One of the biggest downsides of the Alps is its limited hiking season. From October through April, it’s far too cold and snowy to do any trekking without the appropriate winter gear (snow shoes, crampons, etc.). May and June is also limited due to heavy rain. Additionally, most guesthouses in the Alps don’t open their doors until mid-June at the earliest, making it difficult for anyone hoping to visit during the off season. In reality, the only months to go hiking in the Alps are July, August, and part of September.
The Atlas Mountains, on the other hand, are open to trekkers for most of the year! Snow tends to cover the trails from late November through March, but in recent years there have been more and more mountain passes open as early as February. Spring is a beautiful time of year to visit as the colorful valleys are in bloom with seasonal nuts and fruits, and the mountain passes are clear and not too cold. Hiking the Atlas Mountains in summer is also a possibility, despite the heat. Though much of Morocco is unbearable from June-August, the mountains remain much cooler and more temperate. Plus, there are many waterfalls and rivers to go swimming in! The fall rivals the spring in its beauty as all the trees begin to change color and the winter fruits become ripe.
2. And FAR fewer tourists.
In the Alps, one of the issues that arises from having such a short trekking season is the overcrowding of the trails when they’re actually open. A HUGE number of visitors travel to the Alps during the late summer months. August is an especially busy time of year. This can make it difficult to book a room in a guesthouse or enjoy the serenity of the trails.
The Atlas Mountains, for the most part, are still an undiscovered treasure. Sure, you will likely run into other groups of hikers along the trails. However, the number of tourists is nominal compared to the Alps. If you’re looking for a quiet escape into nature, the Atlas Mountains have you covered.
3. You can check another thing off your bucket list!
If you want to conquer the highest peak in North Africa, visit the High Atlas Mountains! Located near the Imlil Valley, Mount Toubkal stands at 4,167 metres (13,671 ft). Though the tallest peak in the Alps is higher than this (Mont Blanc at 4,810m / 15,781 ft), hiking the Atlas Mountains gives outdoor enthusiasts an opportunity to check another ‘highest peak’ off their list.
4. Nothing beats Moroccan hospitality.
Moroccans are some of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever encountered. It sounds like a cliche to say as such, but here’s a little anecdote to show you what I mean.
When trekking the High Atlas, my guide and I stopped at a plateau that offered a panoramic view of the valley below. He ate some nuts and dried fruit while I took photos. As we were preparing to leave, he asked if I wanted any. I thanked him, but refused as lunch was just an hour away. He then reached his hand back into the bag and began to crumble up the handful of nuts with his fists. As I watched, he gently scattered the powdery crumbs over an ant nest that I hadn’t noticed until just then. “We all need to take care of each other,” he said simply and smiled. Immediately the ants began scrambling toward the pieces and carrying them away. Then he picked up his bag and started back up the trail.
THAT’S what I mean about generosity and kindness. It’s not just a matter of being polite. Rather, it’s a mindset that totally informs the Moroccan way of life and it’s absolutely beautiful.
5. After a long day of working up an appetite, you can bet there will be a hearty meal to fill you up.
Considering how kind and hospitable they are, it’s no surprise that Moroccan people are also feeders. They will invite you into their home and offer you tea, pastries, fruit, soup, and a whole host of other dishes until you firmly assure them that you’re full. The portions are often massive, and each meal involves at least 3 courses. Plus, a seemingly endless amount of Moroccan mint tea. I promise that after a long day of hiking, you won’t go to bed hungry. Just look at this breakfast for one!
6. There are lots of other fun outdoor adventures nearby.
Morocco’s landscape is incredibly diverse. There are beautiful beaches that are ideal for surfing, lush valleys dotted with waterfall, and, of course, the Sahara Desert. If you’d like to go on an active holiday that incorporates several different outdoor adventures, head to Morocco! I went on a multi-day tour that included a sunset camel ride in the Sahara, an overnight stay in a nomadic tent, and a trek through the Atlas Mountains. There is also rafting, SUP, birdwatching, etc… the list goes on and on!
7. There is a burgeoning winter sports scene.
In addition to all those activities listed above, there is also a growing winter sports scene happening in the Atlas Mountains. Skiing, snowboarding, and snow shoeing have taken off in recent years thanks to the rising cost of these same activities in European mountains such as the Alps. The Atlas Mountains offer a much cheaper alternative that is very close to Europe, but doesn’t carry the same cost. Plus, as people are still learning about this little known fact, the slopes are much quieter!
8. There are beautiful Berber villages hidden in the mountains.
My favorite part about trekking through the Atlas Mountains was visiting the remote Berber villages nestled in the mountains. Most are at least a day’s hike away (many even further) and are totally inaccessible by car. Hiking in the High Atlas, you get a chance to see what day-to-day life looks like in these small villages that exist in almost complete isolation to the rest of the world. Squat toilets, no wifi, and very limited electricity (which was only installed a few years ago) are just some of the contrasting features. Staying in a homestay in one of these villages was an invaluable experience, and one that is only available in Morocco.
9. You can hit the hammam after you’re done.
A hammam is an Islamic steam room used regularly by Moroccans to purify themselves before prayer. A typical visit involves a deep cleansing scrub, followed by a light massage and a period of relaxation in a cooling room. Though hammams are traditionally religious spaces, there are several non-traditional hammams throughout Morocco that primarily cater to non-Muslim tourists. I visited one in Marrakech following my trek in the mountains and it was an absolute delight after 2 days of climbing over mountain passes.
10. And now to acknowledge the elephant in the room… because the Atlas Mountains are much, much cheaper.
One of the most obvious ways in which the Atlas Mountains outweigh the Alps is that the former is significantly more affordable. Western Europe in general is more expensive than Morocco. However, the Alps in particular are absolutely extortionate.
The Atlas Mountains offer an incredible trekking experience that matches, if not surpasses, the Alps… but at a fraction of the cost. Don’t feel like you’re sacrificing quality by going with a more budget friendly option. The trails, the views, the food, and the people — as I’ve noted throughout this post — are absolutely extraordinary and worth your while. So now it should just be a matter of deciding when to go!