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Nothing Short of Beautiful – the Middle Atlas & Beni Mellal

In the Middle of Nowhere

Alpine valleys. Crimson poppy fields. Cascading waterfalls. Winding mountain roads.
Switzerland, right?
Not quite…
Beachless & duneless, the Middle Atlas and its “gateway” Beni Mellal commonly get overlooked. Truth be told, I only discovered it myself, as I was attending an international chess tournament near El Ksiba with my son.
Do not expect much,” I was told. And I didn’t.
It’s in the middle of nowhere.”  And it was.
There’s literally nothing there.”  And there was nothing… nothing short of beautiful.

Yes, the agricultural heartland of Morocco is beautiful, but what’s equally appealing, is that it’s not overly commercialized or overrun by visitors. If you’ve ever played tourist in a city like Marrakech, you know what it’s like to be regarded as a bank with feet. That’s not at all the vibe you get here. There are no pushy street vendors, no smooth-talking storeowners, no artisans demanding payment for letting you watch. People are welcoming but not intrusive. And irrespective of your presence, it’s business as usual, which makes it a great place to be a fly on the wall and observe what life’s really like in rural Morocco.

I had a great encounter with the local women harvesting green peas in the midst of poppy fields, which I came to photograph.  They seemed to be as curious about me as I was about them, wanting to know whether I was single and where I came from.  They only spoke a mix of Tamazight and Moroccan dialect (Darija), so it was the men working alongside who helped translate when my limited Darija was not enough.

Here are the Things to Enjoy in the Area…

Stay in a Gîte

You’ll get the most flavor out of your trip, if you lodge in one of the Amazigh guesthouses (a “gîte”). Beni Mellal region is the stronghold of Amazigh tribes, and there’s no better way to experience their food, culture and way of life than by sharing a roof with a local family.

Hike

Beni Mellal offers endless opportunities for hikes. If you plan to venture far from the village, consider hiring a Guide. For around USD $40/day, he’ll take you to secluded Amazigh enclaves, have you discover hidden gems of the area, and serve as a translator in a place where many people (especially women) speak only Tamazight. Camp out or stay in gîtes. Your guide will make the necessary arrangements.

Shoot & Hunt

If you are an avid hunter, Benin Mellal region is a place for you. Hunting is very much a part of the local tradition, and the region is one of the best hunting domains in Morocco. The game includes a variety of birds (dove, partridge, thrush, snipe and quail), hair and wild boar. Men hunt on foot & on horses, and hunting takes place year round. Agencies selling hunting packages charge upward of USD $2,500 for 3-4 day tours in Beni Mellal. You’ll get a much better deal, if you make arrangements with the local hunters directly. Allow your guide to negotiate a deal for you.

If you do not hunt but are eager to shoot, there’s an outdoor shooting range in the mountains.

Go Waterfalling

Cascades d’Ouzoud are the highest and most visited waterfalls in Morocco, but there are plenty of smaller hidden waterfalls all around Beni Mellal area. Once you are in the area, ask about secret spots where you can swim in the natural pools and have the waterfall all to yourself.

Starting Point

El Ksiba, a small Amazigh town 50km northeast of Beni Mellal is a good starting point to explore the region. Within a day’s hike are Ifrin Majghoul and El Ksiba caves, 117m deep shafts (Aven des Ours) accessible from Chkounda valley, and the famed cedar forests inhabited by endangered Barbary apes. Spectacular Oued Attach gorges and the suspended Aoujgal granaries are about two hours away by car. El Ksiba is a perfect stopover for onward travel to Todra Gorge, Imilchil and the High Atlas.

Getting There

If you are traveling by bus, head to Beni Mellal and then take a grand taxi to El Ksiba. Grand taxis station is a dirt parking lot across the street from the bus terminal right next to a gas station. There are a bunch of taxis and people but no signs or information desks. Ask for El Ksiba, and eventually you’ll find a taxi heading in that direction. There is no schedule; taxis leave when all seats are sold – that’s 2 in the front and 4 in the back (seatbelts not included).   The good news is, each seat costs only 34 dirhams (around $3.5), so you may want to splurge on a couple extra tickets to give yourself some space and cut down on the waiting time.

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