Excursion to the Sahara Desert
The excursion to the Sahara Desert was one of the main points of our trip to Morocco. Although I rode a camel at the circus when I was 5 and had been in the desert in Iran, Anya still wanted to experience this unusual experience, and I was curious how it works in Morocco. In addition, we were supposed to spend the night in the desert – and that immediately removed all doubts. It was decided – let’s go! But here we poorly prepared, we have not read any reviews about the different companies, only looked at the approximate cost of similar tours on the Internet. In this post I will tell you how our trip to the desert was, and how to choose the right tour. Such a trip can be one of the most vivid experiences of your life! Read also:
The best time to visit the Sahara in Morocco In summer, the desert is too hot; in winter, on the contrary, it is cold at night. In the spring, there are often strong winds that bring up sandstorms. That is why the high season to visit the Sahara is the autumn months, especially October and November.
What kind of excursions to the desert are there? Morocco has a wide variety of options for getting into the desert. There are both general tours, where you share all the joys with a group of 10-12 people, and there are individual tours. They are also divided by time: there are 2-day, 3-day, and 4-day tours, and they have different programs accordingly. There are no one-day tours to the Sahara, the desert is far away from everything, and the transfer takes a large part of the time. In addition, there are different activities: somewhere riding camels, somewhere on a 4×4 jeep, somewhere on quad bikes and so on… There are two main points on the outskirts of the Sahara where all tourists are brought – Zagora (slightly more accessible) and Merzouga, marked them on the map at the bottom of the post.
How much do excursions cost and where to buy? The most popular cities for buying excursions to the Sahara are Marrakech and Fez. The classic and most inexpensive excursion is from Marrakech to Zagora for two days – 55-60 euros per person. There is an option to Merzouga for three days – 90 euros, for 4 days there – 120 euros. From Fez to Marrakech (or return) visiting both Merzouga and Zagora, as well as interesting places on the way – 140 euros. The price usually includes: round-trip transfers, accommodation in a Berber camp, dinner and breakfast in the camp, and visits to places of interest along the way. These are from the agencies you can find on the internet. Individual tours are many times more expensive. Read also:
How was our trip to the Sahara We found the company just on the street, did not read any reviews, and as it turned out, in vain. But you can, based on our experience, make a better trip 🙂 In fact, on the whole, it was very good, but there are nuances, the final impressions – at the end. We were attracted by the price – 500 dirhams per person, or 46 euros. The price included everything that was mentioned above. We bought the day before. Day 1 At the appointed morning a car arrived at our riad, a little late. The driver took us to a parking lot near Jema el-Fna Square, where several vans and lots of tourists had gathered. A man of strange appearance was distributing everybody in the cars. But we loaded quickly and left almost on time. The van was new, clean, and it was pleasant to ride. We had with us guys from Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, a guy from New Zealand and an elderly couple from the USA. Along the way, the city outskirts gave way to dry valleys, and then we began to slowly climb into the mountains. The Atlas Mountains look like Mars, lifeless brown and red slopes.
On the way we stopped at Ait Ben-Haddou, a local fortified town (kasbah) that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It looks fabulous, not for nothing that such films as “Prince of Persia”, “Gladiator” and several scenes from “Game of Thrones” were filmed here. Now only a few families live in the fortress, the rest have moved to the other side of the river to the modern village.
We also had lunch there, in some restaurant in the village. Due to the fact that tourists are already brought here, there is no competition, the quality of food is average, and prices are high. For example, a combo-menu that costs no more than 60-70 dirhams countrywide, cost 100 dirhams here.
Before lunch, there was an interesting trick: the guide says that there is a strong wind in the desert, and the sand will get into your eyes. But it’s okay, we now go to the store where you can buy real Berber shawls, they tie your head and eyes with them. We go to the shop, they present the goods for a long time, everyone buys pieces of fabric at least 50 dirhams (which stain the hands just from touching) to 100-150 dirhams (for normal ones)… Annia took her shawls, thoughtful Russians 🙂 But in the end, of course, none of it came in handy. If you go in the spring, you might need it in a strong wind.
Near sunset we finally reached the desert. A whole caravan of camels was waiting for us there. Imagine the scene: the rays of the setting sun, long shadows of camels on the sand, and we were riding on camels. This is not an easy thing to do! They wobbled a lot, tumbled from side to side, just to keep in the saddle. Fortunately the way to the camp was about a mile and a half or two.
The Berber camp consisted of large tents in a circle, with a hearth and carpets in the center. There were four people living in each tent, just mattresses with blankets. The restroom is the same tent, divided into several “cubicles”, and standing a little away from the rest of the camp.
As darkness fell, we had dinner with a large and pleasant international company, and then there was a small performance from the Berbers. Judging by the looks of it they didn’t really want to sing and play, but they made a great atmosphere anyway!
What stars in the desert! I haven’t even seen stars like that in the mountains. You lie on the carpet, look into the night sky and forget about everything… It was worth coming here just for the sake of it. Day 2. We woke up at about 6 a.m., maybe even earlier, had tea for breakfast and started our return trip. I decided not to go by camel, but to go on my own, but I took some good pictures. From the camel it is a problem.
On the way to Marrakech we stopped in Ouarzazate, where we saw the medina, a carpet factory, some guy who appears in many movies as Osama bin Laden. The fact is that the neighborhoods of Ouarzazate are very colorful (the landscape is like in Afghanistan, although there are oriental motifs, palm trees with dates and medieval castles), and therefore there are several studios.Excursion to the Sahara: Review For me, the most striking impression of the desert was the night sky. This is something fantastic, especially when you lie on the sand, looking dreamily into the distance, and all this to the sound of African drums. The camel ride was hilarious in general – our ass was sore for a few more days. In general, the experience was positive and we remember Siberian nights, how we walked in the desert, and took great pictures.
Excursion to the Sahara: Review For me, the most striking impression of the desert was the night sky. This is something fantastic, especially when you lie on the sand, looking dreamily into the distance, and all this to the sound of African drums. The camel ride was hilarious in general – our ass was sore for a few more days. In general, the experience was positive and we remember Siberian nights, how we walked in the desert, and took great pictures.
But the organization of the trip left much to be desired, at least the ratio of quality to price did not please us. First of all, they took us not exactly to the desert, but rather to its very outskirts, where the sand just begins. No barchans. The highway was a kilometer from the camp, although there are few cars. Second, dinner was still pretty good (or we were just hungry), but breakfast was no good. Tea and stale bread crusts and butter are not the kind of food you expect before a busy day. It is clear that it is difficult to cook something like that in the desert, but we are not 100 km deep into the sands, you could have brought mrdarins, watermelons, and fresh bread. Thirdly, we didn’t have a guide for the whole two days. At each stop a new person came by, and each wanted a tip for their services. One of them told many interesting stories and asked for tips as much as he could, and the other one not only said almost nothing, but also asked for a fixed rate of 40 dirhams per person.
Fourth, they bring in stores and quite a lot of them. Well, this is a tour classic in all countries. We were mostly a group of young people, students, so everyone has a limited budget and no one was interested in the stores.
I think many companies that organize tours at similar prices have similar disadvantages. If you want great service, be prepared to pay one and a half to two times more. What to look for when buying a tour? Find out what is included in the tour price. What will be the transfer, what language is spoken by the guide, is the meal included and how many times, what places to see, etc. Find out exactly what kind of accommodations you will be spending the night in. Traditionally this is a Berber camp, but the facilities vary: will it be just a mattress with a blanket or a bed with linens. Clarify whether or not the tour will go, in some small agencies may not gather the people. In popular firms with good reviews this does not happen, of course. They guarantee departures every day. It will be cool to know what stores will be stopping by, and if possible to refuse such trips. Keep in mind that it’s a long drive to the desert, no matter where you’re coming from. Six to eight hours on the bus is a little exhausting. The facilities at the camp in the desert are very basic, so don’t expect exorbitant service. There is often a fee when you pay by bank card at the agency, it’s better to pay in cash.
Is it possible to visit the desert on your own? I think you can, especially if you have a bit of adventurism. You just need to understand that you take all the risks and responsibilities on your own. You can get to Zagora by bus from Marrakech and hitchhike into the desert. You can take a tent, plenty of water, provisions, the right clothes and spend the night. It’s hard to be in the desert for a long time anyway, so I think one night will be enough. So if you just need to get into the desert and feel its “breath”, then it is quite possible to organize everything by yourself.
On the other hand, to do on your own exactly the same program as in the tour, will be problematic. Even if you can, the price will be more expensive. I just figured the cost of tickets to Zagora and back for two people, plus food – and it came out at a price almost the same as we paid for the tour (where everything was already organized, though not at a high level). Have a successful and memorable trip deep into the sands!
marrakch to desert