A trip to the Sahara Desert was one of the experiences that I was most excited for on my recent trip to Marrakech! I almost had the trip booked before the flights and accommodation!
The obsession started back in October 2015, a year and a half before my actual trip – I was staying in a hostel in Slovenia and two girls who had just met booked a trip after both lusting it after it for a while separately. Then I found the amazing Sarah and read both of her blog posts on the trip at least 15 times (you can read about her Sahara Desert tour here & here).
So when the time came for me to take my trip, it’s safe to say that I was SO excited. There are lots of these tours on offer, I saw so many posters and signs for excursions while in the city, so if you’re thinking of booking a trip, here is EVERYTHING you need to know!
How Long is the Journey?
LONG! Apparently I didn’t sufficiently brief Callum on the length of the journey between Marrakech and the desert (although I made him read Sarah’s blog posts multiple times!) so I think he was a bit surprised!
The total journey from Marrkaech to the desert takes around 8-9 hours each way including stop-offs. So if you’re only in the country for a weekend, it probably isn’t worth it, but if you’ve got some time to kill, you won’t regret it!
Quite honestly, the ever-changing scenery of Morocco kept me captivated the entire way!
What Are The Sleeping Arrangements?
There were a number of tents in the desert set up in a circular structure. Some are private and will only be allocated to you if you have paid extra for a private tent.
We opted for the shared tour and were placed in a tent for 6 people – myself, Callum, two American girls that we had become good friends with during our trip and two solo travelling guys (one from Hong Kong and one from Japan).
Singular mattresses are laid on the floor with masses of different blankets and duvets to keep you warm. The desert does get very cold at night and I definitely recommend bringing a jumper with you! Our booking confirmation also asked us to bring an additional sleeping bag if we were visiting in January (we weren’t).
What Is The Structure Of The Tour?
You will be picked up from your accommodation in Marrakech bright and early before setting off for the first leg of your journey.
The journey is truly beautiful, I really didn’t expect to see so many different environments in Morocco. Your journey will obviously start with the hustle and bustle of the city, before descending into rolling hills and greenery, followed by the snowy peaks of the Atlas Mountains, red rock canyons and finally the sandy desert!
There will be plenty of little stops along the way for photo opportunities, toilet breaks and grabbing snacks/drinks as well as a big lunch (at an additional cost)!
On route, there is one bigger stop at Ait Ben Haddou (pictured above) which you may recognise as a popular film set (including Game of Thrones, Indiana Jones and Gladiator)! On a day-to-day basis, the town is only populated by 8 families (a total of 40 people) who have no electricity and have to walk 3km to access water!
On arrival at the edge of the desert, you will meet the lovely camels and ride across the Sahara Desert either at sunset or just beforehand. We were visiting in March when the sun sets earlier than in the summer, so we experienced sunset on the camels rather than in the heart of the desert.
We then were shown to our tents and were cooked a huge meal (a tagine style meat and potato dish).
Afterwards, a bonfire was lit and we all sat in the desert, gazing at the impressive stars, singing African camp songs and getting to know our new camp friends!
Day 2 included an early morning wake up call to see the sunrise and eat breakfast in the desert (of course with mint tea). We then jumped back onto the camels for a much shorter trip to another roadside to meet the van.
The drive home was filled with chatter (after all, we’d got to know our trip buddies fairly well at this point)! The main stop was for lunch but there was an optional stop at a film museum (Ouarzazate Hollywood of Morocco) which didn’t interest our group, so we gave it a miss.
Where Can You Book A Tour & How Much Does It Cost?
Tours are offered in most riads/hotels/hostels, as well as by street vendors in the city. However, we booked ours before departure through I Go Morrocco who took a 50% deposit on booking.
The exact tour that we booked can be found here and cost 59 euros per person, which is incredible given that you get two full days of adventure! Kids below the age of 12 get a 50% discount.
When booking our tour, we also got asked if we wanted a complimentary airport transfer on our arrival in Morocco too! Which I certainly would have taken up if we hadn’t already made arrangements with our hotel!
Is It Safe?
Most definitely! There was no point during the entire tour that we felt unsafe.
Whilst in the car, you are obviously accompanied by a driver the entire time and the surroundings are so beautiful, if you have any concerns about safety, they will quickly evaporate!
During your time at Ait-Ben Haddou, you are shown around by a local guide also.
What Is The Difference Between The Zagora Desert And The Sahara Desert?
You’ll notice that the 1 night tours are to the “Zagora Desert” rather than the “Sahara Desert”. The longer trips usually cover both the “Zagora Desert” and the “Merzouga Desert”.
Essentially, Zagora and Merzouga are two separate parts of the Sahara. Zagora is known as the “gateway to the Sahara” and is the closest point of the desert to Marrakech (hence the ability to reach it within a 1 night trip).
However, if you’re looking for a TRULY authentic experience, the Merzouga desert offers much larger sand dunes, richer coloured sands and an array of wildlife.
What Trip Should I Pick?
It really depends on how much time you have. We only had 2 days to spare, so the 1 night trip to Zagora was all we could manage. It was a great insight into the desert life and I can now tick off a bucket list item of camping in the Sahara Desert!
But if I were to return with unlimited time, I would love to do a longer Merzouga trip to see the real expanse of the desert!
What Should You Pack?
Make sure that you take a small bag with you that you can carry on your lap/back whilst riding a camel. While you probably could have left a larger bag in the van, the van doesn’t come into the desert with you and god knows where it stays for the night/how secure it is! We left our cabin sized luggage in our riad.
What Do I do About Water?
In the last town before the desert, you will be given a chance to stock up on water bottles before the night ahead, so don’t worry about packing lots of water, but of course bring some for the day! Always keep hydrated kids!
What Is the Food Like?
As pictured above, we sat in a separate tent to eat in small groups – the starter was a yummy soup with thick warm bread, both of which were delicious.
The main meal was a HUGE tagine dish filled with all kinds of goodies – meat, veg, potatoes etc! Considering the food is included in the price of the trip (which is really reasonable by the way), the quality was great!
How Are The Camels Treated?
Before the trip, I was just TOO excited to camp in the Sahara Desert that I didn’t even think about the logistics of getting to the camp and booked it straight away. It wasn’t until the trip was looming that I started to consider whether this was the right choice.
I absolutely love animals and would never promote something that I thought hindered their life (swimming with dolphins in enclosed spaces, going to tiger kingdoms, riding elephants etc.), I did my research and from what I could gather, the camels were treated well.
After visiting, I am still of this opinion. The camels make one journey in the morning from the desert to the roadside and one back again in the evening. In the meantime, they aren’t chained and are free to roam – while we were sitting around the campfire in the evening, the camels roamed around the outskirts of the tents.
My research shows that when a camel is distressed, it will spit or scream – something that we did not experience at all. Further to this, I can confirm that my tour group did not use any of the cruel herding methods such as bull hooks, pegs or ropes that are pulled directly through the tissue of their external nostrils, a very painful procedure (if pulled too hard the rope can rip the tissue).
The men that operate the camel element of the tour live in the desert and this is their livelihood, good treatment of camels is in their best interests.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own.