We heard it before we saw it, the rumbling sound of the waterfall just underneath us. We followed the path and soon got our first glimpse of the cascades in all their glory, carefully peering over the edge into the valley, watching the water plummeting into the river below. A rainbow framed the distant rocks beneath us and birds glided to their nests in the sandstone cliffs.
We were standing just outside the village of Tanaghmeilt, above Ouzoud Falls, which at around 110 metres are the highest in North Africa. This was definitely going to be a day trip to remember…
Earlier that morning, after a quick breakfast, I headed out to catch a taxi to Djemaa el-Fna, the main square in Marrakesh. I flagged down a car and climbed in, only to realise that there was already a passenger in the back seat. Taxis in Morocco often pick up multiple passengers and drop them off in turn. I started putting on my seatbelt when the taxi driver laughed and waved at me to not bother. Clearly safety wasn’t as high on the list of priorities here as it is back home!
We headed away from the Old Town (and from where I needed to be) and I was beginning to glance at the time anxiously but then the other passenger got out and we raced back towards town. I paid the driver and walked across Djemaa el-Fna as it was still waking up to the first morning rays.
I got to the hostel I was staying that for a few nights after arriving in Morocco and met my friends who were just finishing their breakfast. After paying for our tickets, we followed the driver towards the square as cars cannot access many streets and alleyways in the medina. We climbed on the minibus and waited for the other passengers to arrive.
Soon, we were driving out of Marrakech, heading east, through an ever-changing landscape. Flat valleys with sparse vegetation gave way to olive groves and zigzagging switchbacks of the High Atlas mountains. We pressed our faces against the window as we watched flocks of sheep grazing on the steep slopes and sleepy villages flashing by in the morning sunshine.
We had a couple of bathroom breaks on the way and managed to get some snacks for the rest of the three hour journey.
Eventually, we arrived in Tanaghmeilt and followed our guide, Samir, past the usual cafes and souvenir shops. We looked around but couldn’t figure out where the waterfalls could be but then continued across a small bridge before stopping in our tracks, silently taking in the incredible view with the rainbow that suddenly opened up before us.
Past the falls, mountains stretched out into the distance as the Oued Tissakht river carved its path through the gorge over a 100 metres below us. Olive trees covered red sandstone slopes and figs lined the floor in the nearby orchards.
We continued along the path at the top of the canyon and stopped in the shade of the trees to learn about the history of the Berber people in this region and their writing systems.
We started making our way down into the canyon, navigating the narrow rocky paths, while trying not to slip up. Some of the others on the tour were having a harder time with this – flip flops were not the best choice of footwear for the terrain! Samir didn’t have any issues though, sweeping up one of the younger kids in the group and running down the hill with him under his arm, before helping others.
After traversing the switchbacks for a while, we reached the river and headed upstream past small cascades, rock pools and grazing donkeys, crossing plank bridges over the water and climbing ladders to higher ground.
We stopped for a break and enjoyed a freshly squeezed orange juice in the shade of a covered pavilion. I hopped across some rocks and run my hands through the cold water rushing downstream and took a second to look around me. Everything was very green and didn’t feel like the Morocco I expected to see before I came out here.
After the break, we continued past more orange juice stands and carpet sellers (I wondered how they managed to get their wares all the way down into the canyon!) and headed up the path that hugged the rock face before descending to the foot of the waterfalls.
They looked even more impressive from here. We watched as the water crashed down from where we were standing just a while ago, foaming at the pool below and sending clouds of mist in the air. We decided to get closer and jumped on a small boat (well, more like a floating platform with chairs) and let a local Berber man row all 8 of us closer to the falls (20 dirhams each).
We struggled to hear each other over the roar of the waterfall and the guy pretended to row straight under it before pulling us out of the vortex at the last minute. We gazed up at the wall of water before us, squinting from the sun and the spray.
After about 15 minutes, we climbed out of the boat and headed up to the restaurant perched on the side of the cliff and plonked down in the plastic chairs. We were more tired than we realised and welcomed the ice cold bottles of water that arrived soon afterwards.
We had a prime spot on the terrace overlooking the falls and we enjoyed our chicken kebab skewers and tagines in the warm afternoon sun whilst being almost hypnotised by the falling water.
Eventually, Samir managed to tear us away from the view and we started climbing steps past shops and stalls up towards the top of the cliff. It was slow going – we suddenly regretted eating so much of the free bread at the restaurant!
We still had time to stop at a flat platform and say hello to the semi-wild Barbary apes relaxing in the shade and snacking on the peanuts that vendors sold to tourists for some loose change. One climbed straight onto my head and proceeded to shell a peanut all over my clothes.
One of my favourite photos from the trips has to be the moment I made friends with another ape on the edge of the platform, overlooking the green slopes of the mountains in the distance, the thin ribbon of the river snaking through the canyon far below.
We continued to climb up and soon enough emerged at the top, heading past an imposing concrete hotel that’s being built in this village to attract more tourists to the natural beauty of the area. As we were saying our goodbyes to Samir, I paused to think what will happen to this idyllic spot in a few years’ time. What comforted me was the thought that these falls have been here for millions of years and they will remain as long the water keeps flowing – and that rainbow shimmers at the bottom of the canyon.
Ouzoud Falls are a popular day trip destination from Marrakech. It takes about 3 hours by mini-bus each way. You can book either via a tour company or through your accommodation. We paid 200 dirhams (about £14.50/$21) for everything and tipped the guide around 50 dirhams (£3.50/$5).