For travelers that are making their way to the Sahara a drive through Ouarzazate is almost certain to take place. The city gained fame for the stunning Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou and in recent years has become a major player in the film industry.
Whether you’re driving through the city or planning to stop for a day or two there are several different things do in Ouarzazate.
Visit the Movie Studios
You can visit the Kasbah in Ouarzazate as well as the movie Studios (Atlas Studios, entry 50 dh/person, 8:30am till 6pm – depending on the season) and the Museum of Cinema (entry 30 dh/person, +212 524 89 03 46, 8am-6pm). Thanks to its amazing landscapes, good infrastructures, friendly people and cheap authorizations,
Ouarzazate became very popular among movies producers! Starting from “Gladiator” and “Jesus from Nazareth”, everyday modern productions like The Game of Thrones, Mission Impossible, Alexander or Prince of Persia use this part of Morocco’s gorgeous features for their shootings.
Kasbah Ait ben Haddou
When you decide to travel to Ouarzazate the place that should definitely be on your bucket list is this small village located 30 km from Ouarzazate, on the road to Marrakech. Thousands of these magical buildings are planted throughout Morocco, but in the South they are not merely relicts of the history, but living places that still shelter many families.
Their extraordinary and simple design has attracted visitors from around the world. The architecture expresses the simple spirit of the local people as well as the great aspirations of desert nobility.
You can find both small, simple buildings as well as huge, detailed decorated mini-palaces. Ait ben Haddou is a bright glowing pearl in the crown of the casbahs. It owes its charm to the inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Still inhabited by 3 families, the buildings rise on a hill above a broad stream – a periodic river, which, after heavy rain in the mountains, turns into a flowing river from a dry trough. The remaining villagers have moved across the river into more modern buildings.
You don’t need a guide to enter though many will present themselves to assist, or your tour may provide one. General entry is 10dh per person however extra is expected for the guide. The price should be discussed ahead of time (if included) or when services are rendered. The Kasbah is open from 8am until sunset.
If you’re intrigued by the movies and settings of Ouarzazate you can book a camel and/or horseback riding tour with animals that have been in the films!
Most people only visit Ait ben Haddou, the more famous kasbah in the region. But, Telouet kasbah is a ruined gem to also consider. If you’re visiting on a day trip from Marrakech you’ll likely only have time to visit one or the other.
This kasbah was home to Thami al Glaoui one of the most infamous men in Morocco’s recent history. Sometimes called The Lord of the Atlas, revered by some as a calculated and wise ruler, and despised by others as a traitor his story is truly something straight out of a movie. He was a Berber chieftain (of the Glaoui tribe) who ruled the southern areas of Morocco and eventually was also the Pacha of Marrakech.
The story gets even more interesting when the French protectorate was in place and includes wealth, power, and Hollywood superstars. (The book Lords of the Atlas is an excellent read if you want to know even more about this story).
After decades of disrepair the Telouet Kasbah has undergone some renovations and continues to see improvements made. There are very few visitors who come here but it’s a very interesting glimpse into a chapter of Moroccan history. The kasbah is only accessible by private vehicle.
Visit it ALL with a Guide
If you’d like to take in all of the city; film studio, Ait ben Haddou, and more than you might consider hiring a guide for the day. This is a good option for people choosing to stay in the city vs. just passing through. As many of the more historical sites lack much context a guide can help explain to you.
Just want to see Ait ben Haddou and Telouet? Hire a guide to take you to these places with transportation between the two.
The Fint Oasis
Ten kilometers south of Ouarzazate lies the Fint Oasis. There are four traditional villages that surround the oasis that truly pops out of the barren landscape. Many Hollywood films were also filmed in this oasis. It’s possible to visit with a 4×4 vehicle or quad bike. If you have a guide you’ll be able to interact a bit better with locals. There are some small hotels in the oasis but expect modest accommodations.
I’ve even got an insider tip for Game of Thrones fans! If you walk along from the village along the left hand bank of the river you come to a place where Game of Thrones was filmed. Cross the river first and walk upstream to find it.
This is a really beautiful area and you can see a lot more of it from a quad. This tour let’s you see the natural scenery and visit some of the smaller villages on your way.
Noor 1 Solar Plant
This part of Morocco was really put on the global map recently with the opening of the Noor solar plant. This impressive project generates 160 MW of power and is connected to the Moroccan power grid. A half-million mirrors are used at the plant! Unfortunately it is not possible to visit the plant however you can catch glimpses of it from some roads nearby.
Another of the Glaoui palaces this one is just 8km from Ouarzazate. This kasbah also appeared in films like Jesus of Nazareth and Lawrence of Arabia. It also served as a hotel for film crews and production staff when they were on location. Today it’s been abandoned and left to the elements.
Visiting Nearby Skoura
An interesting trip if you have a little more time or are planning to go further towards the Sahara is a stay in the village of Skoura. This small city is known for it’s hidden kasbahs and palm groves. Kasbah Amiridil is one of the most famous sites here (it even appears on the 50 dirham Moroccan note). Today it works as a living museum and showcases life in times gone by.
In Skoura hire a local guide to take you on a walk around some of the abandoned kasbahs (there are many!) for a really unique experience.
If you want to visit from Ouarzazate consider this tour that will help you take in all the high points; the Skoura palm grove and Amerhidil Kasbah. A stop in Kelaa M’Gouna, also known as the city of roses. Tineghir, a visit to the Jewish quarter here and a stop at the Todra Gorge
Day Trips from Marrakech to Ouarzazate
Many people choose to make the trip to Ouarzazate from Marrakech a day tour. You should be warned that this is a very long trip and a long drive but not impossible to make. Check out these three options for day trips from Marrakech.
Full Day Trip from Marrakech to Ouarzazate with Lunch – an early morning group trip with stops at Ait ben Haddou, lunch, a city tour and a visit to the Taourirt and Tiffoultoute Kasbahs as well as the Atlas film studios.
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