High-Atlas-Morocco

Morocco - natural history, mountains and coast

An introduction to the natural history of southern Morocco.
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Wildlife Travel leaflet Morocco 2020 BBC Wildlife

Dates

7 – 14 March 2020

Leaders

Philip Precey and James Lowen

Price

£1,675

Single Room Supplement – £165

Included

Return flights from London Gatwick to Agadir. Local transport on excursions as specified in the itinerary. Seven nights’ accommodation, full board basis.

Not included

Refreshments. Entrance fees for optional sightseeing. Gratuities. Travel insurance.

Group size

Minimum 6, maximum 12.

Morocco is a country of great contrasts. Situated on the edge of Europe, its culture and people are a fascinating mix of Berber, European, African and Arab influences. From the Mediterranean coast in the north, through the snow covered Atlas mountains to the arid Saharan desert these diverse habitats make Morocco a top destination for wildlife.

March is the best time for enjoying many of the flowers, both on the coast and in the mountains. With Mediterranean, Macaronesian and African influences, this area has a fascinating mix of plants including succulent euphorbias, colourful composites, toadflaxes and lavenders and interesting shrubs, including the endemic Argan tree.

The birdlife is very interesting and we should see most of the local specialties, including House Bunting, Moussier’s Redstart, Black-crowned Tchagra and, with luck, the endangered Northern Bald Ibis. We will visit the Sous Massa National Park, where as well as a variety of birds, we will also look for several species of antelope that have been reintroduced here, including Addax, Dorcas Gazelle and the graceful Scimitar-horned Oryx.

Based for the week at the wonderful Atlas Kasbah, near Agadir, this holiday is intended to give an introduction to the plants, birds and other wildlife of this corner of southern Morocco, including an insight into the local Berber culture, at a relaxed pace. This trip should be ideal for anyone wanting a taste of Morocco in the company of expert leaders whilst enjoying a high standard of accommodation and easy, comfortable travel.

Day 1 Flight to Agadir and transfer to the Atlas Kasbah (c. 30 minutes).

Day 2 We explore the lanes and hillsides around the hotel and the nearby village. We walk through the Argan woodland and discover why the tree is so valuable. The Argan tree, Argania spinosa is a remnant of a once tropical flora and a key tree in the local economy: the oval fruits sustain the local community and there is an increasing commercial activity selling the sweet rich oil, widely used in cosmetics as well as traditional Moroccan cooking. Colourful annuals are a feature of the field edges, with local specialities such as the orange-flowered Cladanthus arabicus, the pretty blue Volutaria crupinoides and the bugloss Echium horridum. The garden birdlife includes Common Bulbul, House Bunting and Moussier’s Redstart, while Black-crowned Tchagra and Western Orphean Warbler sing from the Argan groves.

Day 3 The Atlantic coast south to the Sahara is well known for its unique communities of succulents Euphorbia officinarum, E. regisjubae and Kleinia anteuphorbia mixed with shrubs such as Nauplius imbricatus, Searsia pentaphylla and the desert-dwelling Warionia saharae. We visit Cap Rhir to explore these communities and visit nearby Oued Tamri, where we hope to find the endangered Northern Bald Ibis: the total world population is only around 800 birds.

Day 4 Today we visit the attractive town of Taroudant, described as a ’mini Marrakech’ but with a character of its own reflecting its rich Berber culture. We will explore the labyrinthine market – full of spices and herbs and traditional furnishings, House Buntings singing from the buildings and Little Swift overhead. We also visit a women’s Argan oil co-operative and visit the oasis at Tioute, the natural habitat of the date palm Phoenix dactylifera.

Day 5 We head south along the coast to the famous Souss-Massa National Park. We will learn about the important conservation work going on here, especially the reintroduction of a variety of Saharan ‘megafauna’ to the reserve; antelopes including Dorcas Gazelle, Scimitar-horned Oryx and Addax, and the North African Ostrich, all of which have become almost extinct across much of their range due to overhunting. We visit the area where these animals have been reintroduced. We will finish our day by visiting the Oued Sous, where Greater Flamingos gather on the estuary and feed alongside various waders, gulls  and terns.

Day 6 We head south to the Anti-Atlas, a low range of very old mountains, which form much of the landscape in the south east of the country. We travel to Ait Baha and beyond, with stunning views and interesting plants along the way: local endemic specialities include the toadflax Linaria ventricosa and Hesperolaburnum platycarpum. Barbary Ground Squirrel and the large lizard Bibron’s Agama may appear along the roadside, while Bonelli’s Eagle soar overhead.

Day 7 Today we head in the opposite direction, for the slopes of the High Atlas, making a circuit via the aptly-named Paradise Valley and the Cascades du Immouzer. We will find the Berber Thuya Tetraclinis articulata, an interesting conifer, as well as hillsides covered in Dwarf Fan Palm mixed in with Lavandula dentata and the beautiful shrubby milkwort, Polygala balansae, with contrasting petals of deep purple and yellow.

Day 8 Our final morning, for those who have enjoyed the food over the week, there will be the opportunity to learn more about Moroccan cooking this morning. Alternatively, for those who prefer, we will re-visit some of the local lanes to see how the spring has progressed. After a final lunch out on the terrace, we will have a lazy afternoon enjoying the relaxing grounds and pool, before we transfer to Agadir and our flights to UK.

Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.

We will stay for the whole week at the wonderful, award-winning Atlas Kasbah, set in lush grounds amongst the Argan trees in the Arganeraie  Biosphere Reserve. Opened in 2009, the Kasbah was designed sustainably, built using traditional techniques and local craftsmen, with a view to promoting ecotourism in Morocco and sharing the local Berber heritage. The rooms are spacious, the local culture reflected in the furnishings, with lovely views from the roof terrace and patio. The Atlas Kasbah is the first accommodation in North Africa to have been granted the prestigious World Responsible Tourism Award (Gold winner, 2015) as a recognition of its proactive ecotourism practices. In 2016 it won the COP22 Tourism and Climate Award.

All meals are included. Evening meals will be at the hotel and we will have picnic lunches on most days.

We will travel by minibus for our excursions. Our visit to Sous Massa will be in high clearance 4WD vehicles.

The group flights are with Easyjet from London Gatwick:

7 March depart London Gatwick 14.15, arrive Agadir 19.10
14 March depart Agadir 20.05, arrive Gatwick 22.55

It should also be possible to fly from Manchester with Easyjet:

7 March depart Manchester 14.35, arrive Agadir 19.35
14 March depart Agadir 20.20, arrive Manchester 23.25

Morocco is one hour ahead of UK time.

If you hold a British passport, you do not currently need a visa to travel to Morocco, but your passport will need to be valid for at least six months after your entry into Morocco. If you do not have a UK passport, please check with your local consulate.

In March, the weather is usually sunny but not too hot. If we do get hotter weather we will adapt the itinerary as much as possible. There may be some cooler weather and some rain.

This is not a strenuous holiday but on some days we will be walking for much of the day, sometimes gently uphill. All excursions are optional and you can choose to spend more time in the pleasant grounds and rooms of the hotel if you wish. The hotel rooms are on the first or second floor and reached by stairs.