berber woman can be particularly tough. Whenever you see a large stack of hay bobbing along the lush green valley, there’s bound to be a woman beneath it. With their superior education and better language skills, the men are often running the guest houses in considerably more comfort.

Such is the hierarchy of life here.

But things are slowly changing. Over the last few years a number of co-operatives have been established by the local women. In these co-ops, the women create various artisanal products and handicrafts to sell in the local markets. It’s offering a source of income free from the backbreaking field work for those who want it.

With over 30 dotted around the valley, it is not hard to come across a co-op. But, finding them open with someone to show you around is a little more challenging. The best options are the Association Ighrem in Agouti, Cooperative Tikniouine in Timit (morning only) or Cooperative Ikhefnighir in the upper valley.

These co-operatives are also moving with the times in an industry that had started to slow their own progress with an oversupply of products. In 2013, the online store Anou was established in the village of Agouti. This community allows woman to sell their products online via a simple app, ensuring a fair price for their work. It has created a ‘fair trade’ movement which is quickly spreading across the villages of the High Atlas mountains.

TAKE A MULTI-DAY HIKE UP MOROCCO’S THIRD HIGHEST PEAK

Jebel M’Goun is Morocco’s third highest peak. At 4,071m it towers over the valley. There are a number of multi-day hikes in the region but the most common is the 3 day hike that leaves from Agouti and collects the summit before arriving back in town.

The other option is the 4 day M’Goun Traverse that leaves Agouti, passes under the flanks of the summit, then descends to the village of Aït Alla. Both routes offer great ridge walks with excellent views.

You can join a pre-organised tour in advance or guides can be rented for Dh400 to 450 a day, either through your accommodation, at the Association Ighrem in Agouti or in the village of Tabant (oboulmane@gmail.com).

However, the summit hike is a very well-trodden route and any reasonably experienced multi-day hiker should not have a problem completing it without a guide. Both nights are spent at Tarkeddit Refuge (2900m) which you should book well ahead of your trip. It has food and bedding, but it’s a good idea to bring a sleeping bag liner. The shower and toilet facilities are not revered for their cleanliness.

MEANDER THE BEAUTIFUL UPPER AND LOWER AÏT BOUGUEMEZ VALLEYS

For those of you (us) who prefer a comfortable bed and a warm shower after a long walk, the lower reaches of the Aït Bouguemez valley is the perfect spot for some great day hikes.

Paths crisscrossing the valley lead into small sleepy villages and cut through the lush green irrigated fields. You pass women working in the fields, shepherds and goatherders in the hills, children running to school and the steady hum of activity around the co-operatives.

It’s a great way to see life in this fascinating place.

Unfortunately, there are no signs and maps have limited detail. The pathways are not built for hikers but for locals going about their business. You can hire a guide for about Dh300 to 350 for half a day to show you around the local area on foot. As we tend to like walking on our own, we spent 3 days meandering up and down the valley putting together a few walks that capture the beauty of the Aït Bouguemez valley.

After getting lost a few times and ending up face down in too many irrigation ditches, we’ve come up with two great half-day hikes which you can do on your own. You can find all the details on our hiking in Aït Bouguemez valley post.

DRIVE THE WINDY PERCIPITOUS PASSES SURROUNDING THE VALLEY

For many years the Aït Bouguemez valley could only be accessed by gravel tracks, making it the domain of mules, donkeys and 4x4s. But two paved roads now wind their way to the valley and both offer truly magnificent mini-road trips.

To the west of the valley very narrow roads with precipitous drops, meander past craggy mountains and through steep-sided valleys. The quality of the roads are good but being marginally wider than the average vehicle, they can be a bit nail-biting in places.

The two most beautiful sections are the R302 running north from Agouti through the villages of Ighir and Tamernout and the same road heading west from Agouti to Aït Blal (1hour 15 minutes). Aït Blal also has a fascinating Saturday souk where you can experience a very local mark. There’s no souvenirs at this market; this is shopping strictly for local necessities. But if you’re looking to make a purchase you can get everything from live chickens to sheep’s heads. Or simply have your donkey reshod as you look around.

Visitors are welcome at the market and most people will carry-on without giving you much attention. A few people might be persistent in offering you a guided tour of the market. You may need to say no several times.

The roads leading out the eastern side of the Aït Bouguemez valley are a mixture of paved road and gravel track and it would be wise to have a 4×4 to explore this area. This part of the valley is more barren and less spectacularly jagged. But, continue on for a couple of hours and you will be greeted by the remarkable landscapes of Ahansal.

VISIT THE FOSSILISED DINOSAUR FOOTPRINTS

Just outside Tabant, embedded in the rock are the fossilised footprints of dinosaurs. There are two types on display. Oval footprints belonging to a herbivorous quadrupedal sauropod and a three-toed footprint belonging to a carnivorous bipedal theropod.

We thought having dinosaur footprints was a pretty big thing for sleepy Aït Bouguemez. And it probably is, but the footprints are hard to spot. Very hard to spot. After several minutes studying the information board, carefully following a line of sight and looking extremely intently, we weren’t sure if we actually saw them.

It could have been some badly levelled concrete but we convinced ourselves, quite successfully, that we did, in fact, see the herbivorous quadrupedal sauropod.

Why would you bother coming to see the fossilised dinosaur footprints in Aït Bouguemez? Because if this tiny little village of nothing more than a few mud huts has such an important archaeological find right beside someone’s rubbish pile, it’s something you want to see.

The fossils are in the village of Ibaqalliwn just east of Tabant. To get to them, take the clearly visible stone staircase leading up the side of a Kasbah and after about 30 steps turn right through a tunnel. An information board and (possibly!) the footprints will be in front of you.

WHERE TO STAY IN THE AÏT BOUGUEMEZ VALLEY

There are a number of good options for staying in the area.

TOUDA ECOLODGE / If you like being on your own off the beaten track then Touda Ecolodge in Zawyat Oulmzi is the place for you. The lodge is at the far north eastern part of the valley down a rutted piste in the village of Zaouiat Oulmzi. A great base for fine Berber hospitality and taking guided hikes into the mountains. A 2WD car will just about make it, but you’ll feel a lot more confident in a 4×4.

DAR SI HAMMOU / Just outside the main village of Tabant, Dar Si Hammou is an atmospheric riad with a super friendly and considerate host. It’s perfectly located to explore Sidi Moussa marabout, hike the upper and lower valleys and visit the many villages and their cooperatives. Its rooms are beautifully decorated with traditional Berber stylings and the terrace overlooks the valley fields.

GITE TAWADA / For a sound cheap option head to Gite Tawada. It’s well-located facing the main road in the village of Imelghas and the friendly host will be a great guide throughout your stay.

HOW TO GET TO AÏT BOUGUEMEZ VALLEY

If you’re travelling by car, the Aït Bouguemez valley can be accessed via paved roads from either Azilal or Demnate relatively easily.

AZILAL / From Azilal head south to Aït Mohammed where you should take the right-hand turn signposted to Aït Bouguemez. This dramatic single lane road, often with precipitous drops on one side, cuts through some magnificent High Atlas scenery. It takes 1 hour and 50 minutes to reach Agouti at the western end of the valley.

DEMANTE / From Demnate head east on the paved R302 through Iouariden and Aït Blal. It takes 2 hours and 40 minutes to reach Agouti along the single-lane road. Both routes are fine for most of the journey but the surface deteriorates significantly as you go through towns or cross the course of stream and rivers. A 2WD could make the journey but it would be slower and obviously more uncomfortable. In particular, the Demnate route can be impassable after heavy rain as the road can get washed away. It does, however, get fixed very quickly.

The valley can also be accessed at the eastern end by taking the left-hand turn at Aït Mohammed or via the track to Ahansal. But while some sections are paved, there is still gravel roads to negotiate so you will need a 4×4.

To help you navigate the area, install the maps.me app onto your phone and download the map Morocco South. Without data it will give your route directions and times and track your progress. You should also download custom maps offline in google.

BUS / Mini-buses run both from Azilal to Tabant (Dh35) and from Demnate to Tabant (Dh50). The buses leave whenever they are full, so there is no timetable. But there should be at least one a day. Taxis can also be hired to run you up and down the valley and to neighbouring towns.


AÏT BOUGUEMEZ VALLEY MAP

Here is our map of things to do in the Aït Bouguemez valley. It shows the hikes we took, places to stay, views to capture and a few other bits and pieces. To save our map, click on the star to the right of the title – this will save the map to: YOUR PLACES -> MAPS in Google Maps.

WHEN TO VISIT THE AÏT BOUGUEMEZ VALLEY

The valley is at its most beautiful in spring when flowers line the valley floor and the crops are a bright green. However in early spring snow can be slow to melt and high rainfall can wash away the rock that supports the roads, making them impassable.

We suggest you visit Aït Bouguemez from early-April to late May.

After this timeframe the temperatures start to rise, the wheat and barley turn brown and the snow leaves the tops of the mountains making the whole scene slightly less picturesque.

After the summer temperatures drop, mid-September to mid-October can also be a good time to visit although the colours are not as vibrant as in spring.

While not essential it is also worth considering Ramadan within your travel plans. Morocco is a very religious country and a month of fasting means guides are not keen to take long hikes and local cafes and cooperatives are often closed.

For 2020 Ramadan will be from 23 April to 23 May and for 2021 it will be from 12 April to 11 May.

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PRACTICALITIES FOR VISITING AÏT BOUGUEMEZ VALLEY

One of the many appeals of the Aït Bouguemez valley is that the way of life remains very traditional. Modern conveniences haven’t graced the valley and very little has changed over the years. This means it’s a very relaxing place; ideally to disconnect and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

But it also mean that there are not a lot of facilities. So it’s best to come prepared.

MONEY / There is a bank building in Tabant but it is not operational. There is no ATM and credit cards are not really accepted in the valley. So bring enough cash for your entire visit keeping in mind you might need to pay for your accommodation in cash. For emergencies Western Union or other wire transfer methods can be used at Tabant’s post office.

PETROL / There is no petrol station in the valley. The nearest fuel is at Azilal (1hour 50 minutes) or Demnate (2 hours and 40 minutes) so fill up before you head here. Luckily, you don’t need to drive too much once you’re in the valley. Just need enough to get in and out with a little extra as an insurance premium.

FOOD / Almost all accommodation serves set menu meals. There are a few basic shops and some cafes in Tabant, but we were there during Ramadan and none of them were open, so we can’t vouch for their quality. The food at guesthouses, however, was generally good everywhere we stayed. As it’s very much home cooking you should let them know in advance if you have any dietary requirements – they won’t have a huge selection of food on hand.

WI-FI / Some cafes and accommodation may have wi-fi but this is definitely not a given. If you really can’t live without wi-fi check with your guesthouse before you book. Our host kindly left his phone out every morning while we had breakfast so we could download a few emails. That was the extent of our internet coverage in Aït Bouguemez.

LANGUAGE / The main language is Berber, supported by a little French. There is very little English spoken. Given that there is also very little internet, it’s a good idea to download French in Google Translate so you’ve at least got something to reference in those tricky conversations. Unless you’re fluent in Berber of course.

TOURIST SERVICES / Your accommodation is the best bet for booking guides and other services. Otherwise Aomar Boumane (oboulmae@gmail.com) offers services out of an office in Tabant and Dar Afra guesthouse can provide guides for trekking in the valley and meeting Berber villagers and nomads.

WHERE NEXT?

There are some great destinations for hiking in Morocco and exploring local life. Like Aït Bouguemez the Ouirgane valley is only just being discovered and there are a couple of great day hikes and some stunning Berber villages.

There is also some magnificent scenery and hiking around the Dades Valley and Todra Gorge. Both are worth spending time exploring in more detail rather than just driving up and down and hopping out of the car.

Here’s some more reading from us you might enjoy:

OUR FEZ WALKING TOUR

MOROCCO ROAD TRIP

DRIVING IN MOROCCO

If you have any questions please leave them in the comments section below – we will always reply. To stay up to date with our travels, follow us on social and signup to our NEWSLETTER.

The Aït Bouguemez valley in the Atlas Mountains is a less visited but beautiful part of Morocco. Visit traditional Berber villages, hike in stunning scenery and relax in atmospheric riads. Where to stay and what to do in Aït Bouguemez. #morocco #atlasmountains

The Aït Bouguemez valley in the Atlas Mountains is a less visited but beautiful part of Morocco. Visit traditional Berber villages, hike in stunning scenery and relax in atmospheric riads. Where to stay and what to do in Aït Bouguemez. #morocco #atlasmountains

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