Essential Things to Know Before Your Overnight Stay in the Sahara Desert
After months of sitting on my Pinterest board, my dream of going on a camel trek in the Sahara Desert finally came true this past June ! The entire experience was blissful and surreal. The days leading up to our trek were incredibly busy, making riding a camel through the Sahara a much-needed meditative retreat. In that moment, everything slowed down: I soaked up the beauty of the golden sand dunes that surrounded us, sung Lion King songs with my friend, and took time to express gratitude and be in the moment. If you are looking for an item to add to your bucket list, this is it! It's the perfect mix of adventure and tranquility.
Here is a recap of my experience and the essential things to know before your overnight stay in the Sahara Desert:
The Sahara is far.
The Sahara Desert is about an 8 hour drive from Marrakech. Instead of wasting a day in a car, we took the scenic route and drove through the Atlas Mountains and made a lot of fascinating stops along the way. We slept in Dade's Valley and left for the Sahara the following day.
If you have limited time, book your tour in advance.
We were only in Morocco for a week, but visiting the Sahara was a priority during the trip. While it is possible and usually cheaper to use public transportation to get to Merzouga or Zagora and to do comparison shopping and booking in person, it is time and labor intensive. We didn't have the time nor the desire to go from shop to shop to haggle and debate options and wait another day for the guide to prepare the trip. Instead, we opted to book the tour in advance for convenience and to maximize our time. We booked the "3 days Marrakech to Fes via the Sahara desert" package through Morocco Easy Tours. They have other tours to the Sahara departing from Fes and Casablanca.
You can read all about my amazing experience with Morocco Easy Tours here.
Merzouga Erb Chebbi vs. Zagora sand dunes
The two main desert areas in Morocco are set around the towns of Merzouga and Zagora. Both are in the southeast part of Morocco, but are quite a distance away from each other and have distinct differences. Merzouga is more developed than Zagora and has larger sand dunes. Zagora's largest sand dunes are only accessible by 4x4 or trekking a few days by foot.
Given our limited time, we visited the Merzouga. We stored the majority of our belongings at the Le Petit Prince Hotel, which sits at the foot of the Erb Chebbi desert. Shortly after arriving in the evening, we walked to meet our camels, secured our backpacks, wrapped our scarves around our heads, and embarked on our adventure!
Talk to Your Guide.
Mohammad was our awesome guide who led our 2 hour trek and took some epic pictures of us (shout out to him for knowing all the right angles to capture!). He comes from a nomadic family that recently decided to settle in Merzouga. It was great talking to him and I was impressed by his navigation skills. To me, it seemed like we were just wandering aimlessly; however, I learned that he follows the dunes to navigate to and from the campsite.
Camel Riding 101
One of the first things I asked Mohammad about was what my camel's name was. He said they don't name the camels and suggested I name mine. So, I named my new bff Saleem, which means peaceful in Arabic. While I was super excited for my ride, I was slightly nervous. This was my 2nd time riding a camel, but my first extended camel ride. The most uncomfortable parts were the ascension and descension, because of the abrupt change of levels. During my ascension, all I could think was Lord, please don't let me fall of this camel in the middle of the Sahara with no civilization around me. After a few minutes, Saleem and I were cruising, I became mesmerized by my surroundings, and my worries went away. Riding on the flat surfaces were fine, although going up and down dunes required a bit more alertness.
Pro-tip: Listen to your guide's instructions on how to position your body during ascension, descension, and going up and down dunes.
After about an hour of riding, we dismounted our camels to climb up the sand dunes and run around.
We arrived at our campsite late in the evening. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that in the middle of the Sahara, our tent had electricity and there was running water on the campsite. We had a four-course meal, including the best chicken tangine I had during the trip. We shared the campsite with a lovely American family. The husband and wife were retired and sold their house to travel the world indefinitely, and their daughter joins them during the summer.
After dinner, we had fireside entertainment with live Berber music. It was so much fun! We sung our hearts out and danced the night away under the stars.
After all the singing and dancing, I was exhausted and thought I would pass out immediately when I got in the tent. Unfortunately, the tent was extremely hot and I had trouble falling asleep. I finally fell asleep around 1am, only to wake up at 5am to head back to the hotel.
- Small carry-on size backpack: You will need a small carry-on size backpack to store your belongings. Your backpack will be mounted on the camel's saddle handlebar, which doesn't irritate the camel.
- Sunglasses: Depending on the time of year you visit the Sahara, it may be windy. Sunnies are great for protecting your eyes from the sand and the sun.
- Scarf: A scarf is another key item for protecting your face from the sand.
- Long pants: Long pants are essential to protect your skin from the scratchy camel fur.
- Light jacket: The temperature during our trek was nice and warm. I only wore my jacket at 5am when the temperature was much cooler. But 30 minutes into my trek, I was really warm and took the jacket off. Bring a jacket to be prepared for the temperature changes.
- Sandals: I wore sandals with a secure back while riding the camel, but I took them off whenever we stopped for pictures. It felt good to run with sand between my toes. I wouldn't recommend wearing sneakers because sand will get inside them.
- Waterproof/dust proof phone case: The camel ride can get bumpy at times. Having a waterproof/ dust proof case that has a necklace piece helps prevent any potential mishaps while taking pictures and protects against the elements.
- Basic toiletry kit: Only pack essentials you will need for a night. I packed facial wipes, face wash, small soap bar for hand washing (this wasn't readily available in some public restrooms during our trip), small sunscreen, lotion, toothbrush, toothpaste, mini deodorant, hand sanitizer, and lip balm (the Sahara will suck the moisture out of your body).
- Bottle of water: The desert is very arid and it's important to stay hydrated. I bought a 1.5 liter bottle of water to last throughout the night.
- External battery: There was only one plug in the tent. My external battery kept my phone charged throughout the journey.
- Camera: The Sahara is a photographer's dream. Have fun capturing its beauty.
Is a trip to the Sahara desert on your bucket list? Have any questions about my experience? Ask away in the comment box below!
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