How to visit Ait Ben Haddou

This earthen settlement still feels as special as when it was built in the desert centuries ago.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Visiting Ait Ben Haddou

As one of Morocco's World Heritage Sites, the ancient fortified village of Ait Ben Haddou is one of the best things to see in the country.

But getting to Ait Ben Haddou is quite the expedition, and it's worth planning your visit in advance to make the most of this remarkable bit of history.

On bus journeys through Morocco, I’ve found my nose in books more than usual.

Reading can come in waves – sometimes there’s plenty of time to get stuck into something, sometimes I don’t pick up anything for months. Right now, I’m hooked.

The main reason is because I’m in the middle of the Game of Thrones series (or the A Song of Ice and Fire series, if you prefer to refer to it by its official title).

I’m a latecomer to the books but turned to them eventually because I was frustrated at deviations and delays in the television series. Although, interestingly, I seem to be on my own accidental journey through Westeros (and Essos) – one that has brought me to Ait Ben Haddou in Morocco.

Ait Ben Haddou, Game of Thrones set, Morocco

To create the fantastical world of George RR Martin, Croatia’s old city of Dubrovnik has been turned into Kings Landing, while sites around Belfast have been everything from roads to ports.

Here in the desert of Morocco, the producers found the perfect landscape to depict the dry and dramatic slaver cities that Daenerys Targaryen sought to free.

If you just want an affordable day trip to Ait Ben Haddou, I would suggest this tour from Marrakech. But I highly recommend instead taking this three-day desert tour that also includes Ait Ben Haddou.

The facade of Ait Ben Haddou, a village made of earthen clay, was used to depict the city of Yunkai, which Daenerys laid siege to. When I get here and see it for myself, I can see why.

It may not be as large as I would’ve imagined Yunkai to be, but its authenticity captures the essence perfectly.

Ait Ben Haddou, Game of Thrones set, Morocco

And this is one of the things that makes visiting Ait Ben Haddou so interesting.

It is historical and authentic – in fact, it’s one of the World Heritage Sites in Morocco. But it’s also a popular filming location, bringing a touch of glamour and pop culture to its story.

Beyond Game of Thrones, Ait Ben Haddou has featured in dozens of movies, including Gladiator, The Mummy, The Jewel of the Nile, and even Lawrence of Arabia.

What is Ait Ben Haddou?

Ait Ben Haddou is a fortified village made of earthen clay and set into a hillside in the desert of Morocco. Ait Ben Haddou was founded in the 11th century but the current buildings are from the 17th century.

Do people still live in Ait Ben Haddou?

Yes, people still live in Ait Ben Haddou and most of the village’s buildings are still in use as homes or businesses. However, many of the owners also have modern houses nearby with more comfortable conveniences.

Is it worth visiting Ait Ben Haddou?

It is definitely worth visiting Ait Ben Haddou, which is one of the best things to see in Morocco and one of Morocco’s World Heritage Sites. But it is a long way from Marrakech, so a day trip to Ait Ben Haddou may not be worth it.

But look beyond the facade, because it’s the heritage of Ait Ben Haddou that makes it so fascinating. For more than a millennium, there’s been a fortified settlement here, an important marker on the crossroads of trade.

It’s evolved over time, but also maintained its core elements. As the big cities of Morocco like Marrakech and Fez grew, Ait Ben Haddou continued to do what it had always done. Which is why now, it’s still here in such a good condition.

Ait Ben Haddou, Game of Thrones set, Morocco

Ait Ben Haddou offers a special experience in Morocco, a unique site that you really don’t see many other places, with a fascinating story that spans for centuries.

History of Ait Ben Haddou

The history of Ait-Ben-Haddou goes back a long way, to when the village was first fortified in the 11th century.

The small community was part of the trading route between ancient Sudan and Marrakech. The people who lived here had to balance the appearance of openness for those passing by for commerce with a natural instinct for self-preservation from those who planned to take control and stay longer.

Ait Ben Haddou, Game of Thrones set, Morocco

Over the years, buildings came and went, as you would expect when they were made from earthen materials like this. But most of what you see today is from the 17th century, built with the same methods as the iterations before them.

It was also in the 17th century that the village began its ascent to become one of the most important ksars in the region, one of the reasons it has lasted until today.

Ait Ben Haddou, Game of Thrones set, Morocco

By modern standards, the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou might look easily sackable but, in fact, it was built to be defended.

The outside walls of mud and clay are the initial protection for the town which is built onto the side of a hill.

If any invaders were to get past those walls, they would be faced with a maze. The buildings are packed tight with narrow pathways that wind around each other and unexpectedly turn into steep staircases up to another level of construction.

Ait Ben Haddou, Game of Thrones set, Morocco

And, finally, the very top of the ksar has a fortress that the residents can retreat to as a last line of defence. I’m not sure if it was ever needed, because obviously Ait Ben Haddou survived centuries of turbulent times.

Ait Ben Haddou, Game of Thrones set, Morocco

These days, the Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou is still a major trading stop – it’s just that tacky souvenirs are the goods and it’s the tourists who may need defending from all the vendors.

The entire site is actually quite small and the World Heritage listing means very little can be done to improve the structures within it.

The best way for locals to make a living is to use the spaces between the earthen walls to set up stalls and try to attract curious visitors who come passing through each day as surely as the sun will rise into a cloudless sky above.

Tours to Ait Ben Haddou

There are a few ways to visit Ait Ben Haddou but taking a tour is one of the most popular. It can be a difficult place to reach independently, so going with an organised group can save you a lot of time and effort.

At first glance, you might think that the best thing is to do a day trip from Marrakech, but I would advise against it if you don’t have to. The drive from Marrakech to Ait Ben Haddou is at least four hours each way (more if you’re in a bus) so you’ll spend most of your day just on the road.

If you are short of time and have no other option, I would recommend this day trip from Marrakech which is basically just convenient transportation.

Ait Ben Haddou, Game of Thrones set, Morocco

If you have the time, though, a much more enjoyable experience is to do either a two-night or three-night tour that will take you to Ait Ben Haddou – as well as other interesting things in the region. They could include the Atlas Mountains, the sand dunes of the desert, camel riding, and sleeping at a bedouin camp.

For a two-night trip, I would suggest this desert safari, which has some great sights included.

For a three-night trip, there are some excellent options here:

And if you’re travelling independently to Ait Ben Haddou, you may still be interested in this guided tour of the site, which will give you a great insight into what it’s like to live here.

Visiting Ait Ben Haddou

As I get lost and wander down an alley for the second time, the shoe-seller who offered me a free pair in exchange for the ones I was wearing recognises me.

It’s easy enough to brush off again as I shuffle past. It’s more awkward when I arrive at a dead end and have to turn around and pass him for a third time.

He mistakes my poor orienteering skills for an attempt at bargaining and tries to engage me in a heated negotiation. Thankfully I still have the shoes he appeared to desire and I use them to carry me up the first flight of stairs I see.

Ait Ben Haddou, Game of Thrones set, Morocco

Wandering through the maze of Ait Ben Haddou is one of the best ways to experience it. Even getting lost isn’t so bad.

Because Ait Ben Haddou is a village, rather than a specific tourist site, it doesn’t have official opening hours. There’s not even an official entry fee for the Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou (although sometimes you’ll get someone at the main gate who asks for one anyway).

But within the village, there are some individual buildings that you can pay a small entrance fee to go inside (usually around 20dh (US$2)).

Ait Ben Haddou, Game of Thrones set, Morocco

There are also a couple of museums within the village – including the ‘House of Orality’, with a focus on local culture and folk arts, and the ‘Cinema House’, about the movies that have been filmed here.

If you’re looking for one of these attractions specifically, someone will give you directions. Otherwise you’ll find them eventually.

Ait Ben Haddou, Game of Thrones set, Morocco

If you’re planning to visit Ait Ben Haddou independently, the only tricky thing is transportation.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend doing a day trip to Ait Ben Haddou from Marrakech independently in one day – there just wouldn’t be enough time in the day.

The best approach is to (at the least) stay overnight in Ouarzazate. This would also give you time to look around the city and spend a couple of hours visiting Atlas Studios, which is another highlight of the region.

Or, there are even a few places to stay in Ait Ben Haddou itself, which is kind of cool! Have a look at the accommodation options in Ait Ben Haddou here.

Where is Ait Ben Haddou?

Ait Ben Haddou is about 100 kilometres southeast of Marrakech, over the Atlas Mountains. It is about 25 kilometres northwest of the city of Ouarzazate.
You can see it on a map here.

How do you get to Ait Ben Haddou?

There is not really any convenient public transport to get from Ouarzazate to Ait Ben Haddou. (If you really want to, you catch a bus heading to Marrakech, get off at the turn-off to the site, and then use a taxi the rest of the way).
The best option from Ouarzazate is to take a grand taxi from the stand next to the city’s bus station. The whole taxi (so you can share with your group or strangers) should be about 200dh (US$20) for the return trip plus waiting time.
If you’re coming from Marrakech to Ait Ben Haddou by public transport, there are regular buses with Supratours or CTM. You can go all the way to Ouarzazate or get off at the turn-off to the site. It’ll take up to five hours one-way from Marrakech.

When is Ait Ben Haddou open?

The good news is that Ait Ben Haddou is always open because it’s a village where people live, not just a tourist site. You can visit anytime.
Some of the individual museums and houses you can visit have their own opening hours, which are usually about 09:00 to 18:00.

How much does it cost to visit Ait Ben Haddou?

Because Ait Ben Haddou is a village that is open to the public, there is no entry fee to go inside Ait Ben Haddou (even if sometimes there might be someone at the gate asking for money).
The individual museums and attractions within the village may have entrance fees, normally ranging between 20dh to 50dh.

Are there tours to Ait Ben Haddou?

There are tours to Ait Ben Haddou and, considering its remote location, joining a tour can certainly be the easiest (and sometimes cheapest) option for independent travellers.
Although I wouldn’t recommend doing a day trip from Marrakech because it’s a long way and you’ll just be on the road for about 7 hours, I know some people have limited time – so I would suggest this day trip from Marrakech.
If you have time, a better option is to join one of the two-night tours that also spend time in the desert and visit some other sites. This desert tour from Marrakech is a great one.
And if you’re travelling independently to Ait Ben Haddou, you may still be interested in this guided tour of the site, which will give you a great insight into what it’s like to live here.

There’s something wonderful about Morocco and the way that modern-day culture seems so similar to how I imagine it was when the local people started to build this small fortress on a hill far from anyone else.

It’s more than just the physical surroundings – although that obviously helps. Perhaps it’s because the physical and the social still seem to fit together so well.

Ait Ben Haddou, Game of Thrones set, Morocco

I wonder, when I think again about Game of Thrones, whether that’s something that crossed the minds of the producers.

Did they just see a backdrop or did they see more? Did they see a land where past and present meld together slightly closer to fantasy than we may at first realise?


If you don’t want to just visit Ait-Ben-Haddou as a day trip from Marrakech, I suggest basing yourself in Ouarzazate.


For backpackers, there’s a bright and friendly hostel I would recommend called Dar Widad.


If you’re looking for something affordable, Rose Valley Hotel is modern and clean.


For something special, have a look at the cool designs of Le Temple Des Arts.


And when it comes to luxury, stay where the celebrities do at the Berbère Palace.


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

9 thoughts on “How to visit Ait Ben Haddou”

  1. You had me at ‘Game of Thrones’.

    To be honest, anything you blog about always gets me on your site as I love the quality of your pictures, but this is a great location that I’m so glad you’ve shared.

  2. I’m a fan of the series also, what a fascinating place to visit, now I’ll have to go back again to that episode and see how it was being shown on the show compared to the real deal – great post!

  3. I love Game of Thrones – the TV series has done a great job of translating the books to screen! But there is nothing like reading and imagining the places in the books for yourself. I would love to go to Northern Ireland to see the sites there, and of course visit Dubrovnik! Have you been to N Ireland and Iceland to see the other GoT locations?

  4. Hopefully I’ll make it to Morocco soon! Would love to explore Ait-Ben-Haddou! The GOT creators have done such a great job in terms of filming locations! I haven’t read the books, but after the final episode I’m really considering it now(hope for the different ending there lol)


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