After having spent a full day travelling from Marrakech, it was time to continue my journey to the Sahara desert. As we crossed the Atlas Mountains, the green vegetation of the previous day would start turning into arid land as we approached Merzouga, the door to the desert.
Check out the second and final day of my trip, with stops at the Dades and Todra Gorge before spending the night with the Berbers in the middle Sahara desert!
How to get to the Sahara Desert
Mosts trips to the Sahara desert start from Marrakech and go all the way to Merzouga, the door to the desert. However, this doesn’t really mean that Marrakech is close to the Sahara: you will need to drive for over 8h each way to reach the famous dunes.
Visiting for one day is almost an impossible task, so the best option is going for a 2 day, 1 night trip to the desert. If you have enough time, you can also do two nights in the desert and stop in some additional places on the way.
There are so many local companies organising visits to the desert that you won’t even know where to start looking. Many tour operators will want to take advantage of the visitor and try to increase the price, so always compare a few of them. Prices in Morocco are quite low, so even if they double the price you will still find the trip quite cheap. However, doing some research will allow you to save some money that you can spend by helping the local artisans or tipping the locals, instead of spending it with a single greedy man running the tour.
After doing some research, I booked a two day trip to the Sahara from Marrakech with Marrakech Tours Trips. The main reason for choosing this company was that it offered a visit in Portuguese. Since all my travel companions were Brazilian and I can also understand and speak the language, we decided to book with them.
This company also offers visits in other languages, including English and Spanish, so they are a great option no matter what language you speak.
The trip had a cost of only €130 per person, and it included transfers from and to Marrakech airport, 2 nights hotel with breakfast in Marrakech before and after the tour, as well as transportation and a guide from Marrakech to the desert. For the first night of the tour, accommodation with breakfast was included in Dades, and the second night we would sleep in a bedouin camp in the desert. The facilities of the camp were first-class, including toilets and showers inside some tents, shared toilets with hot water and Wi-Fi all over the camp.
Overall, I was quite happy with the experience, although I did find some parts of the tour a bit rushed (which is comprehensible due to the huge distances), and some of the guides were a bit disappointing both in knowledge and how they interacted with the group.
I would still recommend this company in terms of price-quality. In any case, there are many other alternative companies to book the tour. I mainly went with this company due to the language of the tour, but if you speak English, Spanish or French you can probably find very similar tours for even a lower price.
The previous day we had already driven half the distance to reach the desert. We spent the night in Dades, so we woke up early in the morning for the first stop of the day, located only 10 minutes away up in the mountains: Dades Gorge.
I had already seen part of the gorge the previous day while we drove through the Dades Valley, but today we’d visit one of its most impressive parts, known as the winding road of Morocco: a zig-zag road of approximately 15 kilometres with a very peculiar scenery.
There isn’t much to it really, but the top does offer some great photo opportunities.
When thinking of the Sahara desert, we usually imagine the massive sand dunes with nothing around them but camels. However, on the way there you can visit so many different sceneries that it will feel like you’ve crossed 4 different countries.
One of the best examples is the Todra Gorge, a series of limestone river canyons that run for over 24km. With walls of up to 400 meters and a crystal-clear river running through, its natural beauty is undeniable.
The gorge is also very popular among climbers. During my visit, I could see up in the distance some very brave and adventurous people on their way to the summit!
Merzouga: the Sahara Desert
After more than 9 hours driving from Marrakech for 2 days, we finally reached the last city that could be reached by road: Merzouga. This small village located next to the Algerian border is considered the door to the desert.
If you’re visiting the desert from Marrakech, your tour will most likely go all the way to Merzouga, as the town is located right next to the famous Erg Chebbi dunes. As we drove past Merzouga, we could already see the imposing dunes at the distance.
I soon got off our van to meet what would be my method of transportation for the next 40 minutes until we reached the camp: a camel.
Due to the steep terrain of the desert, it’s almost impossible to access the bedouin camps by car. Camels have been the method of transport of the Berbers for centuries, and still is one of the most popular methods to go deep into the desert.
Riding a camel isn’t a comfortable experience. Their very peculiar way of walking will make you swing back and forth with every step. I had already ridden a camel during my trip to Egypt, but I still spent pretty much the entire ride terrified of falling while taking photos.
The views of the dunes and the surrounding landscape, though, were beyond compare. No matter where you looked, all you could see were these giants mountains of sand, with no civilisation for as far as my eyes could reach. My visit took place as the sunset was approaching, which turned the sand into a vivid red sea in a fascinating spectacle of nature.
Right when I was feeling that I had been riding the camel forever without any destination, I finally came into view with the bedouin camp in the distance, where we would spend the night.
We were received by the friendly Berber bedouins with a traditional tea while they showed us our tents. Many of them had a bathroom and shower inside, but for those without, there were shared bathrooms right outside. The facilities were incredible, considering that we were in the middle of the desert!
After some free time to go sandboarding in the dunes, we were presented with a very copious dinner. They had prepared for us the traditional tajine, but this one was very different from what I had tried before in Marrakech. Contrary to most restaurants, that prepare the dish in just a few minutes, the bedouins they had been cooking the tajine for almost a day. Although quite modest, it was one of the best dinners that I had during my visit.
We spent the rest of the night getting to know the beduins, who played and sang their traditional music for us. A big party formed very soon, which went well into the night. Although the experience couldn’t match the unforgettable night that I spent with the bedouins in Jordan, spending the night in the Sahara desert will be a memory that I’ll keep forever.
Next day we had planned to wake up to see the sunrise over the dunes, but unfortunately, the sky was so cloudy that we didn’t even bother waking up early.
After having breakfast with the bedouins, we started our way back to Marrakech. We had to drive in one day the same distance that we had driven during our 2-day trip! This took almost the entire day, reaching Marrakech late in the evening. We only had some time to rest before flying back home the next day early in the morning.
After having visited the north of Morocco a few years before, this trip to Marrakech and the desert was quite different. Marrakech is clearly a more touristic city when compared to Tangier, Tetouan or even Fes, but a visit to the Red City that includes a trip to the Sahara desert is an unforgettable experience that should be inn everyone’s bucket list!
All opinions are my own.