As most people visiting Morocco can relate, I’ve dreamt about riding camels and sleeping under the stars in the Sahara Desert for a very long time. I researched a great deal beforehand, but here is a look into our five-day Sahara Desert Tour followed by my advice that I wish someone would have told me.
If you’re looking for an organized, well-planned tour, think again. We heard from multiple people that the five-day tour is the best option because you spend more time in the desert. The three-day tour only gives you one day in the desert (One night in a hotel driving to the desert, one night in the desert, one night in a hotel leaving the desert). Naturally, we opted for the five-day. The typical tour begins with one night in a hotel, two nights camping in the desert and the last night back in a hotel, before returning to Marrakech. During the busy season, which is NOT summer time, you can stay out in the desert during the day and explore, go on quad/buggy tours, etc. Unfortunately, because of the extremely high temperatures in July/August, we weren’t allowed to stay in the desert during the day. Departing camp by 7am, we partook in other sightseeing tours, and then returned to the desert around 7pm. I’ve never been so uncomfortably hot in my entire life. But I still think it was worth the experience!
Here’s our tour in a nutshell:
Pick up from Marrakech riad. Drive through the beautiful Atlas Mountains.
Our first night was spent at a hotel in a famous cinema town called Ourrzazate. Fun Fact: Props and sets from The Mummy can be seen from the road. Not much to see/do in this quiet town, except roam the streets and check out the Cinema Museum. Our group, being the epic crew, bought matching pants and turbans, and even found some (very expensive) beer to kick start our trip! Still extremely excited for what’s to come!
The morning began with a drive through one of the largest oasis in Morocco. It’s spread throughout an entire valley with palm trees, a river, and surrounded by stunning mountains.
We continued our road trip through the desert, with a picturesque African landscape around us.
Then out of nowhere, the dunes appear. It’s a mysterious feature. The landscape literally changes instantly. We were standing at the beginning of the Sahara Desert, which continues to stretch across Africa all the way to Egypt. It was a surreal feeling to be at the beginning of it all, next to 900m dunes (and another jumping picture).
When we first arrived, we all sprinted up the nearest dune, like kids on Christmas morning. Running around, rolling down the sand. But we quickly realized that the sand was so hot you literally couldn’t walk on it barefoot midday. A few of us even got blisters on our feet. Lesson learned!
After some tea at the riad conveniently nestled at the beginning of the desert for tourists like us, where we can escape from the sun, drink some water, have a snack and a shower — it would be our homebase when we weren’t off galavanting in the desert.
After a few hours of waiting around, our six camels appeared (I had the one in the rear which I named Sam. He was awesome) with our three guides who escorted us an hour and a half through the winding dunes to our camp for the night. As one can imagine, the views are incredible. Each turn is a new experience, and should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Before we reached camp, our guide pointed to the largest dune and told us, “If you want to catch sunset, you better hurry!” We tried with every ounce of energy we had to beat the sun, but it took way too long aaaaaand… we missed it 🙁 God that made me feel out of shape! And I’m convinced the guide knew we wouldn’t make it, but told us to try for his own entertainment. Hiking in the sand that slides beneath your feet felt impossible to make any progress up hill. But running down sure was fun!
Finally at camp and thoroughly worn out from the climb, we ate more tajine and other traditional Moroccan fare, played drums with the local guides, told stories, and fell asleep beneath the stars. The clouds were out so the stars weren’t as brilliant as they could have been, but it was nice to have a nearly full moon keeping the sky light. Unfortunately, due to the heat, I probably got two hours of sleep, and was up for sunset.
This camp could have been a lot better if we were staying in one of the larger tents with more people. Our camp was only the six of us and not much going on. Our guides played music, drums and sang which was entertaining, but it would have been fun to meet other people at one of the surrounding camps.
Due to the scorching temps and annoying flies, we were all awake before the sun (There were also cats everywhere, in the middle of the Sahara Desert, which I found odd). We walked up part of the dune for a bit of the sunrise (learned our lesson from the night before), then jumped back on our camels first thing to beat the heat and get out of the desert.
Back to the riad for breakfast and showers, such an important part of our day so as not to smell like camels and sweat! Our driver took us to a nearby town to enjoy some traditional African music. We all danced and sang and clapped along with them. Of course, I had to buy a CD to contribute to their “band”. Always fun to immerse in the culture; gives you a good perspective on other’s lives.
Afterwards, we had a pitstop at another oasis, played with the local kids, and crawled through a well. Random, I know. Our driver said we’re the first tourists to ever do that. You don’t say? [Insert Sarcasm]
Lunch was a Berbere pizza. Interesting. Not my favorite. Like a giant calzone with meat, hard boiled egg, and pecans. Egg and pecans?? In pizza? No thank you!
The afternoon was hot. 115 inside the riad. So hot we couldn’t even take naps. Now I don’t want to say we’re getting “over” the trip by any means, but I will say the heat really sucks the life outta ya.
Heading back into the desert for our second night, we were ready to jump on our camels. However, the camels had another idea. Come to find out two of the camels got lose and ran/walked away. (Just keeping us on our toes!) Four of us jumped on the four “good” camels and the other two had to drive with the guide to chase the “escapees” down.
Feeling like pros back on our nobel steeds, we’re about ten minutes into our trek, and a giant sand storm engulfs us. We could see if coming from miles away, then before we knew it the sky turned dark, the wind picked up, and the sand began to fly. We couldn’t help but laugh! What an experience! It was probably funny because it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We could still see (thank goodness for our sunglasses and turbans), but the sand started to hurt pelting us. I’m glad we were all covered up. After that one passed, another one came. Not as intense, but still an experience.
An hour later, as night was setting in, we made it to our second camp. This second camp was much better than the first. Traditional tents, rugs, and even cots to sleep on. However, the most giant beetles I’ve ever seen in my entire life were crawling everywhere! Thank goodness for the cots!
More story time, and yep, you guessed it, more tajine for dinner by candle light (every girls dream with five guys), but a beautiful night. After an exciting day, we were all ready for bed. Again, so hot we could barely sleep. After our first night where we all brought bags with what we thought we’d need and ended up not using any of it, we decided to ditch the bags for our second night. Clearly the heat went to our heads because we didn’t bring enough water and didn’t bring any toilet paper. Unfortunately, one of our team got Montezuma’s Revenge and had to get creative with tree leaves… Poor guy!
Happy to have experienced it, but happy it’s the last night in the heat.
Another sunrise in the desert, peacefully appearing over the dunes. Fortunately, we slept much better, thankful for the cots, but still sweating.
Time to head back to civilization on our reject camels. One screaming, one biting, one tripping. It was a sh*t show. My butt and back hurt. Four hours in two days is more than enough time on camels.
On our long drive out of the desert, we made a couple of stops to break up the trip. The Fossil Factory had some amazing pieces I would love to have in my garden or house someday. But sadly, my 46 liter backpack won’t fit a coffee table or water fountain.
We drove through dozens of small towns – half built, half abandoned, people going about their daily lives, selling and buying in the markets, etc.
If you have a good guide, he’ll drop you at a local swimming area, a spring stream on the side of the road in the mountains with giant cliffs on either side. Kids swimming, BBQs, tents, music, singing, dancing, hookahs. It looked like the perfect family summer afternoon; I guess this is what you do when you don’t have a beach/ocean nearby.
The terrain continued to change. The best description I have for it is Radiator Springs from the Disney animated movie, Cars. The red rock and dirt looks like Arizona, mixed with the contrast of green trees from the springs. It really is quite the sight.
One last look out point in Dades Gorge to admire the rock formations, or “Monkey Foot”, before we’re back in a hotel. And I’d be lying if I said we weren’t happy about it.
A six hour drive back to Marrakech with more beautiful sights along the way. At this point, we were just ready to be out of the car, out of the heat, and back in the comfort of Riad Zanzibar in Marrakech. Home Sweet Home!
Overall, this was an incredible Bucket List experience. An adventure to say the least! Yes, we complained (a little), had some uncomfortable moments (both on and off the camels), but I would do it all again! Only this time, it will be in spring time, and not the middle of Summer. Lesson learned!
Check out our full length Sahara video here (or below) — Thanks to Erich, the King of Editing!!
2015 Bucket List Complete:
- Ride camels in the Sahara Desert
- Get stuck in a sand storm
- Sleep in tents in the desert under the stars
- Four day tour is fine. One night in desert is enough.
- Luxury camp tour
- Buggy ride
- Nice people
- Outside of the big cities without the hagglers, everyone is extremely nice, friendly, welcoming. They all shake your hand then touch their heart. Very sincere and sweet.
- The guides take you out of the desert during the day because it’s too hot.
- Hottest my feet have ever been.
- Literally can’t cool off – 47C/117F
- Breakfast is just bread – I literally can’t eat any more bread
- Thought the meals and camp in the desert would be better because we’re paying more money
- I love Moroccan food, but after every meal is the exact same (Tajine for lunch and dinner), it starts to get old.
- They drink tea to cool down and so they don’t have to drink as much water. Doesn’t make any sense to me. Hot tea just makes me more hot and thirsty.
- I accidentally drank camel water, while riding the camel. Thought I was going to be sick for sure, but thankfully I have a strong stomach.
- Berber People – Similar to Bedouin in Jordan
- Opt to go to the bigger dunes (900m/3000ft+), and not the smaller ones. These are only available to see on the 4/5 day tour because they’re further away.
- You don’t need to bring anything out into the desert for one night. Just toilet paper.
- Make sure your guide speaks English
- Bring toilet paper (can’t stress this enough)
- Bring Imodium. Nothing worse then getting stuck in the desert and having a problem.
- One night in the desert is fine.
- Bring frozen water. Regular water will literally be hot by the time you get to camp and it won’t cool down. Or, if you can, put it in the well to help cool it a little.
- One hour on a camel at a time is enough for the butt/back.
- Private tour is nice because you get a private nice AC van, but it’s better to be in a large group for the tents in the desert to meet other people.
- Don’t get ripped off! Book through a reliable source/company. For a five day tour, you shouldn’t pay more than 280 EUR per person
- Everyone says to do the five day so you can go deeper in to the desert, but the four day would have taken you to the exact same place in the desert. The only benefit is that we got to stay at two different camps, but they both left out of the same riad/area. And you have to leave the desert during the day because it’s so hot so you can’t go any deeper anyway. If you could, it would be worth it. Maybe during summer it’s different because it’s so hot. Just be sure to ask if that’s what you’re interested in.
- Lots of down time. Just be prepared. Bring books/ipad
- Hiking shoes aren’t needed. Only sandals.
- Wrap to cover shoulders (for women)
- Shorts for sleeping – Too damn hot
- Buy a pair of traditional Moroccan hammer pants (Fun Fact: girls can wear them as pants or a tube top romper! SO versatile!)
- One clean shirt per day (4-5)
- One long sleeve light colored shirt to protect you from the sun and potential sand storms.
- To sleep in the desert, just bring water, toilet paper, and deodorant. You won’t brush your teeth or change your clothes out there. (Gross, I know.) Shower when you get back to the riad in the morning, then do it all again. You won’t stop sweating so just accept you’ll be smelly and gross for three days. It’s all part of the experience 🙂
- HAVE FUN!!!!!