Day Trip from Marrakech to Ait Benhaddou

Are you thinking of an escape from Marrakech for a day? Then Ait Benaddou should definitely be on your list. Haven’t heard of it? Take a read below and decide for yourself!

Brown soil and river in front of red soil earthen buildings on a hill
Our first up close view of Ait Benhaddou

Ait Benhaddou

Ait Benhaddou is an ancient, fortified, red earthen village along a former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. Driving from Marrakech, it is reached by via the Tizi n’Tichka Pass through the Atlas Mountains and has played a part in many great movies including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and Babel.

Booking – Day Trip from Marrakech to Ait Benhaddou

We booked our private tour via ‘Desertaventures‘ (yes this is the correct spelling) and were lucky to share this experience with our driver, Abdul (Abderrahman AIT EL MOUDDEN). This guy is absolutely wonderful as a guide and we highly recommend him. Not only does he speak fluent English, Italian and French, he willingly answers questions on history, religion and anything else you might care to ask. In addition, he is also a careful driver, which put us right at ease. The cost for two persons was €120.

3 persons in a row with the fortified town on a hill behind
Our fabulous driver ‘Abdul’ from ‘Desertaventures’

Although many tours also include a trip to Ouarzazate during the day trip, we chose to visit only Ait Benhaddou to maximise our time there.

We were met by Abdul at our riad, Dar Touuyir and taken to his minivan to begin our journey. I might add that the van had good tyres and functioning seat belts.

The Drive

The one-way drive time to Ait Benhaddou took around four hours, including stops along the way at the following places:

The roadside markets: there are mineral rocks and stones along with pottery and wooden wares on sale. Abdul told us that some of the vendors add dye to the crystals to enhance their colour so buyer beware!

Tizi n’Tichka mountain pass: this pass through the Atlas Mountains follows an old caravan route with a maximum altitude of 2260m. It had been a particularly cold Moroccan winter and we could see the snow line down as low as 500m altitude. Actually, we were told that it had even snowed in the Sahara which was quite a rare occurrence.

Coloured wares on sale at a roadside market; buildings signifying a top of a mountain pass; snow capped hills in Morocco seen from a mountain
Atlas mountain markets; Tizi n’Tichka Pass; View from the Atlas mountains

Argan Oil Women’s Cooperative: You can watch the Berber ladies use traditional methods of extracting Argan oil from the Argan nut. This oil can be used with dipping bread and as a natural skin product. There is free tasting on offer!

Women crushing Argan nuts to extract oil; the final product of oil on display
Argan Oil Women’s Cooperative showing the process of oil extraction; Final products

Stops for photographs: the winding road is undergoing a lot of construction but there is opportunity to capture photos of the magnificent scenery.

Snow capped hills on the green forested slopes
Magnificent scenery around the Atlas mountains

Obligatory toilet stop: at a restaurant part way up the Tizi n’Tichka pass.

‘Ait Benhaddou’

Arriving at our destination, we had lunch at a large restaurant overlooking the mystical Ait Benhaddou. Access to this fortified village is either by bridge or by fording the river by stepping on sandbags. We chose the sandbags as it was the fun option and made for an easy crossing!

Sangbags placed in a shallow river to assist with crossing
Crossing the river using sand bags to Ait Benhaddou

After paying an entrance fee, you follow a path that takes you past the Kasbahs (merchant houses) to the top of the hill where the old granary is sited. You can’t enter the granary but here you have breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Take time to just soak it in!

View to the fortieid red earthen buildings below with the mountains in the background; a granary on top of a hill made from red earth
Looking down from Ait Benhaddou hill; Ait Benhaddou granary; View to the Atlas mountains

Nearby, we stopped and listened to a Berber proudly playing his Ribab (a traditional Moroccan one stringed instrument). How fitting! You can hear his tunes here.

Berber musician playing a one string instrument
Berber musician

Descending the hill, we walked around the Kasbahs and then found one that was open to tourists. For a small fee we entered and agreed to pay an extra 50 Dhs for a local guide – his name was Kachir Jamal and he spoke excellent English. Jamal talked of the different household items within the Kasbah and his explanations were invaluable.

Grey earthen walls of a traditional home
Our walk around an unused traditional Berber home

Berber Afternoon Tea

He then asked us if we would like to join him for ‘Berber Whisky’ (not a whisky but a local Berber herbal tea) at his family’s Kasbah close by. Absolutely!

We met his family, drank tea and ate nuts grown from their plot of land down in the valley. We talked of his family’s life in the Kasbah and although simple, was one of contentment. There was no electricity in his Kasbah and the only trappings of the modern world to be seen was the gas-powered stove in the kitchen.

Enjoying tea with a local and admiring the handmade colourful carpets in his red earthen home
Our Berber guide ‘Jamal” at his Ait Benhaddou kasbah; Enjoying our Berber tea with Jamal whilst admiring the carpets

Also in his Kasbah were many beautiful carpets for sale; handmade by his mother and other women of the area. We were shown a few of these amazing pieces of work. Within his Kasbah, on ground level, was a stable for the sheep and chickens.

Sheep and chickens kept underneath an earthen home
Stables underneath Jamal’s kasbah

Days End

We had fantastic day out and having a knowledgeable driver and guide definitely made the experience even that much more pleasurable.

2 persons smiling with Ait Benhaddou fortiifed town in the background
Two happy adventurers ending a fantastic day trip!

Our total time spent at Ait Benhaddou itself was about three and a half hours. It gave us enough time to absorb the majestic scenery, gain an understanding of Berber life in the Sahara desert and just imagine what once was. It’s a must-see destination to include on any adventurer’s agenda when travelling in Morocco.

Do you have any favourite Moroccan trips or sites you can recommend? We plan to go back so it would be great to hear from you.


Author: Lars

Being an Australian boy brought up in the country, I learnt at an early age to enjoy the freedom and beauty of nature. Leaving Australia at the age of 20, although I didn’t know it then, would be the beginning of a life of adventure. So join me here on our travels and see the world through my eyes.

7 Comment

    1. Thanks for stopping by the blog Carrie 🙂 It was, the rugs were beautiful, so intricate and detailed. We knew we’d be travelling for a while though, and didn’t know when or where we would be putting down some roots, so logistically it wasn’t going to work.

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