After visiting Chefchaouen, Danielle and I spent a few days with a friend based in a small village outside of Fez, and then we were ready to see the Sahara Desert!
Now, we had only heard of tours in the Sahara from Marrakech, so at first, we thought we would have to go all the way to Marrakech from Fez, and then down to Merzouga, which would have been crazy. But it turned out that there is a bus that goes straight from Fez to Merzouga, phew! So, instead of booking a full desert tour, we went to Merzouga on our own and then organized an independent desert trek from there.
We found this hotel thanks to our friend whom we visited in a village outside of Fez, as she is friends with the owners. And the owners were so nice. The manager picked us up at the bus station and took us directly to our (beautiful) room to rest.
And when we woke up, they prepared us a delicious Moroccan breakfast before we left on camelback around 4 pm.
It seems that almost all hotels in Merzouga offer their camel rides in the desert and nights in their private camps in the desert. The Little Prince also offered an excursion, so we simply booked our camel ride through them.
The best part? Because we did not participate in one of the big tours in Marrakech, we were the only two people to take part in our camel trek in the desert.
We rode for about an hour and a half in the desert (I’m not sure my legs could have lasted longer than that on a camel, ha) and then our guide went to set up camp while Danielle and I climbed a dune to watch the sunset.
So, I thought we’d sleep on the ground in tents, but apparently, that’s not how it works. We had a room with beds and nightstands and pretty flickering lights. Is that what the kids call glamping?
And then, you know the best part is, Danielle and I had the trek and the camp all to ourselves? That wasn’t true. The best part was the adorable camp dog, Bruno!
I had heard a few stories of different travelers who felt uncomfortable with their guides in the desert in Morocco at night – one girl even saw her guide show up in her tent at night. So I was a little relieved that our guide and his two helpers in the camp were children in their late teens or early twenties. So, no anxiety. (Plus the door of our tent locked from the inside).
It was really fun to hang out with them in the evening and learn more about Amazigh culture, even though we went to bed shortly after dinner – we had to catch an early bus the next morning, so we had to leave the desert at 5:30!
I think most tours leave after sunrise, but it was magical to ride a camel under the starry night sky. The moon had been very bright at night, so it was also nice to see the sky after the moonset because the stars were incredible. And of course, we took the time to stop for a while to watch the sunrise over the dunes.
And then we took the 8 am bus for the 12 hour trip to Marrakech.
I always want to visit Western Sahara (as in the country), but seeing the desert corner of Morocco was 100% worth the long trip. I know it is possible to make desert excursions closer to Marrakech, but if you want the huge orange dunes, you will have to go down to the Sahara.
Guide To Camping In The Sahara Desert
A trip to Morocco would not be complete without a trip to the Sahara desert. You can visit the dunes at sunset, spend the night under the African starry sky, play drums around the fire after an impressive Berber dinner, camp in a traditional Berber tent or watch the sunrise over the mountainous sand dunes. It is an unforgettable experience if you are well prepared. Don’t forget to check out our useful tips to make the most of a trip to the Sahara Desert.
Prepare your luggage properly
Even on the hottest days, once the sun goes down, the temperature drops considerably. Be ready to go to bed if you want to sleep under the stars. Even if you are sleeping in a tent, you will need an extra layer at nightfall. A sun hat is a must, as are high UV index sunglasses for trekking at sunset or sunrise, both on the way in and out. Narrow shoes are preferable for camel trekking and long trousers are also recommended.
Spend where you need to spend
For those who want basic comforts, including toilets, you will have to pay a small supplement and stay in a top-of-the-range camp. Although there is an infinite number of camps and options available, especially in Merzouga and more recently in Erg Chigaga, it is worth paying a little extra to have your tent, clean sheets, and decent camels. It is possible to buy cheap group tours in the busy tourist areas of Marrakech, but the vehicles used are often not air-conditioned and cover long distances in very short travel times.
Don’t skip the camel ride
It may be a cliché, but many travelers consider camel riding in their desert camp as one of their best experiences in Morocco. While riding a camel over the rugged dunes may seem uncomfortable, the views will make you forget the discomfort.
Arriving on time
Plan your departure so that you arrive in the desert with enough time to enjoy the sunset at the top of one of the mountain dunes of the Erg Chebbi. Then expect a short night to wake up in time to see the sunrise over the Sahara Desert, a truly unforgettable experience.
When to go
Many luxury camps close during the summer months (July and August) when temperatures exceed 50°C, but remain open during the winter months when daytime temperatures are comfortable but nights can be cold (about 10°C). The months of April, May, September, and October are good for travel. Autumn sees harvesting throughout the south, offering travelers a unique experience and the coolest dates available in the souks.
Stay a few days
Given the distance to cover from Marrakech and Fez, it is advisable to spend two nights in the desert – one night in a camp and a second night in a lodge on the edge of the dunes. The landscape is enchanting, the light changing throughout the day, making it wonderful throughout the day. Activities such as sand surfing, camel riding and picnics in the palm groves can often arrange so that there is no need to race back to town.
Expect to be unplugged
Due to the remoteness of the camps and the lack of mobile reception, expect to be off the grid during your stay. No Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat or email alerts! You won’t miss them as you’ll enjoy the 360-degree view of the Sahara Desert. Even the most luxurious camps often don’t have a power supply to recharge, so make sure you have enough power for your stay.
What to Expect in a Sahara Desert Camp
Being in the middle of the Sahara is the best part of the desert camping experience in Morocco. You can walk to the top of the nearby dunes and see the desert stretching for miles and miles in all directions. It’s very peaceful, and if you move a little further away from the campsite you will find almost complete silence. This silence is especially powerful at night if you are lucky enough to have clear skies. Stargazing is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. That’s also what made the nine-hour drive worthwhile.
The accommodations are relatively comfortable and spacious. The bathroom is only separated by a curtain, so privacy will be minimal if you share your tent. The inside of the tents is not temperature controlled, so if it is hot outside, your tent will be warm, if it is cold outside, it will be cold inside. Temperatures in the desert can be extreme, so look for an average day and night temperatures before you leave and plan accordingly. The inside of the tent will also be quite dusty because of all the desert sand, so if you have any allergies, be prepared for that.
The food served in the desert camps is decent, but will not be your best meal in Morocco. If you don’t particularly like Moroccan food, I suggest you bring something to eat. There may not be any food or snacks to buy.
The live music
The live music in the camps is interesting and I liked it, but I think they could have limited it to only 30 minutes. After a while, our band started to get a bit agitated, so people started to move away. Sometimes they may try to persuade you to dance with them. I’m not a great dancer, so I found myself slowly backing away, but I enjoyed watching everyone else try to dance to this style of music.
All in all, I think the experience of camping in the Sahara is worth it, even with the nine-hour drive to and from Marrakech. I think this part of your trip should be complete at the beginning of your visit to avoid long car journeys. That way, you can spend the rest of your trip relaxing and enjoying this beautiful country from places like Marrakech and Essaouira, which are both wonderful.