Morocco’s national parks and other protected areas
Do you like to get to know the nature of the destinations you visit? Do you love to immerse yourself in wild landscapes where humans have hardly intervened? Then we encourage you to visit some of Morocco
‘s National Parks, where you can discover the wonderful biodiversity of the country. This biodiversity is not only limited to its flora but also its fauna, with a large living catalog of wild birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals that will make your trip an experience. In total there are about 30,000 km² spread over more than a dozen protected areas with the highest category, representing 6% of the total area of the country.
But in these lines we not only focus on the National Parks of Morocco, but we also mention other protected natural areas that may be of interest from a tourist and environmental point of view, such as biosphere reserves.
The number of National Parks in Morocco currently reaches ten, but it is not excluded that more will be catalogued in the future. This is the highest legal status to protect the flora and fauna of a particular place, of special representativeness, with an adequate state of conservation that has not been excessively modified by man and with a special scientific and informative interest. Briefly, we review them below.
Souss Massa Nature Reserve
Of all the National Parks in Morocco, it is the one that has the strongest relationship with the Atlantic coast, as it is located southwest of the country, between Inezgane Agadir in the north and Tiznit in the south.
The varied geography of this national park includes endless clean sandy beaches, cultivated fields, dunes, rocky cliffs and Argania forests, which are home to a great variety of animals and birds, including one of the most endangered birds on the planet: the Eremit Ibis. Some of the animals that visitors can admire here are the Algerian hedgehog, jackals, weasels, red foxes and a fascinating diversity of amphibians and reptiles.
It was established as a National Park in 1980 and has an approximate area of 720 km². Inside the park is the Oued Massa Biological Reserve which covers an area of 5 km², which we will see below. Its altitude is very low, around 70 meters, even several tens of kilometers inland, while in the Souss Valley, the altitude varies between 8 and 150 meters.
The delimited territory includes two rivers or oueds: the Massa, up to 600 meters wide and 3 kilometers long, and the Souss, which has recently been dammed beyond the park boundaries. However, they rarely carry water, so the landscape of this national park consists of an immense coastal plain with its two corresponding estuaries, embraced by the Anti-Atlas in the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The area is composed of dunes, alluvial material and sandstone.
The climate is semi-arid Mediterranean. During the summer there is usually coastal fog which provides humidity equivalent to 200 mm of rainfall. The annual rainfall is about 244 mm. Temperatures do not drop below 10º C in winter and do not usually exceed 27º C in summer.
Agadir is the city from which excursions to this park usually depart.
Tazzeka National Park
Located in the Middle Atlas Mountains, near Taza. Of all the National Parks in Morocco, this is probably the best example of successful conservation. Initially created to protect a cedar forest in the Jbel Tazekka area, the park has subsequently been expanded to include new areas with caves, canyons, rural landscapes, cork oak and holm oak forests, as well as the majestic Jbel Tazekka mountain.
Its terrain is very varied and supports a large number of animals and birds, along trails where visitors are allowed to explore this protected area.
Excursions usually start from the aforementioned city of Taza, although it can also represent a day trip from Fez, as it is less than 100 km away from it.
Toubkal national park refuge
Toubkal National Park
Of course, among the National Parks of Morocco, there is one dedicated to its highest peak: the Toubkal, which reaches up to 4,167 meters high. It is therefore located in the heart of the High Atlas, in an area of about 1,000 km2.
Therefore, this protected natural area is a pole of attraction for many adventurers, who walk along its trails to enjoy its great biodiversity of flora and fauna. The vegetation is divided into different levels, from the black juniper and the tuya to the holm oak, and from 2,500 meters above sea level, leaving space for the juniper and the pendejo.
It is also one of the most ethnographically interesting National Parks in Morocco, as the local communities live in the same way as their ancestors, practically unaffected by the progress of the outside world.
The city from which most excursions depart is Marrakech, located about 100 km from the top.
Talassemtane National Park Morocco
Talassemtane National Park
Located in the northern Rif mountain range, this is one of Morocco’s National Parks with a clear objective: to preserve the last of the country’s fir forests.
It received the highest category of protection in 1972 and has a small area of just 26 km², but with a great scientific and botanical value. Its altitude is between 1,600 and 2,170 meters. Its climate is humid Mediterranean, with an average annual rainfall of 1000 mm. In fact, in the winter its summits are covered with snow.
But in addition to its fir trees, this national park is home to one of the most characteristic, endangered and protected animals in the country: the Barbary monkey. There are also red foxes, common jackals, Algerian hedgehogs, badgers and different species of rats and shrews.
It is undoubtedly one of the favorite excursions for those visiting Chaouen.
Al Hoceima National Park
It is located in the surroundings of this northern city and is the only one of the National Parks of Morocco that directly embraces the Mediterranean Sea, as it incorporates coastal and marine habitats virtually untouched, totaling about 310 km ² of protection. Therefore, it is home to one of the few remaining colonies of ospreys in the Mediterranean, which can be quite a spectacle for birdwatchers.
As for the flora, its wooded area is dominated by araares, accompanied by typical Mediterranean shrubs, such as mastic or cornical.
As its name indicates, those who spend their vacations in Al Hoceima will find themselves in the ideal place to start routes through this national park.
Ifrane National Park
Located in the heart of the mighty Middle Atlas Mountains, the reserve incorporates the largest cedar forest in the Atlas. This forest is home to a thriving population of Barbary apes, which is the only primate native to the Mediterranean. In addition to these symbolic apes, there are other outstanding species among its fauna, such as the golden jackal. As for the flora, there are also numerous and representative Andalusian oaks, holm oaks, junipers and maritime pines, among others.
The extension of the park is about 500 km2. The main town of influence is Ifrane and the R707 road connects the town and the national park.
Eastern High Atlas National Park
This is another of Morocco’s national parks located in the heart of the Atlas Mountains, in this case in the eastern part of the High Atlas. It covers an area of about 490 km2 and the main reason for its constitution was the preservation of important animal species, especially the Barbary sheep. The Cuvier’s gazelle is also very representative of the area. In addition, there is a great variety of amphibians, birds and reptiles. As far as the flora is concerned, the trees with the greatest presence are the usual ones in natural spaces of this altitude and latitude: holm oaks, Atlas cedars and junipers, among others.
The closest and most comfortable cities from which to make excursions are Midelt and Er Rachidia.
Jenifra National Park
Also called Aguelmam Azigza by the name of one of the lakes in its territory. Of all the National Parks of Morocco, this is the most recent creation, dating from 2008. It is located in the province of Meknès-Tafilalet, in the heart of the Middle Atlas. Its protected area reaches about 2,000 km2 and its territory is home to species in need of protection, such as the Atlas panther.
If you want to organize routes through this park, you can stay in Jenifra or Khenifra, the most important town in its surroundings, connected to this protected area by road P7306.
Khenifiss National Park
It is the southernmost of Morocco’s National Parks, located in the region of Laayoune-Bojador-Saguia el Hamra. It was created in 2006 to provide maximum protection to an area that was already considered a nature reserve. It occupies a territory of about 1,800 km2 and it is a good place to visit.
example of a desert ecosystem, with wetlands and coastal dunes. A large part of its importance lies in the fact that it is a nesting area for birds such as the Shelduck, the Brown Teal and the Audouin’s Gull. Its lagoons and wetlands are perfect for these and other species during the winter, which move here from more northern latitudes in the Mediterranean.
The nearest towns where you can find accommodation are Tan-Tan and Tarfaya, both connected to the national park by the N1 road.
Iriqui National Park
This is another of Morocco’s National Parks that highlight the biodiversity of the desert ecosystem. In fact, it is located near Zagora and the ecosystem here is typical of the south of the country. Its territory covers just over 1,200 km2.
The creation of the park in 1994 was aimed at the conservation and regeneration of some of its natural spaces, as well as the fauna and flora associated with them. For example, the temporary wetland that forms here in wet periods and attracts numerous aquatic species in the winter season, such as geese, flamingos and coots. Other animals such as the Saharan ostrich, the common gazelle or the striped hyena also roam the steppes and savannahs populated by acacias and tamarix.
Other natural reserves and protected areas
Morocco’s National Parks are not the only protected areas in the country. There are other nature reserves with different classifications due to their environmental importance, which may coincide in part with the delimited area of a national park. Some of the main ones are the following:
moulay bousselham national park
Merdja Zerga Biological Reserve
It is located on the northern coast of Morocco, west of the village of Moulay Bousselham, in a region with a humid climate, with annual rainfall between 700 and 750 mm. It was established in 1978 on an area of 74 km². The extensive marshes and the lagoon that make up the Merja Zerga reserve are located on the Rharb alluvial plains. The highest temperatures can reach 30 ºC or 32 ºC and the lowest temperatures can reach 4 ºC.
Its name means ‘Blue Lagoon’ and it is home to thousands of game birds, waders and flamingos, as well as a way station for migratory birds. Birdwatchers may be lucky enough to see the rare species of the Moorish owl, among many others.
The region is also of great religious importance due to the complex of six marabouts around the tomb of the saint Sidi Bousselham. A religious festival or moussem is held here every year to commemorate the tradition of Sidi Bousselham and Lalla Mimouna.
In the municipality of Moulay Bousselham there is a small tourist complex next to the mouth of the Oued Drader and a visitor reception center.
Arganeraie National Park
The Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve
Covering a huge area that includes urban and forested areas as well as cultivated agricultural land, this reserve aims to protect the argan trees, threatened by the encroachment of the Sahara desert. It extends mainly along the Atlantic foothills of the High Atlas and the valleys of the Massa and Souss rivers, the latter being included in one of Morocco’s National Parks, as mentioned above. The area is inhabited by about 2,400,000 people, mostly Berbers, including the city of Agadir.
The drought-resistant argan trees are prized for their nuts which produce the highly coveted Argan oil. This oil has multiple uses in cosmetics and is used as an ingredient in some medicines. Its wood is also highly prized. The dragon tree is also one of the most representative trees of this reserve. As for the fauna, the endangered Ibis eremita bird stands out, which has found here a place to live, as it is home to the only population that lives in the wild in the world.
This protected natural area can be visited from Agadir, as it is only a few dozen kilometers inland.
The Intercontinental Mediterranean Biosphere Reserve of Morocco and Spain
Under the direction of Unesco and its MAB Program (Man and the Biosphere Program), this Biosphere Reserve was created in 2006, which actually covers a very vast territory, in two different countries: Morocco and Spain, working together with the common goal of educating the public about the environmental value of this area.
The Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve includes the Talassemtane, one of Morocco’s National Parks, as well as Smir Lagoon, Koudiet Taifour, Moussa and Jbel Bouhachem Jbel, all natural areas influenced by the Mediterranean coast. In Spain, it goes into the provinces of Cadiz and Malaga.
Among the highlights of the Moroccan part of the reserve are some of its endemic or endangered animal species, such as the Barbary monkey, the Egyptian vulture or the golden eagle. There is also a great variety of snakes and reptiles.
Biosphere Reserve in the oases of Morocco
Biosphere Reserve of the Oases of Southern Morocco
This area, which covers a large space in the south of the country, was designated as such in 2000 to combat desertification and favor the maintenance of the oases, on which entire communities depend for their livelihoods. This includes research and education regarding the correct use of water systems that are compatible with agriculture and do not break the fragile environmental balance of the area.
In addition, this area is part of some tourist routes in southern Morocco, as it is home to interesting tourist resources such as the Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou.
Finally, as a complement to this information on Morocco’s National Parks and biological reserves, it is interesting to highlight the 24 Ramsar Sites in the country, whose main objective is the conservation of habitats for waterfowl and migratory birds. We have already referred to some of them in previous sections, but for further information, here is the complete list, grouped by region:
Garb-Chrarda-Beni Hsen: Merja Zerga (MAR-01), Merja Sidi Boughaba (MAR-02), Marais ete Côte du Plateau de Rmel (MAR-18)
Meknes-Tafilalet: Afennourir Lake (MAR-03), Aguelmams Sidi Ali – Tifounassine (MAR-05), Isly-Tislite Lakes (MAR-17), Tafilalet Oasis (MAR-20)
Guelmim-Esmara: Khnifiss Bay (MAR-04), Dr’a oued mouth (MAR-14), Chbeyka-Al Wa’er oued mouths (MAR-16), Moyenne Dr’a (MAR-19), Tafilalet Oasis (MAR-20)
Marrakech-Tensift-Al Hauz: Archipelago and dunes of Essaouira (MAR-6),
Rio de Oro-La Güera: Dakhla Bay (MAR-07)
Chauía-Uardiga: Al Massira Dam (MAR-08)
Rif: Mohammed V Dam (MAR-09), Tres Forcas Cape (MAR-10), Sebkha Bou Areg (MAR-21)
Dukala-Abda: Sidi Moussa-Walidia Complex (MAR-11), Sebkha Zima (MAR-22)
Tangier-Tetouan: Lower Loukkos Complex (MAR-12), Lower Tahaddart Complex (MAR-13), Marais ete côte du Plateau de Rmel (MAR-18)
The Oriental: Moulouya Mouth (MAR-15)
Sus-Masa-Draa: Moyenne Dr’a (MAR-19), Wetlands of Souss-Massa (MAR-24)
Greater Casablanca: Wetlands of the oued El Maleh (MAR-23)