After a long 8 ½ bus ride away from hustling and bustling of Marrakech we had arrived in the much more sleepy town of Ouarzazate. Almost everyone on the trail to the desert passes through this ancient oasis town but most people coming here barely stay long enough to take in the city. Most visitors are usually on a tour that stops here for about 45 minutes in order to see the main sight and then continue for the desert. We decided to slow our pace to the desert down and spend a few nights in the city. With our stay, we were rewarded with some relaxation and insight into life in modern Morocco.
A Good Place to Understand Moroccan Culture
If you are looking for a place to relax after tackling the streets of Marrakech, Ouarzazate is the place to do it. The city itself, is very quiet compared to more touristy areas and it is a great headquarters for embarking on day trips to sights within the area. Streets once quiet in the afternoon hours become busy with markets as the city comes alive in the evening. Cheap and good restaurants appear throughout the center of the city and locals come out to the main square at night to chat, dance, and allow their children to run around until the early morning hours. There are no touts here, there are no tourist shops to be found, just pure Morocco.
Keeping Busy in Ourzazate
While the only main attraction in Ouarzazate is the restored Kasbah which can be found in films such as Jesus of Nazareth, there are plenty of sights nearby to keep visitors interested for a few days.
Our favorite day trip was to Ait Ben Haddou. Located only an hour away by taxi, it is easily reached from Ouarzazate. The traditional mud brick city has been carefully restored under the watchful eye of UNESCO. With its restoration came the attention of Hollywood. Many movies and TV shows have used Ait Ben Haddou as a backdrop such as Gladiator, Game of Thrones, Jesus of Nazareth, and Lawrence of Arabia. Walking through this ancient town creates an image of Moroccan life a long, long time ago. Though small, as you climb the hill and wind through its streets, the viewpoint continues to change, enticing you to take more and more photos. Make sure you get to the top of the hill in order to get a perspective of the town below you and the surrounding area. A taxi here should cost no more than 250 for the whole cab and you will most likely have to bargain. In addition to Ait Ben Haddou, you can visit other similar towns in the area that are in varying states of decay. You can also venture out an explore some of the Oasis towns that are nearby the area.
Day Trip or Overnight Stay?
While you can most certainly hit Ouarzazate and Ait Ben Haddou within a day on a tour from Marrakech, if you have time to slow down your trip we recommend it. You can relax, take in the sights at your own pace, and get a closer look at modern life in Morocco. At most places in Morocco, tourists barely leave the confines of each city’s medina where all of the exciting action is. Outside of these walls however, is where most Moroccans call home. While not eye catchy or exciting, cities like Ouarzazate allow you to better understand Moroccan way of life. Much better than if you only stuck your head in the maze of Medinas during your whole trip.