Tagines and Trails: Setti Fatma, Morocco

There are two reasons to go to Setti Fatma: to hike to the waterfalls and to take your life in your hands by crossing a dodgy footbridge to eat lunch at an alfresco cafe.

Now, the waterfalls are very nice. Not the most spectacular you’ll ever see, but a good excuse to get out into the Moroccan countryside for a hike. But crossing that dodgy bridge is one of the smartest things you’ve ever done, if it’s the one at La Belle Rose cafe.

Setti Fatma is one of the main hubs in the Ourika Valley, an increasingly popular daytrip for tourists from Marrakech. You can get guided full-day tours from just about any outfit in Marrakech. I went with Sahara Expeditions, which was recommended by the folks at my hotel. The tour itself was fine but nothing special: a stop to take pictures of the distant Atlas, a stop to see some “gardens” (just a tchotchke shop), a stop to see a women’s argan oil collective (another excuse for shopping), lunch (not included in the price of the tour), and a guided hike to the waterfalls. Ask a lot of questions before you go about the day’s itinerary–most of them will include at least one stop on the road to the valley for a photo op/shopping trip, but ours included two, and I wish I’d thought to ask around to try to find one with zero.

Other options are to rent a car or go by grand taxi (a car that takes something like five or six passengers to a single long-distance location). Based on every experience I had of trying to navigate Moroccan traffic as a pedestrian or passenger, I would not recommend renting a car. Setti Fatma is a popular enough destination that, especially on a weekend, it shouldn’t be hard to fill up a grand taxi going and coming back, but it does involve more of a chance that you’ll be waiting around or, potentially, paying more for the whole car.

As you approach Setti Fatma on the road that follows the Ourika River, there are about a thousand cafes along the waterfront. Most of them have seats on both sides of the river, which means that you may be crossing the river on one of the aforementioned dodgy footbridges. They’re built, variously, of metal, boards, rope, and tree branches. The one at La Belle Rose cafe, where our group ate, was reasonably sturdy, actually.

That table in the middle of the river is prime real estate.

Now, let’s just stipulate that any food eaten outdoors next to water is going to be good. But the chicken-and-fig tagine at La Belle Rose was the best food that I ate in Morocco and one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, period. The chicken was incredibly tender, the sauce sweet and savory, with a touch of cinnamon. I wiped the tagine clean with the bread and pulled every strand of meat off the bones.

Before

After

Now, the problem is, we ate this big, delicious meal and then immediately started off on the hike. The reverse probably would have been a better plan. It’s not the most strenuous hike, but the path is steep in a lot of places, and many of the footings are tricky and slippery. The trail is very clear (in a lot of places, lined with drink stands and trinket vendors), but I was glad we had a guide to help us figure out how to get over some of the rocks and provide a steadying hand.

The setting is dramatic, huge cliffs rising up on both sides of you and a long vista down the river out to far-off hills. And the waterfalls are beautiful, not very high, but powerful. There are a series of falls, increasingly interesting as you go up. I’m proud of the fact that I was the only woman in our group to make it to the last of the falls (well, the last one we visited. Our guide told us there are seven more beyond that, but I think you have to climb to get to them.).

Yes, it’s a well-touristed area–this is not a wild trek off the beaten path. But it’s very picturesque, very relaxing, and a very different experience than you’ll have in the cities. It’s well worth taking the time to get out and see the country. And eat a tagine on the other side of the river.

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One thought on “Tagines and Trails: Setti Fatma, Morocco

  1. Sounds like fun, wish we had done this when we were in Marrakech. We took a couple taxi rides in Morocco with the one from Agadir to Marrakech being the most harrowing. At some point we had to just sit back and convince ourselves that the driver had self-preservation instincts and we had to rely on those and just look down.

    Looking forward to the scarier tales of Morocco.

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