Road trip to Ifrane, the Moroccan Switzerland
January 1, 1970
by Noémi Barta
What I like the most about Morocco it’s the diversity. You can find different ethnicities, languages, ways of living and landscapes and there are always new, hidden corners to discover. One of them is Ifrane, the little paradise where Moroccans escape for party, intimacy, winter sports, and cool weather. Let’s see how you can get there, what can you do in Ifrane and how you get to the famous monkey forest 20 km from the city.
Why is Ifrane called the Moroccan Switzerland?
I remember the first time I got there, I was shocked. It looks nothing like all the other Moroccan cities, it felt more like I was in Europe. Ifrane is located in the Middle Atlas region of Morocco, 1,665 m above sea level, around 70 km south from Fez. The beautiful parks, fountains, waterfalls, red-roofed houses and surrounding cedar forests make it a unique place in the country. It’s the perfect spot for weekend getaways for those who live in the Fes-Meknes region and a must-visit for the travelers who want to explore Morocco. There is no best time to visit Ifrane since the weather is pleasant during summer, it’s colorful during autumn, full of flowers during spring and snowy during winter.
But what’s the story of the city? As you may know, Morocco was a French protectorate from 1912 until their independence in 1956. Ifrane was built and developed by the French administration as a “hill station”, created especially for a mountain resort city for the Europeans living in Fez and the surrounding cities. Nowadays it is not only a resort city beloved for the cool air and parks, but it’s also an administrative center, imperial city, and college town. You can also visit Al Akhawayn University, the most prestigious public university in Morocco. Ifrane is sometimes called the city of elites or Las Vegas of Morocco since it is the place where lovers or friends escape from the rules of a conservative society.
How can you get there?
It depends on where you are going from, but either way, the best option would be to rent a car. This way you have the freedom to drive around the city and to stop wherever you want. However, if you don’t have the budget or opportunity to rent a car, you can get to Ifrane from Fez or Meknes by grand taxi or bus. Why do I say Fez or Meknes? Because these are the closest big cities to Ifrane and they are worth visiting before traveling to the alpine city.
The bus company is called CTM, the ticket costs 35 dirham (17.5 euros), and the duration of the trip is one hour. In Fez, the bus station is located in Atlas neighborhood. If you go by taxi, all you have to do is to say CTM Atlas. The grand taxis are white Mercedes and they usually go between cities. You will have to wait until the taxi gets full since they are transporting more people in the same time. The ticket is 50 dirham (don’t give more than that). You can travel the same way from Ifrane to Azrou, and then back to Fez. If you want to travel in another city, I recommend returning to Ifrane and take a bus.
We were lucky because our Moroccan friends had cars. Therefore we were usually driving to Ifrane and then stopping in different places along the way. One of my favorite spots is a beautiful place made of wood and stones from where you have the view of the mountains and valleys of the Middle Atlas region.
First stop: Immouzzer Kandar
Immouzzer Kandar is a small town halfway from Fez to Ifrane. Honestly, it is nothing special about the city, so it is not a place you have to visit. But if you are traveling by car and you want to do this trip the way locals do, you should stop in Immouzzer for mint tea and breakfast. There are several places to eat on the main road and all of them are yummy.
There are two options, the tourist way, and the local way. You can rent a room in the hotel or rent an apartment or house from locals. If you are a solo traveler or you are two people, the hotel may be the better option. The prices start from 30-40 euros/night and the service is pretty good. However, if you are a big group of people, it’s cheaper and more convenient to rent a house. Ifrane is one of the few places where they don’t care if girls and boys sleep in the same place and you do can do great house parties (without making too much noise during the night, of course). You just need to ask around and get ready to haggle! We used to pay around 15-20 dirham/person (8-10 people).
What to do in Ifrane
You can also make it as a one day trip, but I would recommend spending at least one night in Ifrane. The next day you can visit the so called monkey forest, the Ain Aghbal fish farm in Azrou, and Lake Dait Aoua on the way back to Fez. If you are traveling during the winter, I recommend you to visit Mischlifen as well, a winter ski resort set in an extinct volcano. In the city, you can walk around and discover the parks, fountains, markets, and waterfalls. You can also hike in the surrounding forests and Berber villages. It is the perfect place to have a break from the hot weather and noisiness of the other cities. The hotels have parties and concerts in the evenings and you can also make your own party if you rent a house with your friends.
Ifrane National Park
Believe it or not, practically the whole region is a national park. The park was extended in 2008 and now it encompasses 1236.94 km² of cities, villages, forests, and lakes. This is one of the reasons why it is recommended to spend at least one night in Ifrane and discover the surroundings the next day. The territory became protected because of its diverse fauna and ecosystem. You can find many unique mammals and birds, including the Barbary Macaque, an endangered species of monkey.
Wild monkeys, cedar forests and an 800 years old tree
In some of the forests in this area, you can find Barbary Macaque monkeys in their natural habitat. It is the best place to see them since they are not being held captive and exploited. They are used to tourists, so you can feed them and walk around. Just don’t forget that they are wild animals and might attack if you are standing too close. If you want to find the best spot, just search for Cèdre Gouraud in Google maps or ask for the grand taxi to take you there. Cèdre Gouraud is an impressive 40 meters high and 800 years old cedar tree located 20 km from Ifran and 10 km from Azrou. Under the tree, you will find locals selling fossils and you can have a horse ride for only a few dirhams.
Ifrane – the best place for a weekend getaway
Ifrane turned out to be one of my favorite places, no matter the season. It’s one of the few places where it’s snowing during winter, it’s chill during summer, colorful during autumn and full of flowers during spring. And the best thing is that even if there are not that many places to visit inside the city, there are many unique spots around. As I said, Morocco is a very diverse country and it is not only about snake charmers, narrow streets, extreme heat and colorful souks. Ifrane is a must see city if you are visiting the Fes-Meknes region. So have fun and don’t overfeed the monkeys in the forest.