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Is Ait Ben Haddou worth visiting?

by | Africa, Destinations | 7 comments

It is miles from anywhere and quite a trek to reach, so one has to ask: is it worth visiting Ait Ben Haddou? The short answer is yes. Make the trip!

View over Ksar Ait Ben Haddou with red/brown fortified buildings on hillside

We visited Ait Ben Haddou as part of a trip through Morocco, but it is possible to take a day trip from places like Marrakech.

What is Ksar Ait Ben Haddou?

Ksar Ait Ben Haddou is a village in the High Atlas Mountains. It is a World Heritage Site and has been since 1987. A Ksar is a fortified village and Ksar Ait Ben Haddou has been around since the 17th Century. It is a fine example of southern Moroccan architecture. The fortified structures are made of mud, straw and wood, giving the village beautiful, earthen tones. Many of the buildings are also decorated with motifs, etched into the walls. The whole effect is quite wonderful.

View over Ksar Ait Ben Haddou to answer question is Ait Ben Haddou worth visiting

Originally, the ksar was an important hub for trade, a strategic point on the caravan trails between Sudan and Marrakech.

Very few people still live in the actual ksar, although when we visited it was quite lively with shops, stalls and artists. Most of the inhabitants now live on the other side of the Ounila River in the modern village of Ait Ben Haddou. (Note that the term “ksar” is not used in the title of the more modern village). This village is also very picturesque and many of the buildings have been built in the style of the original ksar. We stayed in a kasbah in this more modern village. I snapped the pic below of Beth just outside our hotel, overlooking Ksar Ait Ben Haddou.

Beth sitting on large swing with Ksar Ait Ben Haddou in the background

Which movies have been filmed in Ksar Ait Ben Haddou?

Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, understandably, has formed the backdrop to many films over the years and the people who live there are proud of this. Consequently, there are several posters and reference points throughout the ksar listing the various movies which have been filmed here. These include Lawrence of Arabia, The Jewel of the Nile, The Mummy, Gladiator and Game of Thrones. Since Ksar Ait Ben Haddou became a World Heritage Site, any structures made by the film crew have to be removed.

Poster with pictures showing movies filmed in ksar Ait Ben Haddou

Poster listing movies filmed in Ksar Ait Ben Haddou

 

Our tour of Ksar Ait Ben Haddou

We arrived in Ait Ben Haddou just as night was falling and spent the night in the Hotel La Kasbah in the modern village. The hotel was built in the style of the ksar and featured lots of narrow corridors and all kinds of nooks and crannies.

We met with our guide the following morning and he escorted us through the village to the river bed of the Ounila River. The river was dry and had been for many months, but one could see the ancient stepping stones that had once been used to cross the river.

Guide on dry river bed with castelated gate of ksar ait ben haddou in background

Crossing the Ounila River bed towards Ksar Ait Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou modern village from Ounila River

Looking back to the modern village of Ait Ben Haddou on the other side of the river

As it was, we just walked across the dry river bed to the ksar. Even if the river had been in full flow, however, we would not have required the stepping stones as there is now a modern bridge connecting the two villages.

Modern bridge over Ounila River

Our guide, a native of the village, was knowledgeable and informative as he led us through the ksar. He pointed out that we would only see the word “Ksar” for the original Ait Ben Haddou. This was the sign as we entered.

Sign post showing that we were entering Ksar Ait Ben Haddou

What is there to see in Ait Ben Haddou?

The guide led us through narrow streets and alleyways, up rough-hewn steps and between houses. Some of the houses we could look into and see the construction. Most of the houses were quite modest, but there were also several rather grand kasbahs.

Narrow alleyway between houses

Looking into one of the old houses

Rough hewn steps

View over Ait Ben Haddou showing some of the grand kasbahs

As we wandered through the village, we also saw several street artists at work.  We were particularly impressed by some of the painters and the techniques they used of caramelising sugar to create the colours. In addition, numerous shops and stalls were open for business selling a variety of mementos.

Artist at work in the village

Hand made pictures for sale

We gradually made our way upwards to the fortified granary (agadir) at the very top of the hill. The steps and paths are quite rough in places so I would suggest wearing strong shoes for this.

Steps leading up through the village of Ksar Ait Ben Haddou

The granary itself was in a state of ruin and apparently had been further damaged by the earthquake in September 2023. Our guide advised us to stay well clear of it.

Granary above Ait Ben Haddou in state of ruin.

The view over Ksar Ait Ben Haddou and of the surrounding country side from here was spectacular.

View over the top of the village

View over landscape from granary

View over ksar from granary

We could also clearly see the two villages, separated by the river, the ksar and the modern Ait Ben Haddou, from this vantage point. People were crossing the river bed from one side to the other, just as we had done a little earlier.

View over Ait Ben Haddou from Granary, well worth seeing

Final thoughts: Is Ait Ben Haddou worth visiting?

We really enjoyed visiting Ksar Ait Ben Haddou and learned a lot about Moroccan history. The village is really beautiful and like nothing we have seen elsewhere. This makes it really special and for this reason alone, Ait Ben Haddou is worth visiting. Being honest, I also loved walking in the place where all those films were made!

View over Ait Ben Haddou to the granary

 

Our Tour of Morocco 

Our tour through Morocco included visits to Marrakech, Casablanca, Rabat and the ancient Roman city of Volubilis. We wandered through the souks in Fez and explored the wonderful Berber village of Ait Benhaddou, the setting for many Hollywood movies. In addition, we visited palaces, mosques, museums, film studios and several artisan workshops (- carpets, metal artefacts, argon oil and even a UNESCO listed tannery!).

There were eight of us in the group for most of the tour. Beth and I flew into Marrakech and the others joined us the following day after we arrived in Casablanca. We travelled in a comfortable mini bus and our driver was very competent. The driver and a host stayed with us for the whole trip, but we had private guides in each of places we visited. Two more people joined us for the final tour of Marrakech. The trip ended in Marrakech.

The hotels we stayed in were all clean and comfortable. Most had spas and pools. Camping in the Sahara Desert and the camel trek were included.

We booked the tour with TourRadar: Imperial Cities and Sahara Discovery Tour from Marrakech

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7 Comments

  1. we have never travelled to Morocco but its high on the list, it looks like such an incredible place to explore, thank you for sharing such an incredible post

    Reply
  2. So interesting to learn about all the movies scenes filmed here. And oh, some of this landscape almost reminds me of the Grand Canyon.

    Reply
    • I know what you mean! What an amazing planet we live on!

      Reply
  3. It looks wonderful – definitely worth the visit – and I’m so glad it survived the earthquake, but sadly many of the mountain villages didn’t. I’ll have to watch Laurence of Arabia again now!

    Reply
    • There was some minor damage in Ait Ben Haddou, but nothing compared with some areas. Yes, I need to revisit Laurence of Arabia too!

      Reply
  4. That is amazing! I had no idea this place existed. It even looks like a Hollywood set. I agree with you – well worth the trouble to visit, to see such an extraordinary setting. And such a different way of life. Really does make you think.

    Reply
  5. This looks like such a fascinating place. I wish that I had included it on my Morocco itinerary!

    Reply

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Hello!  I’m Jane. I live in the Lake District in the north of England with my husband, Peter. We love to travel, but this is a great place to call home.

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