After a few days in Marrakech, we rented a car and set off to the middle of the country to a town called Ourzazate. It’s famous for being the Hollywood of Morocco – many high profile films have been filmed there. Outside of the movie thing, it is a fairly large VERY local town (more on what I mean by this later in this post).

The real draw of this area though is the famous ancient Ksar Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah. It dates as far back as 11th century with the current building on the site since the 1700’s. It is considered one of the best preserved examples of Moroccan earthen clay architecture and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. It is located next to a small village primarily consisting of hotels and restaurants catering to the Kasbah visitors.

As it is very hot during the day and the light is too strong, making everything flat to the eye and the camera, the best times to see and visit Ksar Ait Ben Haddou are sunrise and sunset. I’m definitely not an early bird but it was well worth getting up at the crack of dawn to see it.

Walking through the labyrinth of adobe structures nestled on top of each other, the fiery orange of the clay burning in the rising sun, visions of times long gone swirled in my mind’s eye … traders haggling over spices, loading up their camels to make the trip along the Sahara – Marrakech caravan route, the smells, sounds, hustle and bustle of a medieval city … Now these ancient walls house innumerable souvenir shops, tea houses, and cafes.

This was an absolutely fascinating experience, a glimpse through the centuries, one of those moments that somehow connect one to our shared history as humans on this planet.

Ksar Ait Ben Haddou kasbah in morocco
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Want to feel the experience first hand?  Check out this REEL I made.

As I mentioned, Ourzazate itself is a very local place. What I mean by this is it is very Muslim and you’ll need to understand how to be and act in harmony with the local people and their traditions. It was here when I had my only experience of being stared at or hassled in any way.

We stopped by the side of the road at the entrance of the town as I needed to run out to a pharmacy to see if I could find a shampoo. During the 10 meter and 3 minute trip from the car and back I got stared down by three men and approached by one trying to sell me something. I was wearing a long skirt and a t-shirt so really didn’t think my attire was in any way inviting or inappropriate.

My friend – who waited outside the car – then gave me one of the most important lessons on traveling in a Muslim country as a woman. Muslim men don’t stare because they want you – they do so if they feel your attire is disrespectful or offensive to their customs. Even though I wore a long skirt my arms were bare and apparently this is unacceptable. He invited me to look at the local women. None of them covered their faces but all covered their arms and legs. Interestingly, super tight jeans and pants seemed fine (my flowy skirts and pants weren’t a necessity).

Also, Friday is the holy day – even though Moroccans work on Fridays to conform with the Western business calendar. What this means is you’ll see a lot more men in the street going to and from the Mosque and it’s better to dress the way you would if you were to enter a church or any religious building.

Again, no one will follow or cat-call you – unlike in the Caribbean or Mexico or South America – here when men stare they will only stare, but if they feel you’re being disrespectful that gaze will feel intimidating and even menacing. Yes you can decide to defy it and wear your cut-offs in the street but what are you really trying to prove? You’re on their land and it’s only a good practice to respect the customs of the place you visit.

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For dinner, we pulled up to a roadside BBQ situation on a side street of Ourzazate. It was as simple as you can imagine – plastic tables, order your meat at the counter to have it grilled while you wait.. Don’t ask for sides or cutlery for that matter – here, if you dared to go for the experience, you gotta do like the locals – order your kebabs, find a table, and when they arrive, grab a piece of bread, fold it and pull the meat down the skewer, dip in the delicious sauce, and enjoy the fragrant freshness of freshly grilled meat (sorry vegetarians).

Overall, Ourzazate was certainly a fairly unfiltered experience, unlike Marrakech and other more touristy places. It’s worth visiting for the Ksar Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah and those who are into film history will appreciate the Museum of Cinema. There are also a number of desert glamping experiences you can book while here. A couple of days is sufficient to stay here. As there isn’t much going on, I wouldn’t stay working remotely from here, this is more of a weekend trip or a 1-2 day stopover on your way deeper into the desert or south.

Now, onto part 3, Taghazout!