Experience Authentic Morocco

Experience Authentic Morocco: Day 1 off the Beaten Path

In Adventure Travel, Travel by Jenny Cavcic66 Comments

Believe it or not, you haven’t really experienced authentic Morocco unless you’ve traveled off the country’s beaten path through the Atlas Mountains. This is the Morocco that deserves the most recognition for its immeasurable beauty and traditionalism.

You hear a lot about Marrakech, Fes, Tangir, Rabat and other charming Moroccan cities. But the finest gems lie in the land of the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert. This is the Morocco that left the biggest impact on me as a traveler and individual. It’s the land of traditional Moroccan Berbers, where you’ll experience their fascinating culture and relive history.

Our guide, Mohammed, arrived early that morning. His scent, a fresh mix of dates, honey and musky oud. Oud (or oudh) is the oil from agarwood. It’s used in Arabic countries as perfume. “Assalamu Alaykum, I am so pleased to meet you,” he said beaming from ear to ear. He helped us with our things and off we drove into the most authentic parts of Morocco.

Authentic Morocco: Life in the High Atlas Mountains

The High Atlas Mountains are a series of the greatest mountain ranges in North Africa. Undoubtedly, they make up the most beautiful region of Morocco. They are also home to the Berbers, the indigenous Moroccan people. In fact, around 80% of all Moroccans are born Berber. But, only about half of them live the authentic Berber lifestyle.

Experience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas Mountains

The road at the onset of Tizi n’Tichka and our drive through the Atlas mountains.

Experience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas Mountains

A scene from the drive through the Atlas Mountains. This was in February, so the higher we got the more snow we saw.

Experience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas Mountains

Driving through the High Atlas Mountains was one of the highlights of my Moroccan experience. I’ve never seen this kind of natural beauty anywhere in my life. The stark contrast of colours in the landscape is mesmerizing. But the zebra-like layers of rock formation simply blew my mind. It looks like it belongs on another planet.

Experience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas Mountains

You can slightly see the coloured layers in the rock formation. In some areas that we passed, the stark and contrasting colours are more prominent. I couldn’t capture as much of it in photos while we were driving, but it’s a must see!

Experience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas Mountains

Far away from Morocco’s urban core, life is simple here. Homes and mosques made of mud, sand and straw lay the foundation for Berber villages. Berbers wander along mule paths carrying large pales of water and milk back to their homes. Both ancient and fascinating, this is the authentic Morocco that Marrakech or any other city can’t offer. It’s North Africa’s leading destination for hikers, mountaineerers and adventurers seeking to experience life on the road less traveled.

Authentic Morocco: Kasbah du Pacha el Glaoui of Telouet

As we drove along the Tizi-N-Tichka pass through the Atlas mountains, I felt a sudden wave of nausea. The serpentine road and change in altitude got to me. Mohammed stopped for a quick break and fresh air at the village of Telouet.

Across from us was a rundown and what seemed like a very old fortress. Mohammed pointed out that it’s actually fairly young and built in the early 20th century. The people hated the despot leader, el Glaoui, who had built it and lived in it. After his death, a mob looted the Kasbah and left it torn apart. We opted in for a private tour.

Experience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas Mountains

Approaching the village of Telouet, you can see the gorgeous Kasbah to the left. It doesn’t look torn apart from this side.

Some parts of the Kasbah are properly looked after. There are several gorgeous rooms that represent Moorish architecture and Andalusian style. But unfortunately, many areas are collapsing. The decaying passageways make it difficult to see and walk through. But the maintained areas illustrate the luxury and beauty of local architecture.

Rarely do travelers find their way to it. But, the Kasbah is a gem that waits to be explored before it crumbles down.

Experience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas Mountains

Notice the Stork Nests on the high walls of the Kasbah.

Experience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas MountainsExperience Authentic Morocco

Experience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas Mountains

Andalusian/Moorish architecture. This is the style of architecture that is also found in the Alhambra Palace built by the Moors in Granada, Spain.

Experience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas Mountains

Experience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas Mountains

This is a shot taken from the terrace at the top of the Kasbah.

Experience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas MountainsExperience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas Mountains

Authentic Morocco: When Nature Calls …

After scrambling our way out of the Kasbah, I decided that it would be smart to visit the public bathroom before getting into Mohammed’s 4×4. I’ll spare you the hideous details of what I found when I walked in. Let’s just say it was a like a war-zone in there and not for the faint-hearted. But I managed to come out alive and a stronger individual with an experience that’ll stay with me for life…

A quick note to travelers regarding washroom breaks in the Berber Villages. Unless you’re stopping into a restaurant or hotel, prepare to pay for using the public washrooms. Also make sure to have following on you:

  • Water – Stock up on water bottles because the public bathrooms don’t have running water.
  • Hand sanitizer – Liquid or wipes are fine.
  • Toilet paper – Buy a few rolls in the market before you leave for your trip. You won’t find any in the bathrooms either.
  • A strong heart – Need I say more?
Authentic Morocco: Lights, Camera and… Ait Benhaddou
Experience Authentic in the Atlas Mountains

Ksar Ait Benhaddou from the other side of the dried up river. The rocks form your path to the Ksar.

At the foothills of the High Atlas mountains, lies an authentic ancient Moroccan town. The Ksar Ait Benhaddou was once a busy trading post along the route that linked ancient Sudan to Marrakesh. Today this fortified town stands abandoned, with only a few Berber families living in it.

As a UNESCO world heritage site, Ait Benhaddou holds a lot of historical importance. The techniques used to build the Ksar are traced back to the 17th century. It’s a fascinating example of pre-Saharan architecture of Southern Morocco. But, it also serves as a historical reminder of the importance of trade for Moroccan Berbers. They were the ones that influenced early commerce by establishing trading routes between West Africa and Sub-Saharn regions.

Experience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas Mountains

This once served as the gate protecting the Ksar from looters.

Experience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas Mountains

From the top of the Ksar.

With his turban breezing in the wind, Mohammed began telling us about Ait Benhaddou. It was founded by Ben-Haddou, whose tomb he said, supposedly lies somewhere behind the town. The Ksar is a protected representation of Southern Moroccan culture. But today, it also has a different purpose.

“You have seen ‘Gladiator’ movie, right?” Mohammed asked.

“Of course I have. It’s one of my favourites,” I responded.

Movie buffs will recognize Ait Benhaddou from “Lawrence of Arabia”, “The Gladiator” and “Jesus of Nazareth”. With some ‘cosmetic’ Hollywood touch-ups, this is the home for many Hollywood movies that are set in the desert.Experience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas MountainsExperience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas MountainsExperience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas MountainsExperience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas MountainsExperience Authentic Morocco in the Atlas Mountains

Authentic Morocco: The Doorway to the Sahara

Our day ended in the city of Ouarzazate, the doorway to the Sahara desert. Ouarzazate literally means “without noise”. But ironically, Ouarzazate is very loud.

“Many Hollywood movies are shot here. Famous actors come here to sleep and work. This is Morocco’s “LA”. It used to be quiet. Today, it’s very loud,” he explained.

Exhausted from our long day with Mohammed, we retired in a traditional Moroccan Riad. But first, I took an amazing and very long hot shower. After all, it was the only thing I yearned for all day after walking into that bathroom in Teloet.

The adventure doesn’t end here. Stay tuned to ‘Experience Authentic Morocco: Day 2 off the Beaten Path’. I’ll continue my story of meeting Mohammed’s Berber family and experiencing authentic Berber hospitality. I’ll also write about my experience in the Todgha Gorges and camel trek in the Sahara desert.

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  1. AMAZING. Simply AMAZING! The landscapes are extraordinary, I have no words! Thanks for sharing, Jenny!

    1. Author

      Great to see that you’ve traveled to Morocco! It really an exotic country and so beautiful. Thanks for sharing your post.

  2. Hey, love this post! It’s giving me such itchy feet! Morocco is definitely on my list!

  3. Love the pictures, excellent post! You definitely re-fueled my desire to visit Morocco. It’s been on my bucket list for quite sometime. Sounds like you had a blast!

    1. Author

      It was a blast!! I hope that you’ll go and visit Morocco, it’s fabulous and life changing. The life that these people live is very eye opening!

  4. I loved our travels to Morocco but it looks like I need to go back again and see the villages in the Atlas.

  5. Oh my, reading this makes me want to go to Morocco soon!!!! ^_^ >

  6. Just wow! I actually just want to buy a ticket and head there right now. Morocco looks so ridiculously picturesque and I hope to be able to visit one day soon!

  7. I’ve heard about Morocco as a fantastic place for hiking and mountaineering and adventure, and I love your focus on lesser known sights in this post! Morocco is high on my list for an adventure trip; I’m saving this post for that trip planning 🙂

    1. Author

      Hi Liz, I’m so glad you enjoyed this post and found it useful 🙂 Morocco really is the perfect place for adventurers. Next time I go back, I plan on doing some backpacking there. If you have any questions when you start planning your Morocco trip, give me a shout!

  8. Beautiful pictures!!! It reminds me when I’ve been there a couple of years ago, such good memories!!!

    1. Author

      I’m glad that you can relate! It really is a stunning place. I often recall my memories from here in conversation with other travelers 🙂

  9. Oh wow, these pictures are gorgeous! I’ve been to Morocco as a child, but only really around Casablanca, and that’s very different!

    1. Author

      Hey Eva, yes this is like another world. Very different from the cities, especially the busy ones like Marrakech and Casablanca. It’s a unique experience that you won’t get in anywhere else 🙂

  10. I feel like your bathroom description needs a little more details lol. Photos or it didn’t happen 😀 It looks gorgeous though. Such a fun adventure 😀

    Kat | PersianKittyKat.com

    1. Author

      Hahaha, believe me, I’m saving you from all the things you really don’t want to see! I don’t think I could have taken photos at the time, I was too busy trying not to puke lol. Thanks for reading and commenting Kat 🙂

  11. Hi! I really like this post, it’s really interesting.
    When I read it I was able to imagine everything you’ve written. The photos did the remainder 😉
    You’ve included in few words the essential things to see and to do.
    Well done!

    1. Author

      Hey there! Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I truly appreciate the compliment and I’m so glad that you enjoyed this post 🙂

    1. Author

      Eric, they are absolutely stunning. I remember when we were driving out there, there was so much traffic up high in the mountains. I walked out of the jeep and just took it all in. The Atlas mountains are definitely bucket list worthy 🙂

  12. Hey! I am from Morocco,
    I’m glad that you have enjoyed your trip and I do appreciate that your share your experience with us!!
    Thank you so much!

  13. I cut Morocco off of a backpacking trip back in 2000 and have regretted it ever since. This looks fabulous. sigh.

    1. Author

      Aw you shouldn’t have! But it gives you a reason to go now. I’m planning to go back soon with my hubby. It’s calling my name!!

  14. The architecture is something that I can stare at for hours and I also love to dream about all the things I would do with the fabrics. Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures.

  15. What a great post! This made me want to go Morocco even more! I especially liked the part about the toilets haha 😉

  16. your pictures are absolutely stunning. Adding this to my travel list! And, I am your newest follower, absolutely LOVE your blog!

    1. Author

      Kristen, you’re the best! I’m thrilled that you enjoyed this post and my blog. I also hope that you do end up going out there one day, it’s such a fantastic place to visit 🙂 I’d go back in a heartbeat! Thank you again for commenting and following – xo

  17. This place is just the best! Love the authentic side of Morocco. i’d love to spend a week there, no phone, no social media or anything! Just look at these views!! Love it

    1. Author

      Oh it’s the absolute best! Really is a place to recharge your own batteries and leave aside the technology. I’m so glad you enjoyed this 🙂

  18. Oh my gosh this is absolutely stunning! Morocco has always been on my travel list and, after these photos, you’ve confinced me to explore the quieter, lesser known areas. These photos are truly beautiful. Cheers to an amazing trip!


    1. Author

      Dannie, I’m so glad that you’re considering going out there. It’s such an adventure and definitely one that you’ll have for a lifetime 🙂

      xo <3

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