Last Updated: 2020-07-20
People who know me know that I’m not exactly passionate about sports. Every time I see people jogging down the street in the early morning a feeling of admiration invades me and I immediately resolve to change my habits and do something different on the weekend. Then I talk to my partner and he reminds me that we have plans to meet up and have some beers or enjoy a good dinner or lunch and I get over it.
That being said, traveling to Chaouen and not going hiking at Akchour is something that even I can’t say no to. Today’s article is one of the most recommended activities for anyone spending a few days in the blue city. Let’s get started!
Akchour is a small town, located in the lower part of the Talembote Valley, which in turn is part of the Talassemtane National Park. The place itself is hardly interesting, but taking the two routes that start in this town, which I will describe below, will make for an enjoyable day exploring the natural beauty of this part of Morocco.
It’s around 20 miles (30km) from Chaouen (approximately 40 minutes). If you go by taxi you shouldn’t be charged more than 200-300 dirhams. If you also decide to hire the services of a mountain guide, you can either find one at the place where you stay or look for him when you get to Akchour, costing between 150 and 200 dirhams.
Is the help of a guide necessary? Not strictly, as long as your group is in good shape and used to this type of activity. But if that’s not the case, some extra help never hurts, given how cheap it is.
Once you have left the main street and the parking lot you will come to a dam. This is when you decide whether to choose the God’s Bridge route, located on the left, or the waterfalls route, on the right. In the first case, you will move parallel along the Farda river, while in the second most of the journey will run along the Kelaa river.
To make a good decision, and so you do not curse the rest of my days for permanent pain in parts of your body that you didn’t even know existed, you have to know that the difference between the routes is that the second one is more visually pleasing, but more complicated and uneven. On the contrary, the first one, although less spectacular, is more even and has a much steeper slope.
Taking into account that it takes just over two and a half hours one way to get to the waterfalls, and that the other route takes half as long, I’d pick the longer route if you only plan to do just one because the experience is more satisfying. If you plan to do both, start with God’s Bridge, because you’ll need fresh strength to be able to make it up the slopes.
Will you have enough energy for both routes? Only you can know, but if you are one of those people who like to check statistics, I can tell you that I did the route once with 15 people, with an average age of around 30. We started with the Grand Cascade and nobody had trouble getting there, although it took a lot out of us.
When we returned, 4 of those 15 people also wanted to do the second route. Needless to say, I was not among those four, and when they left I said goodbye with the best of smiles, imagining the number of teas and pastries that I was going to have with the rest of the group while we waited for them.
Of course, everyone except Diego, who is a sports teacher, all complained from the pain and soreness that same night every time we went up or down steps in Chaouen. You have been warned!
The Waterfall Route
If you opt for the itinerary to the Grand Cascade, you’ll see how the Kelaa River influences the environment, flowing parallel to the trail at all times and crossing it on numerous occasions.
First Stage: Arriving at the Petite Cascade
As we set off, we’ll appreciate the lush vegetation, the picnic areas and the soft river dams. The Petite Cascade is at the end of this first stage.
It’s probably the ideal section for those who want a pleasant walk surrounded by nature, since this part of the route is basically flat. But this is a somewhat misleading introduction to the rest of the route. I’ll be clear: you’ll want to take photos of the idyllic natural beauty in this area. But don’t take too long, because you’ll need your strength later.
Some people decide to make the Petite Cascade the end point of the route and go back the same way, especially people in poor physical condition or with young children. If this is your case, I recommend taking a dip in the water and having some refreshments at one of the picnic areas.
Second Stage: No Pain, No Gain
Once you leave the Petite Cascade behind, you will discover how the geography changes, as the route narrows and the slope steepens and the humidity increases.
In this section we have to cross the river several times, usually a small concrete bridge that rises from the bottom of the river, although there are also crossings that just use large stones and that are closer to the water level, and therefore much more slippery.
There’s a good chance that you’ll slip and get your feet wet, so taking a few extra pairs of socks is highly recommended.
Final Stage and Return: The Grande Cascade
Eventually, nature makes the route more challenging. Although the path narrows as we go along (sometimes we have to go carefully in single file, since there are no railings) and muddy slopes make it necessary to hold onto branches and trees clinging from the walls to avoid stumbling, other surprisingly flat and extensive landscapes will appear.
But what most identifies this section is the final reward: the Grande Cascade, a geological formation over 220 feet high (70 m) where the water flows through the layers of moss and mud that have accumulated and petrified over the years in front of a rocky wall.
Despite the considerable effort, when you arrive you’ll see that the journey was worth it. Because in addition to the natural spectacle of the falls, you’ll share a festive atmosphere with fellow hikers who will be celebrating and chatting, singing and playing instruments or even taking a dip in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall.
We’ll need to regain our strength and retrace our steps because, perhaps the biggest drawback of this option, there’s no alternative route back.
This itinerary also runs parallel to the Farda river. However, the view will be different since we’ll be walking alongside a mountain the whole way until we reach the rock formation known as God’s Bridge. This natural phenomenon was created by the erosion of the river, and over a 100 feet up (30 m) it connects one side of the canyon to the other.
The two trails have completely different personalities. The Cascade Trail is full of beautiful little gems, whereas on the route to God’s Bridge we can really feel the majestic power of nature.
In addition, if you go at a time when rainfall is low, you can walk along the riverbed. This route is similar to the one that leads to the great waterfall, but more rugged and not as well-equipped for hiking, so sometimes you will need to hold on to the walls to continue advancing.
Please take a well-deserved, refreshing dip when you reach the height of the bridge, although the water is probably quite cold and it will take you a while to get used to its temperature.
I would not like to say goodbye without indicating a few recommendations of how to prepare for this hike. Most are obvious, but I think it never hurts to list them:
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, as well as a few extra pairs of socks, because you’ll probably slip into the water. Also, if the weather is good, it would not hurt to wear or take a bathing suit so you can enjoy a cooling dip.
It’s also worth wearing a hat and sunscreen, because the lush vegetation won’t always shade us.
Put some snacks and a bottle of water in your backpack. Although along the route you will find picnic areas offering food and drinks, not all of them are open, and since the difficulty of the route requires frequent food and water intake, it’s best to carry them with you so you only have to worry about looking for a picnic area when you want to have lunch.
If you choose the route to the God’s Bridge from below, take water shoes. Sooner or later we’ll put our feet in the water, and stepping on the pointed stones of the river bed can be pretty painful on bare feet. In case we forget, at the entrance to the town we’ll most likely find stalls selling them.
Especially in summer, take the temperatures into account when planning the route: it’s best to arrive at the Grand Cascade shortly before the sun begins to set, resting there while enjoying the colors of the sunset.
With this last recommendation we wrap up the article on this must-do activity if you are traveling to Chaouen. Much love to everyone and see you in the next post!
Coordinates: 35°23′N -5°18′W (see location)
Entrance fee: Free. Cost of a guide is between 150 and 200 dirhams per group.
Where to eat: There are a multitude of snack stands by the river all along the whole trail. The main offer is tagine at an affordable price.
When to go: Any time of the year, although summer is the best time to do these trails, since it will make a dip in any of the multiple ponds even more refreshing.
Akchour is located in the immediate vicinity of Chaouen. If you want to know more about this city, visit our Chefchaouen travel guide.