This Mountainous Pass In Africa Is One Of The Most Beautiful But Dangerous Roads

Morocco, above all, is a land of striking diversity. The country's eastern edge is a long slice of the Saharan desert, with its endless, undulating golden sand dunes. Coastal cities like Casablanca boast luxurious beachfront resorts, while ancient cities like Fez, which was founded in the 9th century, are famous for their medinas — labyrinthine pedestrian areas, where you can get lost for days. But did you know that Morocco also encompasses part of a massive North African mountain range — the Atlas Mountains — complete with a few ski resorts?  

Driving through the Atlas Mountains is a truly unforgettable experience. One legendary route through these mountains is the Tizi n'Test pass, which stretches approximately 30 miles between Tafingoult and Mouldikht, and can take from 75 to 90 minutes to drive without stopping. But the Tizi n'Test pass is more than just a means to an end. It's an epic journey through some of Morocco's most spectacular landscapes. The terrain consists of lush valleys with olive groves and nut trees, red-brown clay hills, and snow-streaked tall mountains, dotted with traditional Berber villages. However, the route's beauty is matched by its danger, as it snakes treacherously through the rugged mountains.

Tizi n'Test risks and dangers

The steep Tizi n'Test road clings precariously to mountainsides alongside thousand-plus-foot drops that can induce dizziness in even the most seasoned of mountain travelers. The narrowness of the road — it only allows for one car in some sections — and its lack of guardrails add to the vertigo and risk. Ongoing vigilance is an absolute necessity, as taxis, heavy trucks, and buses often come barreling around corners. Weather conditions have the potential to introduce yet another set of challenges. Fog can greatly reduce visibility, while snow and rain increase the risk of avalanches and landslides, which can transform an already difficult drive into a deadly misadventure. 

To minimize these dangers, only attempt this road during daylight hours and avoid it completely in adverse weather conditions. Check the vehicle before departure to ensure that its brakes and tires are in good condition. Drive slowly when navigating hairpin turns. Finally, always be prepared for the unexpected, such as local residents appearing on the road. Also please note that in September of 2023, a large earthquake struck this area, killing several thousand people, damaging homes and infrastructure, and blocking sections of the Tizi n'Test pass. Shortly after the disaster, the road was cleared for travel, but rehabilitation efforts are still underway throughout the area. As travelers, it's important to be aware of and sensitive to these local realities.  

Must-stops along the way

First and foremost, be safe while driving the Tizi n'Test. In addition, make the most of your journey by pausing occasionally to take in the magnificent scenery, enjoy local food, and explore important sites. One recommended stopping point is on the southern end of the pass at Café La Belle Vue. As its name suggests, the establishment features superb views of the surrounding valley and hillsides along with tasty Moroccan meals and a few simple rooms for overnight guests. Another must-see eight miles north of the Mouldikht (north) end of the Tizi n'Test pass is the mysterious Tinmel Mosque, one of only two mosques in the country that permits non-Muslims to enter. Though the mosque is deserted now, it's still a fascinating place for quiet contemplation and photography, with its elaborate arches, domes, moldings, and prayer hall. 

Visitors can also branch out from the Tizi n'Test area to explore other parts of the Atlas Mountains. Just under a three-hour drive from Mouldikht, Toubkal National Park is 147 square miles of arid mountains, cliffs, gorges, and valleys. The park is home to the highest peak in North Africa, Mount Toubkal, which rises to an impressive 13,671.26 feet.  For adventure seekers, the 7.4 mile trek up Mount Toubkal, which takes from five to seven hours depending on one's fitness level, can serve as an epic finale to an Atlas Mountain vacation.