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4 reasons your kids (and you!) will love Ait-Ben-Hadou in Morocco

February 11, 2011

The Kasbah of Ait-Ben-Hadou, yet another intruiging destination in Morocco. If you travel to Morocco, make sure to visit and feel like a king or queen in this surprising settlement. It is also a great and safe place for your children.

Ait Ben Haddou

This post could have easily been carrying a different title: “Ait-Ben-Hadou – a day at the movies“. The area around the city of Ouarzazate (close to Ait-Ben-Hadou) has been home to many international film crews that have shot amazing scenes here. Remember Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars, Cleopatra, Asterix & Obelix and many more. Ouarzazate hosts one of the largest movie studios in the world (Atlas Studios) but also the whole area around the town is just one big film studio. The scenery is beautiful and chances are big that you run into a crew shooting scenes of another Hollywood (or European for that matter) blockbuster (we did!).

Movie set Ourzazate

Atlas Film Studio in Ouarzazate

Kasbah of Ait-Ben-Hadou

Close to Ouarzazate the old Kasbah of Ait-Ben-Hadou plays its own role. A Kasbah or Ksar is considered a group of earthen (clay) buildings surrounded by high defensive walls. It is reinforced by corner towers. Ait-Ben-Haddou dates from the 7th century and is a real example of southern Moroccan architecture.

Ait Ben Haddou: from inside the buildings

Situated on one side of a large hill, the place plays with your imagination.  The clay houses seem to crawl up the hill. At least, they would love to. But the heat in the Moroccan desert withholds them from putting in too much effort. Instead, they stand and capture the light of each sunset, slowly turning everything from light to dark red.

Sun sets at Ait Ben Haddou

The Kasbah is listed on the UNESCO world heritage list, but is still home to 8 families I was told. Ait-Ben-Hadou has been the scene for famous movies like The Mummy, Gladiator and Jewel of the Nile. Maybe you don’t feel like a Gladiator immediately, but hey, try to use your imagination!

We spent 2 full days around Ait-Ben-Hadou and we loved every minute of it. Our kids loved it for several reasons:

1.  Wandering the streets, exploring

Once you passed the guards at the gate (mind you, some will convince you not to use the main entrance but guide you somewhere else. Of course the entrance fee is somewhat higher over there (that’s the demanding life of a tourist, but don’t let it ruin your mood!).
So where was I? Once you passed the guards at the gate, the Kasbah is open for you. You can wander around narrow streets, knock on doors or just play hide and seek. Silently the roads will bring you higher and everytime the view gets more impressive. Your kids can hardly get lost, just let them wander around.

The narrow streets of Ait Ben HaddouKids shopping for Moroccan souvenirs

2.  Free to enter the buildings, no questions asked.

Most of the buildings are open to visit. It’s hard to believe, being a 7th century Unesco World Heritage site having hardly any restricitions. It kind of felt strange. But we were pleasantly surprised to find out we could just enter a house, open secret doors, look in forgotten rooms, climb the stairs, and enjoy the view from the roof.

View over Ait Ben Haddou

Clay bricks for houses in Ait Ben Haddou

The houses are all made of clay, so it’s a interesting lesson learned for your kids (houses are not always from brick or wood as you know).

Kids exploring Ait Ben Haddou

3.  Climb on top of the hill and feel like you conquered the world

The view from top of the hill made me climb it twice in these two days! The colours are amazing: red rock, yellowish sand and an orange glow with bits of green. Ouch, nature can be harmfully beautiful.

View from the top: Ait Ben Haddou View from the top from Ait Ben Haddou

Even your kids will have no trouble climbing to the top of the hill. It’s an exciting journey with a great reward. It feels like a victory, because the view is astounding.

Me, I could have stayed there for hours and hours. The silence, sometimes disturbed by a far-away sound from the town itself, the wind blowing, it was surrealistic.

View from top Ait Ben Hadou

4.  Hotel in Kasbah style with view on Ait-Ben-Hadou

There are some hotels and souvenir shops, but not that much. This makes the place more genuine. We had a great hotel with a swimming pool (a must for the kids to wash of all the desert sand and dust) and a fabulous view of the kasbah.

The hotel was built in the old Moroccan style, and of course made of clay. Doors and windows were small, to keep out the cold in winter and the sunlight in summer.
If you need details of this hotel or any other advice about our travel in Morocco, please drop me a comment below.

Our hotel room in Ait Ben Haddou

Ait-Ben-Hadou breathes authenticity. I guess that’s why I liked it so much: its typical architectural style, the use of specific building material, the ease of the surrounding area (there were some touristic shops, but not like you see in Marrakech), the opportunity to just stroll and wander the narrow streets, looking around and try to grasp a glimpse of daily life in an ancient kasbah. Is it a movie or is it for real?

By the way, which famous movie locations did you visit?

 

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    13 Comments
    1. Oh my gosh, thanks for much for the recommendation!! We’ve been planning on going back to visit Morocco, and this helps so much!! Simply beautiful.

      • I knew you were planning another trip to Morocco Michi, and I am glad this post gave you some great ideas for your itinerary! Hope you will be able to visit the country soon!

    2. What beautiful pictures! Looks like an amazing place to explore.

      • Thanks Amy. I have hundreds and hundreds of amazing pictures from our trip to Morocco, that’s what triggers me to dedicate more posts to this beautiful country.

    3. The place looks magical Emiel! I have always been fascinated with movies like Jewel of Nile, Indiana Jones, The Mummy….anything that has got anything to do with adventure at these places. Would definitely like to visit Morocco someday. Thanks for sharing wonderful pictures and experience 🙂

    4. Emiel- This is a good news bad news message. I love your blog so much I gave you a “Memetastic” Award which is posted on my page. The bad news is that there are a few actions on your part now required if you so choose. Anyway- I love your blog because it’s one of the few travel blogs that doesn’t bore me to tears, inspires me to visit these places when they’ve not previously hit my top ten list, and the variety of topics discussed keeps the pace of the blog moving. You’re the yard stick to which all others should be measured.

      • Wow! I am delighted reading about how much you love my blog, BIG thanks! Forget about the bad news part, of course I will accept your nomination. I am excited to learn how my stories have inspired you and others, this is very much appreciated.
        I will post my ‘acceptance speech’ and nominations soon!

    5. That is so beautiful, inspiring and educational. Thank you for sharing!

    6. Morocco is one of few countries where Indonesians can visit without obtaining visa first. So, one day if I get the chance to visit Europe again, I’d really much like to visit Morocco. Thanks for sharing such an amazing place.

      Cheers,
      Bama

    7. I noticed that you and your family were wearing shorts. When I went to Morroco a few years ago, I was told not to wear shorts. I see times have changed. It was over 15 years ago that I visited Morroco. I traveled by train to different locations.

      • Gladys, that’s an interesting observation. I guess that indeed lots of things have changed in Morocco. We did feel very comfortable traveling the country and I believe the country has been influenced by Europe to some extent.

    8. stunning spot – and lots of films made there

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