I’m going to die in these mountains, just like the Spanish did when they tried to invade Morocco. I don’t think Morocco has helicopters that can transport me out of here. I really don’t know if I am going to be able to stand once I get to the end, and if I am able to, how the hell am I going to make it back without needing to be carried? These were my actual thoughts on my hike up to the Akchour waterfalls.
Before we began our trek, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I had just arrived in Chefchaouen the night before with my friend Omar and his friend Medi, after a nearly 2 hour drive from Rabat. It was cooler in the mountains than I expected, so make sure to bring a jacket (especially if you were sunburned from Marrakech like I was.) There were a few clouds resting on the mountainside which gave this place even more of a mysterious and magical feeling than before. When you come to Chefchaouen, you feel as if it is the calmest place on the planet. The locals are very welcoming to tourists and very helpful; they don’t get irritated with travelers like other popular destinations I have seen or lived in.
We went to grab dinner at the old Medina, hiking up the narrow passageways to the center of it all. Omar picked a café that had quite a few locals in it and we sat down to order our Tagines. I ordered a Vegetable Tagine that really hit the spot and didn’t feel like eating any more bread that day. This was my first mistake: I didn’t eat any protein the night before the hike to the Cascades.
We left the Medina and headed back to our guest house to get some much needed sleep so we could wake early the next morning and start our hike to Cascades D’Akchour. Omar kept telling me, “the hike is hard Janiel, its 1 hour and 30 minute hike” — well he looked about the same physical shape I was in, and I had been working with a trainer, so I thought, “Oh, I’ll be fine, he doesn’t know what he is talking about.” That was my second mistake…..
We left for Akchour and had a little trouble finding the way, but after asking several locals the correct roads to take, we were able to arrive in time to start (and finish) the hike.
*Traveler tip:* You can catch a Grand Taxi in the center of town but try and get a local or the hotel/hostel/guest house personnel to negotiate a good price for you. A fair price would be around 250 Dirham (with tip included), which is around $25. Just make sure they are willing to take you back into town as well. Bring extra cash with you for the return trip to Chefchaouen and for some important items I will explain later, as well as your own towel, a jacket or sweater, and a water bottle.
The road to Akchour passes through some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen in all of my travels. I literally filled my 64 GB memory card with hundreds of images of this breathtaking scenery.
Once we got to Akchour, it was fairly easy to find the trail. There are plenty of locals there to point you in the right direction (but don’t expect many of them to know English.) We started hiking up the canyon (where the sign points to Akchour), and the first thing that immediately impressed me was the endless swaths of green and the waterfalls that seemed to appear around every corner.
I know you may think that I keep showing you the same waterfall over and over, but each one of these waterfalls are different and in a different area. Each waterfall had a swimming hole, of sorts, that are quite deep, and on a hot summers day is great to pause you hike and take a quick dip to cool off.
Traveler tip: The hike itself is said to take around 2-3 hours, but that is if you are use to the high altitude of the Atlas Mountains and are use steep elevations of the trail. Yes there are steps you can use, the trail is well maintained; but the steps are made for tall people…..not short people. So be prepared, its like when my trainer has me doing box steps onto the 24″ box step, for 3 hours. On the good side, I ended up losing 6 pounds JUST FROM THIS HIKE, and can walk on the Treadmill at an incline of 7 with no problem.
At the first hour of the hike, I felt like I was getting a good workout. Then we started to get to the steeper portions, and I started to lag behind my giraffe like friends, who at one point I was cursing in my head for their ridiculous height. TALL PEOPLE JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH HARDER IT IS TO GO UP THE GIANT 24″ -32″ STEPS! It takes us a lot more effort and energy! (ok, rant over) — By the second hour, I was cursing myself for not carb loading and eating more protein the night before. I know I’m not in the best shape, but I had been working out really hard, and felt like I could tackle this. Omar tried to be patient, but Medi was not as patient, and I felt like the weak link. So if you go hiking, make sure people know if you like to go fast or slow and split into two groups. In defense of Medi, his English was not that great, and I think was a little shy to talk to a single American women when he was a married guy.
Anywho, I was positive the whole trip, but the last hour up the canyon I really thought that my legs were going to either give out, or I was going to pass out. I hadn’t eaten well the night before and only had a granola bar that morning, poor planning on my part. I didn’t realize how hard it would be, even Omar started to get tired by the end of it. My legs felt like Jello, I almost started to cry because I hate feeling like a failure when it comes to physical activities, I don’t like feeling like the weak link, but its not like I could do anything at this point. I literally thought in my hypoglycemic state, “I’m going to die in these mountains, just like the Spanish did when they tried to invade. I don’t think Morocco has helicopters that can transport me out of here. I really don’t know if you are going to be able to stand once you get to the end, and if you are able to, how the hell are you going to make it back without needing to be carried”?
There were some blessed spots along the way that leveled out & I wanted to just linger longer in these areas to soak up the beauty and take more photos. Alas, this was not possible to do, as we had to actually finish the hike and reach the waterfall. Omar tried to make me laugh, and entice me with the food at the end, but I was NOT in the mood & poor guy… I just told him I wasn’t able to talk about food right then (mostly because I felt like I was either going to blackout or vomit, lol).
I started singing the song, “one step, come on, two step come on”, then rest of the way up. Omar kept saying, ‘We are almost there’, by the 10th time he said that I wanted to shoot him, lol. I was quite grouchy, mostly because I didn’t want to have to be carried down the mountain and irritation always seemed to work with me during Triathlons I have done.
We finally arrived at the Cascades D’Akchour, and it was soooo cold! There was a storm coming in, I was covered in salty sweat, not the regular kind, but the kind you get when your near death lol. Omar was so excited to show me the waterfall, and all I said was, ‘that’s nice, I need to sit down for a minute’. I know I was being dramatic, but hiking up there on very little sustainable food was not the greatest idea.
Traveler Tip: Please eat a hearty breakfast & take water with you before you go. There are areas along the way that you can buy orange juice and water at the local cafes, but I didn’t bring any cash with me thinking, ‘oh I will be fine, who needs money when you are in nature’.
The waterfall really was beautiful, and it was fun watching Omar and Medi freeze in the water. Medi was running in, and actually tore his pants wide open. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! I was very grateful, for his sake and mine, that men’s swim trunks are made with a lining. It was pretty comical watching him wrap his sweater on backwards when he got out.
Omar is a hilarious and kind human being, he is also obsessed with his phone. He just laid back in the water taking selfies like he was in a hot tub. He also had a Cigar that was given to him that he had been saving for an entire year, just to come and smoke in these waters and take a selfie, lol. He really lives his life to the fullest and tries to bring everyone around him on his grand adventures.
The water had to be around 40 degrees F, very very very cold, especially after a hike. I didn’t really want to hike back wet, but Omar convinced me, ‘You don’t travel to a country like this, do that hike like you did, and not reward yourself with this amazing swim. Don’t waste an opportunity like this, this is when you create good memories’. Well he sold me on the idea, and I went in for a dip. If you decide to swim, I would recommend just wearing wicking material & go in fully clothed, its nice to have the cool clothing on you when you are hiking back.
The swim was great, and I stayed in about 15 minutes, because it was actually making my legs feel so good. It was like a natural ice bath for my exhausted legs, and I really really appreciated that the next day. (If you think I’m exaggerating about this hike, there were some other Americans there that came up and looked about the same way I probably did. Exhausted, grouchy, and not wanting to do anything but lay down and take a nap. They were actually Marathon runners & were also exhausted by the hike– so its not just about your fitness level– these mountain valleys are the reason the Spanish Aramada was defeated here).
We got done swimming and had this wonderful tagine that was cooked by the locals right there. They were so nice and let us sit by their stoves to keep warm for a bit. We took our fill, drank the delicious mint tea & decided to head back down the mountain to get back into Chefchaouen before dark.
Once I had a little food in my stomach, and stopped being so ‘hangry’, I was able to keep up with the guys pretty well. Took plenty of photos on the way back down, and couldn’t believe how good I felt after taking the dip in the waters of the Cascades D’Akchour. Still to this day, I keep telling Omar, how magical and truly healing I feel like those waters were for me. I have never been one to hesitate on things like that, until some experiences in Dallas changed me into something I didn’t recognize myself as being. But for some reason, every since this hike, the spontaneity came back to me, and it was the first time I felt happy and like giggling (like the old me), in a nearly a year. So if you are ever looking for magical waters in Morocco, this is the place to be, in my own way I have now named it the ‘Fountain of Youth’. Because when you leave, you really feel like you have become the young, free and spontaneous self again.
Happy Travels my friends, and don’t hesitate to go and see this wonderful Fountain of Youth in Akchour. The road is hard, but it is worth it in the end.
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