How to organise a cycling expedition in the Atlas mountains in the south-west of Morocco.
Cycling in Morocco's Atlas mountains
Q. I will be visiting Morocco on a two-week long holiday soon. I am keen on going on a cycling trip in the Atlas Mountains, but don't know where to start and how to plan it. Can you suggest a couple of cycle tour operators that offer trails ranging from moderate to strenuous?
A. Morocco offers a diverse terrain for the avid cyclist, from plains and mountains to beaches and surf, with challenging as well as easy routes.
The Atlas Mountains (including the Moyen [middle], Haut [high] and Anti) are situated to the south-west of Morocco. The mountains are breathtakingly beautiful, but they're not exactly easy to negotiate. They feature jagged outcrops, twisting trails, narrow passes at more than 2,000 metres above sea level, and fog that comes down suddenly and swiftly, so it's important to be in good physical condition, and well prepared with sufficient food, water and warm clothing.
One of the best areas for a biking trip is Toubkal National Park near Marrakech, which is home to Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in the Atlas mountains. The route, which is about 40km, is difficult and long, but the hard work is offset by some of the most stunning scenery in the world - deep lakes, crystal-clear rivers and green forested valleys.
While Morocco enjoys a subtropical climate, summers in the Atlas Mountains are harsh, and winters extremely cold. In fact, some of the highest passes are closed during winter because of snow.
Most tour operators organise cycling trips that rely on 4x4 vehicles to get through rough terrain. The expeditions usually include experienced guides, as well as mules to carry gear and camping equipment.
Exodus (www.exodus.co.uk) organises eight-day trips through the Atlas Mountains, starting in Agadir and taking in Berber villages, such as Ait Ben Haddou, and ancient kasbahs along the way. Expect descents on gravelly pistes, donkey trails and paths cutting between high peaks and gorges. From £699 (Dh4,108) per person, based on two sharing, with accommodation (land only).
Much Better Adventures (www.muchbetteradventures.com) offers a moderate nine-day cycling tour from Marrakech into the mountains with accommodation in traditional gites, and ends with a stop in the colourful town of Tiznit. From £1,299 (Dh7,700) per person based on two people sharing (flights not included).
Explore Worldwide (www.exploreworldwide.com) organises eight-day cycling trips through the Anti Atlas that includes everything from the Berber settlements of the Ammein Valley to a spectacular descent down to Paradise Valley on the Atlantic Coast. From $1,180 per person (land only).
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