The Biggest Mistakes Travelers Make When booking a Sahara Tour in Morocco
The Sahara desert has been known to be a unique destination for a lot of off the beaten path travellers from all over the world, something about the wilderness of the golden dunes lures those who seek complete retreat from the hectic day to day city life to board on a sahara tour in Morocco.
The desert and its remoteness is exceptional in itself, whether you stay in a Berber tent with minimal basic camping, or in fine glamping luxury tents like a nomad king or queen. The Sahara tour in Morocco is different from a supplier to another and so depending on your lifestyle, there are different levels of camping and experiences to choose from.
However, most people travelling to Morocco don’t necessarily plan the 101 details to make their journey worthwhile. We’ve been getting so many emails and requests from our clients and readers who want to go to the desert but don’t have an idea of the logistics, distances, accommodation and itineraries needed for them to experience the Sahara tour in Morocco fully. And so, we decided to break everything down in one article.
Most mistakes and false assumptions are related to time and distance – the Sahara desert is far; it’s a long, long drive from any city in Morocco. There are some key elements that you need to know before booking your desert trip in Morocco. Let’s start by one of the most common questions our travellers ask us about the Sahara tour in Morocco:
TIME & DISTANCE
If you don’t have the time and want to experience the desert only, we recommend our travellers two options: Either arranging flights from Marrakech to Errachidia and you’ll have only 2-3 hours of driving to the dunes.
Or forget about the Sahara desert altogether (unless you have more time) and opt for a glamping experience in Agafay desert (only an hour drive from Marrakech). Similar camping, however, the scenery is different, the rocky desert of Agafay is still stunning, and the landscape of the Atlas Mountains on the horizon really make up for it.
Now, the reason that this is confusing for most travellers is because there are actually three areas in Morocco where you can experience camping in the desert.
Most people also confuse this with Zagora (Zagora is a small town with nothing to do, so don’t expect any dunes there), you’ll need to reach Mhamid and drive at least an hour and a half off-road to reach the dunes and the real secluded camps in the area. From Marrakech, this is a 9/10 hours drive one way.
These are the south-eastern Sahara desert dunes, as I explained above, this would require at least 4-5 days for a leisurely drive every day while getting to see the highlights along the way, Ait Ben Haddou, Todra Gorges, Skoura etc.. However, this can be done in 3 days. Still, we honestly do not recommend it due to a lot of driving and no time to actually experience the desert (which is the reason most people go all this way in the first place).
Think of this as when you absolutely have no time, and you can only afford one day from Marrakech and back, to make up for it, Agafay is a great retreat from the often crowded and busy city.
Let’s cut to the chase, here are 10 of the biggest mistakes people make when travelling to the Sahara desert of Morocco:
1. As explained before, the first mistake that people make is to underrate the amount of driving and distance required to reach the desert. We recommend at least 4-5 days from Marrakech / Fes. The journey is not comfortable, from Marrakech, you will need to cross the Atlas Mountains which will take one-day minimum. There are plenty of ads and people (if you’re in Morocco already) trying to sell you a one day or two to the desert. One day is definitely not possible, the 2 days are just not worth it, but doable. The 3 days are super tiring and will make you exhausted.
Keep in mind that in Morocco the word “No” almost doesn’t exist, and so if you ask to go to the desert during a lunch break from Tangier, I’m sure someone will tell you Yalla, let’s go! Take a four days minimum from Marrakech so you can enjoy the desert and see the highlights along the way.
2. Booking a Sahara tour when arriving in Morocco: This may be a more affordable way, especially if you’re looking into going on a shared group tour. However, there are many key components to the journey to think about and tailor upon your likes and wishes. There are so many things to see and do in and along the way to the desert. Take your time planning your trip and don’t rush or take a typical three days tour, you will regret missing some of the highlights and not having enough time in the desert – that’s the reason you’re taking this multi-day journey after all. On a three days trip, you may, or may not reach the camp by sunset, and you will be leaving at sunrise, that’s around 10-12 hours in the desert, most of which, you will be sleeping.
3. Driving from Fes to Merzouga (Erg Chebbi dunes) is around 10 hours, the road is dull, and there is almost nothing to see/do along the way. Try to put your itinerary together in a way, so you don’t make this journey. Feel free to contact us so we can plan your trip the right way, we’ve been going on this trip many times, and so we know what would work best for you depending on how much time you have and what kind of traveller you are.
4. Not being prepared: Most people think the desert is hot and you’re not going to be needing any warm clothing. WRONG! The desert is quite cold at night, and so expect to take with you multiple layers of clothing and some warm socks at night. Even if you book those “wannabe” luxury desert tours, your camp will likely need to be heated and so for the love of God, prepare well for your desert tour in Morocco. Apart from clothing, remember things such as sunglasses, sunscreen, closed shoes, headlamp or flashlight, toiletries, first-aid, a hat or scarf to protect you from the sun and dust, and last but not least, your power bank and camera. If you’re going to be riding in a camel to your camp, remember to take a small bag or backpack to carry your necessities (the camp will usually arrange to take the rest of your luggage).
5. Forget the idea of driving yourself, unless you’re a professional or extremely experienced driver AND you have a really good all-terrain vehicle – taking a small rental car on a 20 hours drive in 3 days will take its toll on you. While driving in Morocco is fine (highways connecting all major cities), the road to the desert is tiring, challenging to drive and will make you too exhausted to enjoy the sceneries of your journey, remember, this is your holiday after all.
6. Booking a shared tour: In our opinion, the desert is about seclusion and remoteness, if you’re going to be travelling by a big bus loaded with tourists, or worse, arriving in the mass camping sites around the dunes, better stay home! Take your family or group of friends together if you don’t want to be alone and experience the quiet and out-of-this-world silence of the Sahara desert, the right way. Yes, it’s a little more expensive to book a private tour to the desert. However, you will not regret it. We recommend to bring together a group of 5-6 friends/family members and share the costs of private transport. The camps and hotels vary, however, at least, you have the option to choose and tailor the trip accordingly when you book a private desert tour compared to the mass packaged tours that you can get from the endless list of companies out there.
7. Choosing the wrong time to visit the desert: The best time would be during Spring or fall – September, October up to November, March, April and May are also good times, and temperatures are comfortable. During the winter (December to January) the nights can go below zero degrees. The summer between June and August will be sweltering with temperatures over 50C degrees/ around 120F degrees. Expect some sandstorms between January and May.
8. Underrating the hot desert and sunny climate: You are going to one of the hottest areas in the world, so stock up on 70+ sunscreen, especially if you’re travelling with kids, you’re going to apply sunscreen every couple of hours. Take some loose, light, breathable and long clothing to protect you from sunlight. Make sure the vehicle you’re travelling with has A.C, you’ll be spending long, long hours on the road.
9. Going on a camel ride from the town to the camp: Riding camels is not easy, those animals are enormous, bigger than horses, and the saddles are not comfortable. If you’re going to ride, make sure you find out how long is the camel ride. I rode a camel for 20 minutes, and it felt like I was doing squats for an hour non-stop, the pain is unbearable. Remember to take some long pants; the camel fur is not soft, contrary to how it looks. Riding a camel is NOTHING like riding horses, they move in an awkward pace, which makes the ride pretty uncomfortable. Most of the time, the saddle will feel as if it’s coming off, don’t worry, just adjust your position, and you’ll be fine. Depending on how long you’ll be riding, keep in mind that you’ll probably have sore muscles for the next two days!
If you’re going to Erg Chebbi, expect over an hour camel ride from Merzouga, if however, you’re going to Erg Chegaga, you’ll be spending half a day on your camel ride, be prepared and remember to ask how long the camel ride is. For those who would rather not come close to those giant beasts, get yourself a 4×4 trip to the campsite. Most camps will offer the option to come to pick you up from the closest town (Merzouga or Mhamid).
10. Remember to make sure you’re at the camp by sunset and wake up before sunrise. The sun on the golden horizon of the Sahara dunes is a must-see on your Desert Tour in Morocco. The views and the changing colours are incredible, expect to see one of the best sunsets and sunrises in the world!
Summary: To sum up all of this, the desert tour in Morocco is far, rough and unforgiving. Don’t underestimate the harsh reality of this trip, be prepared and make sure you plan your journey right, I don’t want to scare you, it’s possible to do it, we’ve had families travelling with their kids and they had a great time.
However, you need to be well prepared and know exactly where you’re going when booking a Sahara tour in Morocco. The desert is vast, and there are many areas to camp, the road trips are fun, if you have enough time and you know where to stop. Are you planning your trip to Morocco soon and want to add the desert to your itinerary? Don’t get confused and don’t rush it, contact us and we’ll be happy to reach out with a plan so you don’t miss anything and travel at a comfortable pace.
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