A 40 minute drive from Morocco’s ‘Blue Pearl’ Chefchaouen, there is a popular hiking trail that winds through the forest, hopping back and forth over a river, dotted with handy stepping stones. After 6 undulating kilometers, hikers are rewarded with an incredible view of a tall narrow waterfall, perfectly framed by the surrounding cliffs tumbling into an emerald green lagoon. If you can muster up the energy for one final scramble down to the water, a refreshing dip in a VERY cold swimming hole awaits you.
Getting there and back:
The easiest way, or at least the way we went, to get to the Akchour trailhead is to take a ‘big taxi’. I don’t just mean go out and pick the largest taxi you can find. Most cities in Morocco have 2 types of taxi – ‘big’ taxis and ‘small’ taxis.
Small taxis are…you guessed it… small. They are colour coded (red in Fez, blue in Chefchaouen) and can take a maximum of 3 passengers (often less, even if they have the seats, on account of their haggard old engines). They are only permitted to take customers short distances in and around the town. One driver told me that this is strictly enforced and taking a fare further than the boundaries can result in punishment by the police.
Big taxis are…well done smartarse… big. They’re not colour coded, can take up to 6 passengers and can take you on longer journeys. If they are seen taking more than 6 passengers, the driver can get into a lot of trouble with the police.
A taxi from Chefchaouen to Akchour costs a flat rate of 150 Dirham. Split between 6 that’s £2/$2.50 each. This is a pretty good deal for a 40-minute ride into the mountains.
Danny and I arrived at the taxi rank on the main road out of town. It’s hard to miss with dozens of taxi drivers sitting in the shade chatting and joking with each other next to a small car park crammed full with vehicles. We approached the drivers and said that we would wait a short while to see if any other Akchour bound hikers might appear and share a fare with us.
In an apparent stroke of luck, a greasy haired, red eyed Frenchman with a tight string of beads around his neck and some tribal tattoos approached us and asked if we were heading to Akchour. We said we were and all agreed to wait a while longer to see if any other potential hikers would appear.
We stood and chatted for a short while. I say we, but in fact Danny, being the nice guy that he is, stood enthusiastically responding while our new friend bragged about how much hash he had already smoked that day while I glazed over and kicked a pebble repeatedly into the curb.
A few moments later a group of 4 young Canadians appeared, bringing our total to 7. Perfect, Danny and I can jump in the cab with them and our stoned friend can hang out with the cab drivers a while longer.
Before we even had a chance to introduce ourselves to the Canadians, ‘old tribal tats’ had already slithered over to them, schmoozing in French. A few minutes later they came over, introduced themselves, told us about all the wonderful places they had been on their travels around the world before jumping into a cab as a group of 5 and waving us goodbye.
I’m not really sure how it happened but both of us were left feeling rather miffed.
We stood for another 10 minutes glumly waiting for someone else to come share a cab with us. Standing there in the heat I did a quick mental calculation and laughed as I realized that the taxi was £6 each… not much more than a London pint… for a 40-minute journey into the mountains. What the hell was wrong with us?
I called over a cab driver. “TO AKCHOUR!” I yelled in his face. He looked at me with an expression that I took to mean, “What the hell is wrong with you?” which is funny because at that moment I was wondering exactly the same thing.
When we arrived there were 5 cabs parked in the small car park next to the trailhead – no sign of the French Canadians. Our driver asked if we wanted to arrange a ride home in advance but we didn’t know how long we would spend on the trail so we opted out.
We’d been pre warned that there would be local ‘guides’ waiting at the trailhead who would tell us it was dangerous and we’d get lost and die if we went without them. We’d also been told that it was an obvious trail and you’d have to be a complete idiot to get lost.
As expected a guide approached us but before he had a chance to warn us of our impending death, I used my favourite and most useful phrase that I learned walking around the medinas in Fez, ‘la shukraan’, meaning ‘no, thank you’ in Arabic. It worked like magic.
Twenty minutes later we were retracing our steps back to the beginning of the trail, having taken a wrong turn shortly after shoeing away the guide.
We rechecked the map on the signpost at the entrance to the trail, took a photo of it on our phones, gave a quick wave to the grinning guide we turned down and headed back out in the right direction.
The hike itself took about 2 hours one way. We crossed back and forth over the river several times, sometimes over picturesque little bridges or nice natural stepping-stones. Other times there were huge cubic slabs of concrete to climb over which were handy, if a little ugly.
Being the off-season it was quiet on the trail and we went long periods of time without seeing anyone. There were several makeshift cafes along the route but they were closed up and not operating.
As with most popular trails, it was pretty obvious where we needed to go so we plodded on, not worrying about the route, stopping occasionally to take photos and make videos.
The trail passes through shady forests, dense foliage and farmers fields with the odd marijuana plant here and there, all the while loosely following the river.
After a couple of hours we arrived at a food stand that was actually open. The owner confirmed that we were at the end of the hike and the waterfall was just around the corner. We ordered a couple of vegetable tagines and he told us they’d be ready in 45 minutes so we went off to check out the waterfall.
The waterfall was a bit of a trickle when we were there but it’s so tall and the surrounding landscape makes it an impressive sight nonetheless.
We scrambled down to the swimming hole and threw ourselves in. It felt good to wash off the day’s dust and sweat but the water was incredibly cold and I only stayed in long enough to swim over to the waterfall and back. What had looked like a trickle from above turned out to be quite a powerful torrent and I was briefly dragged under.
The tagine and the journey back
The time came to go and eat. I went and sat at the alfresco dining area (a colourful mismatched set of garden furniture) while Danny went to tell the cook that we were ready. Moments later he traipsed over to me looking forlorn, “There’s no tagines left.”
Miffed yet again, we went and bought some biscuits and crisps from the guy instead to wolf down on the return walk.
The blow was quickly softened by a couple of things. Firstly, it occurred to us that we didn’t bump into the French Canadians at any point on the trail, meaning they must have got lost. Obviously I hope they didn’t get in any serious trouble but still… ha.
Secondly, we bumped into a friendly group of 4 who were just about to head back and get a taxi to Chefchaouen with 2 spare seats. Perfect! We all started walking back together.
As we rounded the first bend, a food stand came into view and the grinning vendor waved at Danny and I, holding up a steaming tagine.
I don’t know how we managed it!
My mood is often dictated by food and this moment was no different. I was flooded with mixed emotions. Delighted that we would get our tagine after all, frustrated that we were about to miss out on a ride back with our new friends and a little embarrassed that we are such a pair of Muppets.
We wolfed down the tagine. It was very tasty, which was a nice surprise as food had been quite hit and miss so far. Then we got back on the trail and, determined to catch up with the others, we started running.
We caught up with them about two thirds of the way back and walked the rest of the way together. When we arrived in the car park their driver informed us that as they had booked a return journey as a group of 4, they were only permitted 4 passengers on the way back.
We did a loop of the car park and managed to find 1 other person trying to get back to Chefchaouen but he refused to split the fare 3 ways with us, preferring to wait for another 3 passengers. We managed to persuade one driver to take his 25 Dirham and 75 Dirham from us on the proviso that he was allowed to pick up more passengers along the road on the way back.
This was how I found myself wedged into the back of a cab next to an ancient looking grumpy old Moroccan lady and Danny next to a young man who looked like he was wearing the old lady’s dentures.
Akchour is a fun and achievable hike for someone with the most basic fitness levels. We had a great day; the adventure began before we even got in a ‘big taxi’ and didn’t end until we got back to the guesthouse. I highly recommend it.