Sahara Desert Safari in Morocco
When you think of Morocco, one of the first images that come to mind is likely the Sahara Desert. This iconic landscape has been the backdrop for many movies and the destination of many travelers. In 2019, I had the opportunity to visit the Sahara Desert for three days. It was an experience I would never forget. In this post, I will share my impressions, including riding a camel and sleeping in a tent in the desert. Also, visiting Berber villages, meeting people, and tasting traditional food.
DAY 1: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
We started our journey to the Sahara Desert from bustling Marrakech in the morning. Our guide warmly greeted us and explained the three-day itinerary. The tour took us from Marrakech to Merzouga, through the Atlas Mountains, and into the Sahara Desert.
Setting off from Marrakech, we headed to Ouarzazate via the Tizi Ntichka pass, our first stop. The long journey was worthwhile with stunning views. Along the winding mountain roads, we marveled at landscapes, from snow-capped peaks to lush valleys. Our knowledgeable driver shared interesting facts.
A highlight was visiting Ait Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and backdrop for Hollywood movies. Walking through its narrow streets and alleys, built by Berbers in the 11th century, was surreal.
We enjoyed lunch with a view of the kasbah, where I indulged in my favorite dish, tajine. The local restaurant showcased delicious traditional Moroccan cuisine, and we appreciated the locals’ hospitality.
In Ouarzazate, we visited the restored Kasbah Taourirt, once the Glaoui family’s residence. It provided a fascinating glimpse into Moroccan history and culture.
Later, we drove through the Valley of the Roses to Tinghir, a small town at the Atlas Mountains’ foothills. Resting there was a relief after a long day of driving.
DAY 2: SAHARA DESERT
After lunch, we continued our journey toward the desert. As we approached Merzouga, I caught my first glimpse of the dunes. They were breathtaking, towering over the landscape like massive golden waves frozen in time. Arriving at the Erg Chebbi dunes, we were welcomed by camels and handlers.
Riding a camel
I have ridden camels before, but it has been a few years since I last did so. I was both excited and a little nervous as I approached mine, who was sitting patiently in the sand. Although warned about the camel’s unpredictability, I eagerly tried it, tightly holding the saddle. The handler helped me onto the saddle, then instructed the animal to stand up. The motion was strange at first, like being on a slow-moving rollercoaster, but I soon got used to it.
At first, the ride was smooth, and I enjoyed swaying back and forth on the camel’s back. But, I quickly regrated accepting such a young and inexperienced camel. She was fidgeting and shifting her weight from side to side. I could tell she was uncomfortable with the added weight on her back. My heart pounded, fearing I’d fall, but I managed to hang on. As we reached the dune’s top, the camel calmly walked.
In a caravan
We set off in a caravan, with the camels walking in a single-file line. The colors of the sand changed as the sun set, from a warm yellow to a deep red and finally to a soft pink. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures. As we rode deeper into the desert, the dunes grew taller and taller. It was an otherworldly experience, like being on a different planet. The only sounds were the gentle padding of the camels’ feet and the occasional distant howl of a desert fox.
Despite the initial scare, in the end, I enjoyed the ride on the young camel. It was an exhilarating experience, and I felt like I was truly connecting with the animal. Feeling her power and agility as we navigated the dunes was amazing. Try to ride a camel, even if it’s inexperienced, as it’s a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else. Just be sure to hold on tight and trust the animal’s instincts. And don’t forget to take plenty of photos to capture the memories!
Spending the night in the desert
As night fell, we arrived at our campsite. Many tents were set up, each with comfortable bedding and blankets to keep us warm. We sat around a fire, drinking sweet mint tea, enjoyed a traditional Moroccan dinner, and shared stories. We also listened to the music of the desert played by the locals, which added a magical touch to the already enchanting experience.
Learning more about the Berber culture and their way of life was fascinating. I felt like I had stepped back in time into a simpler and more beautiful world. We also enjoyed stargazing in the clear desert sky. The lack of light pollution made the stars appear brighter and closer than ever before, and we even saw shooting stars. It was a humbling and awe-inspiring experience to witness the vastness and beauty of the universe. It was a perfect opportunity to disconnect from the world and just be present at the moment.
Sleeping in the tent
The silence struck me as we finally got into the tent. There were no streetlights, no cars, and no noise of any kind. I lay there for a long time, just listening to the sound of the wind and the occasional rustle of a nearby camel. I fell asleep feeling more relaxed and peaceful than I had in a long time.
But an hour later, a strong wind and rain woke me up. I thought the storm had begun, as the outside sounds were very loud. Also, the air in the tent was so hot, and I felt like it was more than 40C inside. But when I got outside, I was shocked at how calm everything was. It was just an illusion of bad weather, only because we were sleeping in a tent in the middle of the desert.
DAY 3: EXPLORING THE DESERT AND VISITING BERBER VILLAGES
On the second day, we woke up early to watch the sunrise over the desert, which was a breathtaking experience. The dunes looked even more beautiful in the soft light of dawn, and we were lucky enough to witness a few camels grazing nearby. We continued our journey deeper into the desert, passing by small nomadic settlements and traditional Berber villages.
The people who live in these villages are some of the most hospitable and welcoming people I have ever met. They invited us into their homes, offered us tea, and showed us their way of life. Our guide, Hassan, was very knowledgeable about the area and its history and shared many interesting stories and facts about people and desert plants, and animals. He showed us how to find water in the dry riverbeds and navigate by the stars at night.
Ethnic groups in the Sahara
The Sahara desert is the world’s largest hot desert, covering over 3.6 million square miles in North Africa. It’s a challenging environment, inhabited by diverse plants, animals, and ethnic groups adapted to its extremes.
One of the fascinating things about the Sahara is the people who call it home. Many ethnic groups live in the Sahara, including the Tuareg, the Bedouin, and the Berber. Each group has a unique culture and way of life, but they all share a deep connection to the desert.
The Tuareg, for example, are known for their distinctive blue clothing and expertise in navigating the desert. They have lived in the Sahara for thousands of years and have developed a deep understanding of the desert’s rhythms and patterns.
The Bedouins are another group that is closely associated with the Sahara. They are nomadic people who travel across the desert with their herds of camels, goats, and sheep. They have developed a rich culture based on hospitality and communal living and are known for their intricate weaving and embroidery.
The Berber people
The Berber people are the largest ethnic group in North Africa, and many live in the Sahara. They have a rich history and culture and are known for their music, dance, and art.
Despite the harsh conditions of the Sahara, the people who live there have managed to adapt and thrive. They have developed unique ways of coping with the extreme heat, lack of water, and a deep spiritual connection to the desert.
Visiting the Sahara is a truly unique experience and offers a glimpse into a way of life that is very different from our own. It’s a chance to see some of the most breathtaking landscapes on earth and to meet some of the most resilient and hospitable people you’ll ever encounter.
Tasting traditional food
Throughout our journey, we had the opportunity to try various traditional Moroccan dishes. The food in Morocco is known for its spices and flavors, and it did not disappoint.
One of my favorite dishes was couscous, a staple food in North Africa. It is made by steaming small balls of semolina, a type of wheat, and serving it with vegetables, meat, or fish. It is a simple dish, but it is full of flavor and texture.
I also relished the tagine, a dish named after the clay pot it cooks in. Tagine offers a range of ingredient options, including chicken, lamb, or vegetables, infused with flavorful spices like cumin, ginger, and turmeric. The slow-cooked dish allows the flavors to meld together and create a rich, hearty meal.
The best time to visit the Sahara Desert in Morocco
The best time to visit the Sahara Desert in Morocco is during the cooler months of the year, which are from November to February. During this time, temperatures are more moderate, ranging from around 10-25 degrees Celsius (50-77 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day, and dropping to around 0-10 degrees Celsius (32-50 degrees Fahrenheit) at night.
It is advisable to avoid visiting the desert during the summer months (June to August) due to high temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day and dropping to around 20-30 degrees Celsius (68-86 degrees Fahrenheit) at night. These extreme temperatures can make travel and accommodation in the desert uncomfortable.
It is important to note that weather conditions can be unpredictable and can vary from year to year, so it is always a good idea to check the weather forecast before planning your trip. Additionally, it is recommended to book your trip well in advance to ensure availability and to avoid last-minute rush.
How to book a trip to the Sahara Desert in Morocco
Booking a trip to the Sahara Desert in Morocco can be done in various ways, depending on your preferences and travel style. Here are a few options to consider:
Book through a tour operator: There are numerous tour operators in Morocco that specialize in the Sahara Desert safari in Morocco. They offer a variety of packages ranging from day trips to multi-day excursions that include camel rides, camping, and visits to nearby attractions. You can find these tour operators online or through a travel agent.
Book through a hotel: Many hotels in Marrakech and other major cities offer desert tours and can help you arrange your trip. This option may be more convenient if you have already booked your accommodation in Morocco and want to add a desert excursion to your itinerary.
Book through a local guide: If you prefer a more personalized experience, you can book a trip through a local guide. Many guides offer private tours that can be tailored to your preferences, and they can often provide a more authentic and intimate experience.
Regardless of the method you choose, it’s important to do your research and read reviews from other travelers to ensure that the tour operator, hotel, or guide you choose is reputable and offers a quality experience. It’s also a good idea to confirm the details of your trip, including transportation, accommodations, meals, and activities, before making a final booking.
Tips for Sahara Desert safari in Morocco
If you’re planning a Sahara Desert safari in Morocco, here are some tips to help you make the most of your experience:
Plan your trip in the right season: The best time to visit the Sahara is between October and April when the temperatures are cooler and more comfortable.
Choose the right tour operator: Make sure you choose a reputable tour operator with experienced guides who know the area well.
Dress appropriately: The Sahara can be very hot during the day and very cold at night, so pack accordingly with lightweight, breathable clothing for the day and warm layers for the evening.
Stay hydrated: Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day to avoid dehydration.
Be respectful of the local culture: Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country, so dress modestly and be mindful of local customs and traditions.
Take plenty of photos: The Sahara is a truly magical and unique landscape, so make sure you capture plenty of memories to take home with you.
Be prepared for long drives when starting the Sahara Desert safari in Morocco: Depending on where you’re starting from, the journey to the Sahara can be long and tiring. Make sure you have snacks, water, and entertainment to keep you occupied during the journey.
Enjoy the silence: One of the most magical things about the Sahara is the silence. Take time to appreciate the stillness and tranquility of the desert.
Try local food: Moroccan cuisine is delicious and unique, so don’t miss out on the chance to try local dishes like tagine and couscous on the Sahara Desert safari in Morocco.
Take time to stargaze: The night sky in the Sahara is truly breathtaking, with millions of stars visible overhead. Take time to sit back and enjoy the view.
My three-day Sahara Desert safari in Morocco was some of the most memorable and rewarding of my life. I learned so much about the Berber people, their culture, and their way of life, experienced the beauty and vastness of the desert, and tasted Moroccan cuisine’s delicious flavors. I highly recommend a trip to the Sahara Desert if you plan to visit Morocco. It is a journey that will leave you with a new perspective on life and an appreciation for the beauty of our world.
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