The Anti-Atlas: Morocco’s coolest region

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In the journal I kept during my first visit to the Anti-Atlas, I refer to the region as Kokonino Kounty, a reference to George Herriman’s surreal portrayal of the Arizona desert. Drunken rock formations, prickly pear cacti, argan trees and oases are the trademarks of the area, which sits in the rain shadow of the High Atlas. It feels far from home, but is it really? A geologist will tell you the Anti-Atlas were formed by the ancient and epic Acadian Orogeny, the movement of the earth’s crust which shunted Africa up against the east coast of the US. The Anti-Atlas is just another name for the eastern half of Appalachia.

When to go

January to April are the best times for enjoying the outdoors. Seasonal streams will be flowing after the winter rains — if you go in January you might be caught in one of these showers. But January and early February is the peak time to see the almond trees popping into blossom, coloring the villages with explosions of pink and white. April is the time when things are at their greenest; one kid in a dry, dusty village told me to come back for a visit in April when the place would “look like India”.

Hubs for activity

Tiznit is my second home in Morocco, for no reason other than that it’s a comfy atmosphere. There’s no street hassling (yet); the few vocal shopkeepers are polite and helpful. Most tourists you’ll see are French and German caravanners. Apart from an old rampart there isn’t much of a historic feel to the city, but there’s an impressive mosque, and the souq is a fun place to walk around, full of useful things you might actually want to buy (cf. Marrakech’s cheap knick-knacks). Tiznit has for centuries been a hub for the silver trade, as silver and other precious metals are dug straight out of the ground in the nearby mountains.

Tiznit is culturally significant as one of the largest cities in which Tachelhit is the majority language.

Tafraoute — you’d be better off consulting a guidebook about this place, as it’s always bewildered me. A large town surrounded by eye-popping geology, Tafraoute has settled very comfortably into its role as a tourist hub, and specializes in adventure sports. This is the place to rent a bike or a 4×4 excursion. It’s a good place to find a mountain guide as well.

Nearby attractions include the Ait Mansour oasis gorge, and some rocks that a Belgian artist has gone and painted blue.

Transport

To get to the southern Anti-Atlas from Marrakech or Casa, you’ll get a  bus to Agadir (or more likely, Inezgane) from which it’s a 2-hour bus ride to Tiznit. Once in Tiznit, there’s actually a fairly comprehensive service of little green buses which run through all the mountain roads. These buses are cheap, but a shared taxi will get you where you want to go a lot faster. Of course hitchhiking is a good option as well.

Sites of particular interest

I don’t know what the guidebooks recommend, but here’s my list:

Ait Mansour gorge — a deep canyon lush with agriculture and date palms. A lot of cool history and geology here.

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Couldn’t find my pics of Ait Mansour, but all oases look the same

Tanalt — A huge olive grove with nice surroundings

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Terraces near Tanalt

Targa-n-Touchka — Not the sort of ‘oasis’ you’d typically imagine; rather a wide, well-irrigated valley, like a little bit of jungle stuck in the middle of the arid mountains.

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Agriculture in Targa-n-Touchka

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