Enclosed by apricot, olive and orange groves, the dusty Berber village of EL KSIBA, 4km from the N8, serves primarily as a jumping-off point for the journey to Imilchil and across the High Atlas, a dizzying trip that eventually wends its way through the Todra Gorge to Tinghir, at the heart of the great southern oases routes.

Aghbala, Ikassene and the Plateau des Lacs

South of El Kisba, the R317 (also known here as the Trans-Atlas road) twists through varied forest to cross the Tizi n’Isli pass. At the junction just beyond this, an unnamed road branches eastward to Aghbala (65km from El Ksiba), a busy market town with a Wednesday souk, before eventually connecting with the R503 Beni Mellal–Midelt road – an attractive circuit, surfaced but in a poor state. Staying on the R317, the route south to Imilchil provides a spectacular itinerary, with steep drops off the roadside and constant hairpin climbs and descents. Beyond Ikassene, something of a staging post on this route, the road improves as it hauls upwards past Tassent (periodic landslides may block it) to a high valley and a col, giving views of the the Plateau des Lacs – the twin mountain lakes of Tislit (near the road) and Isli (pristine and much larger, but a 10km walk away), named after a thwarted couple from Berber folklore, whose tears fell to form the two lakes.

Imilchil and beyond

Despite losing some of its striking old buildings, there’s still a certain beauty about IMILCHIL (115km from El Ksiba), the main draw of the central High Atlas and the destination for many trans-Atlas travellers. The village serves as the regular souk (Friday) for the whole region but is more famous for its September moussem, the so-called Marriage Market of Aït Haddidou, which attracts streams of tourist traffic up the surfaced road from Rich.

Beyond Imilchil, the R317 runs through fertile land to Bou Azmou, where it heads east to Rich on the Midelt–Er Rachidia road. To fully cross the Atlas, you’ll need to press on south to the friendly village of Agoudal, at which point the road splits: southwest for the fairly tortuous 6905 piste via the Tizi n’Ouano (2750m) to Msemrir and the Dàdes Gorge; southeast for the recently paved route via the Tizi n’ Tigherhouzine (2706m) to Aït Hani, Tamtatoucht and the Todra Gorge.

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