Almost everyone who climbs Toubkal spends the night before the descent at the Toubkal refuge, which, at 3200, is at the base of the final long climb up the mountain. The refuge is owned by the Club Alpin Francaise (CAF) but is run by a local guy, Ibrahim.
Ibrahim is a great guy who is always in good humour no matter how stressful or crowded it is here. It can be worthwhile calling him in advance to book a place though in busy times it might not make a difference. He can usually find a place for everyone and booking early does not mean you get a better spot. Despite our reservation, we were given a place in the common room. Some French guys who came in late had to sleep in the dining room and hence couldn't put out there bas until 9pm when everyone had finished eating.
It costs 150 Dh per person per night (as of April 2007) which is quite a lot given the cramped conditions. However, as you have few other options other than camping, it‘s rarely short of customers. The price quoted in our guidebook (from 2004) was 80 Dh which means it has almost doubled in 3 years. There are plans to build a second refuge nearby but apparently this has been planned for many years without any real progress being made.
The refuge has space for 80 people in the dormitory upstairs but in busy periods they use every available space. On the night we stayed here there were at least 150 people here. We were given a mattress in the common room, along with 15 others, all from Spain.
The refuge has 3 toilets (only one western style, the other two are holes in the ground) and a couple of showers. There is a kitchen which you can use though it costs 10 Dh every time you use it. Meals are available for about 100Dh a head. The refuge sells water, chocolate and soft drinks but in busy periods make sure you stock up early as supplies can run out and they don't get re-supplied until the mules come up from Imlil the following day.
This old fortress is built like a great stone ship, with its bow jutting out over the green waves of a walnut grove. But up on the watch-tower all eyes are turned towards the ‘stern’ and the magnificent sight of snow-capped Mount Toubkal. (Martin Scorsese was so impressed that he used the Kasbah as a Tibetan monastery in his film Kundun.)
Since British company Discover Ltd began renovating the Kasbah in 1990 they have worked hard to ensure that the local community benefits from the revenue. The labour and provisions come from the local valleys and the service has the feel of traditional Berber hospitality rather than the 5-star polish of the best inner-city accommodation. Discover describe their award-winning operation here as a Berber-European partnership and quite apart from the chance to stay in such awesome surroundings it is reassuring to find a top-class hotel in which the local community has such an active stake.
It only takes an hour-and-a-half to drive from Marrakech to the slopes of Djebel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest mountain, but the journey is a pure adventure. The road stretches out past the camel herds of the Marrakech plateau and very quickly you are winding through terraced barley fields where brightly-clad Berber women work. Finally the road comes to an end at the village of Imlil and you and your bags make the last short climb to Kasbah du Toubkal by mule!
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