A Brief Adventure in Setti Fatma, Morocco.
Setti Fatma, Morocco.
It was our last day in Marrakesh and I was feeling like the trip needed a change of tone. As wonderful as Morocco had been, the adventure had so far played out as a near-continuous stream of city exploring. Sure, I could’ve found plenty more to occupy our time in Marrakesh. But somehow I felt nature calling from the nearby Atlas Mountains.
Unfortunately, as non-drivers, our options for getting in and out of rural Al Haouz Province in just one day were limited. Thus I bit the bullet and signed up for seats with a private bus company providing return transfers to the picturesque mountain town of Setti Fatma. The company, whose name I have long forgotten, picked us up from our apartment after breakfast. Packed in with a dozen other passengers, we were soon speeding out of the city, the first collection of gently rolling hills emerging.
The further we went, the more dramatic the scenery became. Hills became mountains, fields morphed into dipping valleys, meandering streams and rushing rivers. Home to around half a million people, Al Haouz Province is the gateway to The Atlas, North Africa’s highest mountain range. As such, the entire region unfolds in a series of farm hamlets, hill towns and mountain villages. I remember gazing out of the window thinking: I could do a few weeks here.
A Brief Adventure in Setti Fatma, Morocco.
Sadly though, there’d only be time to dip our toes into the province’s proverbial waters. It’s funny, because I have a clear memory of gazing out the window, a commanding berber fort flashing past me, dreaming of the day I’d be able to live and work wherever I pleased. Now that I’m actually a digital nomad, perhaps I should see how Sladja feels about some months in Morocco.
The trip from central Marrakesh to Setti Fatma should’ve taken just under an hour and forty minutes. However, somewhat predictably, the bus company decided to take us on a detour that nobody had agreed to. It was the classic please-buy-stuff routine as we pulled into a small herbal farm on the outskirts of town.
Amusingly, a few passengers refused to get out in protest. For me though, as apathetic as I was about the herbs, I felt grateful for the fresh air, pretty views and a chance to stretch my legs. “Welcome to (forgotten farm name) sir” grinned a young man in a white coat. “May I show you around our beautiful garden?”
An Unwanted Pitstop.
Playing along, I allowed the man to show me around the admittedly lovely garden. As for the herbs, I was familiar with the names he reeled off from my visit to a Herboristere in Marrakesh. Farm dude was really keen on making a sale, so took me into some grubby side rooms where a group of ladies were grinding various herbs and spices into powder. “These will later go into bags, you can see them in our shop”. Uh, huh.
After a brief wander through the store I managed to shake my guide loose by asking where the toilet was. And then I was free to seek out a peaceful corner of the garden where I could breathe in the handsome landscape. I guess this unwanted pitstop had its uses.
Setti Fatma sits neatly nestled in a canyon beneath The High Atlas Mountains. Home to around twenty thousand people, this traditional Berber settlement started out as a farm village before becoming one of the region’s most popular day trips from Marrakech.
A visit here is all about soaking up the natural beauty with some hiking in the Atlas foothills followed by dinner on the banks of the Ourika River. The route in question takes visitors through the village and up into the hills. Along the way, you get to cross off the famous Seven Waterfalls (Cascades de Setti Fatma).
A Brief Adventure in Setti Fatma, Morocco.
On arrival our driver wasted no time in encouraging us to get cracking with the hike before reconvening in about four hours for the drive back to Marrakesh. So off we went, crossing the wooden bridge over the river and following the first set of signposts that clearly mark the way.
Before too long the path began rising steeply, running alongside sections of rocks, boulder alleys and bubbling streams. Happily, drooping trees provided a bit of shade from the sun. While the route was hardly overwhelmed, it was definitely well-inhabited, with foreign tourists and clusters of local families hiking with us. Amusingly, nobody had prepared much in the way of footwear; kids and grandmas alike going up in their sandals and flip-flops, some even barefoot!
As we progressed, a number of local men offered their services as guides. One of them wanted to take us on an alternative, more challenging route. But we politely declined, unsure as to how far off schedule he would take us. Other locals we met had set up camp along the route to sell souvenirs and local handicrafts.
On the Seven Waterfalls Hike.
Nothing much interested us, though I did really like the charming drinks cabinets displayed on stone shelves cut directly out of the rock. Cleverly, water from a section of river running above came trickling down over the Coca-Colas, Fantas and Sprites. Tickled, I bought a few water bottles and didn’t quibble over the inflated price.
The first waterfall came shortly after. It wasn’t exactly stunning but perfectly charming and well worth the pause to admire, photograph and catch our breaths. If memory serves me well this was the only one I was able to snap immediately, rather than politely (probably a bit impatiently) wait for queuing families to fuss over their many poses.
Inspired by their antics, I decided to grab a shot of myself with the second fall. This required scrambling down to a perch somewhere roughly among its midway point. I recall a few people looking over at me as if I were mad.
Climbing higher still, I was able to earwig on a guide who’d convinced a young American couple to secure his services. Despite his patchy English, I was delighted to learn how the village of Setti Fatma had gotten its name. According to local legend, Setti Fatma was the daughter of a respected local scholar back in ancient times.
Fiercely intelligent, hardworking and righteous, she became a renowned teacher and philanthropist who built homes for orphans and the poor. In her later years she’d become such a trusted figure that various communities would employ her to settle personal and tribal disputes.
A Brief Adventure in Setti Fatma, Morocco.
In all the excitement of the hike I made the cardinal sin of forgetting to photograph a few of the waterfalls. That’s how I rolled back in those innocent, pre-blog days, folks. As with the first few, I found them to be pretty and endearing as opposed to oh-my-god-wow. Which isn’t always a bad thing.
By the time we’d got all the way back down to the village we were more than ready for dinner on the Ourika River. There were nearly half a dozen restaurants open and naturally they’d all been eagerly awaiting our descent. On the last stretch of the way down we befriended an English couple. Having swapped a few travel stories, we decided to share a table at the restaurant with the least annoying tout. A round of coffees and mint teas swiftly followed.
All four of us went for the lamb tajine, an absolutely delicious stew where the meat sat in a rich tomatoey gravy alongside nuts, dried fruits, vegetables and potatoes. Our dishes were slow-cooked, so took a while to arrive. But with well over an hour before we had to be back at the van, we were in no rush. Instead, we talked some more and lapped up the calming riverside vibe. It was the perfect conclusion to our little window into rural Morocco, and a fine way to celebrate the end of our time in Marrakesh.
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Wow, you’ve been to so many amazing places around the globe, Leighton! I had my heart set on visiting Setti Fatma And the Seven Waterfalls but sadly none of my plans came to fruition mainly because we had Ericeira with us. Given that she was only a year old at the time, there was no chance we could enjoy heaving ourselves over boulders, hopping along dry stones to cross rivers, and scrabbling up steeper rock faces. I was gutted at first – we were visiting in early March when the cherry and almond trees are in full bloom, making for a wonderful sight – but I made a promise to myself to return one day. Fingers crossed! Thanks for sharing and have a lovely day 🙂 Aiva xx
Aw, it sounds like Setti Fatma just wasn’t meant to be for you at that time, Aiva. Hopefully you will get a chance to make amends one of these years, I’m sure the experience will be all the sweeter for having to wait so long. Appreciate you catching up with my recent Morocco articles!
I know that I am a good bit behind on catching up on everyone’s posts, but the baby keeps me occupied 🤣🤣🤣 I’ll get there one day. Cheers 🥰
ah leighton, this was a great day trip to to give even more depth to your moroccan adventure. a little touristy then, but the village looks splendid perched in the hills like that and a series of understated waterfalls scattered around an undemanding hike? well, i’ve had worse days for sure ha ha. another excellent article.
Thank you Stan. Yes, it was a pleasant day out rather than mind-blowing. I think Setti Fatma would serve very well as an introduction to deeper explorations of the province and the Atlas Mountain region. Thanks as ever for your readership and hope all is well in the old Washington of DC.
It looks a beautiful day trip and a lovely chance to get out and explore away from the major cities. I’d be driven mad by all the constant trying to sell things, I’d have stayed on the bus too. Morocco looks a really beautiful country though and I’m enjoying this series a lot 🙂
Thanks Hannah, I’m glad this series is giving you some food for thought. The hassle does take the shine off what is a wonderful country with some lovely people. Most of the time you can take all the greed with good grace. Other days it starts to grind at you a bit and you can feel yourself getting snappy.
Glad you were able to get out in the country Leighton, even if the trip was less than stellar. As with my Cosmos Europe tour, there always seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the tour company and their touts of choice. That was one crazy bridge and one wonders what would happen if it broke whilst you were crossing. Would there be a fee for river rescue? The waterfalls and the chain of touts thereto provided a good insight into how the locals subsist in this rural area. The tajine does look to die for. A good rural snapshot. Thanks for sharing. Allan
Ha, river rescue, I like it. With, no doubt, different price levels for the varied speed and quality of the life-saving actions in question. I’m definitely glad I did Setti Fatma, despite usually wanting my travel experiences to be a bit more…. authentic shall we say. It’s been years since I’ve had tajine, I really must put that right when I get the chance. Thanks, Allan, hope your Sunday is going well.
Wow, this is a place I’ve never heard of and so different from what I usually see about Morocco! The waterfalls are especially lovely.
Thanks Diana, it is a lovely little corner of the country with countless hiking opportunities. I would’ve loved to have seen a bit more of the region, but only had time for this village.
Leighton, you are yet again putting my brain into action. The river seems very familiar and I am contemplating doing a post based on a market in a village I passed through. Can’t remember the name of the village, just memories of the river and a spectacular view of snow-capped Atlas mountains. Will look up Setti Fatma and see if it was the same route and if any village names come to mind.
“It’s a small world after all…” Looking forward to seeing what your digging unearths, Geoff.
I had my first Tagine in this little village. In fact one of my first posts in WordPress was about this place and the meal. There is one picture of the view of the mountains …. does that look familiar to you? https://geoffbrown250533044.wordpress.com/2022/08/25/my-first-tagine/
Nice piece Geoff, love the smoky mysterious vibe throughout. The mountain shot ‘could’ be Setti Fatma and it surrounds, it’s hard to tell. But very cool that you’ve also been in this neck of the words. Lamb tajine is where it’s at!
Ah the great memories. Morocco is a terrific country in which to tour, both of our lengthy tours there have been so so enjoyable. All the things you describe – the unfolding and changing scenery, the Berbers, the food, the mountain villages – all so good and so stimulating. This post really brings back great memories.
Thanks Phil, much appreciated. Really wish I’d had the time to see more of this region, but alas these were my pre-digital-nomad-days. It’s yet another one for the ‘maybe again’ list.
What a fascinatingly beautiful change of pace from the city. Picturesque seems too small of a word. I always love back stories. This one didn’t fail but made me even more curious. What was it that drew people here in the first place? Subsistent farming is almost always associated with escape from some sort of oppression. Wonder what it was here? Glad they chose a place that can now attract tourists with cameras.
An interesting question Memo. You know, I have found it very difficult to find more than a few lines about the village’s history. Some more digging is needed methinks. Maybe I should have gotten one of those guides after all!
What a great hike, Leighton! It was hard for me to imagine mountains and gorgeous waterfalls in that part of the world until I had the pleasure of reading your post. The vendors along the trail would be annoying, but I guess that everyone has to try to eke out a living. I can’t believe you didn’t buy any of that lovely jewelry – LOL!
Ha ha, maybe if I’d looked hard enough there would have been a bracelet or necklace with my name on it. Thanks for checking out my day in Setti Fatma, Kellye!
That plate of food looks great. I should say that I would feel uncomfortable taking a tour into the Moroccan backcountry and the Atlas mountains. Well, I would get worried when that unplanned detour started happening. The daughter of a Norwegian on-line friend of mine did that. They encountered the local Al-Qaeda and suffice it to say they did not come back home. Such adventures can be a bit risky.
Well, that is a horrific story indeed. I think I actually remember reading about this on BBC News. I believe the men responsible were going to get executed by the Moroccan government, but not sure if that ever happened.
What a great day trip, too bad you didn’t have more time, but at least you got a taste of the countryside. Now I’m waiting to hear when you’ll move there 😊 Maggie
Ha, no plans for living in Morocco just yet, but you never know. Our current stay in Greece comes to an end in late April so we’ll see I guess.
I’d not heard of Setti Fatma and the seven waterfalls until reading this but it has confirmed even more that I need to plan a trip to Morocco at some point.
Thanks for checking in Marion. Setti Fatma and its surrounds is an amazing region for hiking and natural beauty.
While I love city exploring I think hiking is more up my alley, so if I ever get to Morocco I’d definitely look into doing something like this too!!!
Thanks for reading Anna. For those into serious hiking The Atlas Mountains offers a lot. Maybe one day….
Yea I’ve seen alot of walking tours in the Atlas Mtns. Definitely on my radar!
Looks like a beautiful place to hike and enjoy the scenery. The way the village is tucked into the hillside is lovely and inviting. But the constant barrage of the high-pressure sales (like we experienced in Agadir) gets so tiring and seems to overshadow the experience. Great post!
Hey Tricia, yes the two sides of Morocco are ever present it seems no matter where you go. Thanks for reading my piece on Setti Fatma and the Seven Waterfalls.
This looks like a lovely day-trip out of the city and a good way to see more of the countryside and lots of waterfalls. Those “please-buy-stuff” stops are always awkward and annoying. But as you said, it was a good way to at least stretch your legs (and it makes for a funny story afterwards).
I think on another day they might have peed me off and I’d have been one of those guys refusing to leave the bus, ha. But as it happened I was willing to go with the flow and have a look, it turned out ok in the end. Thanks for checking out my day trip to Setti Fatma!
I love getting out in nature after spending a lot of time in cities. The waterfalls look beautiful! I am always amazed by the things people wear to go hiking. Then I am amazed by little kids in crocks passing everyone on trails.
The cavalier attitude towards footwear was staggering! Although, I must say, I’ve also been a bit guilty of this over the years. Setti Fatma is an idyllic village in many ways, but I imagine life here must also be hard. Thanks for dropping in, Lyssy.
I love that dynamic landscape! I think I could wander around and hike here for awhile 🙂
Thanks for dropping in Meg, Setti Fatma is a gentle introduction to the Atlas Mountain region. If I ever do return I’d like to up the stakes a bit and find a more demanding hike, sans all the tourists.
Wow, I did not realize that there were so many nature areas in Morocco. That is very cool that there are waterfalls there!
I’m sure you’d have a good time exploring Setti Fatma, Allie. Thanks for dropping by!
I’ve never heard of Setti Fatma, but WOW! What a gorgeous place in the High Atlas! The houses built literally on the face of the mountain is some real architectural engineering feat– I can imagine the hikes must be a bit challenging! The cascades are a refreshing oasis from the dry lands of the country, and now I have Setti Fatma on my radar for my next visit back to Morocco!
Ah Rebecca, I’m glad Setti Fatma appeals! I would’ve liked to have gotten into that village for a look, but not sure if that was even a done thing. As it was, the hike took me along the village’s lower lanes and then up into the hills.
That’s what we like to see … the rural areas on the outskirts of a city. I like the drink stand on your hike and a waterfall (or seven) is always nice to see while you’re hiking. Ending a day with lamb tagine sounds perfectly fine to me!
Hey Corna, thanks for finding the time to drop by. I hope things are getting better and better at your end. I think it would have been a missed opportunity not to have come out and see a bit of the mountains, especially with the village being so close to Marrakesh. Thanks for visiting Setti Fatma with me!
That seems like such a nice place! I think I would have loved the hike to the seven waterfalls, but I’m sure I would have been unable to say “no” to everyone approaching me with something to buy! The tajine also looks delicious!
Thanks for reading Juliette. I’d say Setti Fatma is the perfect trip for someone wanting to get a taste of The Atlas Mountains without having to do any serious hiking.
This sounds like a lovely day, scenic but not too strenous. The story of Setti Fatma made it all the more special. The tajine looks delish, and I am admiring the clay pot it’s served in.
Hey Ruth, glad you enjoyed this look at Setti Fatma and its sedate charms. I would love one of those tajine pots and often scold myself for not getting one when I look back on my time in Morocco.