What to see in Aït Benhaddou in 1 day
There are many places I’ve visited on my travels where it’s nearly impossible to see everything in 1 day.
The same doesn’t apply to the historic village of Aït Benhaddou in the center-south region of Morocco.
Most travelers that come here, come for only one thing: to see the old fortified village.
A UNESCO heritage site since 1987, the area itself is pretty sparse. Long and dusty winding roads connect a cluster of small towns.
In truth, there isn’t enough in the area to hold your attention for more than 1 day.
Where to stay in Aït Benhaddou
Given we were on a road trip around Morocco, we decided to spend the 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 seemed more in line with the kind of boutique accommodation we tend to go for. Unfortunately, all the rooms were fully booked, so we booked instead at Riad Tamdakhte.
Though I was intrigued by Caravane, we made a good choice with the latter.
The staff at Riad Tamdakhte were welcoming, incredibly friendly and made us a delicious Moroccan lentil dish for dinner.
Like pretty much all over Morocco, alcohol is a rarity. It’s only in bigger cities and hotels where you’ll find places that serve wine.
The fortified village
Like with many popular attractions, the earlier you visit, the better.
I recommend arriving around 8.30am to beat the heat from the rising sun. There aren’t any designated parking spaces if you arrive by car.
Instead, you can park roadside by any entrance to the more ‘modern’ villages.
Walk through the newer towns where many families live and work, before heading to Aït Benhaddou.
It’s a surreal moment when you first lay eyes on the glorious structure. The stark blues of the sky creates a striking contrast with the yellowy-reds of the stone village.
How to get there — what to see in Aït Benhaddou
The main connection from the modern village to the old one is by bridge. Finding that bridge, however, is another story.
We found out, the hard way, that you can follow the main path from the village until you meet the bridge.
Alternatively, if you enter any of the restaurants overlooking the river, you can walk down the steps to cross over. During our visit, the tide was very low, and we spotted several visitors crossing via a stony path.
Saying this, wearing appropriate footwear is essential in Aït Benhaddou. There are plenty of steps inside the old village, and some can be 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
Also, the tourists we met were pleasant, not invasive. There’s plenty of space at Aït Benhaddou to explore freely without running the risk of being in each other’s pockets.
You can also take photos without random heads and bodies in the way.
It’s a bit of a climb to reach the top, but totally worth it. The climb’s doable, even if your fitness levels match my shameful one.
Prepare for spectacular views, and grab a patch all to yourself.
Inside the fortified village of Aït Benhaddou
You get a great sense of the old meeting the new as you clamor your way up through the village.
Local people sell everything here from scarves to paintings. For a split second, it feels like you’re back in the souks of Marrakech.
Unwittingly, we wandered into one of the villager’s homes. In fact, there are still 4 families that live and work here.
A warm welcome — what to see in Aït Benhaddou
Our host was more than happy to show us inside his home.
It’s basic, as you might expect, but it has a kitchen, living area, and really everything they need.
I did feel a pang of guilt upon thinking about our luxury riad we’d stayed in during our time in Marrakech.
Still, his upbeat nature showed no signs of sadness or wanting.
He proudly showed off his new gas stove, and to his credit, the view from his terrace totally eclipsed mine.
He and his wife make a living selling clothing and accessories.
While we didn’t feel pressured to buy anything, there was an oversized blue scarf that caught our eye.
It was the perfect accessory for our upcoming trek in the Sahara Desert.
Get to the top of Aït Benhaddou
Once you continue your journey 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.
As we reached the top, we passed a Berber musician playing a traditional instrument.
It was a fitting melody of being in a distant land with a rich cultural diversity.
A moment to savor — what to see in Aït Benhaddou
At the top it’s surprisingly quiet, with views stretching across the arid land.
There’s no birdsong or chatter, just the sound of your heartbeat, and the surrounding calls of nature.
Our experience at Aït Benhaddou goes straight into the top 5 of my most memorable travel nature moments.
Tips on visiting Aït Benhaddou
- One hour exploring Aït Benhaddou is more than enough. We probably spent more time taking photos and taking in the scenery than anything else.
“…grab one more view of the landscape before leaving.”
FOLLOWING THE RIVERA
- Be respectful of the villagers’ homes. It may be a bit of a culture shock when you first see how they live. However, be kind, open-minded and above all, embrace the differences.
For women, I’d advise to dress appropriately, even in hot weather.
Aït Benhaddou is 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.
Take a drink at one of the riverside restaurants after the walk back down. It’s your chance to have a refreshment break as well as grab one more view of the landscape before leaving.
If you’d prefer visiting Aït Benhaddou with a guide, consider booking a group tour.
Numbers of the group depend on the tour you take and the time of year you visit. Either way, you get your own guide, and the company of like-minded travelers too.
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Welcome to my site! I'm Lisa, founder of Following the Rivera. I write primarily for a ‘flashpacker’ audience, a demographic (late 20s onward) that enjoys glamping over camping and staying at boutique/luxury boutique hotels. Flashpackers also like to indulge in the local food and wine, cultural activities, as well as a spot of wellness on their travels. Want to know more? Read on....