Aït Benhaddou is a village on the old caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakesh. It makes an excellent day trip from Marrakesh or a great stop on the way to Ouarzazate.
It sounds like an exotic location from a movie, and it is.
If it looks familiar, you’ve probably seen in it A LOT. It’s been in tons of movies ranging from Laurence of Arabia to Gladiator, The Mummy, Kingdom of Heaven, and more recently, season 3 of Game of Thrones where was cast as Slaver’s Bay.
I’d like to point out that with this historical reference information, I’m doing really well at concealing my excitement. I mean, look at this place! It's amazingly untouristed compared to sites of equal fascination like Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat. And I think that's because Aït Benhaddou is still a thriving city, rather than an abandoned relic.
It feels like you’re stepping back in time!
I felt like Indiana Jones.
This city was fascinating.
Aït Benhaddou is perched on a hillside overlooking the valley and river below. From the top of the hill, you can see sheep move across the landscape and watch the river snaking through the valley below.
I could almost imagine what it might have been like to live there.
This place is ancient, dating back to the 9th century.
One of the best parts is that the people who still live here are the descendants of the families that built the village.
The families live in Kasbahs, which are homes with a square design, high walls, and four towers, each of which house the rooms of the house while the center is open. Merchants could shelter behind the walls during times of war and allow people into the gates to buy goods when things were calmer.
The walls are over a foot thick and are made of mud, straw, and wool. In places where the original structure is crumbling, bricks are used for repairs to the original facade then layered with mud. Some areas but have been rehabilitated thanks to the influx of interest from Hollywood.
The crazy part is, we wanted to see this as it’s own destination and it was just thrown in as a bus stop on our way to the Sahara as though it was nothing more than a rest stop. The tour cost about $2.50 to spend an hour here, admiring this movie star citadel and thinking of what it would be like to see Russel Crowe in a skirt, walking down the street.
I just wish I could have looked around a bit on my own, instead, we were on a tour… and people were telling me what to do…
The one thing that does sometimes suck about travel is when you get stuck on a tour like we were and they herd you through an exhibit like cattle when all you really want is to run around and explore on your own.
Aït Benhaddou is about a 3.5-hour drive from Marrakesh without traffic. In distance, it's 182 kilometers or 113 miles.
There are several options for how to get there. When choosing which is best for you, it's important to know how long you want to spend there.
This is a place that would have been a great way to see another side of Morocco and enjoy an overnight trip if we had time. However, there's not a lot to do besides look around and enjoy the setting so if you are looking for a more entertaining venue, it may be best for you to just make a quick stop for a tour.
You can easily hire a private driver throughMarrakech Airport Transfer for the trip. It will cost roughly 100 Dirhams.
The great part about this option is that you can opt to enjoy the scenery between Marrakech and Aït Benhaddou and the driver will stop for you to take photos.
Taking the scenic route will be longer and will take about 6 hours in total but maybe a highlight of your trip so it's worth considering.
Bathroom stop on the bus route.
The cheapest option is to take the bus in Marrakech heading for Ouarzazate. This will take about 5 hours in total.
We were on a tourist bus which stopped for about 1.5 hours in Aït Benhaddou which was long enough for a quick tour and lunch.
The easiest way to book is to have your hotel or riad do it for you. They will generally choose a good option and will charge an extra few dollars for the hassle but it's worth the expense. We also booked at the bus station directly before leaving and never had any problems with overcrowding.
If booking yourself, there are 2 companies which go this route; Supratours and CTM.
Supratours has 4 buses a day from Marrakech. You can see the schedule here. The price is around $10. I found their website to be a little faulty but workable.
The other company is CTM and according to their schedule, they have 7 buses/day (including 2-night buses) going to Ouarzazate for a similar price as Supratours. This website was more user-friendly for me.
The buses we took were comfortable and modern but they do not have bathrooms. Our bus stopped for a 25-minute break about halfway through the journey.
Our riad booked our bus to Aït Benhaddou. It was a tourist bus that included a tour of the city.
The city would have been great to explore on our own but we had to move along with the tour. It was even a challenge to get the photo of me in front of the city because they moved us along pretty quickly.
If you are going and you have some time, here's what I would recommend to see and do.
There is parking and some restaurants near the main road. Once you leave this area, you climb down steps and across a bridge to get to the old city.
Walk between the huge towers that mark the entrance to the city and you will find yourself in a walled fortress. The path zig-zags up the hill. It's easy to get disoriented, but luckily, all paths seem to cross and wind their upward to the top lookout point.
Once you get to the top, it’s surprisingly quiet and the views are spectacular. This is still a memorable moment for me. It felt like I was looking back in history, you could see sheep and shepards herding their flocks across the plains below.
Earrings for sale in dusty alleyways.
One thing I appreciated about shopping a bit at Aït Benhaddou is the lack of tourists. We were in a group, but once or twice I lagged behind to haggle and it felt much more low-pressue and less-crowded than in Marrakech or Feś.
Also, tourists are pleasant and not intrusive.
The one thing I saw on the top of the city that did not feel like an old-world wonder, was tourists riding ATV and 4-wheelers across the sand. This is an acitivity you can do in both Aït Benhaddou and Oarzazate.
The restaurants across from the old city often have a great view for sunset on Aït Benhaddou.Here is a list of TripAdvisor's best. The photos sometimes even tout the view more than the food.
A local art demonstration on the tour.
As someone who is working on her photography skills, this city is an excellent playground. I took my photo in front of the city (correction, my friend Marybeth took my photo) in the difficult mid-day light.
If we would have had more time, I think it would have been absolutely magical to do photos of the city and surrounds at sundown. The desert sunsets are so amazing when you catch the right timing.
Also, the location in and around Aït Benhaddou has amazing vantage points. There's the restaurant section overlooking the city, inside the winding paths of the city itself, the top lookout point of the city overlooking the desert and oasis, and lastly, the river bed where I took some photos.
For a photographer, this may be a great location to spend a day.
I think out of my world travels, this was a really memorable and unique place.
If you are going to Morocco for a short trip, definitely consider stopping along the route like we did and doing a quick tour.
If you have more time, maybe spend an afternoon or evening there.
If you are, say, a leisurely traveler, go for a night and really soak in the old world surroundings.
Take some beautiful photos and enjoy a spot in the world unlike any other.