Where is the best place to do a desert tour in Morocco?
As I said, there are two famous areas in Morocco for Sahara tours that are developed for tourism: the Erg Chebbi near Merzouga and the Erg Chegaga between M'hamid and Zagora. Both have gigantic dunes with fine, soft sand in an almost endless expanse. I can't say which one is nicer, but I'll introduce you to the differences here. I also present an alternative for those who only have little time. To give you an overview of where the areas are in Morocco, you can find them marked on the following map:
The Erg Chebbi is the most popular desert area in Morocco among tourists. Here there is sand as far as the eye can see and the highest dunes in the country, up to 200 meters high. The starting point for tours are the oasis towns of Erfoud and Rissani as well as the smaller desert oasis of Merzouga, which lies directly behind the sand dunes. The selection of tours and offers is simply overwhelming. You go into the desert on camel backs, by quad bike, off-road vehicle or on foot. Sometimes at sunrise, sometimes at sunset, sometimes with an overnight stay in a traditional Berber tent or in a luxurious camp. You can ride through the dunes for just an hour or walk through them for a whole week. In Merzouga there are numerous accommodations right on the edge of the dunes - there is something for every budget. But of course a night in the desert in a nomad tent is more exciting. A typical tour to the Erg Chebbi, which I can recommend to you, looks like this from Merzouga:
Desert tour to the Erg Chebbi with overnight stay
In the afternoon you saddle up on the camels at the base camp, which is usually accommodation in Merzouga on the edge of the dunes. It's quite a wobbly affair when the 2 meter high dromedary swings from its knees to a standing position. After a few minutes the whole caravan, one camel riding nicely behind the other, is already in the middle of the desert. All you see around you is sand. 1 to 2 hours later - just as you slowly rub your bottom, because a camel like this is anything but comfortable - you reach the camp. A Bedouin camp consists of several traditional Berber tents with many carpets, grouped around a central campsite. A central tent has comfortable mattresses for lounging around and sometimes a few tables for eating. Everything is kept very simple, but that's how it should be in the middle of the desert. Enjoy a Moroccan dinner in the open air. Often there is Tajine, which is the traditional dish in Morocco cooked in clay pots over the fire. Before or after dinner, you can climb a dune to watch the sunset. The sea of sand slowly turns golden yellow and red until it becomes pitch black. And there is an incredible silence. In the evening everyone gathers around the campfire. While the Berbers tell you stories from nomadic life and Bedouin wisdom or play traditional music, the sky above you sparkles with thousands of stars. The wide beam of the Milky Way shines fascinatingly, constellations appear everywhere and shooting stars flash across. It's just fantastic! If you want, you can sleep on mattresses and blankets directly under the stars. Otherwise, sleeping quarters or sometimes real beds are available in the Bedouin tents. In the morning you have to get up early so as not to miss the sunrise from the next dune. This is almost more magical in the desert than the sunset. Depending on the tour, there is a typical Moroccan breakfast at the camp before you return or you have breakfast at the base camp after returning from the desert. You can usually also take a shower here, as in the desert camps there are only simple (dry) toilets and sometimes a sink. A tour with at least one overnight stay is also great if you want to take photos of the Moroccan starry sky . Due to the low light pollution, you can see more stars here than anywhere else in the world.
Advantages of a desert tour to the Erg Chebbi
-There are countless hotels and infrastructure close to the desert in Merzouga. -You can walk into the desert from Merzouga. -You reach Merzouga via a good tar road. -The dunes are even higher than in Erg Chegaga. -There are various organized tours, including from Marrakesh and Fes
Disadvantages of a desert tour to the Erg Chebbi
-Many visitors and engine noise from the quads detract from the desert feeling in the high season. -Merzouga is very touristy. -The drive from Marrakesh is long and not recommended as a 2-day tour from there. -In some cases the prices for tours and supplies in Merzouga are overpriced.
If you're on a tour of Morocco with a rental car , the Erg Chebbi is perfect because it can be easily integrated into a circular route. Even if you want to go on an organized desert tour from Marrakech, you can book great 3 to 4 day tours where you can get to know a few highlights of the area.
Directions to Merzouga
There are daily connections by Supratours bus between Merzouga and Marrakech (approx. 13 hours travel time) via Tinehir and Ouarzazate and to Fes (2 days travel time) via Erfoud and Midelt.
The dune area of Erg Chegaga, which lies a little further south, extends between the towns of Zagora, M'hamid and Foum Zguid in the border area with Algeria. These desert towns are also the starting point for tours to the sand dunes. Zagora is the center for camel tours. Everything is possible, from a 1-hour horse ride to a 1-week camel tour. From M'Hamid and Foum Zguid, tours to the central sand dune area are often combined with a journey in an off-road vehicle, as the large sand dunes are around 50 kilometers away and can only be reached via a track through the scree desert. Due to its remoteness, Erg Chegaga is less visited by tourists and the region is almost deserted. The desert experience is therefore even more intense and original.
A typical desert tour to the Erg Chegaga
The typical tours to the Erg Chegaga also last 3 days with one night in a nomad tent in the wide sandy landscape. Here you can also experience wonderful sunrises and sunsets and the incredible silence under the starry desert sky. You will be picked up at the base camp in an off-road vehicle. First we go through the barren scree desert. This journey alone is worth it. The landscape is bizarre and impressive at the same time, with its endless scree fields and wadis. Almost like a mirage, nomads with their herds of camels pass by in the distance. I was lucky that as I drove through the completely dry Lac Iriki after a spring rain, countless tiny plants and flowers were just beginning to sprout from the barren ground. A beautiful sight! Slowly the sand becomes more and the plants less until you reach the camp in the sand dunes. You often set off from here in the afternoon with the camels to watch the sunset. You can then enjoy the sunrise from the nearest dune to the camp before heading back in the off-road vehicle after breakfast.
Advantages of a Sahara tour to the Erg Chegaga
-The desert feeling is even more intense in the remote location. -The journey across the scree desert is fascinating. -The journey from Marrakesh to Zagora is not that long. -You usually drive to the camp in an off-road vehicle and can take all your luggage with you.
Disadvantages of a desert tour to the Erg Chegaga
-The central sand dune area can only be reached via a slope. -Many camps are located on the edge of the sand dunes and not in the middle of them. -The 2-day tours from Marrakech rarely go into the central sand dune area.
Directions to Erg Chegaga
The desert towns of Zagora, M'Hamid and Foum Zguid can be reached via tar roads. The only way to get into the central desert area is off-road with an off-road vehicle. Orientation is more than difficult in the tangle of tracks on the vast stone landscape with sand drifts. Even if you are traveling in an off-road vehicle, it is better to use a local guide or book an organized tour from the surrounding desert towns. There are public transport connections to Zagora with the CTM bus company. The buses go via Agdz to Marrakech. You can also take the night bus to Agadir (approx. 11 hours travel time) and via Ouarzazate to Casablanca (approx. 12 hours travel time).
Excursions to the Agafay desert
Are you in Marrakech and don't have time for a desert tour lasting several days, but you really want to experience the Sahara feeling? Then there is this alternative for the very tight time budget: About 30 kilometers from Marrakesh lies the relatively unknown Agafay Desert. There are no gigantic sand dunes here, but you get an impression of the endless expanse of the desert. An excursion is possible as a day trip from Marrakech. You can ride a camel through the sandy landscape or jet through the sand on a quad bike. There are also camps in the Agafay desert, so you can spend a night in the desert and save yourself the long journey to Erg Chebbi or Erg Chegaga.
If you really don't have time, you can get a little taste of the desert air here.
Tips for booking your Morocco desert tour
Are you convinced that a desert tour definitely belongs on your Morocco vacation and have you found the right desert for your time budget and your needs? Then I have a few general tips for booking and preparing your tour. The travel providers in Morocco also know that a tour into the desert is a fantastic experience that is popular with tourists. The range of tours on offer is correspondingly large and confusing. Basically, you can choose between an organized multi-day trip including travel from Marrakech or Fes and Ouarzazate or booking a tour from the base camps with self-arrival.
Organized desert tour from Marrakech
Marrakesh is quite far away from the Sahara. Exactly it is 450 kilometers to M'Hamid on the Erg Chegaga and even 560 kilometers to Merzouga on the Erg Chebbi. When driving over the serpentines of the Altas Mountains, you'll be on the road for quite a while to get from Marrakesh to the desert. You should expect a travel time of 8 to 10 hours. Even though the route is worth it with great views, varied landscapes and wonderful oasis valleys, the journey can be strenuous without an overnight stop. Despite the long route, there are numerous offers of desert tours directly from Marrakesh. Precisely because a trip to the Sahara is such a special experience. This is really practical if you want to combine your city trip with a desert tour. You simply book the tour and everything will be completely organized. Depending on the route and duration of the tours, stops will be made along the way. This way you can explore other great sights in the south of Morocco and kill several birds with one stone. You can book the tours from Marrakech both online via Getyourguide (see my recommendations) and at many agencies in Marrakech. You can also book a 2 to 3 day organized desert tour from Fes
A desert tour with your own travel
A multi-day tour from Marrakech is super practical, but it is more flexible and cost-effective to organize your journey to the base camp on the edge of the desert yourself and book a trip to the sand dunes from there. This way you can perfectly incorporate the desert trip into a tour or spend even more time in the beautiful region of the southern High Atlas. Almost every hotel in the oasis and desert towns surrounding the dune areas offers tours. There are also countless agencies and brokers on site, unfortunately not all of them are reputable. To avoid falling for the wrong guides, it's better to book in advance. You can also find some offers at Getyourguide, alternatively you can ask your hotel. There are also camps in both Erg Chebbi and Erg Chegaga, mostly in the luxury segment, which you can reserve directly online via booking.com. The feeling in these luxurious tents is of course different than in a simple Bedouin camp, but you don't have to miss out on a private bathroom or comfortable beds.
When choosing a camp, pay attention to the location. The real desert feeling only arises deep in the sandy landscape. Even if you have to book a transfer with an off-road vehicle, the difference is worth it.
What should you pay attention to when booking?
For a great desert experience and in the spirit of fair tourism, the price should not be the only deciding factor when choosing a tour. The competition is enormous and dumping prices are often at the expense of drivers, guides and camel handlers or are associated with restrictions on the overall experience. If you want to book spontaneously on site or inquire at a hotel, pay attention to the following details: -How big is the group? -Are the meals freshly prepared? -Is water included? -Is there a base camp for luggage and a shower after the tour? -Is the camp individual or a community camp with numerous other tours? -Does the guide speak English or good French? With these targeted questions you can also separate the wheat from the chaff when making a quick booking on site or in the souks of Marrakech.
How much time do you have to plan for a tour to the Sahara?
First of all, the question arises as to whether you book the tour from Marrakech or whether you are already there in the oasis cities and set off from there into the desert.
Time for a tour from Marrakech
If you have little time and are in Marrakech, you can book a short desert trip with an overnight stay in a Bedouin tent for 2 days, which is only recommended for the Erg Chegaga. And even on the shorter journey to Zagora, you spend most of the time in the car or minibus. It starts early in the morning in Marrakech. On the way, a visit to the Ksar Ait Benhaddou is usually on the agenda and the desert is reached in the evening. After a short night we head back to Marrakesh. It is therefore worth planning more time, not only will you be able to stay in the desert longer, but it will also be much more relaxing. There are also other highlights along the way that are integrated into the tours. Even on a 3- to 4-day tour, the impressive Todra Gorge, the beautiful Dades Valley or a visit to a kasbah, the historic clay fortress, are often on the program.
Time in the desert
The time in the desert ranges from a 1-hour camel ride to a tour with an overnight stay to a desert trekking of 1 week. My recommendation is at least one night. For the Erg Chegaga it is almost a must because of the journey across the scree desert to the sand dunes. This allows you to experience both the sunset and sunrise over the desert and a night under the thousands of twinkling stars in complete darkness. Personally, that's enough for me. The conditions in the camp are very simple and be aware that the camel ride is anything but comfortable. For a 1-week tour you need a lot of endurance. If you want to have even more of a desert feeling, you can also combine a camel tour with an off-road vehicle ride or with trekking to another camp on the second day.
How much does a desert tour cost?
In addition to the duration of the tour and the services included, the prices for desert tours often depend on the number of participants. For just 150 to 200 dirhams (Dh), which is less than 20 euros, you can ride a camel into the sand dunes at sunset. A day trip with the camel caravan costs between 350 and 500 Dh (approx. from 30 euros). For a tour from the afternoon to the next morning with an overnight stay in a Berber tent as well as dinner and breakfast, you pay around 700 Dh (approx. 65 euros). A 3-day organized tour from Marrakech costs just over 100 euros. You should also plan a tip for the camel guide and driver. On tours from Marrakech, meals along the way are usually not included
When is the best time for a desert tour?
A tour into the desert in Morocco is possible all year round, but not necessarily recommended from June to August due to the high temperatures. Longer desert treks on camels or on foot are particularly strenuous. There are also more sandstorms in summer. Not only are they uncomfortable, they also reduce the view of the beautiful dune landscape. From December to February it gets very cold at night in the desert. The temperature often drops to 4 degrees, so in the unheated tents or under the clear starry sky, a hat, gloves and long underwear are definitely required and a sleeping bag is also worth its weight in gold (see my luggage tips). The best time for a desert tour is in autumn and spring, when the temperatures are relatively balanced
What do you need to take with you to the desert?
You can leave your main luggage at the base camp on the edge of the desert, so a small backpack is sufficient for your Sahara trip. For the camel ride and for walking in the sand, it is best to wear loose, long pants and a shirt as well as sturdy shoes. This is what you should definitely pack: -Sandals for camp -Warm things for the evening and night: sweater or jacket, socks, in winter also long underpants, hat and gloves -Scarf or shawl, also to be tied around the head as a turban -Sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, lip balm -Toothbrush and essential personal hygiene items -Small towel and/or wet wipes -Be sure to pack your camera sand-tight! That's the most important. Depending on what kind of tour you are doing, the following tips may be useful.
Other useful information
If you want to ride a camel for several days, cycling shorts can be very comfortable, as can tablets against motion sickness. That's no joke, because it rocks on the camels' backs like it's on the high seas. If you have a sensitive stomach, this will be different. Travel tablets should also be carried in hand luggage when booking a group tour from Marrakech. In serpentines, minibuses often travel quickly through the Altas Mountains for several hours.
Food in the desert is usually included in the tours, but water supply is not always included. On tours from Marrakech, food along the way often costs extra. People often stop at cooperating restaurants that offer food at overpriced prices. You can easily buy water and snacks in the oasis towns on the edge of the desert, but no more after that. In Merzouga the prices are sometimes overpriced, so it's best to stock up on drinking water in Rassini.
The nomad camps
The traditional tents of the camps are mostly simple. There are often mattresses, but sometimes there is also a comfortable bed. There are enough thick blankets. In the fresh winter air it gets cold underneath and you sleep more comfortably in a sleeping bag that you bring with you. The sanitary facilities in the camps are at best simple (dry) toilets, sometimes there are none at all. There are also no sinks with running water in the simple camps and no showers anyway. So be prepared to wash your cats at camp and take wet wipes with you. A shower to rinse off all the sand is usually waiting for you at the base camp from which you start and where you arrive again.
Have fun in the desert
Those were my detailed tips for your Sahara tour. Lastly, I'll give you an old Bedouin saying: "Whoever goes into the desert and returns is no longer the same." Try it! Or have you ever been to the desert? Where was that and what was your experience like?
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