How to Plan a Desert Trip in Morocco
Picture yourself hundreds of feet high in the sand, atop a camel, surrounded by orange-red sand, while you watch the sun dip under a blue horizon. It's so quiet you can hear only the thoughts bubble up in your head. At night, a sprinkling of stars illuminate the night sky so vibrantly, you don't need a flashlight to see. You eat delicious, spiced food from steaming clay pots and sit around a camp fire with a glass of wine. What I just described isn't heaven. It's a trip to the Moroccan desert, and one of the best experiences I've ever had in my life. This guide will take you step by step to plan the perfect desert trip in Morocco.
If you're taking a trip to Morocco a journey to the Sahara desert dunes in Merzouga should be at the top of your list. It's one of the most surprising and incredible places I've ever been and I highly recommend it to everyone. There are a number of options and packages, and this post intends to help you plan your trip to the deserts of Morocco, step-by-step.
Our trip to Morocco was two weeks long. We spent the first week exploring the big cities such as Marrakech, Fes, and Casablanca. We knew that the desert was a long distance from the cities but were told the trip to the Sahara was unforgettable. If you're like me, you might think a 9-hour trek to the desert seems far too long. I can assure you, the desert was the highlight of the trip, and is absolutely necessary to go to when in Morocco. We booked our trip with Merzouga Luxury Desert Camps and traveled from Marrakech to the desert by car. UPDATE! Merzouga Luxury Desert Camps has offered my readers a 10% discount (!!!) when you mention “Helene.”
How to Plan a Desert Trip in Morocco
Want to plan a trip to the Sahara desert of Morocco? Believe me, you do. But the information out there on planning your trip to Morocco isn't always easy to find. This post intends to give you detailed steps on planning your trip. Whether you want a complete Morocco desert tour or you'd like to have more of a DIY experience, a trip to the desert is one of the best ways to engulf yourself in Morocco.
Why plan a trip to the Moroccan desert?
A desert trip to Morocco is one of my favorite experiences. I've never felt so at peace and enchanted by the natural surroundings. If you are the type of person that has trouble relaxing (me!), wants to see incredible dunes, diverse landscape, and escape the city life then going to the Moroccan desert is one of the best adventures you can have. After the Atlas mountains disappear over the horizon you'll spot the golden sand of the desert, truly one of the most breathtaking places I've ever seen in my life.
The Sahara desert dunes are shaped by the wind and are constantly changing to form new peaks and valleys. You'll mix with the locals who are wrapped in white and blue headscarves as you're whisked off into the sunset on a camel. If feels like a movie but it's real life!
The cities of Morocco are intricate and unique but often crowded and noisy. The desert of Morocco is the ideal escape and the perfect way to experience the beauty of the Sahara.
Which dunes should you visit in Morocco?
The Sahara Ergs refer to the shifting dunes in the desert. There are two Saharan Ergs in Morocco: Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga. Both situated in the remote south/south eastern desert region of Saharan Morocco beyond the Atlas mountain range. We ventured to Erg Chebbi which we found to look more beautiful of the two areas.
Erb Chebbi is a farther drive but the dunes are taller and a richer color. You can easily travel from all the major cities either by car – private or drive yourself, or bus. Morocco's Sahara desert is actually very close to the border of Algeria and on a clear day you might be able to see the neighboring country.
Where to travel from?
We traveled from Marrakech to the desert and it took us about 9 hours to get there and 9 to get back. It was a scenic drive with interesting things to see along the way. From the people who looked like statues painted into the sides of the mud colored structures to the palm tree oases filled with neon green grass, the scenery kept us busy.
If you're in the big cities such as Marrakech, Casablanca, or Fes, there are routes that will lead you straight to Merzouga and the desert.
How to get to the Moroccan desert
There are many ways to get to Merzouga (the city near the desert) from all the major cities. Options are: private driver, private driver with overnight stay (typically only gives you one night in the desert), bus, or drive yourself. I will illustrate each option below as well as show you the option and route we took.
DIY Moroccan desert trips
Many people will recommend, espeically those selling tours in the medina, to take a full two days to get to the desert. The route takes your from the city to the Dades Gorge where you'll stop overnight in an uncomfortable hotel and see the gorge. While it's interesting, in my opinion, there is no reason to stay there over night. I believe this is how tour operators in the markets keep the cost so cheap. The tour groups work with the hotels to keep the cost down. This usually doesn't include lunch or dinner and you are most likely staying in very primitive locations. In addition, you are only getting ONE night in the desert. I can't tell you how glad I was to have two nights in the desert and experience everything there is to see and do.
I would much rather pay a bit more and experience the desert and all the activities there. One night just doesn't cut it. I suggest booking with Merzouga Luxury Desert Camps for two nights as we did.
There are buses that take you from the cities to Merzouga. These are usually much longer than if you were to drive a car. Instead of 8 and a half to 9 hours expect to be on the bus 12-14 hours. Reputable bus options are Supratours or CTM. You can buy your ticket at the train station and go around 8 am to get to Merzouga that same night.
Most traditional routes whether you take a bus, private driver, or drive yourself are to go from Marrakech, Fes, or from Ouarzazate to Merzouga.
All inclusive Moroccan desert trips
If you book through places like Merzouga Luxury Desert Camps you will see various all inclusive packages but also find that you can choose to drive yourself.
Packages include your driver, your tent, food, drink, and everything else. It makes it very easy to get to and from the desert with little effort on your end. Especially if you have a hefty schedule in Morocco I would suggest this.
It is highly advisable that you book a place to stay in advance since many places can get very busy during high season.
Once you get to the desert, the real magic begins. Our stay with Merzouga Luxury Desert Camps was truly unlike any I've ever had before. We were greeted with hot towels, sweet mint tea, a private camp with only 8 or so people, an almost 1-1 staff that made our Moroccan food dreams come true, and a camel ride at sunset.
Before we booked our trip to the desert we did extensive research as well as listened to friends who ventured to the desert before. Many opted to book a desert tour once they arrived in Marrakech. This means that they were hustled by many in the medina for a relatively cheap trip. I do believe you get what you pay for here. If you want a truly exceptional experience in the desert, starting with comfort, I suggest you book in advance. We found Merzouga Luxury Desert Camps as it actually won the award for one of the best luxury hotels in the world! They also offered us the option to pick us up from Merzouga so we didn't have to worry about trenching through the dunes.
My own desert trip
For our desert trip we opted to drive ourselves and then chose the Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp for our stay. This included absolutely everything we needed- food, stay, camel rides, etc., but we just needed to drive ourselves to and from the camp.
At first, we were told the roads were treacherous and that we needed a private driver. After looking into this, we found hiring a driver would be quite expensive. But if you're looking for a more leisurely route you could definitely do that.
However, hiring a car was very easy and also ended up being a lot of fun. We rented our car through the reputable Majdoline Travel in Marrakech. They dropped off the car at our hotel and picked it up for us there as well. It also came with navigation which was very helpful since Google maps didn't seem to work on our phones. We paid 129 Euros for 3 days which gave us ample time to drive to and from the desert. Driving ourselves gave us the flexibility to stop the car whenever we wanted to take pictures. Of course, Merzouga Luxury Desert Camps offers packages that also includes drivers. You can see all the packages here. Remember mention my name (Helene) and get a 10% discount!
Driving was not hard, the roads were well marked, and I'd venture to say many of the roads were brand new. I had a friend tell me it was not possible to drive, that the roads were too dangerous. I found them to be mostly pleasant and that they must have recently updated them. On the mountain roads there were some pot holes and uneven spots, but for the most part they were not bad to drive. We did have to drive some mountainous roads but other than that it was fairly flat and easy.
Here's a look at the routes you can take. We took the most direct and found it to be accurate from getting for Marrakech to Merzouga.
Once we got to Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp we were amazed by the service and location. Situated in a valley of the Sahara desert you'll find lovely beige tents. The tents are complete with running water! You'll have a private bathroom, shower, and even a heater in some tents. The staff went above and beyond to showcase Moroccan hospitality. We were served breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the comfort of our tent, the restaurant, or out by the campfire.
Each day the chef prepared scrumptious Moroccan delicacies. We drank Moroccan wine, had hearty breads, meats, spreads, and more. I was shocked when offered a soft drink that they even had ice in the desert! The Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp offers a nomadic experience in the utmost comfort. The breakfast was particularly mesmerizing and made for an incredible scene.
Our large king bed was luxurious, the incense in the room was so divine I ended up buying it online (it was a mix of vanilla and heaven and I purchased it here), and even outlets to charge your cell phone or camera. I've never felt so at peace. It was so quiet and serene I felt like I was in my own world.
Aside from the few couples who had their own private tents the only other people were the natives on staff. Many of the staff are Berbers, the people who live in North Africa who have inhabited here for thousands of years. They taught us some key Arabic phrases such as “marhaba” which means welcome, “shukran” for thank you, and “Ahlan” for hello. We feasted on saffron chicken skewers, fresh cut french fries, piping hot tajines, and delicate desserts.
This was a first in a very long time to not have cell or internet service. And I can only think of one word for how it felt: liberating. I wasn't worried about checking in or missing an Instagram share. It just felt relaxing to be away from it all.
What to do in the Moroccan Desert
There is no shortage of things to do in the desert. I truly felt more relaxed in the Sahara than I ever had before. There was plenty to do to keep me busy in the desert or I could simply relax and watch the sun glaze over the sand.
Of course, the top thing to do is take a camel ride. We took two during our stay: one at sunset and one to get back to our car from the camp. The camels were surprisingly easy to ride and the views of the sunset were incredible. Camel trekking is definitely worth it.
I think everyone, at least once in their life, should experience a sunset in the desert. It's as if the sand changes colors, the light plays tricks on you, and you're able to clearly see the horizon unlike ever before. The pictures we took at sunset were some of our favorite of all time. You can take a camel ride or hike up the dunes to see the sun dappled over the apricot sand. The moments spent atop the dunes watching the sunset are ones I will never forget.
One of the highlights was our guide, a man over 50 who walked barefoot in the sand, leading us through the dunes. I found it difficult to climb the sand dunes but he ambled with ease to the top. He even had us “sand sled” and carried us down with blankets time and time again. I can imagine this is a great way to stay in shape.
We also tried our hand at Sand boarding. Sliding down the sand on a board is a fun activity that takes little skill. Just climb up a dune and slide down!
At night we cuddled up to the fire with a glass of wine and listened to traditional Berber music.
The real show, however, started with the stars. Since you're in such a remote location you're able to truly see the stars illuminate the sky. The best bet is to wake up in the middle of the night (we woke at 3 am) to see the midnight blue sky speckled with twinkling lights. It's unlike anything I've ever seen before! Truly, the best stars are seen in the desert of Morocco.
Best time to go to the deserts of Morocco
It can get surprisingly cold during the winter months. In fact, it can even snow! We were told it snowed just weeks before we arrived. We went in late February and found the temperature to be wonderful. It can be quite hot in the summer (temperatures over 110 degrees), and it's hard to walk in the sand when it's that hot.
The best time to visit the Sahara desert is either fall, late winter, spring, or early summer. This ensures the temperature won't be too hot or cold. We found it to be pleasant and nights were still a bit chilly. Make sure to bring layers such as jackets and scarves so you can dress accordingly.
What to pack for the Morocco desert
The temperature can really vary in the Sahara desert. From super warm days to chilly nights. I actually ended up bringing my coat because a friend warned me that she froze out in the desert. We were lucky staying in the Merzouga Luxury Camps with the exceptional beds, hot water bottles (I'm now obsessed with these!), and even in room heaters. I suggest bringing a jacket, layers such as scarves and/or a cardigan, flip flops, and tennis shoes. A scarf is great for keeping warm, keeping the sun off, or blocking the wind. If it does get windy you'll definitely want a scarf to protect your face from the sand and heat.
I also suggest bringing sunscreen, toilet paper (for the road trip – many restrooms don't offer that), and cash (most places only accept cash, even for gas).
My best recommendation is to make sure you book a tour before getting to Morocco. This will ensure that you know exactly what you are getting and all the amenities included. If you are reading this while in Morocco or are ready for your next adventure then head to Merzouga Luxury Camp's website and book with them! Get a 10% discount for my readers with code “Helene”.
Regardless of how you book your trip to Morocco I highly recommend that you take time to go to the desert. It's such a unique experience that will last you for a lifetime. The Moroccan desert is one of the most enchanting places I've seen and I'm already plotting my escape back!
Want more Morocco? Check out more Morocco posts here.