2 Distinct Views of Aït Ben Haddou

Between the early morning departure from Marrakech and our incredible experience with the good samaritans of Toufliht, it had already been a long, emotional rollercoaster of a day. It’s nearly 6pm, we had been in and out of the van for nine hours, and we were both eager to arrive & embrace our next beautiful destination: Aït Ben Haddou.

Known as a popular location for 1) sunsets and 2) cinema (think Gladiator and Game of Thrones), Aït Ben Haddou is an ideal place to stop overnight and break up the drive between Marrakech and The Sahara.

Many friends and family members have asked us “what’s the best way to ‘DO’ Aït Ben Haddou?”

Our answer is simple. There are two great ways to experience the beauty of this ancient city:

  1. from the inside, looking out
  2. from the outside, looking in

We recommend you do both – and relax! Don’t push yourself to do it all in 3 hours, like we did 🙂

Aït Ben Haddou
First impression of this majestic city: simply stunning. We felt as if we’d just traveled back hundreds of years into the past. No surprise that Aït Ben Haddou was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

View #1: From the Inside, Looking Out

We decided that our plan of action would be to first enter and explore the fortress from the inside while we had more daylight, and then to drive a couple of miles away, so we could get a view from the outside, as the sun was setting. We parked the car and began to make our way toward the fortress walls.

If you’d like to explore the Ksar (“Ksar” → “fortress”) of Aït Ben Haddou, you must do so by foot. When it comes to entering & exiting the Ksar, you have two options:

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option #1: crossing the river itself, at ground level (this is how we entered – right across those rocks). This is only an option if the river is mostly dry. During our visit, the water was a couple of inches deep, but we were still able to use this route, sometimes jumping from rock to rock.

Aït Ben Haddou medina entrance

option #2: crossing the elevated bridge (this is how we left). If the river is flowing, you’ll need to use the bridge to get in and out, as crossing the river would prove both difficult and dangerous.

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Weaving through the various pathways toward the top of the fortress, we encountered many “mini souks” which provide an opportunity for shopping inside the Ksar.
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As we near the top of the Ksar, we began to hear a low, steady beat, which grew louder with every step we took. We turned a final corner and were suddenly face-to-face with a drum circle of young local men, quickly entranced by their melodic tune. This chance encounter was a beautiful enhancement to our climb.
Aït Ben Haddou from the inside looking out.
View from atop the fortress: lush foliage somehow seems to thrive here – despite the dry desert, and blazing summer heat.
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View from inside the Ksar, looking out upon the “new city” of Aït Ben Haddou.
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This local artist blew us away with his on-the-spot “ink magic.” We can’t betray his secret, but encourage you to try and find him and see for yourself!

We descended the stone staircases, exited the Ksar, crossed the bridge, climbed inside the van, and began to drive… away.


View #2: From the Outside, Looking In

A couple of miles away, we found a private location on an adjacent mountain that provided the perfect 360-degree view of Aït Ben Haddou.

Aït Ben Haddou from the outside looking in.
The Ksar, from afar.
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Sunset panorama.
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“When the battle is won, there can only be one; the stone that was thrown through a window-less stone window, or the window-less stone window hit by a stone that was thrown?”
– Anonymous Moroccan Philosopher
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We call this one “the awkward hello.”

Accommodation (the perfect place to crash….for 7 hours)

Shortly after sunset, we made our way to the calming oasis of Riad Caravane, thanks to a friend of ours who had given us a strong recommendation. The staff was lovely, the food was incredible, and the accommodations were exactly what we needed for our brief overnight stay.

Oh and for those early risers out there, sunrise the next morning at 5:30am was absolutely stunning.

Aït Ben Haddou Sunrise

Aït Ben Haddou Sunrise from the Rooftop

TIME CHANGE! Clocks moved back one hour that night.

After another delicious Moroccan breakfast, we hopped in the van and hit the road early. Our journey into the Sahara would be complete later that day, but first, we’d make a few beautiful stops along the way.

Cheers!

-DnA

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