My favorite part of our trip across the country of Morocco was an overnight stay in the Sahara Desert. Arriving via camel trek, we camped under the stars with the indigenous Berber people who treated us to their traditions with the backdrop of beautiful sand dunes. It was an incredible bucket list experience that I recommend for anyone visiting Morocco.
We pre-booked a 3 day tour through Viator which was very affordable, and picked us up from Fez and dropped us off in Marrakech. So not only did it serve as our transportation between cities, but we toured what seemed like the whole country in between. (Day tours are also available to the Sahara, but I heard from other tourists that you can often spend more time traveling to the desert and not enough time in the Sahara itself.)
We drove through the Atlas Mountains with a quick stop in Ifrane, a unique town built to look like a Swiss ski resort, and the forests in Azrou where we fed the local monkeys. Winding through mountains, forest, and desert we arrived in Erg Chebbi at the edge of the desert, where we had some traditional mint tea (a common hospitality offering) and dropped off our luggage and grabbed what we needed for our overnight in the Sahara. We were a bit rushed and our guide wasn’t much of a communicator, so I ended up grabbing only my camera and a bottle of water, not realizing that we wouldn’t be returning for the night. It turned out to be all I needed. (Well, an extra bottle of water in the desert would have been nice.)
From there, we were each given a camel, tied together and escorted by a local Berber, and we were led at sunset through the dunes for an hour’s trek to our camp. We were joined by lines of camels carrying tourists from all over the world – our travel companions for the rest of the night.
If you’ve never ridden a camel before, it’s quite different from riding a horse. Sitting on a hump is less than comfortable, and you’re much higher up. Luckily there was a sort-of saddle that had a handle to hold onto and I was able to snap some cool photos as we traveled.
A local dog named Zia followed along and became my new friend for the night.
As soon as we arrived and dismounted our camel, I had just dropped my camera off in our tent and was immediately handed a snowboard. Yes, sand surfing on the dunes of the Sahara is as cool as it sounds… although, admittedly a lot more difficult – and I used to snowboard!
After a dinner of tagine and couscous we were treated to some traditional music. Sitting around a fire sharing stories with other travelers and dancing with the Berbers was the most memorable part of our trip.
Around midnight we followed one of the Berbers up the dunes to see the stars. He showed us how to write our names in Berber and despite the language barrier we tried to learn a bit about their culture. However we were not communicating well when he offered to take us up the higher dunes. We ended up hiking for about an hour into the dunes, which was not part of my plan. But we made it back to camp eventually and pulled some water up from the well before continuing to bed.
The following morning we were awoken to watch the sunrise (which was a bit cloud-covered) and even witnessed a bit of rain. Rain in the desert was not something I expected! We then climbed atop our camels and headed back to Erg-Chebbi where we were able to shower and eat breakfast before our driver picked us up for the second leg of our journey.