THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN OUARZAZATE | LITTLE HOLLYWOOD OF MOROCCO
traveling to the Sahara? Don’t forget to spend 2 days in the Moroccan city of Ouarzazate. Here is all the information you want, including what to see and do, where to stay, and how to go there from Marrakech.
The city of Ouarzazate is not the most attractive, but that is probably not the reason you are there.
No, for the majority of us who chose to stroll through its dusty alleyways, it’s just a sensible rest break between the orange dunes in the east and Marrakech, a popular tourist destination.
That being said, Ouarzazate does have some noteworthy tourist attractions. For those willing to spend a day or two touring the Sahara’s entrance, you’ll find a city of Hollywood blockbusters and vintage movie locations, magnificent scenery, fascinating kasbahs, and a palm tree-lined oasis.
This article includes advice on where to stay as well as our list of the top things to do in Ouarzazate.
THINGS TO DO IN OUARZAZATE
VIEW THE MORNING OR THE SET AT AIT BEN HADDOU.
When asked about Ouarzazate, most people who are considering a vacation to Morocco only mention the stunning Ait Ben Haddou. It seems that Game of Thrones has done much for the city’s reputation!
Contrary to several TV-famous websites, this one is worthwhile a visit.
But how can you choose between dawn and sunset if you’re only going to be here for a little while?
We actually decided to go there for both, but only because of some horrendously poor time management on our part (we were sidetracked by 101 various views and didn’t spend as much time there in the evening as we would have wanted).
And while the sunset was undeniably beautiful, if we had to choose only one, the daybreak would be it.
When entering the historic kasbah at early dawn, there aren’t any shopkeepers along the winding alleyways, the tour groups haven’t yet arrived, and the only sound in the area is the call to prayer that reverberates across the valley.
Even though Ait Ben Haddou hasn’t been a place to live for a while, it’s simple to picture how amazing it must have previously been to visit as the sun rises.
Tours | While we visited Air Ben Haddou with a rental car as part of a larger itinerary, we understand that not everyone is comfortable driving on Moroccan roads – or for such long distances. If this sounds like you, we recommend looking at this incredibly well-rated three-day desert safari, which includes a night in a Bedouin camp in the Erg Chebbi dunes along with stops in Ourzazate and Air Ben Haddou. Here are all the details.
A SUNDAY IN FRONT OASIS
Fint Oasis may be found by those who are ready to go the additional mile for a unique travel experience around an hour outside of Ouarzazate, via gradually more dusty roads.
A true palm tree-lined oasis in the midst of the desert, this group of four tiny towns is home to simple homes and hundreds of children. Aside from the occasional satellite dish, life seems to be carried on much as it must have done many years ago.
Families bathe and wash clothes at the water’s edge, donkeys outnumber cars, and visitors are still a novelty.
This is not to mean that amenities are lacking; in fact, there are a number of places to stay as well as the lovely Terrasse de Delices, where you may have lunch or, if you have a few additional days in your plan, spend the night.
NB: A word of caution about Fint’s parking situation. The roads are bad, so it’s probably not a smart idea to travel down narrow trails and over a river to park at Terrase des Delices unless you have a four-wheel drive vehicle. Instead, we decided to pay a local 10 dh to keep an eye on our vehicle in the next hamlet while we went exploring.
Advice | Getting to Fint Oasis in Ouarzazate by public transportation is quite challenging and is only possible with a private cab. As an alternative, you might go on an all-day private trip in and around Ouarzazate, which includes stops at the other major sights as well as time for lunch at Fint Oasis.
AT TELOUET KASBAH, TAKE A STEP BACK IN TIME
The Kasbah Valley.
That was the moniker given to this area of Morocco that was once very affluent. The valley was home to several magnificently ornate and extraordinarily costly palaces (kasbahs), the most well-known of which is the majestic Ait Ben Haddou.
Telouet Kasbah, a different kasbah, is the new child in town and is starting to gain local and worldwide attention.
A large portion of this magnificent red sand castle has been completely destroyed since it was abandoned more than 50 years ago after Morocco’s independence. There is, however, still enough within the principal halls and reception areas to get a taste of the luxury, exquisite design, and riches that once resided here.
More details | The kasbah is situated along a road that might need some TLC around 45 minutes’ drive from Ouarzazate (found here on Google Maps). Even though we traveled there after the sun had set, we wouldn’t hurry to do it again. Take note that using public transportation will not get you there.
There is a guard stationed at the gate who will charge each visitor between 10 and 20 dirham. The casbah is open daily from 8 am to 6 pm.
GO TO THE FILM FILES
If you stop and talk to almost every local in Ouarzazate or Ait Ben Heddou, they’ll probably regale you with stories about the time they worked as an extra in Game of Thrones or another major Hollywood production. And to be honest, a lot of them were!
Unbeknownst to us before we began making plans for our trip, Morocco has served as the site for a wide range of films, including the classic Lawrence of Arabia, the critically acclaimed The Mummy, and even more independent films like Salmon Fishing in Yemen. But the relatively recent decision to shoot several sequences for Game of Thrones, Season 3 there is what truly caught people’s attention.
In addition to the very beautiful Kingdom of Heaven set, the city is home to two studios: the smaller CLA Studios in the city’s center and the bigger, more well-known Atlas Studios situated a few kilometers outside:
Atlas Studios | At 433,000 square feet, the Atlas Film Studio is the world’s largest and is where many of Hollywood’s greatest blockbusters are made. Touristic visits are encouraged and cost 80 dis per person, or 110 dis per person if you’d like to combine them with a visit to the Kingdom of Heaven Set, provided no movies are being shot at the time.
Atlas Studios is conveniently located and may be reached by automobile or by boarding the bus that runs between Ouarzazate and the studios (from Avenue Mohammed V). Winter visitors may also cover the journey on foot in about an hour, but if they do so, they should pack loads of water.
You only need to visit one studio, and CLA is probably the one you can skip if you’re not a huge movie fan. The only exception to this is if you’re just in Merzouga temporarily and don’t have access to transportation, since it’s conveniently located in the middle of the city and is accessible on foot.
The primary entryway into the city is where CLA studios are located (Address: Road of Marrakesh, Isfoutalile, Ouarzazate). 8 a.m. is when the studio opens. – 6.30 p.m. and admission is 40 dirhams per individual.
The Kingdom of Heaven Set is a magnificent full-scale set that is a blast to explore for a couple of hours. It is situated one kilometer from the Atlas Studios entrance. When we went, we were the only visitors, so we were free to act any way we wanted since there was no security to tell us to get off, get off, or stop dancing about like Daenerys (that’s Andrew, not Emily!).
You may either drive or walk for 30 minutes to get to the set. The stand-alone admission charge is 40 dhs if you decide against visiting the studios at the same time.
Note: | It’s important to note that we didn’t find the film studios to be very impressive, mostly because of a lot of worn-out sets and an excess of polystyrene. We still believe that you should attend one without a doubt, but go in with realistic expectations.
GO ON A QUALITY ADVENTURE
Would you agree that miles of unpaved, dusty roads and sand are kind of built for a quad bike adventure? Unfortunately, we were unable to take this trip ourselves, but seeing other travelers soar above desolate vistas made us wish we had. Nevertheless, it was highly recommended by, well, pretty much everyone we talked with.
Starting in Ouarzazate, you’ll tour the historic nomad caravan routes in the desert, the magnificent Fint Oasis (the location we mentioned above that you must visit), vintage movie locations, and Ait Ben Haddou. It’s a great way to experience all the area has to offer in a short amount of time.
For pricing and availability information, click this page.
LODGING OPTIONS IN OUARZAZATE
We offer alternatives in both Ouarzazate and Ait Ben Haddou for your convenience. Since they are so near to one another, it doesn’t really matter where you base yourself while choosing accommodations.
Budget Kasbah Tifaoute Guesthouse is a highly recommended lodging choice for those on a tight budget and is about a 15-minute walk from Ait Ben Haddou.
For further details and to check for availability, go here.
Where we stayed in Ait Ben Haddou was the Auberge le Defat.
An inviting hotel featuring a restaurant, pool, friendly staff, on-site parking, and included breakfast. The accommodations were modest but acceptable, and at around £18 per night, they were fairly priced. This hotel does not yet accept reservations, but we’ll be sure to monitor the listing and provide an update when it does.
Riad Dar Rita | Located in the center of Ouarzazate, this little and very lovely hotel is perfect for people exploring Morocco by public transportation. The sunny roof patio is a particular feature. Go here to learn more.
Dar Kamar | MID-RANGE This eclectically decorated riad, housed in a 17th-century guesthouse, is a top pick. Delicious personnel, convenient location in Ouarzazate, roomy accommodations, on-site hammam, and by all accounts, a fantastic breakfast. Double rooms cost £48 per night. For further details and to check for availability, go here.
Le Petit Riad is a family-run riad with huge rooms, flamboyant architecture, an outdoor pool, and stunning views. It is also the home of a mountain guide, no less. Doubles cost £50 per night and up. For further details and to check for availability, go here.
La Palmeraie Ecolodge in Ouarzazate An 8-minute drive from Ouarzazate, this little eco resort is immaculately crafted and provides a peaceful haven amid the trees. Choose between cozy double rooms or handcrafted adobe cottages. Previous visitors had great things to say about the cuisine and service. Go here to learn more.
It doesn’t get much more opulent than Le Temple des Arts if you’re seeking for luxury. The grounds are lovely, and each room has a distinctive style and furniture that are inspired by films. A hammam, a pool, and an outdoor spa are all on the property. The restaurant has excellent reviews. For a double room, rates begin at £127 per night. To get the most recent pricing and availability, click here.
Kasbah Dar Daif | Another well-regarded hotel, this one is great for families and has a lovely pool and traditional Moroccan décor throughout. The staff is also wonderfully helpful and can recommend trips or routes. Prices for a double room start at £123 per night; it’s important to note that free upgrades seem to be rather regular here! To get the most recent pricing and availability, click here.
How to get from Marrakech to Ouarzazate
As with most places in Morocco, life is so much simpler when you have your own car to get around. Theoretically, you could get from Marrakech to Ouarzazate in around 4 hours – but that would a shame. The road between these two cities is breathtakingly beautiful, so enjoy it!
Thinking about car rental? Get a quote here.
There are two companies that run bus services between Marrakech and Ouarzazate, CTM and Supratours. Tickets with CTM cost from 115 DHS per person, whereas Supratours is a little cheaper with tickets starting at 95 DHS per person. The journey takes 5 hours.
Do note that we have heard of some people struggling to buy tickets online with foreign credit cards. If you encounter any difficulties, we’d recommend heading to the terminal the day before and purchasing the ticket directly (both offices are next to Marrakech Train Station).
The timetable is as follows:
Bus Marrakech to Ouarzazate | Supratours 8 am, 12.45 pm and 3.30 pm | CTM 00.30 am, 10 am, 11.15 am and 3.30 pm
Bus Ouarzazate to Marrakech | Supratours 4 pm | CTM 8.30 am, 11 am, 11.45 am and 10 pm
Although you won’t be able to stop for any photos, we’d highly recommend staying awake for this journey as it is undeniably beautiful – even on a public bus!
TOURS FROM MARRAKECH
The good news is that there are a number of businesses providing full-day alternatives that include the finest of the route and the surrounding region if you want to visit Ouarzazate on a day trip from Marrakech.
Our one and only suggestion is this fantastic, and incredibly well-liked, full-day group tour, which includes lunch and a knowledgeable guide and allows you to take in the picturesque route through the Atlas Mountains with photo stops, spend time at the Atlas Film Studios, the small village of Art Ben Barka, and Ait Ben Haddou.
Go here to learn more.
OUARZAZATE WEATHER AND THE BEST TIME TO VISIT
Being the entrance to the desert, it should come as no surprise that Ouarzazate may experience oppressively hot summers. Although there are a lot of daylight hours, this doesn’t exactly lend itself to outdoor activities.
Although the nights were somewhat cool, the weather during our vacation in February was practically ideal — dry and pleasant. Early spring or fall is often the ideal time of year to come since temperatures in Ouarzazate are very nice and there is little risk of rain.