As soon as I began to think about Morocco, I started to think about the colors, the Moroccan flavors, the morning song of the muezzin, the delicious food and most of all I was thinking about the Sahara desert.
I wanted to ride a camel on the red-orange dunes, to sleep under the star, to play in the sand and experience everything in between.Well, it was not quite what I was expected, but surely it was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Let me tell you the story.
We spent 1 week and Morocco, and when I say we, I mean a group of 20 people that only knew each other on the airport on the way to Morocco.
In this article I will focus only on the Sahara experience, although we had plenty of adventures also in the rest of the Moroccan trip.
Sahara trip for 3 days and 2 nights
The Sahara desert is a place you really cannot skip when you are visiting Morocco.
Tours are organized by many companies and there are a lot of possibilities to fit it into your itinerary.
The 3 days Sahara Desert tour from Marrakech is much more than just sand and camels though – it includes a cinematic village, an impressive canyon, a drive through snow-capped mountains and a huge variety of stunning views.
Our story begins in Marrakech. In an early January morning, all of us got on a minivan and stated our journey over the high Atlas Mountains, towards the Sahara.
We snaked our way through Atlas Mountains up to the Tizi n’Tichka Pass and we were excited about what else there was to come.
Just before lunch, we arrived at the ancient city of Ait Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, on the former caravan route to the Sahara.
They say that it was the last caravanserai on the Silk Road.
As you approach, it doesn’t even look real. It looks like a film set, and it sort of is…
Here they filmed Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia and Game of Thrones, only few to mention.
We passed a stream river and enter the majestic Caravanserai. It is really amazing.
We were shown around the site by our guide; he took us to meet one of the artists who make gorgeous traditional paintings using saffron, tea, indigo, water and an open flame. You should really see the entire process.
The whole place is amazing, the only downside is that can be very hot, so be prepared with some water and something to cover your head.
Entering through the gates of southern Morocco, Ait Benhaddou should be top on your list to do and see in this country. The caravanserai is another jewel to be enjoyed as it sparkles amongst the South’s arid, yet inspiring panorama.
Even if you decide not to do a Sahara Desert tour make sure you visit Aït Benhaddou
After the visit we entered an opened terraced restaurant for lunch. And once again we had tajine…ohhh tajine!!! In Morocco I eat so much tajine as for the rest of my life. Let me tell you what tajine is.
It is Moroccan traditional stews dish, typically made with sliced meat, poultry or fish together with vegetables or fruit. Spices, nuts, and dried fruits are also used. Common spices include ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and saffron. It is very tasty and very good but when you eat it every day…well, it doesn’t get better.
Soon we started to drive across the high Atlas Mountains heading towards Dades Gorge, where we spend the night in a basic hotel. The “basic” was not a problem but it was so cold everywhere. I was freezing!!! I wore all my cloths and went bed and still was freezing.
It was so cold that I was looking for a way out of there!
In the morning after the breakfast we were so happy to be again in our warm minivan. It was worm and good.
And the tours started again.
A drive through some unique countryside
There was a lot of driving during our Sahara Desert tour but the scenery was usually so good that it really didn’t bother me. We stopped quite a few times to take photos and admire the views; it was so cold but worth it!
At 6pm, we reached finally the Sahara Desert
After lot of driving finally we arrived at Erg Chebbi, where the Sahara Desert starts
This is what we came for. The exotic sand, colorfully dressed camels and Berber tent tourist villages. It’s as good as it looks – a true natural wonder of the world and surely one of the best sections of the Sahara Desert.
We were greeted by our Berber guides and taken over to meet our camels.
For the next two hours we rode deeper into the desert. I soon realized that although riding a camel was not a piece of cake, going up and down sand dunes is a bit of a nightmare.
However, it was absolutely worth it though, as the view at sunset was one of the best I’ve ever experienced: like the colors of the sun, the silence and the entire atmosphere.
An hour more of camel riding and we reached our camp for the night.
As we arrived we were welcomed to sit in a desert huge camp around some small rounded tables.
We ate a communal dinner using our hands, like in the barber traditional way.
Our evening was spent eating chicken tajine (of course, what else) and listening to our guides play Berber music as we sat around the campfire.
The sky was incredible. With zero light pollution, you could see the Milky Way over the sand dunes and I was completely transfixed.
Once the campfire had been extinguished, we all settled down into a 6 person tent and it was at this point when I felt an entirely new and unexpected sensation: Freezing Cold!!! It was unexpectedly freezing and I had travelled with only light clothes in preparation for the desert heat. I had just a thin sheet to cover me and the body heath of a friend. As I said we were 6 people in that tent. I was not going to be getting much sleep tonight. I lay awake for much of the night just freezing and it seems an eternity up to 5am, when we woke up to start our way back hamping the camels. The sunrise was just as spectacular as the sunset from the night before. There was something so peaceful and relaxing about watching the sun rise over a landscape that had no buildings or people in sight. There was nothing but sand stretching out in every direction, fading out into what seemed like infinity. After that we were ready to face another 2 hours of riding back. As I’ve said a hundred times before, the Sahara Desert has been the highlight of, well, my entire Morocco trip. It is the best thing I’ve ever done and has kick-started my new-found obsession for deserts. I can’t wait to return…this time in the summer for sure.
Once in the civilization it fallowed 12 hours of driving to reach Marrakesh.
A visit to the Sahara desert is definitely an experience everyone should have at least once in their lifetime. It is a journey well worth the effort and you will have fond memories to last you forever. Imagine yourself on top a camel, trekking through the Sahara desert. There is nothing around you and all you can hear are the footsteps of the camel on the soft sand. The sky is vast and clear in the day and filled with millions of bright stars at night. It is a very peaceful experience, one raley known to most of the Western World.
Camel trekking may not be the most comfortable means of travelling for some, but it is undoubtedly a ‘must’ for every traveler as a way to experience the mode of transport of the Berber nomads of the Sahara.
Choose your tour wisely. The one night tour is for people who have a limited amount of time to see the desert and, in most cases, you’ll visit the sand dunes in Zagora. These dunes are much smaller and less impressive than Erg Chebbi, but a great option if you only have one night to spare. The two night tour takes you to the Erg Chebbi dunes — the amazing ones. The three night tour takes you to both Zagora and Erg Chebbi, and, well, I didn’t see too much point in spending a day going to the smaller dunes when I could see the more impressive ones!
What I naively didn’t realise when I booked tgis tour was that the Sahara Desert is really far away. Like, two days of driving far away. Fortunately, there were plenty of fascinating stops to make along the way, all of which helped us to gain a small insight into Berber culture.
Make sure you bring plenty of warm clothes.
We did the 3 day Sahara Desert Tour in January and it got really cold at night and in the early mornings. They provide you with blankets when sleeping in the desert but it’s still cold;
Also, there are no bathrooms or showers at the camp and the tents we slept in were shared between around 8 people. One couple we met were told they’d have a private tent – if you only pay 700 MAD there’s no way you’ll have one all to yourself.
One more thing; camels are quite uncomfortable to ride and it’s hard to take good photos while mounted on one. Don’t be afraid to tell your guide that you want to walk for a while, you’ll get better photos and the camels walk so slowly that it’s easy to keep up.