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High on our travel hit list, we have been dying to visit the historic Moroccan village of Aït Benhaddou for quite some time, hidden deep in the southern desert and dating back to the 12th century. We were based in Marrakech for a week, so opted to spend one of our days visiting Aït Benhaddou on a day trip.
How to get to Aït Benhaddou from Marrakech
Aït Benhaddou is a 3 to 4 hour drive from Marrakech so will take a full day to visit. There are lots of tour companies vying for your Dinahs, so competition is fierce, making the cost of private tours are a lot cheaper than you’d likely expect. We paid 65€ for a private car and driver with Toubkal Guide, but you can book a place on a group tour for around 30€ on GetYourGuide.
Alternatively you can hire a car in Marrakech or at the airport and have much greater flexibility over your trip. With this option you can extend your visit to Aït Benhaddou for longer than a day trip and stay overnight in one of the nearby hotels – skip to the accommodation section.
If you are on a budget then there are two public bus companies that you can take all the way there – CTM and Supratours. The fares are around 9€ and the journey takes about 5 hours one way. If you are just going for just a day trip it is probably worth spending a bit more money and booking yourself onto a day tour/private driver or hiring a car instead as the bus option would mean a longer drive and you wouldn’t have the chance to stop for photo opportunities.
An introduction to Aït Benhaddou
Aït Benhaddou is fortress village (‘Ighrem’) along the ancient caravan route between Marrakech and the Sahara. These days, most visitors (film fans) will recognise Ait Benhaddou as a key filming location for the movie Gladiator starring Russell Crowe with several buildings and a partial arena built for the massive production still standing.
Ait Benhaddou has also featured in The Mummy, the James Bond movie The Living Daylights (Timothy Dalton was so underrated as Bond!), Prince of Persia and 80’s classic The Jewel of the Nile. These days, it is most popular through it being featured in Game of Thrones (rolls eyes…)
As you drive deeper into the desert and draw closer to the village, your first glimpse of the top of the hilltop village flickers and smoulders, shimmering from the desert heap.
Most people’s visit to Ait Benhaddou begins with being dropped off in one of the nearby carparks on the main road – it is best to stock up here on cold water and soft drinks here (save the ice-creams and chocolate for your trip back as they’ll likely melt instantly if you took them up the hill). Our private tour also dropped us off at a restaurant first to enjoy lunch, as there are no proper dining options or restaurants once on the hillside, other than some spots for tea – more of this to come later.
Exploring Aït Benhaddou
Although this is a special and historic site (a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987), there is something overwhelmingly ‘touristy’ about visiting – apart from several families who still reside in the ancient village, most locals live in nearby modern villages and head up the hill every day to open their stores – the scene is a little similar to what you’d see at Egypt’s pyramids, standing on something so old, looking over the horizon to all the newer houses
After passing by several small stores and crossing the bridge across the dry river, you head up the steep slope (sensible walking shoes are recommended i.e. not flip-flops / jandals).
All of the stallholders are incredibly friendly and they often beckon you into their darkened stores, a welcome respite from the blazing overhead sun. As you continue hiking up, don’t forget to look back as the view changes often the further you progress.
Along the way, there are several spots serving tea (not cafes so much, but little verandas with the most amazing desert backdrop as your view). Like the Jardin Secret in Marrakech, all offer mint tea served with a silver teapot and platter – after all that arid heat and uphill walking, we guarantee this will be one of the most refreshing cups of tea in your life!
For whatever reason your visit, be it to take a step back in time or purely to recreate your favourite scene from Game of Thrones, this is a majestic monument to include on your Morocco trip and something quite unique.
Where to stay near Ait Benhaddou
Maison d’hôtes Dar El Haja
This guest house is located in the old village of Ait-Ben-Haddou and is decorated in traditional, Berber style, with furnished terraces and traditional breakfast. Check out prices and availability for Maison d’hôtes Dar El Haja
Guest House Bagdad Café
Bagdad Café is located just 200 yards from the famous Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou with traditional Moroccan rooms, swimming pool, bar and free Wi-Fi. Check out prices and availability for Guest House Bagdad Café
BaRiad Tamdakhte is located in Aït Benhaddou and each room has air conditioning, patio and a terrace with a mountain and river view. Check out prices and availability for Riad Tamdakhte
This riad is located in the Ounila Valley, a 10-minute walk from Ait Benhaddou, and has Kasbah style air-conditioned rooms, plus an outdoor swimming pool and 2 terraces. Check out prices and availability for Riad Caravane
Other Morocco posts
- Things to do in Marrakech
- Exploring Marrakech souks – the ultimate guide
- Tastes of Morocco – a Marrakech street food tour
- Le Jardin Secret: An oasis in Marrakech, Morocco
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