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Cinematic Scenes from Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

Hollywood location scouts searching for Middle East/North African desert villages must have the easiest job in the world, as they all seem to choose Aït Benhaddou – and for good reason. It has that exotic mix of mud-brick buildings sitting above an oasis of palm trees that looks so good on film.

Here are some well-known movies filmed at Aït Benhaddou:

Gladiator (I’ve never met someone who didn’t love this movie; please leave me a comment if you hated it!), Babel, The Mummy, Kingdom of Heaven, Lawrence of Arabia, Alexander, Prince of Persia, Game of Thrones (I know this isn’t a movie but I had to mention it – Aït Benhaddou is transformed into the fictional cities of Yunkai and Pentos in everyone’s favourite TV show).

If it’s good enough for Hollywood, then it’s good enough for me, so I made a trip to Aït Benhaddou a priority on my recent trip to Morocco and it didn’t disappoint.  From the road you have to walk through a fairly unattractive town down to the river, where you’ll have to cross 2 makeshift bridges. I say bridges, but they were really just bags and stones placed in the water for people to step on. It was a bit dodgy, especially since I was holding my camera, but I made it across without falling into the raging river below (it was probably only about a metre deep, but calling it a raging river makes it sound more exciting). I’ve heard that the river is completely dry at certain times of the year, but if you’re there in rainy season and you don’t fancy crossing it you can always walk down to the proper bridge, but you might get charged an entrance fee if you go that way.

A gate at Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

Once you’re inside Aït Benhaddou you’ll be walking though narrow streets lined with mud-brick houses that seem straight out of a film (well, actually about 20 films). It really is an amazing place, and the fact that it was free (I think, I didn’t pay anything anyway!) and also relatively free of tourists makes it a peaceful and atmospheric place to wander. There is the occasional shop selling carpets and other souvenirs and I saw 1 cafe, but there really aren’t many people trying to take a share of your money (unlike most touristy places in Morocco).

A shop at Aït Benhaddou, MoroccoMud brick houses at Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

Views of the Atlas Mountains

Most tourists gravitate up the hill to get a great view of the buildings below, but go all the way up and you’ll also be treated to some amazing views of the surrounding countryside hemmed in by the Atlas Mountains. It’s weird seeing snow-capped mountains just behind what is essentially barren desert land; it’s definitely some of the best scenery I’ve seen on my travels so far.

Desert scenery from Aït Benhaddou, MoroccoThe atlas mountains from Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

Getting to Aït Benhaddou

You could make your own way to Aït Benhaddou, but it seems like a bit of a hassle and probably just as expensive as going on a tour. We went there on the way to the Erg Chebbi sand dunes in the Sahara Desert, as part of a tour from Marrakech. I’ll be writing about that tour in the near future, but let’s just say it was the best of times and the worst of times (basically 3 days of driving and very little desert time, but that time in the desert made it all worth it).

The granary at Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

Do you need a guide?

As soon as we got out of the van a man came up and informed our group that he was our guide, and we had to pay him 25 DH each (around €2.5). The other 10 people on our tour went along with it, but Gia and I decided to walk ahead of the guide and we eventually ditched him. You don’t need a guide as it’s pretty easy to find your way around, but if you want some more detail about the history of the place then it wouldn’t be a bad idea (or you can just read about it before or after your trip). I generally don’t like these kinds of tours because I have a short attention span and usually end up wandering away from the group anyway.

Further reading: Check out this list of movies filmed in Morocco – how many have you seen?

ait-benhaddou-village

Have you been to Aït Benhaddou? What’s your favourite movie that was filmed there? Let me know!

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Jon Algie

Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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10 Comments

  1. December 31, 2014 at 11:09 am — Reply

    I went there on the Sahara tour as well (completely agree with your description of the tour but the time in the desert was just magical). I really enjoyed touring the area although not the carpet shop :-/ I must have gone during dry season, I definitely don’t remember crossing a river!

    • Jon Algie
      January 1, 2015 at 10:39 pm — Reply

      Haha yeah the carpet shop, and the “guide” wanted a tip for taking us there!

  2. December 31, 2014 at 6:17 pm — Reply

    Looks like an incredible place – is there enough to do there for a day? Hopefully heading to Morocco in 2015 so might check it out.

    P.s. I don’t like Gladiator.

    • Jon Algie
      January 1, 2015 at 10:41 pm — Reply

      You can see the whole town in an hour or 2 but you could spent all day sitting in the cafe or looking out at the view from the top of the hill. There are a couple of hotels and places to eat in the nearby town too.

  3. January 3, 2015 at 8:20 pm — Reply

    Ya i have been to Morocco once loved the Forbes Museum of Tangier and Chellah the places are just amazing .
    Thanx for refreshing my old memories once again.
    Happy New Year.

    • Jon Algie
      January 4, 2015 at 8:35 am — Reply

      Thanks Rana, it’s a great place to travel!

  4. January 4, 2015 at 9:47 pm — Reply

    Really neat place! We visited this past May, when the mountains weren’t quite as snowcapped as your pictures, lol. I’d say my favorite movie filmed there would have to be Gladiator! How could you not like?! We shared a taxi with some locals to get there and a nice young guy in the taxi proudly told us that he was used as an extra in the film when he was a boy and that experience inspired him to now study film in college! Cheers!

    • Jon Algie
      January 5, 2015 at 6:37 am — Reply

      It must have been hot then! Sounds like a good way to do it, I bet a lot of the locals have been extras in movies over the years, they probably have some great stories to tell (hardly saw any locals in the nearby village though, it was a bit of ghost town).

  5. January 6, 2015 at 7:32 pm — Reply

    I visited Ait Ben Haddou and other places in Morocco at the end of August 2014.
    Of course the water wasn´t there to cross as it was very hot. I slept in the small hotel nearby and just walked along up to the village.
    As I arrived very early in the morning and August is low season there was no one else around so we had the whole place just for us.
    We were charged an entry fee by some men on the main gate though.

    Happy New Year and happy travels
    Molly

    • Jon Algie
      January 13, 2015 at 6:28 pm — Reply

      Sounds like a great trip! We were there in December, so there wasn’t too many other people around which was nice – it would have been cool to spend a night there though and explore it a bit more. I think it’s just luck whether you get charged or not, we walked back though the main gate and didn’t see anyone selling tickets there either.

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