About Cascades d’Ouzoud
Cascades d’Ouzoud (or Ouzoud Falls) was really the main waterfalling reason for us to even consider going to Morocco. It’s rare for us to experience a waterfall of this magnitude cutting through contrasting reddish cliffs set amidst the typically hot and arid environments of Northern Africa. Yet here we were facing this miracle of Nature that pretty much lived up to the hype going into our trip to Morocco. We happened to catch this 110m tall waterfall at seemingly the height of the snow melt from the surrounding High Atlas Mountains so it had surprisingly good volume despite the hot weather encountered when we showed up in mid-May 2015. And we took our time hiking a loop trail that allowed us to view this falls from just about all the best viewing spots to be had here, which further added to the overall experience.
We were aware that this was perhaps one of the most visited attractions in Morocco so we expected this place to be crowded. And while our visit was on the busy side, I think we showed up late enough in the afternoon (around 4pm on a Sunday afternoon) to where most of the day visitors had already left so it was pretty much mostly locals and Moroccan visitors lingering around while there was still daylight. I’d imagine that a large chunk of the visitation would come from day-trippers from Marrakech (some 150km away or three hours drive in each direction). Since we did this waterfall en route to Bin el-Ouidane from Marrakech, we didn’t have to make the long drive back to Marrakech so we were able to linger longer and later in the afternoon for maximum enjoyment before continuing on.
The word “Ouzoud” was said to be Berber for “grinding grain”. Apparently, a lot of the buildings that we saw while touring this falls just so happened to be grinding mills (probably utilizing the force of the water). There also seemed to be quite a bit of some farming going on as well in the immediate surrounding area. Our local guide explained to us that normally this waterfall would flow year round as it was fed by some 25 springs, but over the years there had been a fair bit of small-scale water diversion for the purposes of irrigation. We actually witnessed a few hand-dug channels alongside the loop trail that we took, which further corroborated this claim. Thus, in the drier months of Summer, this falls could actually have significantly diminished flow. It’s said that Spring time would be the period of highest flow though we were pretty happy with the flow on our mid-May visit.
We began our excursion with a late lunch of delicious tagines and Moroccan tea at one of the cafes near the brink of the Cascades d’Ouzoud. We then walked in a counterclockwise loop with a stop at the brink of the falls (where we fought butterflies in our stomachs as we sought the best view possible without suffering a fatal fall from the dropoffs here). We then crossed over a bridge spanning the river Oued Tissakht, where we noticed some calm areas of the river further upstream where people were playing in the water. Then, the trail curved along with the rim of the canyon as it slowly went further from the falls while providing our first frontal views of it.
Next, the trail entered a little tree-lined area where we had some momentary relief from the intense sun. It was around the vegetation that we noticed some kind of small scale agriculture going on. Then, the concrete ended as the trail descended alongside hand-dug ditches and smaller springs before we’d eventually get to the bottom of the canyon. Once down there (taking us about an hour from the start of our walk to the bottom of the canyon Wadi el-Abid), we took a break at the Cafe de Panorama des Cascades where we managed to get direct angular views of the falls dwarfing the bridges, people, and structures fringing the waterfall’s big plunge pool. It seemed like a suitable place to chill out and have some Moroccan mint tea before continuing on.
Then, the trail undulated before descending right to the bridges spanning the Oued Tissakht (though LP referred to this river as the Oued Ouzoud). On the other side of the river, there were many cafes and souvenir stalls, and they would pretty much line the majority of the remainder of the walk. In any case, we managed to catch a few rainbows as well as some of its refreshingly cool spray to offset the hot weather at some of the shady and misty lookouts in the area. It was also down here that it seemed like most of the visitors were concentrated, which provided an atmosphere all its own.
Once we had our fill of this bustling part of the visit, we then climbed up a series of steps and uphill trails, which essentially ascended alongside the height of the Cascades d’Ouzoud’s multi-tiered drop. A few spur trails led to additional lookouts that got us even closer to the wall of water of the main drop, and I even noticed a handful of visitors who managed to get behind the main drop of Cascades d’Ouzoud by sheltering in the travertine alcoves the falls had left behind over time.
Eventually at the end of the climb, which by the way was flanked by even more souks, there was one last spur trail to our right, which ultimately led us to an overlook that provided us with a broad contextual view of Cascades d’Ouzoud and the cliffs encompassing the gorge below. There were quite a few monkeys (possibly Babary Apes or some kind of orange macaques) also sharing the overlook with the handful of visitors who managed to get to this spot. The monkeys lingered here mostly because they knew there’d be some people providing them with human food handouts. Clearly this was not a healthy practice for neither the monkeys nor the people who might get attacked from aggressive monkeys used to such handouts so we made sure Tahia stayed close to us while we were here.
Finally, we went full circle as we continued on a gently uphill course as we continued from the last overlook and returned to the cafe that we had lunch at. All that was left between this and the car park was a short walk across the narrow plaza. Overall, our visit took nearly four hours, which included a late lunch as well as a tea break after the hike was over. We also took our time on the loop trail given how hot it was on the afternoon of our visit, especially since we were quite exposed to the sun for most of our walk. At least our guide knew where the shadows would be so our counterclockwise loop meant that the climb back up to the top was totally in the shade.
Had we done the Cascades d’Ouzoud as an out-and-back day excursion from Marrakech (like what most foreign visitors would seem to do), then we’d definitely need an early start to cover the minimum of six hours of driving as well as the time spent enjoying the falls as well. Fortunately for us, we weren’t returning to Marrakech so we were able to stay longer so we never felt like our visit here was rushed.
Cascades d’Ouzoud was said to be roughly 160km east-northeast of Marrakech. This distance was said to require about three hours of driving in each direction so it would make for a very long out-and-back day tour. Julie, Tahia, and I happened to visit the falls as part of a one-way drive from Marrakech to Bin el-Ouidane with a detour to Imi n’Ifri Natural Bridge near Demnate.
It took us about two hours to drive to Imi n’Ifri from Marrakech, then about 75 minutes to drive from Demnate to Cascades d’Ouzoud, then another hour to drive from the waterfalls to Bin el-Ouidane. We can’t give specific directions since we were driven out here on a custom tour. If you’re self-driving, you need to be cognizant of numerous police traps and checkpoints typically checking for speeding as well as checking for security purposes.
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