Why go to the Sahara? Paul Bowles, in his essay Baptism of Solitude, suggests:
The answer is that when a man has been there and undergone the baptism of solitude he can’t help himself. Once he has been under the spell of the vast, luminous, silent country, no other place is quite strong enough for him, no other surroundings can provide the supremely satisfying sensation of existing in the midst of something that is absolute. He will go back, whatever the cost in comfort or money, for the absolute has no price.
The Sahara has a magic all its own that draws you to experience a night under the stars, to climb the dunes to watch the sun rise, to ride a camel to a nomad camp in the solitude. A two-day stay is best: on arrival, stay in a hotel on the edge of the dunes. Next day, explore the Berber villages and experience life in the desert. Late afternoon, take a camel ride to a nomad camp and stay in a goat-hair tent. Watch the sun set, have dinner under the stars and enjoy some music round the campfire. At dawn, wake to watch the sun rise and take a camel ride back to the hotel.
We have longer journeys by camel, too. You can also take a 4×4, but we don’t recommend quadbikes as they can destroy the fragile environment.
Walking and trekking
The High Atlas Mountains with its gorges, high plateaux and kasbah villages nestling in the valleys, the Middle Atlas to the north and the Anti-Atlas to the south form a spine running down the length of Morocco. Eastwards into the Sahara lies the dry Jebel Sahro, and to the north abutting the Mediterranean coast, lies the green and verdant Rif. There is a wealth of walking and trekking in these mountains, from half a day to five days or more. Guides are well-trained and knowledgeable and there are mules to carry packs when necessary. Many routes take you to villages and farms where you can interact with local Berbers and stay in their homes. Gîtes are comfortable though rustic, and bathrooms shared. Hot water? Maybe. Great ambience and good food? Definitely.
Treks of varying lengths can also be arranged on horseback, by camel or by mountainbike.
In the Middle Atlas mountains, you’ll find the Ifrane National Park between the towns of Ifrane and Azrou. Be part of an exciting eco-tourism project to monitor the local population of Barbary Apes or macaques. The programme, called MonkeyWatch, is run by the Moroccan Primate Conservation Foundation, in partnership with the Barbary Macaque Project and run by the School of Psychology, University of Lincoln (UK).
The primary aim is to help protect, monitor and conserve the endangered Barbary macaque in an area of prime habitat for the species – the mixed cedar and oak forests of Ifrane National Park, Morocco.
We offer visitors the unique opportunity to come and carry out fieldwork in the forest. Experienced guides will introduce you to some of the survey techniques used to count the number of monkeys and will help you understand more about their behaviour in the wild. As an added bonus, you will get to visit parts of the exquisite National Park that you wouldn’t normally see.
It’s best to take a full day for this activity, or even stay overnight in Azrou or Ifrane. We’ll organise transport from Fez. There’s a very early start into the forest with a trained guide, where you will experience some of the survey techniques used to monitor macaque numbers and behaviour.
You will take part in what is known as a transect, which means you have to follow a straight line, using either a GPS or compass, and count how many times you come across macaques along the path, always keeping a certain distance from the primates. This enables researchers to estimate the density of macaques in the area through a process known as distance sampling.
The distance covered will be no longer than 3,5 kilometers and will probably cover hilly and uneven terrain. Basic fitness is required.
Observation of the behaviour of a habituated troop of macaques provides a great way to learn about their daily lives while collecting data that is important for their conservation. If you book a full day (8:00am – 17:30pm – transect and behavioural observations) the behavioural observation will take place in the afternoon. Join us for the full day and enjoy lunch with a local family.
(photo courtesy MonkeyWatch)
With such a diverse topography and climate, it’s not surprising that Morocco is a paradise for twitchers: 454 species have been recorded and 209 regularly breed here. And every year millions of European birds migrate to or pass through Morocco in spring and autumn. There are the northern mountains and Mediterreanan coast with their impressive raptors and storks; the wetlands and lagoons of the Atlantic coast, the forests of the Rharb, the mountains of the Souss and, of course, the desert. Endangered or rare species include Bald Ibis, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Tawny Eagle, Eleonora’s Falcon, and African Marsh Owl, as well as other species such as Dupont’s Lark, Moussier’s Redstart, Desert Warbler, Black-crowned Tchagra, and Desert Sparrow. We have expert guides on hand and can offer delightful accommodation in the best birding spots.
Top tips: Moulay Bousselham and Ouarzazate.
Explore the Mediterrean coast of Morocco by basing yourself in Al Hoceima. It’s a magnificent coastline, still largely unspoilt, and boasts a little-visited National Park that has trekking routes and homestays with local Berbers.
Pirates built bases all along the Atlantic coast to terrorise shipping and trade in slaves and gold. Their forts survive: south of Tangier, the small town of Asilah was home to the pirate Rassouli. Today it sports a pristine medina with interesting art galleries, an Arts Festival in July and excellent fish restaurants. We have superb accommodation available in private houses.
Spanish-influenced Larache and adjacent Roman ruins of Lixus are rarely visited. Nearby is the small village of Moulay Bousselham with its lagoon and beautiful beach, perfect for relaxing and birdwatching. Comfortable guesthouses are available in these towns.
It was Portuguese pirates who built El Jadida’s coastal fort with its serenely beautiful cistern, and nearby Azemmour that artists love for the quality of its light. Oualidia has splendid beaches and abudant oysters. We have stylish guesthouses in these coastal towns.
Essaouira is famous for its pretty medina and the blue boats in the fishing port, its long beach perfect for wind- and kitesurfing and its wealth of good restaurants and guesthouses. Ride camels in nearby Diabat or try the surf in Sidi Kaouki. From Essaouira, take a half-day trip to the Sunday souk to see how local people still ply ancient trades, or there’s a full-day trip south to a women’s co-operative producing argan oil.
In the far south, Sidi Ifni beckons, with its magnificent beaches, crenellated buildings alongside relics of the Spanish occupation.