Imlil, Morocco


This sleepy Berber mountain town in the High Atlas was very cold and very quiet in January. I ended up here on a whim with my friend Davita, who I had met in Essaouira, where a girl at our hostel had convinced us that we had to check out Imlil for the incredible mountain scenery. Davita and I got a shared taxi from Marrakesh to Asni, where we had to find another taxi to take us to Imlil pretty late at night. We met some really kind strangers along the way who helped us figure out how to get there – our driver even offered us a room in his family’s house to spend the night. Instead, we hiked in the dark to the bed & breakfast our friend had recommended, with the help of some very nice locals. We were welcomed with a crackling fire, a warm bed, wonderful tagine, and classic Moroccan whiskey (mint tea).


Okay, I truly hate to sound like a pretentious twat here, but neither Davita nor I was particularly impressed with Imlil. I mean, Davita can literally see the Alps from her backyard in Switzerland, and I’ve been backpacking in the Bolivian Andes. Because we are both privileged enough to have already seen insanely dramatic mountainscapes, Imlil seemed a bit lackluster by comparison. I’m sure it would look incredible to someone who has never been up in the mountains before. Also, I should probably mention that we didn’t even go to Imlil’s main attraction – Mt. Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa. So I can’t offer any insight on that experience. I would have liked to attempt to climb a real mountain, but we didn’t have the proper equipment nor the motivation to do it in the dead of winter. So we just opted for a day hike instead, and it turned out to be really weird.


We hired a guide for the day, and he was really polite and friendly. But he got a little bit too friendly as our hike progressed. At first, he held my hand so I wouldn’t slip on the ice (the trail actually was extremely slippery), but then he kept on holding my hand or trying to hold my hand even when I told him I was doing fine by myself. He asked me if I had a boyfriend or if I was married, and I thought to myself, “Oh here we go again!”. I brushed off all these things as being pretty standard with Moroccan men – I’d heard it all before, and it was annoying, but I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. But then, when we finally got to the top of our little mountain, he came up to give me a high-five but instead went straight in and kissed me on the neck! I was grossed out. I told him to please not do that. And instead of apologizing, he basically wouldn’t talk to us for the second half of the hike, and walked about half a mile in front of us the whole way – all after we had paid him to hike with us.


I was super annoyed that our guide had turned out to be a bit of a creep. Once again, being a female traveler in Morocco entails a lot of unwanted attention. Your attitude towards it makes a huge difference, of course – I met a lot of girls who really didn’t mind it and were able to laugh it off every time – but I got so tired of always being hit on when all I wanted to do was go on a nice hike and learn about history and nature.


The hike made us kind of angry, but we made up for it by visiting the hammam with an Australian woman we’d met in the mountains. Hammams are basically public bath houses, where people go to bathe and scrub their skin and, of course, meet up with friends to gossip. Moroccan cities are full of fancy, expensive hammams for tourists, but you’ll have the most authentic experience in a public hammam. It’s super cheap and very rustic, and it’s a lot of fun to figure out the process for yourself. For me, and I’m sure for many other women, the ladies hammam is the ultimate safe haven because there are absolutely no men allowed! Finally, I had found a place to escape from all the uncontrolled testosterone that inundates every corner of Morocco. It felt so freeing to strip down naked alongside the Moroccan women who I had only ever seen completely covered and veiled.


In our case, no one at the hammam spoke much English or French, so we pretty much communicated in sign language. We all entered a big, dark, steamy room, splashed hot water all over ourselves, and scrubbed our skin with harsh, black soap. It felt great. A woman scrubbed all of us until a whole layer of our skin came off, and then gave us all a massage, which stretched my muscles so much that I could barely walk the next day. We all just laid there in the steam and talked and laughed until we got too hot. The experience was wonderful – I have never felt so fresh and clean and spiritually renewed before. And the whole thing was only about 8 dollars.


Imlil ended up being a pretty good time by the end, but I’m not too compelled to go back. It’s great for people who really want to be somewhere quiet with good access to mountain trails, but watch out for creepy guides. And don’t order a margherita pizza, unless by “margherita” you actually mean burnt cheese and olives (I’m still bitter about that).


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