Things to Do in Ouarzazate
On your way to the Sahara? Don’t forget to spend a couple of days in Ouarzazate, Morocco. Here’s everything you need to know, things to do, what to see, where to stay and how to get there from Marrakech.
Catch sunrise or sunset at Ait Ben Haddou
Speak to many planning a trip to Morocco, and the only thing they know about Ourzazate is the impressive Ait Ben Haddou. Game of thrones it seems has done a good job of the city’s PR!
And yet unlike some TV-famous sites, this one is definitely worth a visit.
But if you’re only here for a short while, how do you decide whether it’s a sunset or or sunrise view that you’d enjoy the most?
Well, due to some spectacularly bad time management on our side (we got distracted by 101 different views and didn’t get as long there in the evening as we would have liked), we actually chose to venture there for both.
And whilst sunset was undoubtedly spectacular, if we only had to pick one, sunrise would be it.
Heading up into the ancient kasbah at first light, there are no stall owners lining the narrow passageways, the tour groups are yet to arrive and the entire place is unbelievably peaceful, bar the call to prayer that echoes across the valley.
It may have been many years since Ait Ben Haddou was a place to live, but to visit as the sun rises, it’s easy to imagine how incredible this place must have once been.
Valley of the Kasbahs.
That was the nickname given to this once incredibly wealthy region of Morocco. With prime position on the trans-Saharan trading route, beautifully ornate and phenomenally expensive palaces (kasbahs) filled the valley, the most famous of which is the stunning Ait Ben Haddou.
However, there’s another kid in town, a different kasbah that is beginning to attract local and international interest – Telouet Kasbah.
Abandoned more than half a century ago following Morocco’s independence, much of this spectacular red sand palace has fallen into complete ruin. However, within the main halls and the reception rooms, certainly enough remains to catch a glimpse of the opulence and beautiful decoration, and the wealth that once existed here
Located approximately an hour outside Ouarzazate, along roads that become progressively more dusty, those willing to go that extra mile for a travel experience will discover Fint Oasis.
This small village, home to basic dwellings and dozens of children, is a real palm tree lined oasis in the middle of the desert, a place where save for the odd satellite dish, life appears to continue very much like it must have done many years ago.
Donkeys are more common than vehicles, families bathe and wash clothes at the water’s edge and tourists remain a curiosity.
This isn’t to say that facilities are lacking – in fact there are several places to stay and a wonderful spot called Terasse de Delices to sit and have lunch (they had hotel rooms at the time of our visit but we are unable to establish if they can currently be booked in advance).
NB: a word of warning about car parking in Fint. The roads are not good, and unless you have a four-wheel drive, heading off down tiny tracks and across the river to park at Terrase des Delices is probably not advisable. Instead, we settled for handing 10dh to a local to watch our car in the village whilst we headed off to explore.
Miles of unpaved dusty roads and sand are sort of made for a quad bike adventure, wouldn’t you agree? Unfortunately we didn’t have time to experience this tour ourselves (although seeing fellow travellers whizzing over desert-like landscapes sort of made us wish we had) but it comes highly recommended by, well, pretty much every single person we spoke with.
Beginning in Ourzazate, you’ll explore desert tracks used by ancient nomad caravans, the wonderful Fint Oasis (that place above we said you absolutely have to visit), old film sets and Ait Ben Haddou. It’s a fantastic way to see the best the region has to offer in just a few hours.
Stop and speak with almost any local in Ouarzazate or Ait Ben Heddou, and you will likely be regaled with tales of the day they were an extra in Game of Thrones or some big Hollywood blockbuster. And to be fair, a great number of them were!
Unbeknown to us before we started planning this trip, Morocco has been the chosen filming location for everything from the classic Lawrence of Arabia, to the big box office success The Mummy and even smaller indie flicks like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. But what really drew attention to the area, was the recent choice to film various scenes of Game of Thrones, Season 3 in the area.
However, unless you’re a huge film buff, we really don’t think you need to visit them both – the actual studios are a little (or very) tired looking and nothing removed the magic of film more than discovering everything in made of polystyrene.
Instead, pick CLA studios. The headquarters in the centre of Ouarzazate still aren’t anything to write home about, but the full scale film set (where Game of Thrones and Kingdom of Heaven was filmed) outside of town definitely is.
For many, visiting this part of Morocco is synonymous with a trip to the Sahara desert. However, given the distances you need to cover, taking a tour beginning in Marrakech will involve a number of very long driving days.
If you’re keen to make it the desert but would like to limit bus time, starting in Ouarzazate may be a good option. Tours can be booked on arrival with local agencies but for those on a tight timescale, consider booking it in advance.
Ourzazate is not the prettiest city, but then that’s probably not why you’re visiting.
However, that’s not to say that Ouarzazate is completely lacking in note-worthy tourist sites. In fact, for those happy to spend a day or two exploring the gateway to the Sahara, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied – here are the top things to do in Ouarzazate.