It’s mid-April and, contrary to what we were initially expecting, it’s actually getting pretty chilly here. We’re in Ouarzazate, settling into our riad in the late afternoon and eagerly discussing tomorrow’s big adventure: we’re going to see the Sahara Desert.
Being in the Sahara Desert was something I had probably never even imagined in my wildest dreams. I had once gotten a sneak-peak at its mind-blowing vastness from an airplane window while flying into Mozambique to visit my boyfriend, but even then it had been hard to wrap my mind around it all.
My sisters and I were buzzing. In my head, my imagination was running wild with thoughts of seeing an oasis, getting lost among the countless golden dunes and feeling the warm sun on our skin while we trekked on a camel’s back.
The next day couldn’t come soon enough. We hopped on our rented van in the morning and headed across Skoura, the Rose Valley and even stopped at the Gorges Todra on the way to the Sahara. Lunch was served at a beautiful place by the pool and then we were ready to dive into the desert. From there, a 4WD took us to the edge of the Sahara where we met our camel buddies to trek to the Erg Chebbi dunes.
The real adventure was only just beginning.
Trekking on a Camel’s Back
I’m kind of a princess with some things in life and one of those things is riding on animals’ backs. Long story short: I was born with my right leg unattached to my hip and had to wear a cast for almost a year to make sure everything was put in its place. While I’m perfectly healthy and lead an absolutely normal life, there is one thing I don’t have and that is flexibility (at least in my right leg/hip). That means that I have to ride animals sitting sideways. And that I did.
I hopped on George’s back (George was the name I gave to my camel because why not), sat up sideways and off we went. I have to admit: while the whole experience of getting on a camel’s back for the first time is wild (you lean aaaalll the way forward before getting back to a 90º angle with the ground again) it’s a little wilder while sitting sideways with nothing to support you other than your big, muscular weak arms.
But George and I got along really well and so off we went.
Two Berber guides led our string of camels through the dunes somehow knowing exactly where we were headed even though every new sand dune looked exactly like the one we had just passed. As for me, I easily fell into George’s thudded rhythm and let my mind wander while the golden sandy landscape left me feeling completely hypnotized.
The sun was setting which made the entire scene around us glow even more intensely. At one point, our guides invited us to stop at the top of a dune to take in the sunset (and take some photos, of course!). It is just an indescribable experience to run your hands through the grainy sand, feel its warmth as you lie on your back and look out onto a sea of endless golden dunes.
The hour-long trek went by too quickly and as we reached our camp in a vast valley among towering dunes, the sun was already almost gone. It was time to settle in for the night.
A Night Under the Stars
Approaching the camp on foot felt funny, similarly to how you would feel out of balance when you step off a boat. I had already gotten used to George’s rhythmic wobbles and finding my own feet took a little getting used to.
Soon enough, though, my attention shifted from learning how to walk again to the fully-equipped desert camp that grew closer as I clumsily swayed towards it.
In the middle of nowhere (or, as I thought, in the heart of the Sahara Desert – we really only got to its fringes), there stood two massive sleeper tents plus another huge dining tent where we would be having a tasty tagine dinner later that night.
The night was getting cooler, but inside the sleeper tent it was almost impossible to tell. I put on some warmer clothes and quickly got to our dining tent for dinner.
The rest of the evening still seems like an enchanted blur straight out of a movie. The colorful tent, our amazing Berber guides, the warm tagine – it all felt familiar and foreign at the same time. After eating we headed outside and got a fire going under the starlit sky. The night wore on with magical sounds of traditional Berber songs and fun dances in a circle. It was a lively moment but, for me, it was just a happy background scene. The truth is, I couldn’t take my eyes off the starry sky – I felt them widen as my amazement grew that I couldn’t actually count how many stars I was looking at.
Eventually, the exhaustion from the day’s excitement got the best of me and I headed into our tent to rest. The next day, we would be watching the sun rise on Algeria.
The Last Hours
Even if you’ve seen a million sunrises in your lifetime, nothing compares to watching the sun rise on the Sahara Desert. The sandy dunes change colors as the sun comes up and a glistening shade of gold paints the entire landscape.
But to get this glorious view, you’ll first have to trek up a towering dune. It might seem impossible because it’s just so steep and it will take a bit of effort (as anything would when done before 5am), but it’s well worth it.
After a dizzy climb down, we’re off to breakfast on an outside makeshift dining area and then up on the camel you go! The trek seems shorter this time, as if I’m desperately hanging on to a fleeting moment while George, the sweet, sweet camel trudges onward too quickly.
Some tips to consider:
- Yes, you can take a day trip to the Sahara Desert – but I don’t recommend it. If you’re coming from Marrakech or Fez it will be impossible do take a day trip simply because it will take you a full day drive to get there. If you’re short on time and want to experience the Sahara by day, choose a riad in Merzouga as your base and explore the Erg Chebbi dunes in the afternoon. Frankly, though, I don’t recommend doing this at all. To fully experience the Sahara Desert you really have to be there and you have to be there for a while. If I could do it again, I would have easily spent an extra night at our camp!
- Erg Chebbi vs Erg Chigaga sand dunes. To experience the Sahara Desert from Morocco you essentially have two set of dunes to choose from: Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga. The difference is basically that Erg Chebbi are the most popular dunes and so have more infrastructure around (including more options for hotels nearby). Erg Chigaga offer a more rustic experience. Both dunes, however, allow you to do the same activities including camel riding, sand-boarding and more!
- When should you go? The best time to visit the Sahara Desert is in May and October since this is when day temperatures are milder. The summer months (June-September) are unbearably hot and in the peak of winter (December and January) nighttime temperatures drop below freezing. We went in April and, while the night was chilly, the temperature was fine during the day.
- The nights are cold! No matter what time of year you’re visiting, temperatures will drop significantly at night. While the tents will keep you comfortable, don’t forget to pack warm pajamas and socks! I’m known for being the most sensitive person to cold ever, but seriously consider packing warm clothes for this leg of your journey through Morocco.
- What’s the best company to book with? Our entire desert adventure was booked through Auberge du Sud and I can’t recommend them enough! From the kind Berber guides to the wonderful sleeper tents and the delicious food – we really had no complaints!
Would you want to spend a night in the Sahara Desert? Let me know any other questions you may have in the comments below!