So we’re going to take a quick break from Europe for a moment (since I’m wayyy far behind on those posts), because I’ve been DYING to tell you all about a recent tour to the Sahara Desert that I took with Camel Trekking in Morocco! I went for the 3 day/2 night option, as I’d been told by many that it was just the right amount of days (2 days too few, 4 possibly too many).
And it was easily the highlight of my entire 3 weeks in the country.
DAY 1: JOURNEY THROUGH THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS AND A TASTE OF HOLLYWOOD
The day started out around 8:00 am, when I was picked up by our guide, Abraham, right near the hostel I was staying in. Because there are lots of tours that pick up in that area, and you might possibly end up getting picked up by the wrong tour, Omar, the owner of Camel Trekking, made sure to emphasize that I should only go with someone who knew my name.
Abraham smiled as I walked over, questioned, “Emily?” And, at my emphatic and excited “YUP!”, he smiled brighter, laughed, and said, “It’s the magic word, right?!” I knew we were going to get along great over the next few days.
I jumped into the vehicle, a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 4WD, along with the 4 other people who would be on the tour with me. There were 3 Australians who were traveling together, along with another American who was traveling by himself. We were all around the same age, and, thankfully, we all got along great! That made the experience all the more fun.
We set off immediately, and, after about an hour’s journey, Abraham stopped off along the side of the road in the Zate Valley, where he explained what the itinerary looked like for the rest of the day, along with the plan for the remainder of the tour.
The drive through the Atlas mountains was a rough one. The roads twisted and turned frequently, and there was an abundance of ups and downs. If you get even the slightest bit of motion sickness in vehicles, I highly recommend taking some medication before you get started on this day (as well as the last day on the way home when you have to come back through the Atlas mountains).
Thankfully Abraham made many a stop along the way, giving us time to catch a break and a bit of fresh air, along with showing us Ait Ben Amar, one of the oldest river villages in the Atlas Mountains (pictured above – it was build just after Marrakech with the original houses made solely of stone), and many of the spectacular views back out over the mountains and valleys of the Atlas region (pictured below).
Ait Ben Haddou – Hollywood Filming Extraordinaire
Our main destination for the afternoon was Ait Ben Haddou. It was a city built in the 17th century, created thanks to the Caravan Samurai who came from Timbuktu through the Sahara. They were a commercial caravan who would stay here for a week or two when the weather was bad in the mountains.
In 1996, UNESCO deemed Ait Ben Haddou a UNESCO World Heritage site, so all the people who lived in the kasbah had to move to a different location, known as New Town, just on the other side of the river.
The original establishment now brings in money for the people as a tourist attraction, as well as a popular filming site for many Hollywood movies and television shows, including Gladiator, Game of Thrones, and Lawrence of Arabia.
Abraham walked us to the start of the trail up into Ait Ben Haddou, and then set us free to explore on our own for the next hour. The walk was mostly uphill, but it was a quick one, and we had a great time exploring the (mostly) abandoned houses throughout the original kasbah. You really do feel like you’re in a Hollywood movie!
The views of the mountains, plateaus, and surrounding villages were spectacular from the top. It only took us about 20 minutes to reach there, so we had plenty of time to take lots of pictures, and never once felt rushed (Abraham had given us about an hour to explore).
After a delicious lunch back in New Town, we continued on our way towards Tinghir, and the Hotel Kasbah de Dades, which was our final destination for the evening.
We arrived just as the sun was setting, so Abraham drove us about 20 minutes outside of the city to the top of the valley so we could catch an amazing view of the sunset. The colors in Morocco are out of this world.
We arrived to the hotel shortly after, where I was given my own comfy bedroom and bathroom with a balcony, and we were given a delicious and huge dinner to end the day.
DAY 2: JOURNEY THROUGH THE SAHARA DESERT AND CAMEL TREKKING
Thanks to my own little balcony off my hotel room, I was able to get up early the next morning to see if I could catch a bit of the sunrise, and it did not disappoint.
Our first stop of the day was The Todra Gorge. The gorge lies between the Atlas Mountains and the Anti-Atlas Mountains, and was once used as a defense position for many local Berber communities.
Abraham dropped us off at the side of the road near the beginning of the gorge, and then allowed us to explore at our own pace while he waited with the car at the other end. It was so nice to be able to leisurely stroll through the gorge!
Camel Trekking through Erg Chebbi
The rest of the morning/early afternoon was spent driving to Merzouga, the town where our Saharan adventure would begin!
Erg Chebbi is the name given to the sand dunes that lie just outside Merzouga. At their highest, they can reach upwards of 150m tall, and is spread out over 50 kilometers, almost right up to the Algerian border.
After stopping for a short time at Riad Saturday Night (a place that, while we didn’t stay there overnight, was absolutely gorgeous and, if you do get the chance to stay overnight in Mergouza, it is definitely a place worth checking out), we packed what we needed for the night (leaving the rest behind in the riad), and set off to meet our camel companions!
Meet Bob Marley. I’m not sure that’s his actual name, but it’s the one they told me when I first asked, and I liked it. So everyone? Meet Bob Marley.
Now Bob and I had some good times over the next 2 hours while we made our way to the Berber camp for the evening, but let me tell you Bob, you are NOT the most comfortable mode of transportation. I think my butt was sore for like 3 days.
But when you have views like this, your literal pain in the butt gets pushed aside for a while as you snap as many pictures as humanly possible of the golden sand dunes.
Arriving at our Berber Camp for the Evening
After dismounting from Bob Marley (slightly terrifying – if you’ve ever been on a camel, you know), we made the quick trek to the Berber camp where we would be spending the evening.
And let me tell you, it was WAY fancier than I was expecting. In a good way though. Especially for someone who has spent a large part of the past year and a half in hostels. This was heaven. Especially since I got my own tent, my own bed, and bathroom with a running toilet!
Watching the Sun Set Over the Sahara Desert
The timing of our arrival to the Erg Chebbi sand dunes couldn’t have been more perfect, as we got there about an hour before sunset. After putting our things in our tents, the 5 of us immediately set off up the nearest sand dunes to get the best seat in the house.
Walking uphill in sand is no joke, folks. But after spending so much time over the past few days sitting in a car, exercise of any kind was welcome.
Especially when, once you made it to the top, THIS was your view.
Lots of pictures were taken as we soaked in the amazing scenery that surrounded us.
Then it was time for the main event! We all just sat there on the edge of the sand dune, watching the colors of the sand change as the sun began to set.
And boy was it one hell of a sunset.
This sunset is definitely up there with one of the most incredible of all time (might even beat out the ones on Koh Lanta in Thailand!).
As soon as that sun dipped behind the horizon, however, it was time to head back to camp.
Interesting fact about desert sand? It gets cold really fast.
After a HUGE and delicious supper, it was time for some Berber music and drumming around the campfire.
Huddled around the fire for warmth, it was so much fun listening to the 3 Berber gentlemen sing at the top of their lungs and beat their drums as loud as they could.
After they were tired of singing and the fire started dying, we all sat together and chatted, told jokes, and tried to solve the many riddles the Berber men had up their sleeves.
Then the stars came out. With so little light pollution in the area they were truly magnificent. I don’t have a picture as my camera wasn’t a fan of me trying to take long exposure night photos, but trust me, it was spectacular.
Pro tip: If you do spend a night in the desert, BRING WARM CLOTHES. Especially if you’re going to be there in the winter. I wore all my clothes to bed, had 4 blankets on me, and I was still freezing for most of the night.
DAY 3: SUNRISES, MORE CAMEL TREKKING, AND BACK TO MARRAKECH
Bright and early we were all awoken to the sound of “Hello! Everyone up! Sunrise!” I threw on my hat and gloves, stumbled out of bed and out of my tent, and continued to stumble up the sand dunes once again to watch the sunrise.
Was it just as worth the physical exertion as it was for the sunset the evening before? You tell me.
I’m going to go with a resounding YES.
We were summoned from the sand dunes to jump back on our camels for the return trip to Riad Saturday Night in Mergouza, where we would have breakfast and the opportunity for a shower if we wanted one.
I didn’t have Bob Marley this time, and while I never did find out the real name of camel #2, I dubbed him Bob Marley Jr. and, of course, had to take a camel selfie. Obviously.
The last day was basically just one long driving session. Abraham was always willing to pull over if we wanted to get out and take a picture, or if we got hungry and wanted a snack, and while he offered to stop for lunch along the way, we were all in agreement that snacks on the go would be just fine if it would get us back to Marrakech quicker.
My 3 day/2 night Saharan adventure with Camel Trekking was more than I could have hoped for. I want to especially say thank you to our amazing guide Abraham, as he made the trip so relaxed and enjoyable, and he was a pleasure to talk to.
PRICE: This tour is probably middle of the ground as far as price goes. I’ve seen/heard of many tours that are several hundred dollars, and then there are those a few friends of mine went on through their hostels which were about $80. Omar’s tour with Camel Trekking will only set you back $150, and that includes all transportation, lodging, your knowledable guide, breakfast, and dinner. Lunches and snacks are the only extras I paid for while on this tour, and even then, we were brought to very reasonably priced restaurants.
For you solo travelers, the treks you might find through the hostels might be cheaper, but from talking to many people who went on these tours through their accommodation in Marrakech, I think the little extra money for a tour with a company like Camel Trekking is 100% worth it.
BRING: Bring with you enough money to get you through the duration of the tour (including a tip for your guide at the end), warm clothing including hats and gloves for the night time in the desert, a scarf to create the head turban to wear on your camel ride, water and snacks if you’d like (or you can always pick them up on the road), and lots of extra batteries and memory cards for your camera!
Camel trekking through the Sahara Desert was an unforgettable experience. If you ever find yourself in Morocco (as everyone should at some point in their lives), and you also feel the burning desire to make the trek out to the world’s largest desert, make sure to check out Camel Trekking, and if Abraham is your guide, tell him I said hello!
Oh and fair warning – you’ll be finding sand in your shoes for MONTHS after. No joke. I’m still finding bits of orange sand in my socks.
Disclaimer: Thank you so much to Omar and Camel Trekking for providing me with a discount on this adventure so I could share it with all of you! Just like everything else on my blog, all thoughts and opinions are honest and my own.
Have you ever been camel trekking in the Sahara? Do you agree that riding a camel is just NOT comfortable?