Ait Benhaddou From Marrakesh : Day Trip To Explore This UNESCO Gem

Created by Colleen Sims | Updated : 27January 2024 |

If you are visiting Marrakesh there are a couple of amazing day trips that will show you life in the Atlas Mountains. The trip to Ait Benhaddou is one of those must-do trips.

When researching places to visit beyond Marrakesh I’d seen the photograph below and though WOW!  I HAVE to visit that place.  I didn’t realise that the photograph was taken from the Atlas Film Studio and not Ait Benhaddou. 

Was I disappointed?  No because Ait Benhaddou is such an amazing, magical place I am glad we had a chance to visit. Read on and I’ll share what we learned about our day.

Egyptian Filmset in Atlas Studios we visited as part of our tour of Ait Benhaddou from Marrakesh

Where Is Ait Benhaddou?

Ait Benhaddou is located in the Ouarzazate province of southeastern Morocco, nestled amidst the stunning scenery of the Atlas Mountains.

It’s about 180 kilometers (112 miles) east of Marrakech, which makes it a long but popular day trip for visitors to the city.

Located in the stunning Ounila Valley, along one of the main trans-Saharan trade routes, the village was one of the last staging posts before the Tizi n’Tichka pass; one of the few passes through the Atlas Mountains.

Red Ounila River beside Ait Benhaddou

How far Is Ait Benhaddou From Marrakech?

Ait Benhaddou is approximately 180 kilometres (112 miles) from Marrakech. The travel time can vary depending on the mode of transport, but typically a journey can take around 3-4 hours by car and longer by bus.

Are There Must See Attractions In Ait Benhaddou?

For us the entire ksar, or fortified town of Ait Benhaddou was the attraction. It’s a seriously impressive site and your first glimpse as you approach the town from the road tells you this is a going to be a special place.

Just to be able to wander through the labyrinthine of narrow streets and climb to the top of the kasbahs for stunning panoramic views was a gift. 

The villagers offer guided walks and for us they brought Ait Benhaddou to life.  To fully appreciate the town then take a walk with one of these wonderful village guides.

Our day trip from Marrakesh was a very long journey but it was worth it to just explore this impossibly beautiful place.  

What Is The Best Way To Visit Ait Benhaddou From Marrakech?

I’m not sure there is a best way to visit Ait Benhaddou. The best way will be down to the amount of time you have, your preferences and your budget. For most visitors thought, the best way will be a day trip like the one we took.

With hindsight, if we’d had a little more time then I would have loved to stay in the area and explore the valley more. 

Guided Day Trip

The most convenient and hassle-free option is a guided day trip from Marrakech. Tour operators arrange transportation, activities, and sometimes meals. It’s a good option if you are short of time or if you would prefer to have the planning and logistics done for you.

Bus

This is certainly a budget friendly option but it will be more time-consuming. This option requires taking a bus from Marrakech to Ouarzazate bus station.  From here you can use the collective village taxi.  Do check the village website for more details.  

If we return I’d consider this option but you need an adventurous spirit and plenty of time.

Rental Car

Car Hire certainly offers flexibility, freedom and independence. It is a useful option if you would like to explore other nearby areas as well as Ait Benhaddou.  We feel you’d need to be a confident driver and perhaps some familiarity with Moroccan roads.   

The road from Marrakesh was a well-made mountain road but nonetheless a mountain pass with considerable Z-bends and a considerable number of lorries and coaches. 

We’ve driven ourselves across a few destinations, I think driving here would be like our experiences of driving in Jordan and we’d consider driving if we had more time and we wanted to come back to this valley.

Private Tour or Driver

If you have the budget or you are travelling as a group a private tour of Ait Benhaddou from Marrakech might be perfect.  You will have control and flexibility with timings and you get to choose where you visit and what you see; and you have the comfort of a private car.  However, this comfort comes at a cost so this will be an important factor.

★★★★★

AIT BENHADDOU FROM MARRAKESH TOUR

We took this tour – it had some faults but still offers excellent value for money

Tizi N Tichka Atlas Mountain Pass, with numberour z-bends to get you through the high mountains
The amazing Tizi n’Tichka Pass in the Atlas Mountains

Guided Day Trip To Ait Benhaddou From Marrakech

Day trips are the most popular choice for visits to Ait Benhaddou from Marrakesh and they would typically include :  

  • Return transport from Marrakech; we travelled in a small minibus.
  • Visit to Ait Benhaddou ksar with a local guide. We paid extra for the local berber guide and he was excellent.  We definitely recommend you do the same.
  • Free time to explore independently.  There isn’t a great deal of free time but you do get the chance to explore alone and hunt for souvenirs in the little artisan shops.
  • Optional lunch in Ait Benhaddou.  This was a tourist stop and so expect to pay higher prices that those in Marrakech.
  • Most trips offer additional stops such as Atlas Film Studio

Is It Worth Visiting Ait Benhaddou For The Day?

Absolutely!  It was a long day.  With hindsight I wish we had taken an overnight trip and spent longer exploring the valley as it is so fascinating.  However, for us time was short and the day trip was a great option. 

How Long Does The Guided Day Trip To Ait Benhaddou Usually Take?

Most day trips from Marrakech suggest between 10-12 hours, including travel time.

Ours was late returning to Marrakech as the roads were bad.  Our day was almost 14 hours long.  Do bear this in mind when booking your trip.  It is a long day but we still felt that it was worth the journey.

Gerry posing on the wall mural of wings at the Atlas Film Studio in Morocco

What Stops Are Combined With A Visit To Ait Benhaddou?

There were a few stops on our tour. I’m not sure they were needed, Ait Benhaddou is a glorious attraction in it’s own right.  But nonetheless there are additional visits.

Woman’s Argan Oil Co-Operative

The first was a woman’s argan oil co-operative.  We had already visited the Berber villages and watch the women their make the oil by hand and we felt this stop paled in comparison.

However, you could buy a drink, use the bathroom facilities and enjoy the amazing views of the mountains.

Tizi N’Tichka Pass

Tizi N’Tichka Pass is the Highest mountain pass in Morocco, crossing the high Atlas mountains.  Our  minibus stopped and offered us a chance to stretch our legs and take photos of this stunning location.

 It is an impressive sight and we were so happy to have the 5 minute break, 

Atlas Film Studio at Ouarzazate

Known as the Hollywood of Morocco  the Atlas Film Studios is one of the world’s largest studios.  I have mixed feeling about our visit.  You had to pay extra to actually get into the studio but having driven so far you almost felt like you have to see it. 

We weren’t really interested BUT having said that, the studio guide was so enthusiastic that his love of the movies rubbed off and made the our visit super interesting.

He explained how the studio can mimic the environments of many countries and as the Moroccan government offer favourable tax incentives, 100s of films had been shot here including:

  • The Jewel of the Nile
  • The Living Daylights
  • The Mummy
  • Gladiator
  • Kingdom of Heaven
  • Game of Thrones
  • Vikings

TV Shows and adverts have also been shot here and it was an interesting visit.  And that photo that I loved so much and which drew me to Ait Benhaddou in the first place?  It was actually from an old movie set.

I notice that some of Marrakech Day Tours now offer exploration of the desert valley instead of the film studio visit, and if you’re not into movies this might be a good choice for you instead.

prison set for the film Gladiators, filmed at the Atlas Film Studio in Morocco

★★★★★

AIT BENHADDOU FROM MARRAKESH TOUR

We took this tour – it had some faults but still offers excellent value for money

Is There Enough Time To Explore Ait Benhaddou On The Day Trip?

It’s fair to say that you get a good look around the old town.  A day trip allows you to experience the highlights of Ait Benhaddou, including the Ksar, viewpoints, and some cultural insights. Our Berber guide was excellent so we felt that we’d had a good insight. 

Of course, for a deeper immersion into the village and the surrounding area, a longer stay would be great.

What Are The Pros and Cons Of A Day Trip?

Pros

  • Convenient and hassle-free, especially for short visits to Morocco or Marrakesh
  • No need to worry about transportation or logistics
  • Offers exposure to Ait Benhaddou’s key attractions

Cons

  • Limited time to explore
  • Less flexibility compared to independent travel
  • Can feel rushed, especially during peak season when the town is busy

What To Expect When You Reach Ait Benhaddou

We arrived in time for lunch at around 1pm.  The restaurant was obviously used to dealing with coach loads of visitors and whilst it was pricey, the food was good and they did cater for gluten free.

We were allocated around 2-3 hours for exploring Ait Benhaddou, which included the Berber Guide from the village.  

The visit in the old town didn’t feel rushed.  We made some stops at the little shops, watch traditional artist at work, learned about the film sets and managed to walk to the very top of the village with the guide.

Mohamad lead us up through the town, showing us a photo of him as an extra in a few of the movies. We walked up to what is thought to be a 9th century lookout or watchtower.  Sat high on the hill above the village and with views that stretch to the Atlas Mountains in one direction and unknown horizons and the Sahara in the other.

We talked about the UNESCO status.  It was a moot point with the guide; he told us that the title doesn’t come with any money, but the buildings must still be restored, repaired and maintained.  He was such an interesting man.

He walked us back down, pointing out features of village life, showed us his grandmother’s house and talked of his life growing up and his Berber life now and how their society works.

He was such an insightful guide.  He spoke impeccable English, as well as Berber, Arabic, Moroccan, French and Spanish.  All this from a man who chooses to live a simple life as a Berber.  He explained that his tours are important.  As one of the few remaining families in the town, he said it’s essential to pass on their history.

We were sad when the tour ended. This was the best part of the day.

us and the view from the tower at the top of the town of Ait Benhaddou

When Is The Best Time To Visit Ait Benhaddou?

We were there in December and the weather was perfect.  But we were told that the best time to visit the mountains is either in the Spring (March-June) and autumn (September-December).  The temperatures are pleasant and there are less crowds.

Summer is hot and more crowded, while winter can be very cold.  We found the air cool but often the sun was warm and the sky blue.  

Are There Entry Fees to Visit Ait Benhaddou?

No.  There is no official entry fee for Ait Benhaddou itself. However, some individual houses and museums may charge small entrance fees.

The guides also charges, the longest of their tours costs 120DRS, currently around 30€ per person.

Take a look at the Ait Benhaddou Village website for more information.  It’s a great site and create for the village by the village.

Is It Safe For Tourists To Visit Ait Benhaddou?

Ait Benhaddou is generally considered a safe place for tourists. However, as with any travel destination, it’s always wise to follow some precautionary measures :  

  • Be aware of your surroundings and belongings, especially in crowded areas.  Pickpockets are not unheard of.
  • This is a traditional area so do dress modestly; knees and shoulders covered is often a good guide
  • Don’t wander into people’s property and watch where you’re standing.  We saw a few folks just wander onto peoples roofs to get their photos.  You’d never do this at home!
  • Also, Ait Benhaddou is very dark at night.  We were told that the majority of residents live in the new part of town (on the other side of the river).  It isn’t recommended that you visit after dark as it is difficult to navigate. 

The newer part of town is definitely aimed a tourists.  We didn’t enjoy the new town much but that didn’t detract from our time here.

What Should We Take For A Day Trip?

Bear in mind it’s a long day.  So do take supplies.  We took water, a few snacks and some simple first aid items. 

  • Wear comfortable clothes.  We went in December so took layers.
  • Comfortable walking shoes as you’ll do a lot of walking
  • Even in winter the sun can be strong so maybe take a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen.
  • A bag that’s easy to carry and secure, you’ll be carry that bag around a lot.
  • Make sure you bring cash as cards are rarely accepted anywhere on the trip.  Take enough for guides, lunch and a visit to the studio.  Ask when you book what the costs will be so that you have enough cash with you.
colourful berber art on diplay in Ait Benhaddou; ask before taking photos

Is Photography Allowed In Ait Benhaddou?

Photography is generally allowed but there are a few exceptions. I love to take photos but I am often shocked at how tourists behave when visiting foreign shores. 

If I was at home and a total stranger started taking photos of my children I wouldn’t be too happy.  Likewise if they came into my garden to take photos of my home I’d not be impressed. Please do think in terms of ‘how would I feel if the role was reversed’.  And if in doubt, just ask.

Artists don’t like their work being photographed and there are often signs.  If in doubt just show your camera and ask.  They’ll either say yes or no.

Inside homes and religious buildings there are restrictions and you should always respect locals’ privacy and ask permission before taking their picture, especially for close-ups and children.

As is often the case, avoid using flash in sensitive areas like museums or historical sites and if you can, turn off turn off the ‘click’ and put your phone or camera on silent mode if possible.

★★★★★

AIT BENHADDOU FROM MARRAKESH TOUR

We took this tour – it had some faults but still offers excellent value for money

What Is The History Of Ait Benhaddou

Ait Benhaddou is an ancient fortified village, or ksar, dating back to the 11th century. Built by the Berber people, it is strategically perched on a hilltop along the caravan route between the Sahara Desert and Marrakech; historically a route known as the Salt Route.

Its thick earthen walls, topped with crenulated towers, offered protection from nomadic raiders and the harsh desert conditions.  Over the centuries, Ait Benhaddou thrived as a trading centre and attracted merchants and artisans.

Ait Benhaddou old town with it's adobe buildings that earned it UNESCO status

UNESCO World Heritage Site

In 1987, UNESCO recognized Ait Benhaddou as a World Heritage Site.  They praised it as an exceptional example of iconic adobe and raw brick pre-Saharan architecture and their well-preserved traditional Berber way of life.   

Whilst a number of the current buildings aren’t original they continue to be built using the same methods as village ancestors used for centuries.  Our Berber guide was born in Ait Benhaddou and was able to show us which buildings were the oldest and which more recent.  It would have been very difficult to tell them apart without his local knowledge.

The ksar’s intricate maze of narrow alleys, towering kasbahs (fortified houses) and communal granaries offer a glimpse into Morocco’s cultural heritage and truly feels like a village lost in time.

beautiful decorations made in the construction of the adobe houses

Ait Benhaddou, Hollywood And Game Of Thrones

Ait Benhaddou became famous recently with fans of the HBO series Game of Thrones.  The town served as the backdrop Yunkai, one of the cities in Slavers Bay which Daenerys lays siege to.

However Game of Thrones is not the first film set to have arrived here.   The small town has seen its fair share of movies and looking out at these ancient Adobe buildings it’s easy to see why.  There is definitely an other worldly feel here and a sense that time has stopped.

Here are just a few of the famous movies :

  • Sodom and Gomorrah
  • Oedipus Rex
  • Jesus of Nazareth
  • Marco Polo
  • The Jewel of the Nile
  • The Last Temptation of Christ
  • The Mummy
  • Gladiator
  • Alexander
  • Kingdom of Heaven

Finally : Would We Recommend a Visit To Air Benhaoddou?

Yes.  I was totally captivated by this little desert town.  It wasn’t what I expected (as the photo story explains) but it was so much more. Ait Benhaddou is a unique destination, a town caught in time and I hope it is preserved for generations to come.

Is it a little touristy now? Of course.  Is it a long day from Marrakech?  Yes.  Would I go again?  In a heartbeat. 

If you have a spare day in Marrakech then do go and explore this little slice of ancient Morocco. If you have longer then take a look at these tours which offer you a longer experience in the desert towns and villages of Morocco

view above the town of Ait Benhaddou in Morocco

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Whenever you travel, you should have a great travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve ended up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal, Japan and Ireland! Every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

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Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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Colleen in Salamanca on the Via de la Plata

Hey I’m Colleen. I’m married to Gerry, we’ve three fabulous kids and been living in France for almost two decades. I fell in love with Spain in the 1980s and I’ve walked 1000s of miles along the Camino de Santiago. Now we’re exploring and walking the world and I can’t wait to share what we’ve learned!

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