You will have seen it a few times when preparing your trip to Morocco, and from the first moment it was surely very familiar to you: the Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou (or rather the Ksar) is probably the most famous building in all of Morocco.
Its fame is such that it was the set for films such as Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, Gladiator, Prince of Persia and even became the city of Yunkai in Game of Thrones.
In this post we tell you how to visit Ait Ben Haddou and give you a few useful tips.
What is the difference between Kasbah and Ksar? A Kasbah is a single palace where some wealthy family resided. While a Ksar is a walled village, something like a citadel, formed by different buildings. So a ksar can contain several kasbahs within its boundaries.
Ait Ben Haddou
The Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou owes its name to the tribe that settled in these lands, and that began its construction back in the 17th century (Ben= “sons”: Sons of Haddou).
They took advantage of the slope of a hill to pile up small houses made of adobe, some quite modest and others that look like authentic castles (kasbahs). It was a place frequented by the caravans of merchants who embarked on the route between Marrakech and the cities on the other side of the Sahara, in a journey that lasted several months.
With the passage of time the citadel was depopulated, although many of its buildings were preserved almost intact, making it one of the best examples of medieval Berber pre-Saharan citadel.
The fact that it was named a UNESCO heritage site in 1987 and that it has been the setting for many high-budget films has also helped it to look like one of the wonders of Morocco today.
How to visit Ait Ben Haddou on your own
Ait Ben Haddou, is divided into two parts: the old city (which would be the famous ksar) and the new city, with several options for accommodation and restaurants.
A few years ago part of the road was a dirt track, but now it is all paved and in perfect condition. So we believe that it is the best route to reach Air Ben Haddou.
The old citadel is separated from the new city by the river Ounila. To get to its feet you will have to cross the river on foot (don’t worry that the level is usually low or null, there is also a bridge).
First you can park your car in a parking lot next to the Hotel La Kasbah, or simply on the main road of the new town. When we visited in September, the river was a tiny trickle in the morning and was directly dry in the afternoon. There are two areas to cross the river:
- Across the relatively newly built bridge (pedestrian only). It is behind the mosque.
- Going down the alleyway to the restaurant La Terrazza and from there jumping over the sacks on the river, or using the stones. If it’s dry you have nothing to worry about.
But first you have to know that there are 3 entrances to cross the ancient walls:
- The first one and the one we used was the one from the new bridge. It is on the left side.
- The second one is more or less in the middle of ksar, and it goes through the most impressive constructions. It is just after the sacks in the river.
- The third one is also after crossing the river by the sacks, but turning right afterwards. There is a path next to a small oasis and you reach an entrance corridor.
In theory the entrance is free, although we were told that it depends on where you enter. If you go through the central entrance, you will pass by a private house and they will ask you for some money (or so they told us at the reception of the hostel).
We entered through the access of the new bridge (first entrance) and left through the one on the right (third entrance) and nobody asked us for anything. We don’t know 100% if the access from the center or even the one on the right is paid.
Once inside the walls, Ait Ben Haddou appears as a set of cobblestone streets, with small houses on both sides, mostly uninhabited, and flights of stairs. It is not a maze, just keep in mind that first you have to go pulling up, to reach the agadir that crowns the citadel, and then down and out, if possible by other streets and another different door.
Among its small houses you will surely see some that stand out from the others: in total there must be about 6 kasbahs (some can be visited, 10 dirhams entrance), some museum, but above all shops where they keep their material or use it as an exhibition.
Of course there are also souvenir stores (the drawings made with tea and saffron are very beautiful and change color when heat is applied are very beautiful!)
From the top of the hill you will have wonderful views of the region, although the best views are those offered by the mountain just in front. You can climb it from a small path that starts next to the third entrance, and it is the ideal place to watch the sunset in front of Ait Ben Haddou.
How to visit Ait Ben Haddou in organized tour
There are both excursions that take you and bring you from Marrakech in the day, as other several days also from Marrakech in which they visit the most important points of this area south of the Atlas.
These are the tours we recommend:
- Visit of Ait Ben Haddou and Ouarzazate of 1 day
- 2 days tour: Ait Ben Haddou, Draa Valley and night in the desert of Erg Chegaga.
- 3 days tour: Ait Ben Haddou, Ouarzazate, Dades and Todra Valleys and night in Erg Chebbi desert.
- 4 days tour: Ait Ben Haddou, Ouarzazate, Dades and Todra Valleys, night in the desert of Erg Chebbi, Berber villages and Draa Valley.
Where to sleep in Ait Ben Haddou
We recommend that you stay overnight in the small village of Ait Ben Haddou to contemplate the old ksar both at sunset from the mountain and to visit it during the next morning.
We stayed at the La Baraka Hostel, which has modest rooms but all the comforts.
There are other Riads more pijetes in the surroundings, for larger budgets.
Where to eat in Ait Ben Haddou
We wanted to go to the Italian restaurant on La Terrazza, mostly to enjoy its clean views of Ait Ben Haddou, but the menu threw us back (pizzas and pastas from 150 dirhams).
So we opted for the Moroccan option and we took a huge and delicious menu at the restaurant and hostel Valentine (110 and 120 dirhams, with salad or soup, main, fruit and tea). The terrace is also very nice and the man very majete.
We hope that these tips will help you in your visit to Ait Ben Haddou, the most famous and best preserved ksar in Morocco.