Morocco's intoxicating blend of natural beauty and vivid culture combine with ease of access to make it an ideal place to explore on a mountain biking holiday. Marrakech-based tour operators Saif Kovach and Samira Glover explain what’s on offer.
The Atlas Mountains are the highest mountains in North Africa, extending over 2,500km in length, a great dividing line between the populated Maghreb lands and the endless emptiness of the Sahara Desert. It’s a vast region, much of it wild and remote. Rugged peaks rise to over 4,000m (13,000ft). The foothills are located just 30km from the heart of Marrakech, and are one of the more populous parts of the range: there are friendly Berber villages tucked away in the high valleys and up on the plateaux, linked by a dense network of rugged mule paths – fantastic for exploring on two wheels.
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Saif Kovach moved from the USA to Morocco in 2010 to set up Argan Xtreme Sports (AXS), a family-owned bike tour company based in Marrakech. After intense planning with co-founder Timothy Madden, Saif gave up his career in finance and sold (just about) all of his earthly belongings to move to North Africa and make the dream into reality.
The official AXS shop opened in Marrakech in 2011. Saif...
This is a land of exquisite beauty and rich cultural heritage. Snow-covered peaks, isolated oases, canyons and waterfalls, jade green valleys, terraced hillsides, wildflowers and palm groves, wide-open spaces and panoramic views. Any outdoors enthusiast will be in their element here.
Variety is a big part of the appeal: if you are a downhill rider, there are some great descents that will get the adrenaline flowing. World-famous downhill rider Richard Gasperotti has come to Morocco over the last few years to shoot videos of himself flying down these thrilling descents. If you’re into enduro riding, there’s plenty to test technical bike handling skills as well as endurance and climbing. And if you’re a cross-country rider or XC specialist you can also find what you’re looking for, with some relatively smooth paths that dip and ascend all across the mountains. Some of these are already carved out and some are still out there, just waiting to be discovered by adventurous riders.
Moulay Brahim to the Kik Plateau
The trails around the village of Moulay Brahim that lead up onto the Kik Plateau is one of the best for mountain bikers. You will climb terrain winding its way back and forth steeply up the mountainside and see spectacular views from the top. As you climb, you begin to see the snow-clad mountains. The valley between you and the peaks is green and verdant until you hit the beautiful Kik Plateau.
The beautiful Ouirgane Valley lies on the western edge of the Toubkal National Park close to the R203 Taroudant road. It is an awesome area that is still almost untouched and excellent for free riding and exploring single tracks. The lovely valley is surrounded by timeless Berber villages. Follow the trails to the plateau that sits protected on all sides by rich red earth gorges, a sensory overload with babbling streams, fragrant pine forests and superlative mountain vistas.
There are incredible mountain biking trails in the Oukaïmeden region, one of the premier skiing resorts on the African continent. It is about 80km south of Marrakech, close to Mt Toubkal. The Kasbah du Toubkal is situated at the foot of the mountain, overlooking the village of Imlil at 1,800 metres altitude and offering a 360-degree panorama of the Toubkal Massif. The Kasbah here is famous as this is where the movies Seven Years in Tibet and Kundun were shot.
Morocco's most spectacular road is the R203 which goes over the 2,100-metre-high Tizi'n'Test pass linking Taroudant to Marrakech. It is awesome for biking! The pass itself is about 100km from Marrakech, after Asni and Ouirgane. The breathtaking mountain scenery is reason alone for riding this route, but try and include time to visit the historic mosque of Tin Mal (on the Marrakech side of the pass), one of only a handful which non-muslims can visit (except Fridays).
Oued Nfiss Gorges and further afield
The Oued Nfiss Gorges are on the northern edge of the High Atlas Mountains near Ouirgane, which is only an hour from Marrakech on the northwestern edge of the Toubkal National Park. Far to the east beyond Ouarzazate are the amazing Todra and Dades Gorges, quite close to each other on the southern edge of the High Atlas Mountains. The Dades is recommended as it is less frequented by tourists and very spectacular.
Best times to go:
Morocco is very much a year-round destination, although the summer heat is too much for some. Up in the mountains temperature are, of course, lower - but the sun is still fierce. Midwinter can be very cold, but the clear air offers dazzling views at this time. Overall the optimum times to visit for a mountain biking trip are from mid-February through to the end of May, when the land is at its greenest and the wild flowers are in bloom, and from mid-September to mid-December.
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