Agadir Paradise Valley
Paradise Valley is problematic to describe as it is not so much a specific location as a journey through widely differing scenery and locations. Physically Paradise Valley occupies the valley of Tamrhakht within the western most High Atlas.
Most visitors to Paradise Valley travel onwards from the palm groves and gorges of the river Tamrhakht up into the mountains towards Imouzzer. The names of this and other villages differ according to whom or from where you are receiving your directions. This variance applies also to the names of valleys, estimates of distance, timetables of bus transport, and of course the cost of getting there and back. Getting to Paradise Valley and the mountains beyond requires a hire car or collective grand taxi. The latter is far cheaper, much more convoluted, and usually more fun. A seat in a shared collective grand taxi from Agadir will take you the 10 kms north along the coast to Aourir, at a cost of 5 dirham. Aourir is the dusty chaotic town which is the gateway to this part of the High Atlas Mountains, and through which you must travel to reach Paradise Valley . You will need to transfer to another collective grand taxi in Aourir. Expect to pay in the region of 25 dirham each to get to Paradise Valley and about 50 dirham to go as far as Imouzzer. Be aware that price varies not only according to distance, but also destination, the day, and the time of day you want to travel. Aourir runs on the Berber clock of the mountains, and at nightfall no taxis will be going anywhere. If you are going to visit Paradise Valley by public transport then you need to be prepared to spend the night there in a hotel in order to experience anything other than stress and frustration. The drive through Aourir is always somewhat chaotic with cars parking, parked, or departing from in-front of food stalls, all this is interspersed with kids on bicycles riding around in the traffic, occasionally with old Compact Discs glued to the rear mudguard as ingenious reflectors. The Spice Girls … after they were famous! Upon leaving the town the road leads along a rather barren and nondescript dry valley. This approach to paradise valley is not yet very impressive, unless paradise equates to a lunar landscape.
After Alma the road continues onwards and upwards along a gentle but steepening incline towards an approaching ridge top. Upon cresting this peak you will look down into an expansive canyon that is Paradise Valley . Many kilometers across, and with countless side gullies and slopes. That the Grand Canyon has bizarrely materialised in the wrong country gives the first impression. But the slopes of this canyon are not entirely barren, and instead are generously scattered with Alerce Pine and other stunted trees. Far greener still is the palm oasis beside the flowing river Tamrhakht far below. The road threads downwards into this mountain oasis via hairpin bends and a long descent through road cuttings, and over gullies of desiccated shale. At the river Tamrhakht things change quickly as the road passes a tiny strip of houses and a café before being absorbed into an extensive palm filled gorge.
Within the impressive gorges of paradise valley even your sense of direction becomes obscured as the gorge twists about the different parts of the compass, and all landmarks providing orientation towards sea or mountain are lost beyond the steep deep limestone walls of the gorge. In places views of the sky above become rare beneath the hundreds of feet of stone cliff, and then the cloaking palm forest. This small river has somehow cut a deep trench vertically through a mountain range providing a claustrophobic view of its innards. These consist of near horizontal but gently undulating beds of limestone from past millennia. The only accurate way to describe the gorge is like something from out of this World. Within the river and its associated water pools you will find plenty of fish, frogs, and if you are lucky the odd family of Spanish terrapins scudding along silently through the clear water.
After the villages of Tifrit, and Aksri, the road leads upwards into the mountains towards Imouzzer. The climate is now cooler at over 1000 meters, and tracts of Aleppo Pine forest have appeared. This is no small feat at this far southern latitude. If you look at a map you will see that moving directly to the east you eventually come to the Sahara desert! Imouzzer is the main destination for a trickle of tourists in white hire cars, and a few coach loads of day excursion visitors from Agadir. They are particularly prevalent on a Thursday, when there is a Berber market within the village. This market seems no different to many other markets across Morocco . Neither are the famous “cascades” the main sight to see at Imouzzer, as the waterfall lacks any flowing water! Most come to visit the rambling gardens of the Hotel des Cascades, these surround a swimming pool and tennis court, and are freely available to anyone who wants to stop for a coffee on a mountain top terrace.
From the gorge the road exits north, and immediately begins a steep climb up the northwards side of an immense canyon, down which the now dry riverbed runs from the east. The village of Tifrit hugs the northern wall of the valley, perched above the immense canyon beneath it. The hotel Tifrit is by far the best accommodation for exploring the gorges and hiking in the surrounding hills of Paradise Valley . At 375 dirham for twin or double rooms, inclusive of breakfast and evening meal for two people, this is uncommonly good value. Rasheed who runs the hotel is very accommodating to any guests and will where possible provide all manner of help, from advise on hiking, wildlife, changing money, to arranging taxi’s and occasionally donkeys. The hotel has a small pool. A unique hotel where swallows fly up and down the corridors in summer, to avoid the hot sun! Toilets are clean but communal. If you need 4* sterility and refer to nature as creepy crawlies, then perhaps this is not your hotel.
On the approach to Paradise Valley, beside the town of Alma , are the first of several fossil shops that are deployed beside the road. Certainly not yet paradise, but worth stopping for a rummage around all the same. Be warned that many of the fossils on sale are fakes. Not all, but many, are carved from pieces of stone, particularly the ammonites. These often reach gargantuan proportions, and sometimes have moons, stars, and all manner of other evolutionary wonders carved into them. Elaborate works of art possibly, but fossils they are not.
There are no banks or financial service providers of any kind within Paradise Valley (hence the name). Bring all the money you need from Agadir, and budget accordingly.
The area specialises in the production of honey, and to a lesser extent the highly prized Argan oil. Prices maybe a bit more expensive than in Agadir, but some of the Berbers have said that in Agadir the honey and argan oil is often blended with lesser products to bulk it out.
Choosing to eat lunch at the Hotel des Cascades is a good plan, although cheaper meals are available within the village of Imouzzer . The cuisine is French as well as Moroccan, and the menu of the day is around 130 dirham, with a bottle of wine costing 170 dirham. It is worth paying this additional expense to be able to look across the gardens, and out over the vast amphitheater of the Tinkert valley below. If you do not have your own transport, and do not want to pay 600 dirham for a night in the hotel, then leave plenty of time for getting a lift to Agadir or Tifrit before nightfall. Better still get the mobile phone number from the taxi driver who brings you up to Imouzzer. There is a single bus departing to Agadir at 7am in the morning. The food at the hotel Tifrit, and the restaurant Panaramique just up the road, is excellent. The Moroccan cuisine consists of tajines, couscous, and brochettes (kebabs). Both restaurants provide snacks such as salads and omelettes.