Visit Ait Ben Haddou – a Day Trip from Marrakesh
Approximately 180 kilometers and 3,5h drive from Marrakesh, lies at the foothill of the High Atlas, the city of Ait Ben Haddou. It was build in 17th century and it’s a stunning and unique example of the architecture of southern Morocco. This wonderful place, named a UNESCO heritage, has been attracting visitors for centuries. Visit in a day trip from Marrakesh the Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou.
A bit of history
“Ksar” means a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high, defensive walls, which are reinforced by corner towers.
The site was one of the many trading posts on the commercial route linking ancient Sudan to Marrakesh by the Dra Valley and the Tizi-n’Telouet Pass.
What makes this site especially appealing and a desired spot for visits is the fact that due to it’s great conditions and unique surrounding landscape, the Kasr of Ait Ben Haddou was a movie set for many award-winning and popular movies like “The Gladiator” or “Game of Thrones”.
We admit the fact that we were in Marrakesh during the airing of the very last episode of Game of Thrones. So it may have influence our decision to visit this astonishing site, and there was absolutely no regret there.
How to get there
You day trip to Ait Ben Haddou can be done as DIY, by a private tour, or group tour.
The group tour will probably be the least expensive. But it will also mean traveling on a big bus/van with 15 or so other people and depending on them for the time. Additionally, you will always be with the group and thus have lower chances to snap beautiful pictures.
Drive there on your own
If you prefer to be completely independent, then renting a car and driving yourself is the right choice. However, we highly recommend getting a 4×4 car, instead of the small, compact one. The road is really terrible at parts and the construction is constantly undergoing. Not knowing the road, the drive might even take you double the time. Therefore we would advise you to spend a night in Ait Ben Haddou, instead of returning the same day to Marrakesh.
On our way back, we were slowed by a dozen trucks transporting fruits (mostly watermelon) and it was almost impossible to pass them. The high mountain roads have countless & sharp turns. We actually spotted a badly looking accident involving a tourist car on our way back. It seemed like everybody was all right, but the car was smashed against a mountain and fell inside a ditch on the side of the road.
In conclusion, we advise you an extreme care if drive by yourself on this road.
We opted ourselves for a private tour- just us and the guide/driver in a nice 4×4, safe car. And we think it was the best, even if it’s a bit more expensive option.
The tour starts early- as early as 7AM, as there is a long road ahead.
On the way, you’ll stop at many spots with breathtaking views. The scenery changes as you come closer to famous Tizi-n’Telouet Pass. It was built in the 1920s and is one of the most dangerous roads in the world. It’s crossing the high Atlas and it’s unbelievable and atypical. Breathtaking views of quasi-desert landscapes will display in front of you- the valley of the Wadi Tensift in the north and the valley of the Ounila in the south. The road has been renovated and is still undergoing construction- the pass is now wider and in better conditions. But extreme care is always advised while driving in this area.
Once descending the terrain changes again, it becomes hotter and drier, trees are replaced by bushes and the ground turns red. Shortly after, you will take a turn and leave the new and main road. You will then follow the trail of the Old Salt Caravan Route from the Sahara over the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech.
Pit Stop at Kasbath Telouet
Take a short break at Kasbath Telouet, built from 1860s by El Glaoui family. Don’t let the outside discourage you! Take a few steps through the broken corridors and find yourself in a marvellous chamber made entirely out of stucco and mosaics, with carved celling and windows. It’s such an unexpected and forgotten place in the middle of nowhere. We spen an hour there and were the only ones on the site.
Opening hours & Entrance fee
8AM – 4PM
Back on the road
Continue on the route of the Saharan trade caravans of the 19th / early 20th century. And make sure to stop multiple times to admire incredible canyons and valleys. Don’t hesitate to ask your guide to stop even if you are in the middle of the road. There aren’t many cars there anyways, and you will experience so exquisite fleeting views that require to stop if you want to capture them in a photo.
Once arriving in Ait Ben Haddou head for lunch at one of many restaurants locate on the main city road (our was included in the day tour and delicious). Make sure to have plenty of water with you as you proceed to Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou for visit. You will pass by small shops on the way to the site where you can buy water, but you should have a reusable bottle ♻️
Onto the visit
Already at first glance, this old fortified city will take your breath away.
Cross a small river (if you come during winter the river might be bigger) and find yourself transported to the movie set of “Gladiator”.
↬ TIP : Climb atop the hill for breathtaking views, walk through the small passageways and watch vendors selling ceramics, carpets, clothing…
We were so lucky finding 2 camels and their kind owner just in front of the Ksar. He let us pet them and feed them and I even got to walk them for a few meters so we could take beautiful pictures.
Reserve minimum 2h to visit the whole site. If you have time, take a walk around the grounds to see the Ksar from different perspectives.
To arrive in Marrakesh for dinner time, you should end your day trip and leave Ait Ben Haddou no later than 5PM.
If you travel by your own car, instead of driving back the same day, spend a night in one of the hotels there and wake up with this breathtaking view.
Opening hours & Entrance fee
The opening time isn’t specified. On some websites, you can find information that it’s 8AM – 4PM, but we were leaving at 17:00 and there were plenty of people just arriving. I think a more accurate opening time would be from 8AM till sunset.
The entrance to Ait Ben haddou Kasbah is free
Is it worth it?
Absolutely! The drive is long, but the scenery is simply stunning the whole way. Make multiple stops on the road, so you never get too tired sitting in the car. The Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou is a marvellous site, with breathtaking scenery worth every minute of the day trip.
What to take
- Comfortable shoes as you will walk a lot
- Plenty of water for the way (you can buy water on some of the rest stops too)
- Cash as credit cards are rarely accepted outside of the big cities
- A scarf or a jacket as it’s still pretty cold in the early morning and to protect yourself from the ac in the car in the afternoon
- Sunglasses and a hat as the sun is very strong
- Camera with full battery and plenty of memory on the card as you will take many pictures 😉
- Medicine if you have motion sickness