Cascades de Setti Fatma

Marrakech / Ourika Valley, Al Haouz Province, Morocco

About Cascades de Setti Fatma


Hiking Distance: 2km round trip (1st falls); > 4km round trip; scrambling (upper falls view)
Suggested Time: 2 hours (1st falls); 3 hours (upper falls view)

Date first visited: 2015-05-16
Date last visited: 2015-05-16

Waterfall Latitude: 31.21984
Waterfall Longitude: -7.66905

Cascades de Setti Fatma (Setti Fatma Waterfalls or Cascades Ourika; I think is pronounced “OO-reek-ah”) were said to be a series of seven waterfalls above the village of Setti Fatma (or Sti Fadma) nestled in the Ourika Valley.

The valley itself was within the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, which was one of the physical barriers to the Sahara Desert.

Setti_Fatma_107_05162015 - Les Cascades de Setti Fatma (or the Setti Fatma Waterfalls)
Les Cascades de Setti Fatma (or the Setti Fatma Waterfalls)

So it provided a dramatic contrast between lush snowmelt-fed valleys and the unforgiving desert climate that pervaded most of Northern Africa.

In our experience, we managed to reach just one of these waterfalls (not counting the handful of smaller waterfalls and cascades en route), which seemed to have an impressive drop of about 25-30m.

I also managed to scramble up to an even higher overlook that revealed at least two more waterfalls, which you can see in the photo above.

Paradoxical Contrast Between Accessibility and Nature

Perhaps what really stood out to us about the Setti Fatma Waterfalls experience was the seemingly paradoxical contrast between accessibility, popularity, and commercialism.

Setti_Fatma_197_05162015 - Context of Moroccan souks next to the raging stream crossed by seemingly temporary bridges on the Cascades de Setti Fatma Trail
Context of Moroccan souks next to the raging stream crossed by seemingly temporary bridges on the Cascades de Setti Fatma Trail

First, the trail was not easy by any stretch of the imagination.

It involved a steep and persistent climb that went from an established footpath to a rocky scramble with stream crossings over harrowing makeshift bridges and dropoff exposure the higher up we went.

Overall, we spent about three hours in total on this hike, where we had to pay more attention to the hazards than we did to the modest trail length.

Second, despite the difficulty of this hike, it was also very popular, which seemed almost crazy to think that this could be possible.

Setti_Fatma_045_05162015 - Despite the fairly difficult hike, the Cascades de Setti Fatma remained a very popular excursion just a couple hours drive from Marrakech
Despite the fairly difficult hike, the Cascades de Setti Fatma remained a very popular excursion just a couple hours drive from Marrakech

I attribute this to the fact that the Ourika Valley was said to be about 64km southeast of Marrakech, which itself was a very popular and busy city.

While we’ve read that many foreigners came to the Cascades de Setti Fatma as half-day or full-day trips from Marrakech, we’ve noticed many more Moroccans during our May 2015 visit (and hardly any foreigners).

In fact, I recalled seeing folks like older children, middle-aged, and even senior Moroccans hiking in flip flops, barefoot, or even dress sandals (in the case of some women).

We had a hard enough time on the trail with our sturdy hiking boots, but yet other less geared up individuals seemed to have a successful visit themselves.

Setti_Fatma_047_05162015 - Context of Julie struggling on a particular rocky part of the hike while a local Moroccan family also negotiates the same obstacle going in the opposite direction
Context of Julie struggling on a particular rocky part of the hike while a local Moroccan family also negotiates the same obstacle going in the opposite direction

Lastly, the trail seemed to have no shortage of opportunities for Berber locals to monetize the traffic on this somewhat difficult trail.

We encountered several cafes, souvenir shops, rink stands, and even fruit stands throughout half of the trail.

It seemed like a lot of trouble to even haul up the goods up to some of these spots on the trail, which perhaps spoke volumes about how the Berber people were very acclimated to the mountains.

We even encountered a built-up cafe right next to the base of the first of the Cascades de Setti Fatma as well as a refreshment stand in the precarious overlook where I ultimately earned the view you see pictured above!

Setti_Fatma_090_05162015 - Context of a Moroccan cafe adjacent to the first of the Cascades de Setti Fatma
Context of a Moroccan cafe adjacent to the first of the Cascades de Setti Fatma

Little would we realize that this was actually a pretty common practice on just about all the popular trails that we happened to encounter throughout Morocco.

The Hike to the First Setti Fatma Waterfall

The hike to the first of the Cascades de Setti Fatma started off innocently from the village of Setti Fatma.

It was on a mostly uphill trail that crossed bridges (none of the bridges we encountered had railings mind you) over fast-moving rivers and streams, before continuing uphill on a series of steps.

The path then became uphill dirt paths with more stream crossings (mostly bridged though some not) before ultimately scrambling on rocky surfaces.

Setti_Fatma_025_05162015 - Crossing the river in the village of Setti Fatma en route to the trail leading up to the Cascades de Setti Fatma
Crossing the river in the village of Setti Fatma en route to the trail leading up to the Cascades de Setti Fatma

During this ascent, we encountered several smaller waterfalls and cascades.

I wasn’t sure if these counted as part of the seven waterfalls that our guidebooks talked about or not, but I didn’t count them as such.

There were also some water channels providing some small scale water diversion besides some of these waterfalls.

Our guide was quick to point out that the Berber people knew how to do this before the Romans.

Setti_Fatma_043_05162015 - Looking down over the top of an intermediate cascade towards an aqueduct diverting some parts of the Setti Fatma stream
Looking down over the top of an intermediate cascade towards an aqueduct diverting some parts of the Setti Fatma stream

In fact, he said that the Romans may have learned their water channeling techniques from the Berber people.

As we went higher up, the rocky scrambles were more persistent with some mild dropoff exposure.

Often times, the trail was steep and potentially slippery enough (especially with wet shoes) that we needed to use our hands as well as our feet to get by some of the obstacles.

The trail ultimately crossed one last sketchy scramble and bridged stream crossing before arriving at the cafe fronting the first of the Cascades de Setti Fatma.

Setti_Fatma_061_05162015 - Julie descending towards the last footbridge before the Waterfall Cafe adjacent to the first of the Setti Fatma Waterfalls
Julie descending towards the last footbridge before the Waterfall Cafe adjacent to the first of the Setti Fatma Waterfalls

The uphill hike took us about an hour to reach this first waterfall.

That said, I did carry our four-year-old daughter in a carrier throughout this hike so it could take a little less time and degree-of-difficulty than what I’m making it out to be.

The Hike to the Upper Viewpoint of More Setti Fatma Waterfalls

Beyond the first of the Setti Fatma Waterfalls, I went alone with the guide on a very rough trail climbing high up to an overlook.

This overlook allowed me to view at least two more waterfalls in addition to the first one (see photo at the top of this page).

Setti_Fatma_102_05162015 - A local guide sets up a temporary ladder to traverse a very steep and harrowing climb above the first of the Setti Fatma Waterfalls
A local guide sets up a temporary ladder to traverse a very steep and harrowing climb above the first of the Setti Fatma Waterfalls

The climb began right behind the cafe by the first falls, but it quickly degenerated into a very dangerous steep scramble.

I definitely needed help from the guide to know where to place my hands and feet as well as position my body.

There were at least a couple of moments where I thought I was going to fall and take a nasty spill even with this guidance!

Eventually after getting above this harrowing scramble (where I knew going down would be even more difficult than going up), I then climbed up to a seemingly out-of-place refreshment stand.

Setti_Fatma_151_05162015 - This was the refreshment stand overlooking the first three of the main Setti Fatma Waterfalls, which seemed so out-of-place given how hard it was to even get up here!
This was the refreshment stand overlooking the first three of the main Setti Fatma Waterfalls, which seemed so out-of-place given how hard it was to even get up here!

Up here, there were intricately patterned seat pillows and blankets with tables and railings taking in the view of at least the first three of the Cascades de Setti Fatma.

I had read in our guidebooks that it was possible to conceivably trek and scramble to the remaining waterfalls, but it was clear to me that it became more difficult and dangerous the further up I went.

Thus, I can’t comment any further on the remaining Cascades de Setti Fatma.

That said, I did see a handful of other Moroccans scramble closer to the top of one of the upper waterfalls before me.

Setti_Fatma_128_05162015 - Context of a Moroccan who managed to scramble to this precarious rock outcrop overlooking the Cascades de Setti Fatma before he would continue further upstream closer to the waterfalls themselves
Context of a Moroccan who managed to scramble to this precarious rock outcrop overlooking the Cascades de Setti Fatma before he would continue further upstream closer to the waterfalls themselves

Anyways, this perspective made me appreciate the context of the overall scale of the Setti Fatma Waterfalls and the deep valleys they spilled into.

The Return Hike from the Setti Fatma Waterfalls

As taxing as the climb up to the Setti Fatma Waterfalls were, the return hike was actually not as quick as I had hoped.

Normally, going down would be much faster than going up, but given how rough the trail was, this was not the case.

Indeed, the first hour of our hike was spent on the ascent up to the first waterfall.

Setti_Fatma_150_05162015 - Looking down at the context of people hiking to and from the Cascades de Setti Fatma as seen on the return hike
Looking down at the context of people hiking to and from the Cascades de Setti Fatma as seen on the return hike

The next hour was spent enjoying the first waterfall while I also scrambled up to that lookout of most of the first three waterfalls.

Then, the last hour was spent descending back to the Setti Fatma village, where the rough terrain conspired to bust our ankles while our knees were already wearing the stress of pounding on the hard and uneven surfaces.

The hiking difficulty given at the top of this page includes the scramble I did to get up to the lookout of the first three waterfalls.

The difficulty could be bumped down to 3 or 3.5 if the goal is only to reach the first waterfall then return.

Setti_Fatma_211_05162015 - Returning to the village of Setti Fatma thereby ending our adventure for les Cascades de Setti Fatma Trail
Returning to the village of Setti Fatma thereby ending our adventure for les Cascades de Setti Fatma Trail

Finally, even though I carried our daughter on the hike, I have to admit that it was a little risky given the exposure to hazards.

Have a look at the photo journal below and make your evaluation as to whether the risk reward would be worth it to you or not if you’re in a similar situation with kids.

Authorities

Les Cascades de Setti Fatma (or the Setti Fatma Waterfalls) reside in the village of Setti Fatma in the Ourika Valley of the Al Haouz Province in Morocco. I don’t think the waterfalls are administered by any formal authority, but there are Setti Fatma locals who are motivated to maintain the trails for commerce. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you may get leads from the Morocco National Tourism website.

Setti_Fatma_006_05162015 - Leaving Marrakech and driving towards Ourika Valley in the heart of the High Atlas Mountains seen here through the haze still clinging onto its snow despite the 40C weather
Setti_Fatma_018_05162015 - Looking downstream towards other bridges along the river Oued Ourika as we started walking towards the Setti Fatma Waterfalls
Setti_Fatma_022_05162015 - Looking upstream at other bridges crossing the Ourika River so clearly there's more than one way of getting to the Setti Fatma Waterfalls
Setti_Fatma_028_05162015 - Looking downstream towards other bridges along the river Oued Ourika from the start of our route up to the Cascades de Setti Fatma
Setti_Fatma_030_05162015 - Julie following our guide up a pretty well-defined path above the cafes and the village of Setti Fatma
Setti_Fatma_033_05162015 - One of the souks set up alongside this cascade and stream crossing on the rough trail up to the Setti Fatma Waterfalls
Setti_Fatma_040_05162015 - One of the small intermediate cascades seen en route to the Setti Fatma Waterfalls
Setti_Fatma_046_05162015 - Context of a series of cascades near an unbridged stream crossing and a souk en route to the Setti Fatma Waterfalls
Setti_Fatma_050_05162015 - The Setti Fatma Waterfalls trail became rockier the higher up we went, but as you can see that didn't deter people from hiking in dress shoes or flip flops!
Setti_Fatma_052_05162015 - Julie working on the next rock obstacle as she approached the next bridge leading to the Setti Fatma Waterfalls
Setti_Fatma_053_05162015 - Looking downstream towards the canyon carved out by the Setti Fatma stream with some graffiti on one of the rocks en route to the Setti Fatma Waterfalls
Setti_Fatma_068_05162015 - Looking back from the cafe towards the last bridge before the first Setti Fatma waterfall as well as the contours of Ourika Valley
Setti_Fatma_077_05162015 - First look at the first Setti Fatma Waterfall
Setti_Fatma_079_05162015 - Looking upstream at the power of the first of the Setti Fatma Waterfalls as seen from the last of the footbridges
Setti_Fatma_097_05162015 - A semi-misty view of the first Setti Fatma Waterfall from the cafe
Setti_Fatma_082_05162015 - Checking out the first of the Setti Fatma Waterfalls in long exposure as seen from the last of the footbridges
Setti_Fatma_121_05162015 - Looking down at a few other intrepid tourists making the steep climb towards the lookout as well as the upper tiers of the Setti Fatma Waterfalls
Setti_Fatma_109_05162015 - Looking down at the trio of Setti Fatma Waterfalls from the lookout and refreshment stand at my turnaround point
Setti_Fatma_127_05162015 - Contextual look at the main drops of the Setti Fatma Waterfalls as seen from the refreshment stand
Setti_Fatma_147_05162015 - Looking down the canyon in the opposite direction from the refreshment stand with the regal view of the Cascades de Setti Fatma
Setti_Fatma_170_05162015 - Looking back at the first Setti Fatma Waterfall, but this time with people in front for a sense of scale
Setti_Fatma_180_05162015 - Julie making the rocky downhill hike as we left the Setti Fatma Waterfalls and headed back to the Setti Fatma village way down below
Setti_Fatma_186_05162015 - Approaching a short stream scramble on the return hike from the Setti Fatma Waterfalls
Setti_Fatma_199_05162015 - Julie passing through some souks seen along the trail to the Setti Fatma Waterfalls
Setti_Fatma_200_05162015 - Almost back at the Setti Fatma Village, which we can start to see as the trail descended to the foot of the Ourika Valley
Setti_Fatma_205_05162015 - Hiking between cafes as we were almost back at the Setti Fatma village at the end of our Setti Fatma Waterfalls hike
Setti_Fatma_206_05162015 - Looking back at the stream weaving between a pair of cafes and over some small cascades in Setti Fatma village
Setti_Fatma_218_05162015 - Looking upstream from the bridge we crossed over the Oued Ourika in the village of Setti Fatma
Setti_Fatma_223_05162015 - As we walked back to our driver's car, we noticed several bridges with only their pillars left, which attested to floods that must have swept through Setti Fatma village months earlier
Setti_Fatma_230_05162015 - Looking down at section of the road in Setti Fatma where floods might have eaten it away prior to our visit
Setti_Fatma_236_05162015 - Checking out camels by the road as we were driven back to Marrakech after our afternoon adventure to the Setti Fatma Waterfalls and the Ourika Valley

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Our starting point to Les Cascades de Setti Fatma was at the village of Setti Fatma in Ourika Valley.

Setti Fatma was said to be about 64km southeast of Marrakech yet it took our driver about 90 minutes to two hours in each direction.

Setti_Fatma_015_05162015 - Approaching the village of Setti Fatma beneath the snow-covered High Atlas Mountains
Approaching the village of Setti Fatma beneath the snow-covered High Atlas Mountains

Since we were driven here, we can only give the time commitment.

We can’t give specific directions.

That said, if you do decide to hire your own car, besides the challenges of driving in a developing country, you do have to be cognizant of numerous police checks along this route.

Our driver was even stopped at one point for speeding.

Setti_Fatma_020_05162015 - The village of Setti Fatma, where we began our hike up to les Cascades de Setti Fatma
The village of Setti Fatma, where we began our hike up to les Cascades de Setti Fatma

So if you’re wondering why it takes so long to go about 40 miles, these are the big reasons why.

Panoramic sweep of the Upper Setti Fatma Waterfalls as well as the steep canyon it was in from a tricky-to-reach cantina well above the first falls


Top down sweep of the first main Setti Fatma Waterfall eventually showing the scenic downstream canyon and bridge before walking into the cafe for a closer look at the falls


Right to left sweep along the stream somewhere near a bridge crossing at around the midpoint of the hike


Right to left sweep along the river in Ourika Valley as we started the hike up to the Setti Fatma Waterfalls

Tagged with: marrakech, ourika, al haouz, morocco, africa, waterfall, high atlas, setti fatma



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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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