“How do I get to the Tangier desert?” For many of you who read these articles, that comment will make you throw your hands on your head, but people interested in traveling to the north of Morocco often ask me questions like this.
I think it’s common practice, in a search to advertise destinations with a phrase or a one-minute presentation video, to simplify the cultural and geographical reality they offer. So, in the same way that the USA is usually summed up in hotdogs, cowboys and route 66, the UK is fish and chips, royal guards and castles, Morocco is reduced to cous cous, desert dunes and narrow medinas.
Therefore, this entry serves to demonstrate once again the geographical and cultural wealth that Morocco offers, with places as non-stereotypical as the Ouzoud Waterfalls. Let’s get started!
The Ouzoud Falls are located at the foot of the town of Tanaghmeilt, in the vicinity of Azilal, although it’s probably best known for being less than 90 miles (150 km) from Marrakech.
Here, along with Essaouira, are the preferred destinations for those staying in The Red City and looking for a day trip. If lack of time forces you to choose, I recommend the waterfalls, as it’s a more contrasting experience to wandering through the medina of Marrakech. On the other hand, it’s often full of foreign and local visitors, especially on weekends, so I advise you to plan to visit midweek.
There are two options to get here, at about 6 hours round trip. You can either pay for a day trip or for the services of a taxi driver. I only recommend taxis if there are enough people in your party to fill it up, maybe three or four people, and you prefer to leave and return at a certain time, because the round trip taxi ride can cost between 1500 and 1700 dirhams.
Another cost to consider is a mountain guide (approximately between 30 and 50 dirhams per person, offered at the entrance to the waterfalls). It’s not strictly necessary, but it’s recommended, given its low cost and that, despite the fact that, in general terms, the route is well signposted, sometimes we might get lost.
How to Get Down to the Falls
There are two ways to go down to where the waterfalls break: one way is faster and has stairs and the other more natural. Most likely, you’ll be told to go up and down via the first way.
The stairs are not physically demanding, so if you have some limited mobility you should have no problem with them. However, if you are somewhat physically fit, try going down via the area adjacent to the top of the waterfalls, skirting it once you get to the other end. You can go back up via the stairs, making the roundtrip less repetitive and more enjoyable.
Regardless of how you decide to do the tour, take sneakers, trainers or water shoes, as the terrain is slippery.
Everyone agrees that this is the biggest and most impressive waterfall in Morocco. It’s 350 feet tall (110 m) in three sections and has a massive flow of water practically year round from the river it gets its name from, making for a stunning show of sights and sounds.
From a nearby, high vantage point, we can start our visit enjoying the view from above and see the lake the falls flow into and the red clay cliffs dotted with moss that surround it.
We can also visit the park located just behind the falls. We can often see locals here relaxing and enjoying nature.
Heading Down to the Falls
The path down to the falls is only steep in a few spots and is never very narrow. The interesting part is that once we’re on the path we’re surrounded by so much beautiful, lush vegetation that it’s hard to tell where the waterfalls are.
Olive trees are everywhere, hence the name of the river and the waterfalls, as ouzoud means olive trees in Berber. We can also see a few simple buildings and even locals grazing their flocks.
What will capture your attention the most is probably the community of Barbary macaque monkeys that roam freely. If you’re like me, you’ll exhaust the memory of your camera taking pictures of them jumping, climbing trees or even just sitting there pensively (the monkeys’ personalities might remind you of someone you know). Please be careful and keep your distance. After all, it’s their home and we’re just visitors.
Another element to highlight are the small lakes and waterfalls that you will come across. I strongly recommend stopping at the café that is almost at the end with windows looking right out on one of those mini-waterfalls. You can stop there along the way for tea.
At the Foot of the Falls
The path down to the waterfalls should not take more than an hour. When we arrive we’ll see the majestic falls, the lake that the falls flow into and the boats along the shores of the lake.
After you’ve taken in the landscape, I recommend hiring the services of a rower. The cost will be 20 dirhams per person and you pay when you finish at the counter just behind where the boats dock.
This place really shows off the entrepreneurial spirit of the Moroccan people. They use materials that other people have thrown away like wooden pallets and planks on plastic drums and old dining chairs, covered in different brightly colored fabrics according to the boat (blue, pink, orange, etc.).
The boat ride is short but sweet. It’s a brief tour around the lake, where at any given moment we’ll get dangerously close to where the waterfall breaks. Don’t hesitate to encourage the rower to get as close as possible!
Alternatively, the most daring can choose to take a dip, provided the weather is good, as the water is usually quite cool.
There’s no interesting landscapes on the way back. There’s a good staircase, so it will be easier and faster than going down. One side of the path is a series of buildings, mainly shops and restaurants.
It’s probably lunchtime now, so let’s enjoy an inexpensive meal with priceless views. We’ll start by making sure of the price first. Don’t give up on your efforts until you get a set meal for 90-100 dirhams, and even a little less if you are skilled at haggling. About half is where we find the restaurants with good views.
About two thirds of the way up, there’s a lookout with a huge stone where people usually use to take their last pictures before leaving.
Finally, the route will become flat and the macaques will reappear. Since the Moroccans take advantage of this section to sell peanuts, the monkeys, who are surprisingly clever, flock here looking for a handout.
I once met a monkey that was rather interested in my hair. Before I knew it, he had already climbed the railing and got on to my head to sniff my scalp. The truth is it took a lot of effort to get him off of me, although it didn’t help that my friends were too busy taking pictures of him to help me.
As you can see this is a great side trip from Marrakech, as it’s inexpensive, varied and does not take that much time. Most people leave at around 8 in the morning, spend about four hours at the falls and are back in their hotels by five or six in the afternoon. There’ll be plenty of time to get to see another side of the city late in the afternoon and enjoy the Jemaa El Fna Square at night!
I think I have offered you enough arguments to feel an irrepressible desire to visit the falls the next time you go to Marrakech. Much love and see you in the next post!
Coordinates: 32°00′N 6°43′W (see location)
Altitude: 350 feet (110m)
Entrance fee: Free. Cost of a guide is between 30 and 50 dirhams per person. Cost of the boat ride, 20 dirhams.
Where to eat: nearby the waterfall there are many options, most with typical food focused on tourists at a middle price range.
When to go: All year. Even in the summer months, although there is less water flow, there are still waterfalls and you can still go for a dip.
Ouzoud is located nearby Marrakech. If you want to know more about that city, visit our Marrakech guide.