RTW Trip Ouarzazate, Morocco Day 39: Experiencing Hollywood in Morocco

The reason we came to Ouarzazate was its proximity to Marrakech and the desert, and the fact that this is where many Hollywood TV shows/movies were filmed. Game of Thrones, The Mummy, Babel, and Lawrence of Arabia all used Ouarzazate as a filming location!

We stayed at Hotel Royal, one of the cheapest places we stayed in Ouarzazate.  It was basic, clean and central.  Nothing to write home about, but definitely comfortable for the price.

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Such a fancy name for a simple place

Since breakfast was not included, we had a ritual of walking to a close by bakery to grab some pastries and orange juice.  We then walked out to Kasbah Taourirt, and paid entrance for something that looked much more remarkable from the outside.  The only really cool thing about this kasbah, was that it was used as backdrop for movies like Gladiator and Prince of Persia.  I highly suggest just taking pictures from the outside, and then visiting the town right beside it.  It is small and intimate, with a few shops, local homes, and lots of kids and animals.

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For lunch, we were at the point where we wanted to eat something familiar.  While the tagine at our desert trek was delicious, I just couldn’t look at another average tagine.  We found 3Thes Restaurant and ordered pizza and spaghetti.  I am sure an Italian would have spat it out, but the faint familiarity made this a great meal.

Food that resembled Italina! (Yes, I was excited).

Food that resembled Italina! (Yes, I was excited).

We had hired a driver and a guide (so we thought) to visit Ait Ben Haddou and Atlas Studios for the afternoon.  When we arrived to Hotel Royal, there was a fluently English speaking man named Said, who sold us on our tour.  We had thought the whole time that he was going to be our tour guide, but when we actually did the tour, he just sent us on our way with a taxi driver.  A bit disappointing, because we could have hired a driver on our own.

Our driver spoke limited English, but he was nice and patient.  I particularly liked the Bill Cosby sweater he was wearing in 36 degree celcius weather.

Bill Cosby sweater!

Bill Cosby sweater!

We first stopped at Atlas Studios.  This was the larger studio in Ouarzazate, and has also been the filming location for The Jewel of the Nile, Kundun, and Cleopatra.  We got to walk around the sets, and discovered that a lot of the constructed buildings mimicking historic Egyptian landmarks were made of styrofoam, some flimsy metal, and paint.  Very DIY!  (Can we say Be Kind Rewind?)

Hollywood Filming Studios

Hollywood Filming Studios

The drive to Ait Ben Haddou was amazing.  It felt like a drive through Arizona or Utah, but with a Moroccan flair.  Rolling desert hills, bursting with color.

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This car was pretty run down. The speedometer did not work.

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Ait Ben Haddou, a fortified city or Ksar known for their kasbahs, is impressive.  Walking through the area really makes you feel like you have stepped back in time, even though many people still live within the walls today.  Of course, Ait Ben Haddou has been a filming location for the above mentioned movies plus more.

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When we got back from our gorgeous drive, we treated ourselves to some local beers at Chez Dimitri.  I think this restaurant has a love affair with Hollywood, as the walls were adorned with photos of old movie stars.  If you think Flag Speciale beer is not tasty, steer clear from Casablanca beer. It tasted like homemade beer made by someone who didn’t know anything about beer.

Come evening time, the streets got a bit busier, and a lot of locals were out and about.  They were shopping, eating, hanging out with friends, and drinking tea.  We settled in at Espace Quatre Cerises for some cheap bites before retiring to bed.

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Costs:
Pastries and orange juice 13 dirham
CTM bus from Ouarzazate to Marrakech 180 dirham
Kasbah entrance 40 dirham
3Thes Restaurant Spaghetti Neapolitan and pizza 92 dirham
Shampoo and cookies 10.5 dirham
Driver around ouarzazate 300 dirham
Atlas studio 90 dirham
Ait Ben haddou 20 dirham
Hotel royal 90 dirham
Chez Dimitri Restaurant Casablanca beer and Flag Speciale beer 70 dirham
Espace Quatre Cerises Shawarma plate, viande hachee panini, apple juice, citrus juice 64 dirham

Total cost: 969.5 dirham / 2 = $54.34 per person

What I learned:  Don’t bother paying entrance to the Taourirt Kasbah as the interior isn’t anything special. Do take a walk around the town directly beside it for some Moroccan charm.  You should not pay anyone to walk through the town, as it is very easy to navigate.  Also, when looking for a driver to drive you around to different sites in Ouarzazate, you should be able to find someone for 250 dirhams for the whole day.

Actual date of travel: Oct. 12, 2014

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