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