Morocco: Beni Mellal – Hikes, Pistes, and Cascades
With a rising population of near 60,000 inhabitants, Beni Mellal en route to Marrakech is a newfound hotspot for travelers and tourists to Morocco. If you are able to make it on a Tuesday, then you might hit a decent souk. Here, you can buy handcrafted woolen Berber blankets, olives that grow plentiful on the opposite valley, and throughout the summer enjoy the oranges that supply the orange juice vendors their supplies in Djema El Fna square each night.
The better weekly market, however, is to be had at the Souk Sebt des Oulad Nemaa, which is the Middle Atlas Mountains’ largest weekly market. In town, one of the best sites, although not in the best shape, is Kasbah de Ras El Ain and overlooks the gardens of the area. On a clear day, you might catch a glimpse of the Ain Asserdoun spring, but the quaint atomosphere of the place makes it a nice stopover.
One of the best reasons to travel to Beni Mellal is to enjoy the hikes, pistes, and cascades of the area. The entire surrounding area is prime hiking in the foothills just below Djebel Tassemit, the second-highest peak in the area just below Djebel R’Nim. After relaxing in the area, and if you are in the mood to hike some higher peaks, then head south towards Mouriq or towards the Mellal Gorges for stunning views. A must see is the Zaouia Ahancal, but is quite difficult to ascend without a four-wheel drive. However, a back piste exists from Azilal. The best hiking, undoubtedly in the area, can begin at Bou Guemez. Mountain and trekking guides are always willing and able to take you for as many days as you’d like, although it is not entirely necessary to hire one. Spending nights in the area is easy as plenty of small hotels or gites are scattered throughout the region.
The next worthwhile stop in the area of Beni Mellal are the Cascades d’Ouzoud. They are by far the highest and most visited in all of Morocco. Western travelers will find more Moroccan tourists there then their counterparts, especially in the later summer months. The area is great for perfecting those foamy waterfall shots. Additionally, if you can beat the throngs by visiting in early summer, you’ll be able to join the local Berber kids swimming in the natural pools beneath the falls. Furthermore, the people of the area are genuinely welcoming and won’t hassle you into buying wares, staying at their hotels, or visiting their restaurants. Most definitely, the Cascades d’Ouzoud are worth spending one night.
In the summertime, you’ll find plenty of camping opportunities in either Beni Mellal or near the cascades. Again, summer is a busy time, but if you are there before July, you might have the entire camping area to yourself. Bring along a tent, or you can rent one from some of the local hotels. If you’d rather not camp, then the cafés offer comfortable and cheap rooms, provide breakfast, and have nice places to sit, have a coffee, and write about your unique Moroccan experiences.
Overall, Beni Mellal and the surrounding areas are worth a visit. They are not overcrowded with tourists and have not been commercialized or developed. If you are lucky enough to be taking your own 4×4 through Morocco, then you’ll find some great off-road trails and pistes that will take you to some far-flung villages with amazing vantage points. The Cascades d’Ouzoud offer the most refreshing and relaxing time, along with providing the best camping of the whole area.