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Ait Ben Haddou: A Perfect Day Trip From Marrakech


Nestled along the foothills of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco lies the beautiful ksar of Ait Ben Haddou, an ancient fortified village with distinctive mud-brick architecture and narrow streets that offer a glimpse into Morocco’s rich history and cultural heritage. In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about this UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as all the practical tips for visiting Ait Ben Haddou on a day trip from Marrakech.

The history of the Ksar of Ait Benhaddou

In the 17th century, the ksar of Ait Ben Haddou served as a strategic stop along the trans-Saharan trade route that connected Marrakech to the Sahara Desert. This route was originally established as a caravan route and this Ait Ben Haddou was the center for trade, commerce, and cultural exchange.

Over the centuries, Ait Ben Haddou grew into a busy community. Its unique buildings and strong walls show the mix of Berber, Arab, and Saharan cultures. Because of its important location, many ruling groups, like the Almoravids and the Saadian sultans, wanted to control it, so they strengthened its defenses and made it bigger.

The architecture of Ait Benhaddou

Ait Benhaddou’s architecture shows the skill of its builders and the challenges of building in a desert environment. The village is made entirely from local materials like clay, straw, and wood. The village’s buildings also use traditional Berber building methods, such as rammed earth construction, and feature designs that are influenced by Islamic art.

The village is known for its compact, multi-story houses packed together within high defensive walls, creating a maze of narrow streets and hidden courtyards. Towers, bastions, and fortified gates stand out against the skyline, offering wide views of the surrounding area.

Best time to visit Ait Benhaddou

The best time to visit Ait Benhaddou is during the spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) when the weather is mild and comfortable for exploring the site. Summers can be extremely hot, and winters brings cooler temperatures and occasional rainfall.

We visited Ait Ben Haddou at both sunrise and sunset, and without a doubt, sunrise is the best time of day for photography.

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How to get to Ait Benhaddou

By car

The most convenient way to reach Ait Benhaddou is by car, either by renting a car or hiring a private driver from nearby cities like Marrakech or Ouarzazate. The drive takes approximately 4 hours from Marrakech and 30 minutes from Ouarzazate, passing through breathtaking desert landscapes and traditional Berber villages along the way. I recommend an extra hour for the drive from Marrakech simply because there’s so many beautiful stops you can make along the way.

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By public transportation

For budget-conscious travelers, public buses and shared taxis operate between Ouarzazate and Ait Benhaddou, offering a more affordable but less flexible option for transportation. Buses depart regularly from Ouarzazate’s main bus station, with the journey taking around 30 minutes. I would not suggest taking public transportation from Marrakech, it might be a better option to join a tour instead.

On a tour

Alternatively, guided tours from Marrakech or Ouarzazate are a hassle-free way to get to Ait Benhaddou, but you might have to compromise on the best photography conditions. These tours often include stops at other nearby attractions, such as the Atlas Film Studios in Ouarzazate (which I’d say is worth a visit!).

Admission and opening hours

Ait Benhaddou is open to visitors daily from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM, with no admission fee. You will, however, be asked to make a contribution to the head of the village for the entry, but you will receive a tour of the private houses by one of his grandsons, which was well worth it! And then of course the grandson will also ask for money, so have some extra cash for the tips ready.

Or you can skip the private house tours and just walk around on your own.

What to Do in Ait Benhaddou

Exploring the narrow streets and ancient buildings of Ait Benhaddou is a great experience in itself, but there are several other activities to enjoy during your visit:

  • Guided Tours: Join a guided tour to learn about the history, architecture, and cultural significance of Ait Benhaddou from knowledgeable local guides.
  • Photography: Capture the timeless beauty of Ait Benhaddou’s mud-brick buildings, winding alleyways, and panoramic vistas against the backdrop of the Atlas Mountains.
  • Shopping: Browse the souvenir shops and artisan workshops within the ksar for unique handicrafts, traditional textiles, and locally-made goods. They have a beautiful selection of carpets and good brought by people from the Sahara desert.
  • Mint tea: sit down in one of the Instagram-friendly tea places, take some pictures and enjoy the views of the village on the other side of the river.

Best viewpoint of Ait Ben Haddou

The most popular view of Ait Ben Haddou and the surrounding landscape, is from the top of the nearby hill overlooking the ksar.

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But my personal favorite view is from the Chez Brahim Boulkaid’s rooftop terrace. Order some mint tea and get ready for the sunrise over Ait Ben Haddou.

Famous movies filmed here

Ait Benhaddou’s charm has attracted filmmakers from all over the world, making it a popular location for lots of movies and TV shows. Some of the most famous productions filmed at Ait Benhaddou include:

  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962): This epic historical drama directed by David Lean features several scenes filmed at Ait Ben Haddou, showcasing its dramatic landscapes and ancient architecture.
  • Gladiator (2000): Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning film includes scenes set in the ancient Roman city of Zucchabar, which were filmed at Ait Ben Haddou.
  • Game of Thrones (2011-2019): Several episodes of the hit HBO series were filmed at Ait Ben Haddou, doubling as the fictional cities of Yunkai and Pentos.

Do’s and don’ts


  • Respect local customs and traditions, especially when visiting religious sites or interacting with the local community.
  • Bring water with you and wear sunscreen, especially during the hot summer months.
  • Support local artisans by purchasing authentic handicrafts and souvenirs made in Ait Benhaddou and nearby villages.
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  • Climb on or touch the fragile mud-brick buildings and structures within the ksar, as this can cause damage and erosion over time.
  • Dispose of litter or waste irresponsibly, and always respect the natural environment and cultural heritage of Ait Benhaddou.

Where to stay

While there are no accommodations within the ksar itself, visitors can find a range of hotels, guesthouses, and riads in the village just across the river, as well nearby towns of Ouarzazate and Skoura.

We stayed in a riad just 10 minutes away from the village. It was in the middle of the desert and it was very peaceful and beautiuful.

FAQs about Ait Benhaddou in Morocco

Is Ait Benhaddou Worth Visiting?

Absolutely! Ait Benhaddou is a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its stunning, well-preserved kasbahs (fortified villages). This ancient village offers a glimpse into Morocco’s rich history and architectural beauty. Visitors are captivated by its earthen clay structures, scenic views of the surrounding desert, and the feeling of stepping back in time. Whether you’re an architecture enthusiast, a history buff, or simply looking for a unique travel experience, Ait Benhaddou is definitely worth a visit.

What has been filmed at Ait Benhaddou?

Ait Benhaddou has served as a picturesque backdrop for numerous films and TV series. Its striking and authentic appearance has attracted many filmmakers. Notable productions filmed here include “Gladiator,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Mummy,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.” This site’s cinematic allure adds an extra layer of excitement for visitors, making it a must-see for movie buffs.

Is It Safe to Go to Ait Benhaddou?

Yes, visiting Ait Benhaddou is generally safe. It is a popular tourist destination, and local authorities take necessary measures to ensure the safety of visitors. However, as with any travel destination, it’s advisable to stay aware of your surroundings, keep your belongings secure, and follow local guidelines. Hiring a local guide can also enhance your experience and provide added security.

Do people still live in Ait Benhaddou?

Yes, people still live in Ait Benhaddou, although the population has decreased over the years. Most residents have moved to more modern accommodations across the river, but a small number of families continue to inhabit the ancient ksar (fortified village). This remaining community maintains the traditional way of life, providing visitors with an authentic glimpse into the past. The blend of living history and ancient architecture makes Ait Benhaddou a unique destination.

Is Ait Benhaddou wheelchair accessible?

Due to its historic architecture and uneven terrain, Ait Benhaddou may be challenging to navigate for visitors with mobility issues. However, some areas of the ksar are accessible with assistance.

Are there guided tours available at Ait Benhaddou?

Yes, guided tours led by knowledgeable local guides are available at Ait Benhaddou, providing insights into the history, culture, and architecture of the ksar.

Can I visit Ait Benhaddou independently, or do I need to join a tour?

While it’s possible to visit Ait Benhaddou independently, joining a guided tour offers convenience, insights, and transportation from nearby cities such as Marrakech and Ouarzazate.

In conclusion, Ait Benhaddou is a testament to Morocco’s rich history, cultural heritage, and architectural ingenuity. Whether you’re a history buff, a film enthusiast, or a nature lover, a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site promises an unforgettable journey.

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