In planning my trip to Morocco, I put a lot of faith in the beauty of Ait Benhaddou. It was to be our first stop after Marrakech, and a place I insisted staying at least 1-2 nights at. My friend Yuting wasn’t so sure, since the majority of my obsession with this place was riding on the fact it was a Game of Thrones filming location.
Which if you’re a true fan, is reason enough to add a place to your must-see list...
In the end, Ait Benhaddou completely blew us away. It was peaceful, mysterious and one of the most jaw-dropping places in all of Morocco.
In this guide, I’ve put together a list of things to keep you busy at Ait Benhaddou, tips on where to stay and eat, information about getting to there and when/how long to stay.
** Keep reading till the end and find out more about this kasbah's debut on Game of Thrones!
Things to do
To be honest, there isn't a whole lot to do at Ait Benhaddou besides explore the old kasbah. After being constantly hassled and haggled with in Marrakech though, this sleepy town will feel like paradise.
If you do end up spending a night or two and find yourself getting bored, check out the nearby town of Ouarzazate. It’s easy to reach by car, and is the home of Atlas Studios - a film studio with props and sets from movies like The Mummy and Gladiator.
At Ait Benhaddou, make sure to:
Hike both hills. The hill above the kasbah, and the hill across from the kasbah offer completely different views of the surrounding area. Make sure to hike both!
Admire the local crafts. The souvenirs were different here than the ones in Marrakech and shop owners were less intense. It took a lot of self-control not to buy a rug...
Say ‘hi’ to the farm animals. Head inside the kasbah and see if you can find the farm animals. Yuting and I found a donkey, a calf, and 3 full-sized cows.
Appreciate golden hour. Ait Benhaddou is one of the best places to watch the sunset in Morocco. Find a rooftop, get your camera ready, and watch the sun slip over the horizon.
How long to stay
If you book your visit to Ait Benhaddou as part of Sahara Desert tour, chances are you will only get to stay there for an hour or two. The drive from Marrakech to Merzouga is long, and a lot of companies try to get there passengers to the desert as quickly as possible.
While an hour or so is fine for a quick picture, I highly recommend staying 1-2 nights to fully appreciate it. Once all the morning and midday tourists are gone, the kasbah empties out and becomes a peaceful spot to watch the sun go down.
Read more: Spending the Night in the Sahara Desert
Where to stay and eat
The town around Ait Benhaddou is filled with hotels. During our visit, my friend and I ended up spending two nights at Maison d'hotes nouflla. It was a little pricier compared to the $5 hostel we stayed at in Marrakech, but they had hot showers, free breakfast on the terrace, and a heater/air conditioning system in our room. The Wi-Fi wasn't great, but that seems to be a pattern in Morocco.
If you're looking for a really unique experience, you can stay inside the actual Ait Benhaddou fortress at Kasbah Tebi. A couple we met stayed there and loved it. They didn't have electricity, but were given plenty of candles and great service.
Food wise, there weren’t many options available while we were there. Most of the restaurants close down during the winter due to lack of steady tourists. One place we really liked though was Auberge Café Restaurant Tamlalte. It’s located right at the end of the big bridge in town, and had decent-sized tagines for about 40 dh each.
When to go
We visited during December and hardly saw a soul at Ait Benhaddou. It was nice to have the place to ourselves for the most part, but if I was traveling alone it probably would’ve felt a bit lonely.
Winter is also pretty cold in Morocco, and Ait Benhaddou was no exception. Make sure to book a room with a good heating system if you visit during the winter, and dress warmly. If you’re hoping for milder temperatures and busier streets, visit during the Spring or Fall. Summer is a also a popular time to visit Morocco, but we were told the heat becomes unbearable.
The easiest way to get to Ait Benhaddou is from Marrakech, but it's also possible to come from the opposite direction and stop at Ait Benhaddou after visiting the Sahara Desert.
From Marrakech, you can visit the kasbah by:
Renting a car and driving there
Hiring a grand taxi to take you
Booking a tour that includes a stop in Ait Benhaddou
Taking the bus
My friend and I ended up taking the bus, because that was the cheapest option. While that worked out fine for us, I’d probably rent a car if I ever decide to go back.
By bus from Marrakech
From Jemaa el-Fna in Marrakech, we walked about 20-25 minutes to a nearby bus station. The the two main bus companies in Morocco are CTM and Supratours, but we decided to book with a random, local company. Their tickets were a bit cheaper, and the bus was scheduled to head out sooner.
In total, the bus ride took about 4.5 hours (including a 30 minute restroom and snack break about 2 hours into the ride). From the stop for Ait Benhaddou, we then took a quick taxi ride to get to the actual kasbah and tourist area. We were originally quoted 60 dh for the ride, but were able to bargain it down to 30 dh for the two of us.
Read more: Cost of Traveling in Morocco
Ait Benhaddou’s role in Game of Thrones
Woo! Let's talk Game of Thrones (let me know in the comments if you're a fan as well)!
Ait Benhaddou was featured in season 3 of Game of Thrones, and represented the slave-trading city of Yunkai; the place Daenerys Targaryen laid seige to and won after only a few short hours. At the end of the scene, the freed slaves surrounded Daenerys and called her, 'Mother.'
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