The Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou is one of the most architecturally stunning icons of Morocco. If you’ve felt your blood boil as Russell Crowe is sold into slavery in Gladiator, or cheered with joy as Khaleesi conquers the ancient city of Yunkai in Game of Thrones, then you’ve seen Ait Ben Haddou.
The natural esthetic of Ait Ben Haddou is undeniable, and people from far and wide flock to the Moroccan desert for their chance to experience it firsthand. Photographers seek to capture the perfect panorama. Sunset chasers come to watch day give way to night. And travelers like us choose it as a strategic stop to break up the drive between Marrakech and the Sahara.
Some stay in the area for several days, but Ait Ben Haddou can definitely be visited as a day trip from Marrakech. So, the question is: once you’re out here, what’s the best way to “do” Ait Ben Haddou?
2 beautiful views of Ait Ben Haddou:
- from the inside, looking out
- from the outside, looking in
You can catch both picturesque views in 3 hours or less. And if you’re lucky, you might even find a local drum circle at the top of the fortress.
View #1: From the inside, looking out
The Ksar (Ksar → fortress) of Ait Ben Haddou must be explored on foot. We decide that our plan is to first enter and explore the fortress from the inside while we have daylight. Later, we’ll drive a few miles away, so we can catch a view from the outside as the sun is setting.
To enter the Ksar, you’ve got 2 options.
Option #1: cross the river, at ground level
This is how we entered, but it’s only an option if the river is mostly dry. During our visit, the water was a few inches deep. But we were still able to cross, by jumping from rock to rock.
Option #2: cross the upper bridge
This is how we left the fortress. If the river is flowing, you’ll need to use the bridge to get in and out. Crossing the river would be difficult and dangerous.
Weaving through the pathways toward the top of the fortress, we encounter several mini souks, which provide an opportunity for shopping inside the fortress.
As we approached the top of the fortress, we begin to hear a low, steady beat, which grows louder with every step. We turn a final corner and are suddenly face-to-face with a drum circle of young local men. A encounter & a beautiful enhancement to our climb.
This would be the first of 3 drum circles over the next few days!
We descend the stone staircases, exit the Ksar, cross the bridge, climb inside the van, and drive away from the fortress toward our second viewpoint.
View #2: From the outside, looking in
A few miles away, we find a private location atop a mountain, which provides the perfect 360-degree view of Ait Ben Haddou.
Where we stayed (for 7 hours)
Shortly after sunset, we make our way to the calming oasis of Riad Caravane, thanks to a friend of ours who had given us the recommendation.
The staff was lovely. The food was incredible. And the room was exactly what we needed for our brief overnight stay.
Sunrise the next morning at 5:30am was absolutely stunning.
After another perfect Moroccan breakfast, we hop in the van and hit the road early. Although our visit to Ait Ben Haddou was short, it was also very sweet.
Our journey into the Sahara would be complete later that day, but first, we’d make a few beautiful stops along the way.