A Night in the Sahara Desert

on November 16, 2016

Our whole trip to Morocco was astounding, but our night in the Sahara Desert was the gem on top of the whole experience. I want to share some of my favorite photos, and advice on how to get the experience as affordably as we did.

We booked our Sahara Desert tour through I Go Morocco, a company run by Moroccan people. It’s the cheapest option around – and booking online is cheaper than you’ll barter down to in the souks.

I Go Morocco lead multiple excursions, and have trips of varying length (up to 4 days) into the desert. We chose the two day excursion, for only €59, which included: van transport from Marrakech to the desert through the Atlas mountains, a sunset camel ride through the desert to a camp, traditional tajine dinner and Berber bonfire, shared yurts, breakfast, sunrise camel ride out of the desert, and van transport back through the Atlas mountains to Marrakech. Not included was the cost of lunch both days, and a few dirhams here and there for tour guides on our stop-offs.

The journey through the mountains is a long one, with various stops along the way. I wrote a separate blog post just about this road trip through the Atlas Mountains, which you can read here.

A few common questions:

The tour is actually advertised as the “Zagora desert” excursion. What’s the difference between the Zagora and the Sahara deserts? They are actually the same thing, but whereas the Sahara is a vast desert, the Zagora area is considered the “gateway” into the Sahara. The last town you pass before entering the Sahara is Zagora. We drove through Zagora into the desert, and then road camels for about 45 minutes (too long for my poor bottom), so we were quite well and truly into the desert. We couldn’t hear any roads or see any lights and I saw the milky way for the first time in my life – if that gives you a sense of how far into the desert we were.

Is it safe to travel to the Sahara/Zagora desert? I read this blog post full of terrifying potential animal encounters (think scorpions, snakes, lions ?!?!?!) in the desert, but we did not experience any of those things, and I wasn’t worried about that whatsoever. More importantly, though, there are travel advisories against travel to the Western Sahara. This is because this is a disputed territory, has a lack of embassy presence, poor transport/roadways, and documented high risk of terrorist activities. However, Zagora is far north of where is determined the “Western Sahara,” and many safe and popular tours frequent this part of the desert. I also think it’s important to be critical of travel warnings and do your own research before following them point-blank!

How far is the desert from Marrakech? FAR. It took about 8-9 hours (including stop offs) to get from Marrakech to our camels on the edge of Zagora. So I wouldn’t recommend this excursion if you hate cars, or if you’re only in the country for a couple days!

 

Onto the good stuff…

We booked a group excursion (you can read a bit about our motley crew here) and I have absolutely no regrets. It was so hilarious and interesting meeting these fellow travelers, and we not only bonded as a group but I felt more safe because of them.

^^The squad processes into the desert via camel

^My camel and I brought up the rear of the procession so nobody was behind me to judge my selfies…

The journey to our camp site took about 45 minutes, during which we passed some friendly rogue desert goats…

^ yo goats wassup??

^^pure joy.

^^ I fell in love with my camel. Her name was Moulay and she was the baby of the group – meaning she was the perfect size for me.

Sarah & Moulay forever!!

I can’t remember what Dan’s camel’s actual name was, but we called him Rodriguez and he was SO STINKY. Soz Dan. I think Moulay and Rodriguez were buds.

One tip I will offer that they don’t warn you about is that you need to be able to take all your luggage with you on your camel. We were fine as we both brought really small bags (we left our duffels at the Riad in Marrakech), but you’d be screwed if you brought your rolling suitcase on this trip! We had the option to leave belongings in the van, but I 1,000% wouldn’t trust this option as the vans weren’t always locked, and when we left them in the desert they were surrounded by a dozen children begging for money. I would take all valuables with you.

We arrived to our campsite just as the sun was slipping behind the dunes. The blue sky grew pink, starting from the horizon and fading upwards.

After dumping our bags in our shared yurt, our whole group pulled off our shoes and ran to the sand.

^The magical moment obviously called for some yoga.

^It felt so incredibly free, standing on my head, feet in the sky, feeling the Sahara desert sand all around me.

^Dan got his photo op as well.

The lighting was unstoppable.

We couldn’t help but play around a bit. Even rolled down the dunes a few times.

The yurts themselves were so much nicer than I’d expected. We didn’t shell out for the “luxury” treatment. Unlike some tour companies, I Go Morocco doesn’t give the option to pay extra for private toilets or rooms – but I honestly didn’t mind. It was all part of the authentic experience. I grew up camping, and compared to sleeping on the ground in the woods, this was luxury!

The yurts fit 8 people each, and we shared with the members of our tour group, who we had gotten to know so it didn’t feel like being shoved in with random strangers. There are thick mattresses for each person, with pillows and warm, thick blankets.

There were two outhouse style toilets a ways off from the yurts. To be completely honest, though, they weren’t very nice, and difficult to find in the darkness, so we ended up just using the “toilet” behind far off dunes. Once you embrace your inner out-doorsy person, it’s really not so bad!

^view from our yurt out into the opening.

^^The camels slept in a line a few yards away from the yurts.

Our group met up with about 4 or 5 other groups who’d traveled separately to the desert. For dinner, we all gathered for tajine in a large tent. I don’t have any photos to offer you of that because I was literally ravenous. No time for camera. Only food.

After dinner, we all gathered around a huge bonfire outside, where the Berber guides played drums and sang folk songs…and the occasional Shakira hit. I let out my YOLO side (or…You’re Only in Africa Once??) and had a good, barefoot, wild dance around the fire with a bunch of strangers I can guarantee I’ll never meet again. They passed around the drums and we did our best.

Eventually the fire died down and I found myself lying in the sand, staring up at the starriest sky I’ve ever experienced. It still doesn’t seem quite real. It’s one of those memories you don’t trust – it’s too perfect to be real.

The morning saw us up at sunrise, after I slept deeply through strong, sandy winds. We rubbed our sleepy eyes and were fed coffee, Moroccan mint tea, bread, and fruit. Everything was sand and silhouettes and a whir.

I found trusty lil’ Moulay sleepy-eyed as well, comfortable in the sand behind the yurts. She begrudgingly stood up, took her position in line, let me climb atop, and we set off through the desert.

^In the distance, we could see other tour groups setting off in their own processions, led by their own Berber guides.

^My favorite was this small group, slowly marching through the rising sun.

The 45 minute journey went a lot faster in our sleep deprived state, but I still managed to get a (very disheveled…someone forgot a hairbrush…) selfie en route back to civilization.

What are my final tips for a night in the Sahara desert?

-Take a very small bag you can keep on your lap whilst riding a camel. If possible leave your larger luggage at your Riad in Marrakech.

-Pack a toothbrush, toothpaste, and face wipes (there’s no running water to wash your face), a water bottle, and some warm clothes.

-PACK TOILET PAPER. You won’t regret this.

-Book through I Go Morocco for the cheapest price, we did the two day excursion.

 

Happy journeying, friends!

Sarah xx

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  • I wouldn’t mind experiencing a night in the dessert, camping and riding a camel! It looks like so much fun! #WanderfulWednesday

    • It was amazing! Although the camel defo made my bum sore hahaha

  • awesome! #wanderfulwednesday

  • Young And Undecided

    Wow! This sounds like the most amazing experience! definitely pin for later #wanderfulwednesday

  • Ellie

    It looks amazing! What a cool experience! Also, I had no idea about how to get tours to the sahara or anything so will definetely be coming back to this when I eventually make it to morocco! The sunset light looks incredible and it must have been fun to ride a camel!

    • I know it took us forever to figure it out – there’s a lot of companies out there that do completely private tours for exorbitant prices but that wasn’t what we were after! It was more fun to actually go in a group and meet people 🙂 And it was super fun to ride the camel but more difficult than anyone had warned me – I was really sore!

  • That last picture of the camels against the sunset is amazing! Your smile says everything, it looks like you had a great time!

    • I was so happy to capture that shot in the split second it occurred! It was a really magical time 🙂

  • I did such a similar trip, it’s actually crazy. Your pictures look almost exactly like some of my own! Haha .. the only difference is I did a 4 night, 5-day trip, so we made a few more stops along the way. I agree though that the driving was A LOT. All worth it in the end though. We hiked up some dunes for the sunrise (which was surprisingly difficult) and an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life! Such great info for anyone looking to recreate your amazing experience 😀

    • The driving was looong, but I think because I grew up in the USA midwest I was much more accustomed to the long roadtrip than the Europeans who we were with!

  • Woooo-eee!! This is so beautiful. And, you are so right about that lighting because it’s totally beautiful, I love the array of colours 🙂 What a beautiful post!

    • Aw thank you! I think they are the best pictures of the whole trip by far – that’s why I’ve been saving them up to post!

  • What an amazing experience. I was so close to Morocco earlier this year – it would have been so easy just to pop over from Spain, I regret not doing it now – but I am sure there will be other opportunities. You are right – the light was amazing!

    • That’s what I did – I took a short flight over from Madrid. It’s funny how when you go further south in Spain it gets very very similar to Morocco! When I was in Spain, my airbnb ended up being with a Moroccan family! I hope you have a chance to pop over next time 🙂

      • Yes – it was so Moroccan, my parents go every year so I get to go with them occasionally. It is a win-win situation!

  • This is so awesome! I will like to do something like this. I rode a camel once in Egypt. I felt more secure than in a horse. I will need to check the company you are recommending. Have to agree their price was really good. #wanderfulwednesday

    • It was definitely a bumpy ride but I felt like the camels were a lot more even tempered than horses haha. Definitely recommend their company – it’s a no frills experience but the best deal you’ll find, and we got so much for it!

  • How cool is this! And I love the camel selfie. This looks like a totally unique experience, and good to know you can do it on a budget as well (but you need to bring your own tp!). Your photos are brilliant!

  • What a wonderful, beautiful experience! You make it sound magical despite the slightly less than fun parts. I especially like the photo of the camels resting. #WanderfulWednesday

    • I think it’s the less-than-fun parts that make it extra memorable 🙂

  • I can’t even tell you how my I am in love with this post! Thank you, you answered all of my questions and more! P.s. how do you still look incredible even with no hair brush?

    • Ahhh yay!! I was gonna send this to you but happy you saw it 🙂 I’m glad it answered your questions, and I tried to include lots of links to our specific excursion! Let me know if you have any other q’s about your trip – we stayed in an amazing riad which I can recommend (also a crappy hostel which I can NOT recommend) but if you want any details just let me know! Can’t wait to see your posts on it. And yeah….I’ll just say sometimes filters are a blessing lol 😉

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