Having reluctantly left Marrakech and take the car again, we headed for Ouarzazate but before we reached it, we paused at Ait-Ben-Haddou.
Ait-Ben-Haddou is so unique that it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a fortified town, called a ksar, that rises high on the banks of the (dry) Oued Ounilla River.
The ksar is a typical Berber fortified village with a square or rectangular base surrounded by high walls. It contains communal buildings and one or more castles called Kasbah. It is possible to tell how many families live in a ksar by counting the kasbahs; each kasbah belongs to a family.
The material used to build Ait Ben Haddou, is a mixture of mud and straw that give it the characteristic red color that dominates all villages in southern Morocco.
This village is one of the most photographed in all of Morocco; you will find a picture of this ksar in every guidebook.
Many years ago, the location was a stopping station for caravans traveling the road from Sudan to Marrakech. The location was excellent, in fact from the fortification one could see the whole surrounding area.
Over the years the village almost fell into disrepair, fortunately the cinema discovered it and gave it a new life restaurating it and then exploiting its potential.
If you are a movie lover you will probably find some places familiar as several movies were set here, among the most famous Lawrence of Arabia, Jesus of Nazareth, The Jewel of the Nile, The Gladiator.
Access to the village of Ait Ben Haddou is only possible on foot. When you arrive at the village by car you will find the river on your right, look for a parking lot, there are public parking lots in front of the main hotel, and head toward the river, the ksar is across the river. Access can be by fording the dry river or across a long bridge that takes you directly to the entrance of the ksar. Entrance is free and you will not need a guide to visit.
Visiting the entire village will take you about an hour.
Entering the ksar, follow the many narrow streets that climb toward the summit on either side of which stand buildings. Some of these buildings are still inhabited; Berber families live there. They will invite you in to see how and where they live. If you suffer from claustrophobia this is not for you, these are very low-ceilinged rooms carved into the rock, with no windows or light. Often humans and animals live together in these rooms. At the end of the visit they will ask you for a free offering.
Other buildings are instead used as souvenir stores inside which sell carpets, jewelry and other Moroccan handicrafts.
How to get there
Ait-Ben-Haddou is 180 km from Marrakech over the High Atlas Mountains, consider about a 4-hour drive. It takes a long time because it is all “normal” road, all the road is well paved and with little traffic.
The landscapes you will admire along the journey are beautiful, breathtaking. Look around you!
From Ouarzazate, on the other hand, it is 30 kilometers.
When to go
If, like us, you visit Ait Ben Haddou in the summer, be aware that it will be very hot and you will not find shade; there are no trees under which to rest.
Avoid the hottest hours or get water and a hat.
The crowd of tourists is concentrated between 11:00 a.m., when the day-trip buses begin to arrive, and 5:00 p.m.; the best side of Ait Ben Haddou is reserved for those who spend the night there and have the opportunity to visit the ksar at other times.
Don’t miss the view from the top of the village, you can see the whole city and admire the panorama of the surrounding valley.
If you want to have something to eat after your visit or just want to refresh yourself, you can stop at the snack bar “Les Amis,” an establishment that is a little less touristy than the others but eats really well.
Prices in the normal range.
Where to Stay
We stayed in Ouarzazate, a small town a few kilometers from Ait Ben Haddou. The property is called Ecolodge l’ile de Ouarzazate, and it is beautiful, a little bit outside the town in the middle of nowhere. The rooms are all Moroccan style and overlook a manicured garden. There is a pool in the garden, great for warmer days.
It is possible to have dinner, 13 euros per person. Dinner includes typical Moroccan dishes: canapés, soup, tajina and dessert.
Breakfast served in the garden is also excellent.
If you are looking for accommodation you can use the attached map below, there are accommodations for all budgets.