From the Atlas Mountains to the shores of the Atlantic, Morocco is home to an array of landscapes. One of the most notable is of course the Morocco desert, which is a part of the vast Sahara in the North African region. Here is where travelers flock from far and wide to experience “glamping” in the desert and came rides into the sunset.
I got the chance to see the Sahara myself on a yoga retreat in Morocco. In fact, we were one of the last tourists to visit the country before it shut down completely due to Covid-19. I do hope to return some day, and want to encourage others to do the same when it’s safe to travel again.
If you’re dreaming of visiting the Morocco desert someday, there are definitely a few things you should know before visiting. Here’s what I wishes I knew before going completely off the grid into the Sahara.
- 1. The Morocco desert is part of “the Sahara”
- 2. You need a minimum of three days to visit the Sahara
- 3. Most accommodation is glamping, with limited hotel options
- 4. A reputable tour with knowledgable locals is essential
- 5. You need to bring plenty of supplies and WATER
- 6. Plan for hot days and cold nights
- 7. Plan for service, wifi, or outlets
- 8.Riding a camel is epic, but not comfortable
- 9. There are still nomads in the Sahara today
- 10. You get what you pay for
1. The Morocco desert is part of “the Sahara”
While the Agafay Desert is only about 30 miles outside Marrakesh, most travelers mean the Sahara when they think “Morocco desert”. About the size of the United States, the Sahara is actually the largest hot desert in the world! The 320,000 square miles desert extends throughout most of Northern Africa and is between 2-3 million years old.
The Sahara desert in Morocco is located on the southeastern perimeter bordering Algeria and the Western Sahara. With little vegetation, the desert is filled with dunes and sand sheets that resemble waves in the ocean. There are some animals, but the most you will see are camels, which are used by the nomadic tribes.
2. You need a minimum of three days to visit the Sahara
Photo by Josh Telles
It’s a common misconception that you can take a quick day trip from Marrakesh or Fes into the desert in Morocco. Wrong. It takes at least a full day to get into the desert, and involves a lot of twists and turns along the way. It takes a minimum of 7 hours to get into the desert from Marrakesh and Fes.
You really need to plan to spend a full day of driving and at least two nights in the desert. Most desert tours from Morocco stop for an overnight on the way to and from the desert. Our tour stopped at Ait Ben Haddaou or the peaceful oasis of Agdz, which I highly recommend. You can read about these places in this 10 day Morocco itinerary.
3. Most accommodation is glamping, with limited hotel options
Photo by Josh Telles
There are “budget camping” options in the Sahara, but with terrible reviews. I would recommend paying extra for a clean and reputable camp in the desert. We visited the Zagora region in Southern Morocco near the Erg Chigaga sand dunes. This area takes a while to get here, but it was worth it to have the full “glamping in the Sahara” experience.
If you’d rather stay in a hotel, you may want to stay near Merzouga. This is a small village near the Erg Chebbi sand dunes. There are several hotels in the area, and you can take day trips to the desert by jeep, or even camel. This may be a better option if you’re short on time and still aren’t comfortable with essentially camping in the desert.
4. A reputable tour with knowledgable locals is essential
Photo by Josh Telles
I’ve seen other travel bloggers recommend renting a jeep and doing the Sahara on your own. Honestly, I don’t think this is a responsible recommendation. There is no signal in most areas of the Sahara. It gets to a point where there are no roads, and you’re just driving over sand dunes. Even someone from Marrakesh would have no idea where they are going out there.
That’s why I would definitely recommend visiting the Sahara with a tour group. This means you should book something online with verified reviews, especially from other women.
Photo by Josh Telles
- Jade is an American married to Adil, who grew up a portion of his life living nomadically in the Sahara.
- His other guides also spent a portion of their life in a part of the Sahara nomadic tribes, so they really know the way of the SAND (pun intended).
- It was such an honor to have them share their traditions of drum circles under the moon light and taking us on a camel ride at sunset.
- We became good friends with our guides, and felt completely safe and comfortable with them.
5. You need to bring plenty of supplies and WATER
I was pleasantly surprised by how well equipped our camp was for being in the middle of nowhere. But you definitely still need to come prepared. All camps arrange for meals (ours was included in the price), but there are no vending machines in the desert. You’ll want to make sure you bring any snacks you need and WATER. Don’t forget water. You can also bring a life straw to filter the sink water from the bathrooms.
Speaking of bathrooms, most camps have running water with showers, toilets, and sinks. These bathrooms are more community style, shared between everyone at the camp. You may want to bring extra toilet paper, soap, or even hand sanitizer. The latter was very helpful right at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak in Morocco.
6. Plan for hot days and cold nights
You’ve probably heard that the temperature can vary greatly in the desert. This is especially true in the Sahara. Even while we were here in the beginning of March, the temperature got up to 80 F in the day, and then below 50 F at night. You’ll want to bring breathable layers to accommodate you at any time of the day.
The dress code at our camp was not as strict, especially since we were doing yoga. We wore our yoga clothes during our daily flow, then wore breathable kaftans and head scarfs during our camel tour. At night I had a big sweater and about 4 blankets and I was still a little cold.
The thing about the tents is that they get really hot and hold heat during the day. So by the time you go to bed, it does feel comfortable enough to sleep.
7. Plan for service, wifi, or outlets
Yes, part of the Sahara experience is getting completely unplugged – literally. You should plan on taking a portable charger with you. Also make sure your electronics are all charged up. Most camps will have candles outside and then electricity in the tents. However, expect there won’t be any outlets.
You should also plan on going completely off the grid. Your phone likely won’t have service or wifi, even if you do buy a portable wifi service. This was interesting in our case, as when we came out of the desert after 48 hours, the world was in shambles due to the spread of Covid-19.
8.Riding a camel is epic, but not comfortable
Did you even go into the desert if you didn’t ride a camel? Camels are the gentle giants of the desert, and the nomadic tribes of the Sahara use them as their main form of transportation.
While riding a camel through the sand dunes at sunset was epic, I can’t say I found it relaxing. First of all, it’s a bit uncomfortable on the bum. I got a rash on the inside of my legs from my pants rubbing against the inside of my leg. This was because my camel kept biting the tail of the camel in front of me.
Also the smell of saffron spice combined with the stench of camel poo is something I’ll never forget.
Regardless, it was a once in a lifetime experience that made for a great story. If you do ride a camel, just have reasonable expectations that it may not be as romantic as you imagined, and that’s half the fun of it.
9. There are still nomads in the Sahara today
A lot of people throw around the word berber as a catch-all phrase for ALL indigenous people and tribes in Morocco. This is not accurate. Most nomadic tribes in the Sahara are Arab, not Berber.
Berber refers to those of indigenous decent in Morocco. However, Amazigh is the correct name here. The French named these groups “Berber”, which means barbarian. Amazigh is the accurate and politically correct term. Read more about ethnicities in Morocco here.
10. You get what you pay for
Lastly, to reiterate my previous point about booking a tour, you do get what you pay for. For many of the nomadic tribes, these glamping Sahara experiences are their livelihood. Support them and get the full experience.
That being said, some tours are way better than others. Do NOT book a tour with a random guy on the streets of Marrakesh. Going into the middle of the desert away from civilization is not something I would recommend doing on the cheap.
Definitely book a tour where you can get your own room (or with whomever you’re traveling with). Look for guides that have EXPERIENCE navigating the Sahara. Find a tour with local (and delicious!) meals included.
Or if you want to save yourself the trouble, join Traverse Journey on a 7-10 yoga retreat exploring Marrakesh, the Sahara desert, and beyond.
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*Disclaimer: I was a guest of Traverse Journey’s on this Morocco tour. All opinions are my own.