My main reason for heading to Morocco, and flying into Marrakech, was so that I could visit the Sahara Desert.
Wherever you go in Marrakech you’ll find hundreds of tour operators offering desert tours ranging from 1 to 3 nights and the abundance of options can be a little overwhelming.
I decided to book through my riad as the prices they offered were slightly less than I found online. I went with the 2 night option and paid $70 in total.
What’s the difference between the tours?
The one night tour is for people who have a limited amount of time to see the desert and, in most cases, you’ll visit the sand dunes in Zagora. These dunes are much smaller and less impressive than Erg Chebbi, but a great option if you only have one night to spare.
The three night tour takes you to both Zagora and Erg Chebbi, and, well, I didn’t see too much point in spending a day going to the smaller dunes when I could see the more impressive ones!
What I naively didn’t realise when I booked this tour was that the Sahara Desert is really far away.
Like, two days of driving far away.
Fortunately, there were plenty of fascinating stops to make along the way, all of which helped us to gain a small insight into Berber culture.
First on the list was Ait Benhaddou, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a traditional mud-brick city in the high Atlas Mountains that has been featured in so many famous movies. Most notably, it set the scene for both Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator.
Fortunately for us, we had much of the village to ourselves and we able to wander around its alleyways without much disturbance from our tourists or touts.
After a very long and very tiring day of over 10 hours of driving we finally reached our hotel for the night, where I nearly passed out at the excitement of having wifi in the almost-desert.
And then I actually passed out from exhaustion.
The second day began at a horrifically early hour but today, I wasn’t complaining.
Today, I was finally going to see the Sahara Desert!
However, like the previous day, the journey wouldn’t be complete without visiting even more Berber villages. These ones were even more interesting — dry, dusty mountains, enormous gorges, spectacular waterfalls and lush green valleys, which looked wildly out of place in the middle of the desert.
Then, finally, we reached the start of the desert.
Over the next two hours, I watched the surrounding landscape get flatter and flatter, the rocks get smaller and smaller and the sand get more and more orange.
At 6pm, we arrived.
I was finally in the Sahara Desert and it was all I could do to keep from crying with happiness.
It was so magical. I’d never seen sand so orange, never seen so much sand before in my life. I loved it.
We were greeted by our Berber guides and taken over to meet our camels.
This was the moment I had been dreading.
Knowing the ridiculous things that always seem to happen to me, I knew that there was no way I’d be able to successfully ride a camel without having a near-death experience.
Which is why I was completely astonished to find myself gracefully hopping on top of the camel with perfect poise and courage while not having a panic attack.
Hey, I’m good at camel riding!
For the next two hours we rode deeper into the desert. I soon realised that although riding a camel on flat surfaces is a piece of cake, going up and down sand dunes is a bit of a nightmare.
You see, when you’re sat on a camel and start going down the steep edge of a sand dune, every step it takes has its feet sinking immediately into the sand.
Whereas to climb up a sand dune, camels perform some some sort of gallop that had my camera banging against my ribs as I fought to stay upright.
This was a lot harder than it looked.
There were a few moments of relief, however. The first of these when we dismounted to watch the sunset.
Our guides motioned towards the largest sand dune, at least 100 metres high, and we soon realised that we were going to have to climb it. It took at least 15 minutes to reach the top and I quite often felt like I was genuinely taking one step forward and two steps back.
It was absolutely worth it though, as the view at sunset was one of the best I’ve ever experienced.
An hour more of camel riding and we reached our camp for the night. Our evening was spent eating chicken tagine, listening to our guides play Berber music as we danced around the campfire, and racing each other up the sand dunes until we were too exhausted to move.
Of course, we all wanted to sleep under the stars that night, so we excitedly dragged our mattresses out of the tents and onto the desert sand.
Having spent my entire life in polluted London, I always squeal with excitement when I go somewhere without light pollution and can actually see the stars for once.
And these stars were incredible. With zero light pollution, you could see the Milky Way over the sand dunes and I was completely transfixed.
So. Many. Stars.
Once the campfire had been extinguished, we all settled down into bed and it was at this point when I felt an entirely new and unexpected sensation.
It was unexpectedly freezing and I had travelled with only light clothes in preparation for the desert heat. I had just a thin sheet to cover me. I was not going to be getting much sleep tonight, but for once I didn’t mind.
I lay awake for much of the night and saw more shooting stars than I thought possible, and before I knew it it was 5am and it was time to hike up another sand dune to watch the sunrise.
The sunrise was just as spectacular as the sunset from the night before. There was something so peaceful and relaxing about watching the sun rise over a landscape that had no buildings or people in sight. There was nothing but sand stretching out in every direction, fading out into what seemed like infinity.
We dejectedly traipsed back down the sand dune to our waiting camels and eased ourselves back on, grimacing at our rapidly appearing aches and pains from the previous day’s riding.
It wasn’t going to be a gentle ride back.
As I’ve said a hundred times before, the Sahara Desert has been the highlight of, well, my entire life. It is the best thing I’ve ever done and has kick-started my new-found obsession for deserts.
I can’t wait to return…
How to Book the Same Sahara Desert Tour as Me
I loved my trip to the Sahara Desert and I’m frequently contacted by people who want to have the exact same experience!
The first thing I’d say is that you have two options.
If you want things booked in advance: If you’d prefer the peace of mind that comes with having everything booked before you arrive, go for this tour on Viator. It’s $125 for the two-night trip, so slightly more expensive than turning up and booking on the streets of Marrakech, but the tour has amazing reviews and you’ll be in great hands. It’s identical to the one that I took, so you’ll have the time of your life on the trip!
If you’re tight on money: I’d recommend not booking your sahara desert tour in advance.Instead, you should turn up in Marrakech with nothing booked. I know it’s a daunting prospect, but it’ll save you a lot of money. I paid $70 for my two night trip that I booked through my hostel.
Where to Stay in Marrakech
In Marrakech, Riad Carina ($43 a night for a double room; rated 9.3 on Booking) receives a whole lot of love. So what’s so wonderful about it? Not only is it a stunning and well-designed riad, but it’s located just a five-minute walk from all of the main tourist attractions in town and is home to some seriously friendly staff. It’s quiet and peaceful, has a beautiful swimming pool, and an even more beautiful rooftop terrace.