May 2009

Part 5: Atlas mountains & Aït Benhaddou

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Crossing the Atlas by Tizi n'Tichka (May 8th, day 11)

In the morning I met up with a lady from the car rental company in Marrakesh. Our car was a bit bigger and better than what we were paying for (300 dirham = ~27 euro per day). Whereas you normally get a Dacia Logan (a small Romanian car) we got a BYD F3, a medium-sized car with airco and electronic controls. I'd never heard of BYD but it's an up-and-coming Chinese brand of cars. Except for the plasticy interior the car was just fine; we'd have no problems at all despite the heat and the rough roads.

We drove out of Marrakesh at around 10am. We were starting right in the city center and it was quite stressy navigating between the careless pedestrians, reckless scooters and crazy drivers while not knowing the way and only having a small map in our guide book. I ended up driving into a narrow one-way street in the medina and having to drive out of it backwards through the crowd with impatient Moroccans yelling all around me. That was fun. Then we got lost but with some helpful directions we were on the right road soon enough.

We were taking the road from Marrakesh to Ouarzazate, which crosses the Atlas mountains by the Tizi n'Tichka pass (2260m). The road was perfect and easy-going and the views beautiful, with snow-capped mountains all around.

Approaching the Atlas mountains Approaching the Atlas mountains The Atlas mountains between Marrakesh and Ourzazate

We were going down again quite fast and wondered if we'd already crossed the pass, but that wasn't the case. After a while we were driving up again and this time the road went much higher, to the actual Tizi n'Tichka pass.

One of the last villages before the Tizi n'Tichka pass, called Taddert I think This is the Tizi n'Tichka pass, a lovely drive

In the mountains many locals were selling minerals and geodes along the road. Some had stalls but many were just holding one or a few geodes in their hands, waving and yelling at tourists that drove by hoping one would stop. Since there was only little traffic and stopping to deal with a pushy local seems very unpleasant, I doubt they ever sell anything.

View near the top of the Tizi n'Tichka pass Lotte shopping for minerals to use in her jewelry near the top of the Tizi n'Tichka pass. This picture is taken from the same spot as the previous one, and that's our car.

Beyond the Tizi n'Tichka pass we drove into a landscape that was much drier and rockier and generally coloured a reddish brown. This was the entrance to le Grand Sud (the Great South) and we'd spend a week here.

Village beyond the Tizi n'Tichka pass Lovely rock

The kasbah of Telouet is just beyond the pass but since we were running short on time we decided to visit it later on the way back to Marrakesh, so pictures of that are in a later part of this report. Instead we drove straight to Aït Benhaddou...

Aït Benhaddou (May 8th-9th, days 11-12)

We finished the first day of our car trip in Aït Benhaddou, which is Morocco's most famous kasbah and has been used as a background in famous movies like Lawrence of Arabia, Jewel of the Nile and Gladiator. It dates from the 11th century and is now a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The road to Aït Benhaddou

To get there you need to drive 9km along a small side road near Ouarzazate, which also passes this view on an almost dry river bed.

View along the road to Aït Benhaddou View along the road to Aït Benhaddou - same spot

I also made a little clip and then almost fell as I walked towards Lotte...

We arrived in the modern village near Aït Benhaddou at 16:30 and got a hotel. While we were checking in this strange vehicle arrived at the same hotel...

"Das rollende hotel" means "the rolling hotel", it's a German hotel on wheels. What a crazy concept! Check their website and you'll see this thing driving through the desert. While I took this picture two German ladies came out and I asked them laughingly if they really slept in this thing - they did - and if it really had three levels of beds as the windows suggest - it did.

Aït Benhaddou in the evening

By 16:45 we were off to visit Aït Benhaddou, which lies across the dry river right behind the village. We spent some two hours there admiring the place and I made some 150 pictures, but the only one I'm gonna show here is of a big black bug that we saw crawling around there.

Big black bug living in Aït Benhaddou

The sky was completely clouded over this evening, and I was disappointed that I couldn't make good pictures. However, since Aït Benhaddou was the one place in Morocco I had most wanted to see, I had taken the possibility of bad weather into account and arrived here in the evening on purpose: that way we could also visit it the next morning. I could see now that Aït Benhaddou is facing east - i.e. towards the morning sun - and was hoping hard that the sky would clear up that night.

Aït Benhaddou in the morning

The next morning I woke up at 5:30am, looked outside to check the sky and was delighted to see that the sky was completely cloudless now! So I tip-toed out of the room while Lotte was still sleeping and went off to visit Aït Benhaddou once again while the sun was just starting to rise. Try getting me out of bed that early in Belgium!

Lotte about to miss seeing Aït Benhaddou in the early sunlight

So, here are the pictures of my morning visit. Since I was alone I could indulge in photography :)

Aït Benhaddou at 6am Aït Benhaddou. To get there you have to walk over the sandbags in the river. Aït Benhaddou
Aït Benhaddou at 8:30am

The last picture was taken from the same place but at 8:30am when the light was brighter. The same goes for this big image (stitched together) - open it in a new window to see it at full size.

Aït Benhaddou

Before entering the kasbah I climbed the halfdome rock next to it. It was a short but very steep climb; I didn't know that on the other side you can just walk up easily.

View on Aït Benhaddou from the nearby rock My and Aït Benhaddou

I made this panorama which also shows some of the landscape around Aït Benhaddou. Again, open it in a new window to see it at full size!

Aït Benhaddou and the surrounding landscape

More views on the rocky landscape beyond the kasbah...

Near Aït Benhaddou Near Aït Benhaddou

Now let's go into Aït Benhaddou. This morning I entered through a different building than before and from its roof I had great views on the rest of the kasbah and on a stork's nest

This building by the outer wall of Aït Benhaddou has a stork's nest on top. View from a rooftop
The stork's nest up close The stork and one of its hatchlings

Here's another lovely building. The evening before some locals who still live here (or pretend to) had invited us into the building next to it (for money), as you can see in the middle picture.

Aït Benhaddou Lotte on the roof of a local family's building, the evening before Morrocan doors look great

As you can see on the first pictures above, the top of the rock against which Aït Benhaddou is built has a small ruin (of a granary) surrounded by a fortification wall. The following pictures were made there.

Looking down from the top of Aït Benhaddou towards the new village where our hotel was. Looking down from the top of Aït Benhaddou. Notice the sand bags in the water. The stony desert north of Aït Benhaddou

The following panorama was made up there as well but the evening before. To see it full size... you know the drill. On the left you can see the round rock that I climbed this morning (cfr. above).

Lotte on the lookout from the fortification above Aït Benhaddou

By 8:45 I was back at the hotel where lazy Lotte had woken up meanwhile. By 10am we were on the road again.

Lotte in our hotel room
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Vivien Sat 13 Nov 2010 @ 21:36
Beautiful photos and well narrated travelog. It gave us a good preview of the trip we planned for this April. We are planning a twelve day trip to Morocco following a similar itinerary. Thank you for sharing.

Curtis Reynolds Wed 28 Jul 2010 @ 04:20
Great photos... However I lived in Morocco in 1973 and my photos are also impressive. Give me a little fed back.


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