Sometimes you don’t know you’re a film nerd until you travel. And then sometimes, you change all of your travel plans and go at least 5 hours out of your way just so you can visit a film site. Before heading off to Morocco, I did a brief Googling of what the country was most known for and found that Ait Benhaddou, better known as the city in Gladiator (or more recently, Game of Thrones) was only 6 hours from Marrakech!
My poor travel companion didn’t even know of the movie nerd in me (mostly because our French wasn’t exactly good enough to have the “I’m a ___ traveler” talk), but graciously allowed me to take reign. And so, on the way back from M’hamid, we stopped for a night in Ouarzazate, treating ourselves to a room at the Ibis for only 15€ a person. If I was traveling with someone, might as well take advantage of private room sharing, right? After treating ourselves to our first shower in 4 days and lounging by the pool for a good 3 hours, we got dressed to meet our taxi driver.
There were pros and cons about our taxi driver. Pros: he stopped wherever we wanted to for scenic pictures like the one below. Cons: he followed us to the site, he directed us into all these shops that we would’ve forgone instead, he was insanely expensive.
This site was gorgeous. A enormous kasbah settled in the middle of an unbelievably green oasis. Just having been to the Sahara and back, I couldn’t believe how diverse and rich Morocco’s geography was. Sure, everything had the general theme of sand, orange, and dry, but there were the Atlas Mountains with their rocky surfaces and green foliage, the tops dusted with snow, there were oasis filled with life, and the coasts filled to the brim with the finest sand ever.
At Aït Benhaddou, you have the option of exploring the grounds for free. If you go through the main entrance, they will try to collect a fee; don’t follow the crowds. Go to the right side and you should see an arrow and a small shack where a painter lives. Is it just me, or does this sound like a game walkthrough? Anyways, once you get past the painter, you’ll follow the secret path all the way up to the top of the kasbah. Along the way, you’ll get a chance to glimpse into the homes of there Berber that still live there today. How insane is that?
At the top, I had the odd feeling of being in a movie for some strange reason… Doesn’t it look like that scene at the end of The Mummy 2 where they’re about to get sucked into that giant pyramid? Minus the sucking. Although it was the perfect temperature for this day, the wind was less than desirable. I was the only one brave enough to venture more than a foot or two from the building at the top—and I almost got blown off the side of the kasbah as a result! My poor tiny Japanese friend was barely 100 pounds and was almost lifted off her feet trying to get down.
It truly felt like more of a fort or an encased city-castle surrounded by a moat. I could also draw similarities to that one castle in The Two Towers. Not exactly what we all imagine when we imagine living in a fancy castle (what, you don’t do that habitually?), but it had the same magical feeling.
Aït Benhaddou lies 20 km from the center of Ouarzazate, most accessible via taxi or tour. Taxis should be around 200dh. Try not to have your hotel arrange a taxi, since they usually have deals or guys that they call and charge exorbitant amounts of money. You can usually find these taxis in the town center; just flag them down, tell the where you’re going and negotiate the prices! Make sure to agree upon a price before getting in and mention that you want them to stick around so that they can bring you back as well.
Have you ever gone out of your way to visit a film site? Or anything that wasn’t convenient?
Linking up with Travel Tuesdays.