I've given the trip 4 stars because experiencing the Atlas mountains was so magnificent. We were well looked after in the gite and our guide - Hassan - was excellent. However, the Marrakech segment of the trip leaves a lot to be desired and the actual experience in the mountains felt much more commercial than I would have expected from the way it was sold to me on your website. I'm explaining all this below.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
The 10 hour 32 kms walk on our last full day in the High Atlas. It was difficult but very rewarding, we were extremely lucky with the weather for the full trip and the ruggedness of the mountains is just something else. The colours were beautiful. The cook from our gite came all the way with his mule to the semi-frozen lake where we had our break and cooked lunch for us there that was nutritious and tasty as always. I also enjoyed the 4-hour walk on our second day, it was reasonably hard and the views on the top were breathtaking.
What wasn't so inspiring though was the fact that the first walk (the 7-hour one) felt like hiking on someone's farm. The valleys are reasonably built up by having several villages neighbouring each other, the hills are used for farming sheep or chopping wood. Our first walk was interrupted considerably by dogs who were guarding the various sheel pens. Even if there had been some wildlife, they would have been scared away by the dogs. The walk itself is reasonably strenuous and challenging, the mountains are gorgeous but it feels like being a rambler on someone's farm rather than being out on an adventure.
- What did you think of your group leader?
Hassan is a very warm, genuine and knowledgeable group leader. Not once did he try to limit our options just to make his own life easier. He is very patient and he is without a doubt a very good man.
I didn't think much of our guide in Marrakech though, he showed us a couple of sites and took us to shops where he gets his commission. He didn't give us any kind of orientation so we were a bit lost first when our free time came.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Take into consideration the amount of time spent in Marrakech, there isn't that much to look at. A lot of historic sites were either destroyed by succeeding dynasties over the centuries or didn't survive due to poor building practices.
We arrived in Marrakech on Sunday and had a free evening, had a full day there on Monday with the afternoon/evening free again after being guided around in the morning a bit. Then we travelled the full morning on Tuesday and arrived in the mountains in the afternoon, again with a lot of spare time on our hands. We didn't start the actual hiking until Wednesday.
I think it's quite difficult to guage from the field notes the amount of time you need to kill until you can get your hiking boots on properly. It would have been better if we had been able to leave Marrakech Monday afternoon and start hiking on Tuesday. It felt like we were kept waiting for the bit that we all booked the holiday for in the first place.
Beware of the hotel you get booked in in Marrakech too, Hotel Oudaya is awful.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
Out of choice, I would avoid the hotel in Marrakech (Hotel Oudaya) next time. It was fine during our first 2 nights when we stayed in the better built part but when we returned from the mountains, we were given rooms in the noisier, less well constructed part we had a lot of trouble sleeping. The rooms weren't ready when we arrived mid-day but we weren't told this at check-in. After the sheets were changed I noticed that the bathroom hadn't been cleaned (there were hairs both in the sink and in the bath), the towel was also used that was folded up for us. When I pointed this out to the chamber maid, she started shouting at me. She cleaned the bath only (not the sink and not the lavatory) and I eventually received clean, dry towels. They took these out of our room however the following day before we checked out though. I'm assuming there weren't enough clean ones in the hotel and they were under a lot of pressure.
I also didn't get a receipt when I changed some euros to dirhams. I asked for it repeatedly. Luckily I didn't need it in the end as the airport receipt was enough to change the local currency back but I do think it's terrible practice.
I'd also like to add that the trip is sold on the basis that the stay in the gite in the mountains has a community feel to it and that's not true at all. There is the language difference: the locals speak their own language, Arabic and French and of course most of us only spoke English. Even if you speak French, it doesn't make that much difference, the gite in the middle of a village, run by 2-3 very competent guys but you have no contact with the villagers unless you pass them on the road. I do feel it was a bit of false advertising by Exodus to emphasise the 'warmth and hospitality' so much when really it's the cook and the guide that you end up talking to only in what is essentially a backpackers' hostel in the mountains.