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!
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.
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 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.
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!
Stops for photographs: the winding road is undergoing a lot of construction but there is opportunity to capture photos of the magnificent scenery.
Obligatory toilet stop: at a restaurant part way up the Tizi n’Tichka pass.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
We had fantastic day out and having a knowledgeable driver and guide definitely made the experience even that much more pleasurable.
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.
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.