The Ouirgane Valley shelters in the foothills of Morocco’s High Atlas mountains. It’s stunning scenery and untouched Berber villages are a joy to visit. Here’s our complete guide to this excellent destination.
The dedicated multi-day trekkers head up Jebel Toubkal, Morocco’s highest mountain. The Marrakech day trippers descend in droves on the Ourika Valley. Somewhere in the middle, those looking to get off the beaten track and explore a more remote part of Morocco without a strenuous mountain ascent, head to the Ouirgane Valley.
This rusty red valley sits in the foothills of the High Atlas mountains. It’s soft rock, shaped over millennia by wind and rain, provide a beautiful setting to the Berber villages that line the rivers and perch on the hills. Within the villages you have the privilege of witnessing a very traditional way of life. Small crops are tended by farm animals and woman work long days to provide basic supplies for their families’ survival.
Yet in spite of this hard way of life, Berber’s are some of the friendliest and most generous people we have ever met. Even in Ramadan, when devout locals were fasting throughout the day, lunch would be prepared for us in their homes with the produce obtained from their small plot of land. We would have paid a lot for the experience alone, but the Berbers would accept no payment.
While the Ouirgane valley itself is reason enough, magnificent High Atlas scenery is only a short hike or drive away. Here, snow-capped mountains rise over deep cut canyons and a patchwork of green fields hug valley floors and terraced slopes.
Like many other places in the High Atlas this valley is slowly modernising and opening its doors to tourism. So come before it’s too late.
Here’s a complete guide to the best things to do in the Ouirgane Valley and some helpful tips to make your trip a little easier.
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1 / HIKE THROUGH 5 BERBER VILLAGES AND SHARE LUNCH WITH LOCALS
The Berber villages that line the Ouirgane valley are still relatively untouched by tourism. This 4-hour hike allows you to visit 5 of them. The valley is rich in foods that have become staples for its inhabitants and it’s a pleasure to explore such an organic way of life. Plum, blackberry, olive, figs, carob and almond trees line the riverbanks. Onions, potato, alfalfa, wheat and barley cover the valley floor in brilliant green. The sweet smell of mint, thyme and rosemary rise from the paths.
The 5 villages are all a little different but the highlight is Tikhfist. Perched on the hill with views over the valley our guide took us into a Berber house where we met 105-year-old Mohammed. His French was almost as limited as mine so after a fitful conversation, we named capital cities of Europe.
For lunch, Mohammed’s daughter served us a Berber tagine with walnuts – one of the must-try foods in Morocco. Unable to partake themselves due to Ramadan, we ate while Mohammed reeled off more capital cities. The friendly hospitality was a highlight of our trip to Morocco.
The hike finished by descending through Agouni, where our guide showed us his own home and crops, before returning to Ouirgane. It took a total of 4 hours at a slow pace, including time for lunch and plenty of photos.
Our original intention was to explain how you could do the hike yourself but to be honest, it’s much better doing this one with a local guide ($30). Not only are the paths in and out of the villages difficult to find, but the real highlight is eating lunch in a Berber house, which would be difficult to achieve on your own. In particular, Ouirgane would be the perfect destination for a culinary tour of Morocco.
Your accommodation will be able to organise a local guide for you.
2 / CYCLE THE DRAMATIC RED ROCK FORMATIONS LINING OUIRGANE VALLEY
Just north-east of Ouirgane village, the Ouirgane Valley is a sea of red rock, punctuated with slithers of green vegetation. It is exceptionally beautiful in the late afternoon light before the sun disappears behind the mountains.
You can drive the roads that meander around the sculpted rocks or walk along the paths that criss-cross the area. But the best way to see this stunning scenery is to grab a bike from your accommodation and cycle around on your own.
Head out of town on the road that goes past Ouirgane Eco Lodge and cycle for about 2km. The rough spot is marked on our map at the bottom of this post. In a relaxing afternoon cycling around the area, you’ll collect some great photos of beautiful scenery. We were amazed at how quickly the scenery can change. As the sun fades from the day, the colour of the rock goes from brilliant orange to a burnt yellow.
If you stay away from the main road and keep in the valley it is not too hilly and a fun place to explore. You can catch all the best bits in a couple of hours.
3 / DRIVE TO THE IMPRESSIVELY SET BERBER VILLAGE OF ASSIF ZAGAWARI
Assif Zagawari (translated as ‘Green River’) is a Berber village set on the edge of a ridge high in the Atlas Mountains. The village is picture-perfect, overlooking a green slither of an oasis caused by a river cascading down a steep slope under the snow-covered peaks of the Jebel Toubkal massif.
The setting is remarkable and so is the village. Apart from electricity – which only arrived in Assif Zagawari in 2018 – and the odd satellite dish not much appears to have changed over the centuries. Overly protective chickens chase would-be predators from their tiny chicks as they cross dusty paths. Locals potter about their small crops and lead cows through the streets. It’s a very Moroccan step back in time and was a highlight on our 10-day itinerary.
Amble around the village and take it all in, but keep in mind this is a real rural village, not a tourist attraction, so be respectful of their space and property. Having said that they’re a friendly bunch and you’ll probably get invited in for tea somewhere.
Make sure you explore some of the paths rising out the back to the peaks beyond.
To get to Assif Zagawari, you need to drive the 12km precarious gravel road that the villagers have built themselves. It’s a skinny track that zig-zags up a steep slope and it can be a little nerve-wracking at times. The views, however, are simply amazing.
The road leaves the main road just south of Ouirgane at the town of Amesguen (see map below). It requires a 4×4 vehicle. It may be possible to do this road in a 2WD, but we don’t need that kind of stress in our lives.
You’ll generally have the road to yourself, however there is a village car that makes the journey once a day with supplies. Keep an eye out for this. Pull over at a turn and admire the stunning views while you wait for them to pass.
It will be obvious when you’re getting close to the village: the kids will be standing on the road at the last bend trying desperately to get some phone reception.
4 / GEAR UP AND TAKE A MULTI-DAY HIKE TO IMLIL
Most dedicated trekkers that come to the High Atlas Mountains head to Imlil. At 1,740m it is the starting point for tackling Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in Morocco. But the views and scenery of this higher region can also be reached by an excellent 2 or 3-day trek from Ouirgane Valley.
The standard 2-day traverse to Imlil heads up the Azzadene valley and spends the night at a gite in Tizi Oussem. The following day, the hike descends into Imlil. The 3-day trek spends two days getting to Tizi Oussem. It achieves this by sticking to the more mountainous ridges rather than heading up the valley.
Ouirgane Ecolodge can arrange both these trips for you, with or without transfer from Marrakech.
5 / EXPLORE THE DEEP-CUT RIVER, CANYON AND VIEWS OF THE AZZADENE VALLEY
If you want to see some magnificent High Atlas scenery without doing a multi-day trek, then a short hike up the Azzadene Valley is a good option. It covers one of the best sections of the 2-day Imlil traverse with the Jebel Toubkal massif visible for much of this walk.
Rural Berber villages and terraced fields add to this beautiful hike. If that’s not enough to tempt you, the finishing point at the 1900m high Tizi Oussem surrounds you in a magnificent amphitheatre of mountains.
Unlike many walks in Morocco, this is one you can do without a guide.
GETTING TO THE HIKE
To begin the hike, drive to Marigha and turn right following the paved road to Tassa Ouirgane. After a few km of gravel track, park by the mosque at Azerfsane (as marked on the map below) to start the hike.
The hike follows the gravel track south for ten minutes. When the road splits take the lower road (number 1 on the map) which descends to the valley floor.
The path crosses the river on steppingstones near a dilapidated ‘new bridge’ before zig-zagging up the other side (2) and passing through a couple of villages.
Shortly after the path exits the village of Aït Ouissaadene it comes to a T-junction. Turn left to head down to the river, then turn right making your way up the riverbed. You’ll need to jump back and forth across the streams as necessary (Note this will become trickier after rain).
After about 15 minutes as a tributary heads to the right, you need to search around to find a path that heads up the slope on your left-hand side (4). This path passes through the village of Aït Aissa and merges with a gravel road (5). Turn right onto the gravel road and follow this wide track into Tizi Oussem.
The hike from Azerfsane Mosque to Tizi Oussem is 8.5 km and takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes. The ascend is around 500m. Allow 5 hours for the complete round trip (returning the way you came), including time to stop for lunch. You pass the odd shop but we suggest you take all your food and water with you for the day. The shops can be unreliable and limited.
You can follow the instructions above and download our map for Google Maps. However, we’d strongly recommend you also download Maps.Me which actually has the trail marked on its offline maps. Install the app and download Morocco South map before leaving.
6 / WATCH THE LOCALS ARRIVE AND SHOP AT ASNI’S SATURDAY SOUK
Ouirgane has its own Thursday souk but it is very small and lacks the drama of Asni. So for all the action, and if the timings work, head to the Saturday souk in Asni. Locals from all the neighbouring villages descend on the town, piling their donkeys high with wares before heading back into the hills.
It’s a remarkable hustling and bustling scene. Buyers and sellers shout at each other and gesture excitedly with exaggerated arm manoeuvres.
You won’t find any tourist trinkets at Asni – this is a real market with real stuff for locals. This is where they shop and the atmosphere is fantastic.
Clothes and shoes of all colours, shapes and sizes are scattered strategically on the ground. Dates, almonds and walnuts are piled high beside massive mounds of Moroccan spices. Live chickens with tethered legs are held by grasping hands while butchers hack apart sheep and goats.
While the week’s shopping is being negotiated and collected, donkeys are getting re-hooved by the local hooving service ready to have their backs piled high.
It’s quite an experience, and you’ll be the only tourist there.
MORE / THINGS TO DO IN OUARZAZATE
A LITTLE FURTHER AFIELD
If you have the time (and your own car) there are a few other things to do around Ouirgane that require a slightly longer drive.
If the 2 or 3-day hike to Imlil sounds like too much, then take the cheats way out and drive there. It’s around 50 minutes from Ouirgane. The route takes you through Asni where you can pop into the market (if it’s a Saturday). The views about halfway up the valley are excellent.
A 1-hour drive south of Ouirgane along the main road brings you to Tinmel Mosque. Built in 1156 to commemorate the founder of the Almohad dynasty, it is one of only two mosques in Morocco that non-Muslims can enter. The location is excellent also.
TIZI N’TEST PASS
Another 45 minutes past the Tinmel Mosque brings you to the 2,092m high point of the Tizi n’Test pass. It’s a slow twisty journey, but one where the views just get better and better. As with the drive to Assif Zagawari, a 4×4 car would be a good idea.
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HOW TO GET TO THE OUIRGANE VALLEY
The easiest way to get to the Ouirgane Valley is from Marrakech. Is this is your starting point, make sure you check out our 3-day Marrakech itinerary.
It is a 1-hour 20-minute drive along the R203 – a well-paved road that is rarely closed. If you don’t have your own car, mini-buses regularly plough the route to Asni, from where you can get a taxi for the final 15km to Ouirgane. Otherwise, could simply hire your own taxi or grand taxi for the entire route (about €40).
ADVENTURE + / If you want a more adventurous journey, take the P2022 (R209) from Chichaoua. As you dramatically head through the mountains, the paved road steadily disintegrates to a bouncy rocky track with steep drops down the side. You could complete the journey in a 2WD but you’d be much happier in a 4×4. Give yourself a good 2 hours and 30 minutes for the tortuous but exciting trip.
OUIRGANE VALLEY MAP
Our map of things to do in the Ouirgane valley shows you the hikes we took, some places to stay, a few restaurants to try 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.
Maps.me – To help you navigate the Ouirgane valley area, install the maps.me app onto your smartphone and download the Morocco South map. Without data it will track your progress and shout out route directions. We found it slightly optimistic with total journey times but it had a lot more roads and hiking trails marked than Google Maps. Having said that, you should also download a custom offline map in Google Maps as a backup.
WHEN TO VISIT THE OUIRGANE VALLEY
The Ouirgane valley is at its most beautiful in spring. At this time, flowers line the valley floor and the crops are a bright green. However, in early spring the roads can still be covered in snow making them impassable. So we suggest you plan your visit from late-March to early May. Over this time the roads will be open and the temperatures will still be manageable.
Even if you don’t mind the heat, if you travel any later the fields will start to go from green to brown and the snow will begin to melt from the mountain tops. This all makes the whole area a little less picturesque.
After the summer temperatures drop, mid-September to mid-October can also be a good time to visit although the colours will not be as vibrant as in spring.
While not essential it is also worth avoiding Ramadan. Morocco is a very religious country with strict adherence to fasting. This means guides are not keen to take long hikes and local cafes and services 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.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE OUIRGANE VALLEY
Ouirgane is delightfully untouched by tourism, with a local way of life still continuing as it’s done for hundreds of years. However, a tourist market is slowly developing in the area, bringing a number of good accommodation options.
Being in a fairly remote part of Morocco there’s a strong emphasis on eco-friendly, sustainable accommodation. However, there’s also a few places where you can enjoy a luxurious stay.
The best choice at the budget end of the accommodation market in Ouirgane. Riad Diwane is well located near the centre of Ouirgane village with private bathrooms and pretty decent wi-fi.
A 10-minute drive out of the valley, this mid-priced lodge has 4 spacious well-equipped rooms and a cute pool area. Everything is sourced in an environmentally friendly way and the staff are very helpful in organising stuff to do.
The pick of the upmarket hotels, this modern designer retreat has a superb pool and a knack for getting the luxurious details right. It’s adults only, has a two-night minimum and does pretty good food.
WHERE TO EAT IN OUIRGANE VALLEY
While most visitors eat in their accommodation we highly recommend having at least one meal at Le Mouflon Café. We sat outside in the gathering dusk as fairy lights slowly lit up around us. The Moroccan favourite of tagine, couscous and salad were tasty and the service very friendly. Restaurant Mohatirste was also recommended to us, but it was closed while we were there.
PRACTICALITIES FOR VISITING THE OUIRGANE VALLEY
One of the many appeals of the Ouirgane valley is that it’s more remote than some of the other valleys nearer Marrakesh. But it does mean that there are not a lot of facilities. So come prepared.
Money – There is no bank or ATM in the valley, and credit cards are only accepted at a few establishments. So bring enough cash for your entire visit. If you need a top up there is a bank at Asni, a 30-minute drive away.
Fuel – There is no petrol station in the valley, so make sure you have a decent amount of fuel as you arrive. The nearest petrol station is half an hour drive away in Asni.
Food – There are a couple of basic shops in Ouirgane and others dotted about the other villages which you can pick up supplies. They sell water, bread, yoghurt, biscuits, jams, chocolate spread, canned meat, some toiletries and a few other bits and pieces. Almost all accommodation serves set menu meals and there are a few restaurants in the valley. Café Mouflon was our favourite (marked on the map).
Wi-Fi – Most accommodation in the valley will have wi-fi at varying degrees of quality. If this is very important, it might be a good idea to check before you book. The accommodation will often let you hotspot of their phone for emergencies.
Pharmacy – There is pharmacy on the main road in Marigha, a few km northeast of Ouirgane, that was surprisingly well stocked.
Language – The main language is Berber, but many people also speak French. Most accommodation owners have some English and it is relatively easy to find an English speaking guide. We do suggest however you download French onto Google Translate just in case you get stuck.
Tourist Services – Your accommodation is the best bet for booking guides and other services. Email them in advance for any hikes or guides you want to take while in Ouirgane. During our stay, our guide was Mohammed who spoke excellent English and was extremely knowledgeable about the area (+212667462366). Otherwise, Berber Atlas Experience, who have a good reputation, can also tailor specific guides for you. Expect to pay €30 for half-day guide and €40 for full day.
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