Freaking Out Barbary Apes in Azrou, Morocco

Every once in a while, I fall in love with a place. Recently, we had the opportunity to go visit friends in Azrou. Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the reason we have these friends is because we opened our home to couchsurfers when we lived in Sefrou’s casbah.

Barbary Apes in MoroccoCindy and Lynn are intrepid Australian sisters who have traveled the world. They stayed with us a few years back while they were on a huge trip around the world that took in so many places I’d love to see. Cool enough to meet them when they surfed our simple couches but then Cindy went and fell for a guy up in Azrou and has been spending half of every year in Morocco since – so- we get to see them and hear of their new adventures here too.

Lynn was visiting and Cindy suggested that we come up to visit the two of them and Zacharia since they would have a car and we would be able to explore. Lynn brought baby gifts for Aya Sophia which was incredibly sweet.

friends in AzrouTo get to Azrou from Sefrou was a matter of a couple of taxis. Since we didn’t want to wait for the grand taxi to fill, we hired the whole car for 72 dirham which took us to Immouzzir. From Immouzir we took a second grand taxi for 15 dirham each (the baby counts as one) and drove through Ifrane and into the little town of Azrou where Cindy came and picked us up from the taxi station.

All told, about an hour and some change to get to Azrou – which is about 90 km from Fez in the Middle Atlas Mountains. Azrou is a berber name and means rock in Tamazight language. It was the home of the Berber College, one of Morocco’s first foreign sponsored institutions of higher learning but is more famous for two other things – a massive Tuesday souk in which tribes from all over the Middle Atlas come down to trade, barter and visit. This is one of the best places in Morocco to buy authentic Berber carpets. The other thing that Azrou is known for are the vast cedar forests and the Barbary Apes who populate them.

Atlantic Cedars in MoroccoUpon arrival, Zacharia showed us the rock in the center of the town for which the town is named. Azrou itself is a lovely town with a mountain touristic feel. I could just sense that this is a place where there is plenty of trekking, hiking, and outdoor activity, something that I’ve very much missed living in Sefrou. Zac is a tour guide and his house was filled with tents, sleeping bags, and camping gear – I felt at home more than anywhere in Morocco. On the way into Azrou we passed a number of camp grounds that looked quite nice. Azrou also offers quite a few hotel options as well as restaurants, cafes, and plenty of shopping especially on Tuesdays. For a town of 50,000 the selection is quite nice.

The Ennour Mosque is built as a scale replica of the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca and is a thing of true beauty. An oddity along the road to Azrou are the many Disney style castles that were built to attract tourist from the UAE and other Persian Gulf countries.

TBarbary Apes in Azrouhe surrounding countryside is made up mostly of National Park and there are beautiful lakes that are well worth the visit though they are not nearly as developed as lakes in North America or Europe and so opportunities for kayaking, sailing, or canoeing aren’t readily available – yet. The lakes, among them Dayet Aoua, Lak Ouiouane and Lak Afenouir, are well known for picnics, camping, and hiking. At nearly 4000 feet above sea level, Azrou is definitely not what you expect in a visit to a Berber town. Azrou gets a fair amount of snow and so the slanted green tiled roofs are something different than you see architecturally in the rest of the country.

We piled in Cindy’s rental car and set out to have a barbecue in the cedars. The cedars are indigenous to North Africa and are called Atlantic Cedars. Our first stop reminded me of being in Northern California or Oregon – except for one thing – there were Barbary Apes swinging around, lounging and begging for handouts from tourists just about everywhere you looked!

picnic in AzrouDespite the title of this post, I don’t think we actually scared them but when a busload of blue haired American ladies stopped – the apes scampered away as if they were seeing the devil or Sher Khan himself.

The Cedre Gouraud Forest is named for a french military officer and of course the cedars. The centerpiece of the park is the 800 year old Gouraud Cedar which died several years ago but still stands massively upright amidst pony touts and Barbary Apes – the graffiti on it’s trunk is a complete shame.

We drove into the forest, found a beautiful site free of blue hairs and barbary apes and lit a small fire on which we cooked kifta and sausages which we ate with potato salad and good company. For me it was a very nice reminder of days living amidst quiet forests and barbecues with friends. One that is especially nice as this time of the year, often makes me a bit homesick for the Pacific Northwest. It was also nice to see my little girl enjoying time in the forest. I do wonder what she thought of the baby apes and what they thought of her!

my little monkey!Finally, we drove back to Sefrou. Exhausted but happy to have wonderful friends and a wonderful day in the woods among the apes. I have a feeling we will be spending more time in Azrou though my wife saw the look in my eyes and told me “We are not moving here….” sigh…

Azrou Resources
Hotels in Azrou
Encyclopedie Berbere
The Rough Guide to Morocco
Fes and Northern Morocco
Eyewitness Travel Guide to Morocco
Guide to Moroccan Culture and Customs

To arrange a trip to Azrou from Fez, Meknes, Casablanca, or Marrakech just use the contact form below.

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Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook