- Agafay Desert and Camel Ride
- Women’s Co-Op
- Berber Village
- Atlas Mountains and Waterfall Hike
- Len and JJ’s Recommendation
For those that don’t know or haven’t been, Morocco is a crazy country, and Marrakech is an especially crazy place to visit (read our full review of Marrakech here). We were met at our Riad by the tour driver at 8:45 A.M. $20 if you can guess what his name was… yep, Mohamed. So we were now 2 for 2 on Mohamed drivers. I opened the front door of our Riad and swear I wish I had it on video when Mohammed enthusiastically said, “Good Morning, America!” We couldn’t make this stuff up if we tried. There were 12 of us on our tour, max capacity for our van, but it was still comfortable and air conditioned.
Agafay Desert and Camel Ride
The first stop was the Agafay Desert and Camel Ride. Our actual tour guide, Idris, spoke in broken English that the Agafay is a rocky desert, and how the Sahara was over 500 KM away. A desert is a desert I guess, and our camels didn’t seem to care. They dressed us all up in the giant “gowns” called djellabas and headdresses or head scarves called hijabs. If you don’t feel ridiculous wearing it, you’re not doing it right. Our entire group, including JJ, all started slowly mounting their camels which were largely tied together in a line.
I was the Lone Ranger, still on foot at this time. Then Idris and the camel guide intently looked me up and down, and started pointing to this huge, stubborn-looking beastly camel, tied up on his own, and intentionally separated from the herd. They referred to him as the “Alpha” and “Big Brother”. This all made sense, as I was easily 50 pounds heavier than anyone else in the group. Once I got on big brother, and he stood up, he was at least a foot taller than all other camels in the herd. That now made me 2 feet taller than every other rider. I wasn’t sticking out like a sore thumb AT ALL.
Alas, I had mounted Big Brother, and we assumed our rightful position at the head of the pack. Admittedly, you spend about as much time preparing to ride the camels as you do actually riding the camels, but such is par for the course with any excursion or tour. Besides, it takes time to look this good in a djellaba!
We successfully completed our camel jockey journey without being spit on and even without my shoes being eaten (even though several such attempts were made, to which Big Brother received a good shellacking with a stick upside his head by our guide). Poor stubborn guy, some camels, like humans, are hard of learning. Oh, and this also happened:
For the record, it was not actually a Wednesday, but any day aboard a camel is Hump Day in our book! After conquering the camel ride, what do all good Marrakech tourists do? Have hot tea of course, our first of the day.
The second stop on the camel jockey expressway was the “feminine co-op”, a supposed business owned by all women that make olive oil, Moroccan oil, peanut oil, and all kinds of cosmetics, ointments, and soaps. I’m not sure how truthful that is, or if it’s Morocco’s way of trying to convince tourists of how enlightened they are towards their women. JJ and I weren’t quite buying it though. Oh, and did I fail to mention? More hot tea along with some big pita looking breads to share and dip in the 3 kinds of oils. This hot tea was sweet at least. JJ said if we could have thrown a few ice cubes in it, she would have sworn we were back in the South.
On the way to the Atlas Mountains, there are many winding roads along the hills and valleys. Anyone who gets easily carsick should keep that in mind. The winding roads did provide panoramic views of the Atlas Mountains and interesting looking villages built into the hillsides.
Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 5 supposedly rode a motorcycle in a scene down one of the mountain roads we drove down on our excursion. This looked plausible enough. It was certainly remote enough and cheap enough from a film production standpoint. They also claimed this one nice looking remote hotel was owned by Richard Branson, and Cruise, Michelle Obama, and Prince Harry have all stayed there.
Our third stop was a remote village where the “Berbers” mostly live. This was our gateway to a waterfall hike, with beautiful views of the snow capped Atlas Mountains.
In the village we went to, we stopped at this large Riad-like guest house that is essentially a restaurant by day and a guesthouse by night. Lunch was very good. Moroccan salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, green pepper, and tuna, accompanied by more bread. The main course was Chicken Tajine, which is a very traditional Moroccan dish served in this clay pot / platter with a lid on it that the dish is actually cooked in. The chicken has a yellowish tint of spices to it and is accompanied by heaps of vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, and carrots, lots and lots of carrots. Oh, and yep, you guessed it, more hot tea.
From the Riad Restaurant we hiked up a bit to a “traditional Berber home” which happened to be where our guide Isdra’s parents still lived. He lived there for 10 years, and showed us the history of the Berber tradition. He told us facts about their language and alphabet, flag, religion, and construction of their original homes which was going on a 3rd generation with his family. We also saw various tools and items used for sheep farming or shepherding, cooking, and basically all types of household chores that have been replaced by modern conveniences like gas and electricity. And guess what else we had there? Pay attention people, hot tea obviously, our fourth of the day. Oh, and traditional berber doors are not made for 6’4″ people.
Atlas Mountains and Waterfall Hike
From Isdra’s Berber house and village, we began the more adventurous and strenuous hiking portion of the tour. It wasn’t an insanely far distance or exorbitant amount of time hiking, but there were some good bits of elevation to get you huffing and puffing. The toughest part was the very rocky footing for most of the trail and pathway. The waterfall ending with intimate views were worth the hike in our opinion. The temperature dropped a pleasant 10 degrees and water from the brook at the base of the waterfall was ice cold. JJ got to experience it first hand when crossing the narrow ladder to the other side of the brook. There was also a man there squeezing glasses of fresh orange juice for 10 dirham. It was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted after a sweaty, physically strenuous hike. The final little wooden ladder bridge to cross before the waterfall was the scariest part to me. No hot tea this time, only orange juice, and thank God for that. Fresh squeezed orange juice has healing properties according to Howard Hughes in the Aviator.
After hiking back down from the waterfall, we headed down through another village, back to our tour van. Unbeknownst to us, there were two more stops left on our full day tour. We took a left at the roundabout away from the road we came in on from Marrakech, out to more remote areas. We were headed to the Atlas Desert, which is very rocky and does not look like the sandy desert you think of. It was full of incredibly beautiful sweeping landscapes of green rolling hills, farm land, sheep, cows, and a few shepherds and ranchers speckled throughout.
The first stop was above a beautiful valley below, with views of a man-made lake. Isdra said this area was only 15 years old, and that the King of Morocco had made it so that the farmers and workers could have water to live in the area. This was also a place for 4-Wheeler and ATV tours which are undoubtedly fun.
The second stop was at another peak with a little closer view of the man made lake, sort of in a spot where the rocky desert ended and the valley and lake area began. We took a pretty insane pano, with views of the Atlas Mountains, a tree covered plateau, and the lake at sunset, all from left to right. Here is a cool panoramic of the view:
Len and JJ’s Recommendation
We highly recommend the Desert Agafay and Atlas Mountains & Camel Ride tour from Art de Cuivre Travel. Our guide Isdra was especially a joy and showed us true Berber hospitality. All in all, this was a great day in and out of Marrakech, and for around $42.00 each (at the time of this article in May 2019), a great value for the money. That’s a long tour that included lunch and hot teas galore, making this a hot deal for sure.
If you book this tour, wear comfortable walking or hiking shoes and definitely take some water. Be prepared to laugh at camels, eat delicious traditional Moroccan food such as chicken tagine, hike and sweat a lot, and have a full long day that is anything but hurried. The Desert Agafay, Atlas Mountains, and Camel Ride tour definitely makes for a full day. From walking out our Riad door at 8:45 A.M., and not returning to the main square in town (Jamar El Fna) until 6:20 P.M., we had seen and done a lot and were pretty tired. Sometimes exhausting days are the most memorable and gratifying.