What to see in 1 day in Ait Benhaddou
There are many places I’ve been on my travels where it’s nearly impossible to see everything in 1 day. However, the same doesn’t apply to the historic village of Ait Benhaddou in the mid-south of Morocco.
Most travelers that come to Ait Benhaddou, come for only one thing: to see the old fortified village. A UNESCO heritage site since 1987, the area itself is pretty sparse, with long and dusty never-ending roads connecting a cluster of small towns. Truthfully speaking, there isn’t enough in the area to hold your attention for more than 1 day.
Getting the most out of Ait Benhaddou in 1 day
Ait Benhaddou – where to stay
Given we were on a road trip around Morocco, we decided to spend 1 night in Ait Benhaddou. There are plenty of affordable, yet elegant options to choose from. We spent 1 night at Riad Tamdakhte, which though charming enough, wasn’t our first choice.
The accommodation at Caravane appears far more elegant and more in line with my affiliation for boutique hotels! Saying that, for 1 night, the staff at Riad Tamdakhte were incredibly friendly and made us a delicious Moroccan lentil dish for dinner. However, if you’re looking for wine with dinner, don’t bother, as you won’t find any here.
Exploring Ait Benhaddou
Like with most attractions, seeing the fortified village is best done in the morning. I recommend leaving around 8.30am to beat the heat from the rising sun. If arriving by car, take note as there aren’t any designated parking spaces. On the contrary, you can park roadside by any entrance to the ‘modern’ villages.
Here, you’ll walk through the newer towns where many families live and work, before heading to the fortified village. I use the term ‘newer’ and ‘modern’ loosely here, as it’s relative in comparison to the fortified one. When you do set eyes on the landscape on approaching, you’ll feel like you’re walking into a dream — and a good one at that. If you’re lucky to visit on a good weather day, the blue of the sky makes a gorgeous contrast with the yellowy-red of the stone structure.
The main connection from the modern village to the old one is by bridge. Finding that bridge is another story. We found out the hard way (of course), that you can follow the main path from the village till you hit the bridge. Alternatively, if you enter any of the restaurants overlooking the river, you can walk down the steps to the river. The tide is very low, and you can walk over a stony path in the river to reach the other side. That said, make sure you wear appropriate footwear as there’s plenty of steps inside the old village too, some quite slippery.
“The main connection from the modern village to the old one is by bridge. Finding that bridge is another story.”
FOLLOWING THE RIVERA
One thing I really enjoyed about visiting Ait Benhaddou is the lack of tourists. You can easily spot the tour groups, but it’s not inundated like in Marrakech or Fes.
Also, the tourists are pleasant, not invasive. The place is large enough not to constantly be in each other’s pockets. You can also take photos without random heads and bodies in the way! Needless to say, you need to make it to the top. It’s a bit of a climb, but doable, even if your fitness levels match my shameful one. Prepare for spectacular views, and grab a patch all to yourself.
Inside the village
You get a great sense of the old meeting the new as you clamor your way up through the village. Local villagers sell everything from scarves to paintings here, and for a moment, it’s feels like you’re back in the souks of Marrakech.
It’s possible to explore other parts of the village, without running into groups of tourists. Without realizing it, we wandered into one of the villagers’ homes. In fact, there are still 4 families that live and work here.
Our host was more than happy to show us inside his home. It’s very basic, with a kitchen, living area, but has everything they need. I suddenly felt a pang of guilt upon thinking about the luxury riad we’d stayed in in Marrakech.
Still, his upbeat nature showed no signs of sadness or wanting. He was proud to show off his new gas stove, and to his credit, the view from his terrace is way better than mine! He and his wife sell clothing and accessories, but don’t feel as though you have to buy anything. We did buy an oversized blue scarf — perfect for our next trek in the Sahara.
Get to the top
Once you continue your sojourn north, you’ll encounter many narrow corridors and steep steps. Again, this is where the tourist train can get crowded. Still, it’s all worth it when you eventually reach the top. Nearing the goal our, I remember passing a Berber musician playing a traditional instrument. It reminded me even more that we were in a distant land with a rich cultural diversity.
At the top it’s surprisingly quiet, and yes, the views are spectacular. There’s no birdsong, only the sound of your heartbeat, and the best of nature. The experience at Ait Benhaddou goes straight into the top 5 of my most memorable travel nature moments.
Photo tip: the perspective from the top changes from one minute turn, so take as many different shots to compare afterwards!
Visiting Ait Benhaddou — tips for visiting
One hour exploring Ait Benhaddou is more than sufficient. We probably spent more time taking photos and taking in the scenery than anything else.
Be respectful of their home. While your own abode is more than likely full of the mod cons, the homes here are not.
“You can have a refreshment break as well as grab one more view of the landscape before heading off.”
FOLLOWING THE RIVERA
For women, I’d advise to dress appropriately, even in hot weather. Ait Benhaddou’s in a remote part of the country, and is more conservative than the cities. Also, I hardly saw any Moroccan local women when walking through the modern village. The ones I did see, I could count on one hand. Need some help on what to pack? My guide will sort you out.
Take a drink in one of the riverside restaurants after the walk back down. You can have a refreshment break as well as grab one more view of the landscape before heading off.
In the instance you’d prefer visiting Ait Benhaddou with a guide, take a peek at one of the offers below or search for more options. It may just be what you’re looking for.
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