Monday, 15 March 2010

Wonders of Nature in Morocco (3)

Besides its historical monuments, delicious and rich cuisine, incredible beaches, excellent riads and hotels, profuse culture and warm and friendly people, Morocco also enjoys a varied and impressive nature that will delight those visitors in search of incomparable landscapes and scenery. Morocco is an incredibly varied country, with over 2.300 miles of coast, several mountain ranges, deserts with beautiful oases spotted around, and many other amazing natural features.

Todra Gorge

The Todra gorge, situated on the remote east side of the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, is one of the most stunning rock formations in North Africa, with carved out cliff-sided canyons for several kilometres through the mountains. The most spectacular part of the Todra gorge are the final 600 metres, where the canyon narrows considerably, reaching in places a width as little as 10 meters.

The gorge itself becomes sheer and smooth rock walls up to 300 metres high on each side. Elsewhere, the water is ice-cold, since sunlight hardly reaches the bottom of the gorge. At the end of the 600 meters long gorge, the canyon opens up to a less dramatic but still beautiful clearing, with the river flowing through red mountains on both sides.

The gorge has become fairly accessible, with an asphalt road that leads up the valley from Tinerhir to the gorge and a road that goes on up to the villages of Aït Hani, Tamtatouchte, and Imilchil. The best choice is to arrange transport to Tinerhir, from where you can easily move around on foot. Most people say that the best time to visit the gorge is from 8 am to 1 pm, since the sunlight allows for great pictures.

Toubkal National Park

This national park, located some 70 kilometres south of Marrakech at the heart of the High Atlas mountain range, has an extension of 100.000 hectares and hosts North Africa's highest peak, Jbel Toubkal, which is 4.167 meters high (13.671 ft). The park, the largest and oldest in Morocco, is located near the Sahara desert and has an incredible variety of fauna and different ecosystems. It enjoys a sunny weather through the whole year, with snow during winter and mild temperatures, quite suitable for hiking, during the summer.

The park's natural diversity is quite remarkable, with countless species of herbaceous plants and large populations of oak trees, thujas, pine trees and junipers. The scenery alternates between wide plateaus and high cliffs, with deep gorges crossed by crystal clear rivers. There are four main valleys that are definitely worth a visit, namely the N'fiss, the Ourika, the Rherhaya, and, to the south, the Souss.

You will find lots of mountain sheep and, if you are lucky, you may even spot some birds of prey, such as golden eagles, booted eagles, Bonelli's eagles, short-toed eagles or falcons, as well as several rare lizards and snakes. During your trekking adventure, you will be accompanied by Berber mule-drivers through mountains and valleys; you will walk from village to village in this Berber territory; you will stay with local people in their fresh, warm and amazingly welcoming homes. You will also visit some restaurants, historic sites and monuments and will enjoy the delicious local cuisine.

From Marrakech, you can go by car, taxi or bus to Asni (47 kilometers approx.). Once you have reached Asni, there are trucks that can take you to Imlil (17 kilometers). You can also choose to ride a mule all the way to the snowline and then hire a porter to go on.

In order to visit these two Moroccan Wonders of Nature, you can stay in Marrakech, easily accessible and with excellent connections. There you will find all the information, equipment and advice that you will need for your Saharan adventure.

Once in the Ochre City, you can stay in one of the many fantastic Marrakech hotels or, better yet, in one of the typical Marrakech riads. You can also stay in a lovely villa in Marrakech, closer to the rural areas, where landscapes are stunning and where the inhabitants will welcome you with open arms.

David Gonzalez-Company (BA Degree in Philosophy, Universitat de València (Spain); MA (Hons) Degree in Mental Philosophy, University of Edinburgh (UK); MA Degree in Comparative Literature, University of Washington (USA)) is a writer, journalist, educator and translator who has traveled extensively and has lived in several European, North American and African countries.

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