Beni Mellal is not among the most well-known cities in Morocco. But that doesn’t mean that it is not a great place to visit. In this article, we argue that Beni Mellal, while largely unknown as a tourist spot in Morocco, is a hidden gem that has a mix of nature, beauty, history, and authentic Berber culture. Visiting Beni Mellal is the ideal opportunity for tourists to explore the magical places in this beautiful region. This is everything you need to know about Beni Mellal, including: how to get there, what to do there and why it is so special.
Where is Beni Mellal located?
Beni Mellal city is the capital city of the greater Beni Mellal- Khenifra region, which is one of the twelve administrative provinces of Morocco. This region is home to around 2,5 million people (2014) while the city itself has a population of around half a million people. Other regions that make up the Beni Mellal region are Azilal (in the South), Fqih Ben Salah (in the West) and Khenifrah (in the North). Beni Mellal is the biggest and most developed city in this region.
The province of Beni Mellal is centrally located, in what is referred to as the Middle Atlas region of Morocco. Geographically, The city of Beni Mellal is located between several major cities in Morocco. They are: Casablanca in the North, Fes in the North-east, Marrakech in the South-west and Ouarzazate in the South-east. If one had to draw a circle around Morocco, Beni Mellal would definitely be its midpoint. It is also referred to as “ the doorway to the Middle Atlas Mountains”.
History of Beni Mellal
There is not much history available about Beni Mellal in ancient times. The oldest records go back to the 17th century, when Sultan Moulay Ismail, the second leader of the Alaouite Dynasty, built the fortress or Kasbah of Beni Mellal, which is the most famous monument in Beni Mellal today. There are earlier reports that an older settlement in the vicinity of what is now Beni Mellal was called Hisn Dai. This town was known as a notable trade center.
Language in Beni Mellal
The people of Beni Mellal speak both Arabic and their native Berber Amazigh Languages. The education and administration are conducted in Arabic. Moroccan Arabic is generally the default language of the people. Among the older generation, Berber dialects known as Tamazight, also known as Tachelhit, are still spoken.
Beni Mellal weather
Beni Mellal is a city of both extremes when it comes to weather. Summer temperatures rise to well over 40’ C in July and August. On the other hand, the Winter months can be quite cold with temperatures dropping to zero. It doesn’t snow in the city but you can definitely feel the chills coming from the ice-caps on the Atlas Mountains. The best time to visit Beni Mellal would be in Spring: from March to May.
How far is Beni Mellal from Marrakech?
Bus ride to Beni Mellal
A bus ride to Beni Mellal from Marrakech will take about 4 hours. Check out these bus transport companies CTM and Ghazala to find the best dates and times. There are usually a few buses that do the trip each day.
Driving to Beni Mellal
The trip from Marrakech to Beni Mellal takes about 3 hours and 15 minutes, using the N8. the road is relatively new and it is a pleasant drive.
How far is Beni Mellal from Casablanca?
Beni Mellal is most easily and cheaply accessed by car or bus. While there is an airport in Beni Mellal, it is neither cheap nor practical to fly from Casablanca or Marrakech to Beni Mellal.
Bus trip from Casablanca to Beni Mellal
A bus trip from Casablanca costs from 70 To 150 MAD, depending on the type of bus you choose. There are different bus companies that offer basic to more comfortable buses. You can get a bus from Ouled Bouzian Bus station. There are 3 to 4 buses that go to Beni Mellal every day at different times. Alternatively, you can visit the ticket offices or websites of private companies like CTM or Ghazala. The bus ride takes around 4- 4 hours and 30 minutes.
Is it a good idea to take a taxi from Casablanca?
Taking a ‘Grand taxi’ to Beni Mellal is not recommended because taxis don’t go there directly. They would stop at another city on the way and passengers would have to switch to another taxi. This makes things far more complicated.
Casablanca to Beni Mellal by car
The drive by car takes around 3 hours. The roads are good and signs to Beni Mellal are clearly signposted so you won’t get lost. Also, the signs are printed in three languages, Arabic, English and Tamazight, which makes the road signs look rather busy, but really cool all the same. There are enough gas stations on the way for you to fill up and have a few snacks. Don’t forget to have some cash handy because you will be charged a toll fee on the road.
Beni Mellal hotels
Being a small city that doesn’t see a great deal of tourists. Therefore, you are not going to find as many accommodation options as Marrakech or Fes. However, the city does have a few good options that will make for a comfortable stay.
- Hotel Beni Mellal Ouzoud
- Hotel Golden Flora
- Hotel Al Bassatine
- Maison D’hotes Rabha Ait Bou Izryane
- Maison d’Hôtes Yamine
Beni Mellal tourism and things to do
1. Beni Mellal Souk (Traditional Market)
The great thing about Beni Mellal market is that locals make up the majority if not all the customers there. Foreign tourists are just beginning to explore this city and region, as a whole. Therefore, you are less likely to be ripped off than you would be in Fes or Marrakech, where traders have tailored their businesses to cater to high-paying foreign tourists. All the same, you should still be ready for a tough bargain, as is the custom in these lands. Another advantage of Beni Mellal market is that you gain access to the local variations of traditional clothes and souvenirs. You can find most of what you are looking for in this market, even though it is much smaller than the markets in major cities. It makes for great shopping without the added trouble.
2. Ain Asserdoun and Beni Mellal Kasbah
This epic location is a stone-throw from the Beni Mellal city center. You could easily and cheaply take a taxi there. This beautiful spring and gardens make up one of the most beautiful parks in all of Morocco. This is also the location of the iconic Beni Mellal Kasbah or Tadla Kasbah, which was built by Moulay Ismail in 1688. Some say that this was the beginning of the establishment of the major city that Beni Mellal is today. Ain Asserdoun is Tamazight, meaning “Eye of the Donkey”. It is really an enchanting place, one that makes the arduous trip to Beni Mellal well worth your while.
You can walk around the park, take some perfect pictures or settle in for a quiet picnic. If you are up to it, you could take the steep walk up to the iconic fortress, that overlooks the entire park and city of Beni Mellal. The view from the top is incredible.
3. Ouzoud Waterfalls: a fantastic day trip
The Ouzoud waterfalls or cascades d’ouzoud in French is one of the spectacular natural sights that Morocco showcases in Azilal Province, 97km South of Beni Mellal and 150 km northeast of Marrakech. It is one of the most amazing hidden attractions in Morocco. It’s just 2 hours away from Beni Mellal and you definitely need to visit if you wanna escape the heat and discover the combination of flora and fauna, away from the hustle and bustle of the Old City.
The lovely falls, which are close to the Atlas Mountains, elegantly cascade down into a small lake, on the long way down to the valley. You will be able to enjoy the olive trees, nature, and rock climbing activities. The soothing sound of the waterfalls when it crashes the lake is most amazing. If you are lucky you may spot a playful troop of wild local monkeys.
The walk down the waterfall is very doable, if you are wearing appropriate trainers -we recommend wearing proper walking shoes. Flip flops are not recommended.
At the bottom of the falls, the view is breathtaking. Take the raft ride which will take you right up to where the waterfalls drop where you will get wet but don’t worry the sun will dry you up on the way back. Also, some of the tourists have a swim right next to the waterfall. We highly recommend carrying your cossie under your outer clothes in case you feel like taking a quick dip in the freshwater. An amazing experience that costs only 20 DH each 2 USD.
There’s a large variety of restaurants to choose from on the way up, some with a view of the valley. Lunch at a restaurant with a terrace looking at the falls will cost around 100 DH each, 10USD. You will be served water, chili dip with an olive oil starter, mint tea, bread, oranges, and tajine meat with a salad.
If you are a couple, friends or even a family and you want to have a day trip adventure away from the city, I highly recommend visiting this unbelievable network of waterfalls.
How to get to Ouzoud Waterfalls: Our recommendation is that the easiest way to get there is to hire a car and take a slow drive there. Alternatively, you could go there with a tour agency. If you are going with public transportation, make sure that you know how to get back to Beni Mellal. The last thing you want is to miss your ride back and be stranded at Ouzoud without a clue.
Keep in mind:
- The experience is not recommended for people with mobility issues
- Toilets are not the best, you may think of bringing a lot of toilet change
- We highly recommend you to stay away from the monkeys as they are wild animals. Don’t feed them, as cute and hungry as they look, or let any food be visible if you happen to be near them. They are more than capable of feeding themselves.
4. Zaouiat Ahansal
This small village in the South of the Azilal region, is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It was established in the 13th century by Sidi Said Ahansal, a religious scholar, who was instructed by his mentor to settle in this area and propagate his Islamic teachings. Other legends say that his mentor instructed him to go wherever his cat jumped off his horse. This led him to Zaouiat Ahansal. He settled there and established a madrasa or Islamic school.
The village later became a center of Islamic learning for people in surrounding areas. Today, the village is inhabited by few thousand people. The village offers unique and enchanting old houses that have been preserved and a typical laid back vibe of mountain life in Morocco.
This village is a solid 3 and a half hours drive from Beni Mellal, and will take you deep into unknown territory. It is advised to go with a trustable tour operator or local guide.
5. The Trans Atlas Marathon
Zaouiat Ahansal is also the starting point of the epic ultra-marathon race, The Trans Atlas Marathon, that was started by the famous brothers and successful ultra-marathoners, Mohamad and Lahcen Ahansal. The Ahansal Brothers, who grew up in the village running up and down these mountains, have gained fame internationally, as world-class runners. They return to their hometown every year to organise and manage this race personally. This is their way of showcasing their hometown, globally, while also promoting the sport of running in Morocco. The Ahansal Brothers have no doubt joined the ranks of a long tradition of Moroccan athletes who are well-known on the international stage.
This race is not for beginners. It is called an ultra marathon for a reason and extends over 6 days, covering a ridiculous distance of 280km. The race is well-organised and gives participants the opportunity to traverse this beautiful and untouched landscape that has rarely been seen by the outside world. The acclaimed race also gives runners insights into the lives and culture of the local people.
6. Imi Nifri
Located near the village of Demnate, Imi Nifri is the site of a tunnle like cave formation that is said to be over 1,8 million years old. The cave also creates the illusion of a natural bridge at the top, which is 70 meters high. Imi Nifri is a beautiful hiking spot with some ‘out of this world’ views. It is also home to the Ait Flalade Waterfall. If you are not a seasoned hiker, you may want to get in touch with local tour guides, as the terrain can be a bit tricky. Imi Nifri is deep in the South of Azilal, closer to Marrakech than it is to Beni Mellal. However, it is still worth a visit, you have the time.
7. Bin El Ouidane Dam
If you are into watersports then you will find that Bin El Ouidane Dam is right up your alley. The dam, with provides much of the regions electircity, is also a hub for several avtivities like boating, fishing, jet skiing, kayaking, mountain biking and more. The dam is roughly an hour’s drive from Beni Mellal.
The Beni Mellal-Khenifrah region has a lot of fun, adventure and beauty to offer to tourists that crave an experience that is different to the usual Marrakech and Fes trips. There are several notable tourist attractions in proximity to the regional capital, Beni Mellal. The highlights are Ouzoud Falls and Ain Asserdoun.
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