Imagine warm sand, soft under your feet, dazzling stars above and the hypnotic sounds of the drums being played around a campfire. Days spent exploring the golden sands of the Sahara desert atop a camel, taking in the sunset from the top of a dune which feels like the top of the world. Your nights spent stargazing and tucking into a delicious tagine. A desert trip in Morocco is every bit as good as it sounds.
My own desert trip in Morocco was actually my favourite part of my whole Morocco itinerary.
At my final meal in Morocco, I asked my travel friends what their own favourite experience in Morocco had been. Without fail, every single person told me it was seeing the sunset from the dunes of Erg Chebbi.
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What you can expect from this article...
- 1 Planning the perfect desert trip In Morocco
- 2 Things to do on a desert trip in Morocco
- 3 How to get to Merzouga independently
- 4 Frequently asked questions about Desert trips in Morocco
Planning the perfect desert trip In Morocco
Why you need to plan a trip to the desert in Morocco
The desert isn’t exactly an easy trip to make from any of Morocco’s major cities. In fact, Merzouga, the city closest to the Sahara desert, is a 9 hours drive from Marrakesh and 7.5 hours from Fes.
But don’t let that stop you as it will likely become a highlight of your trip too.
The Sahara is like no other place on the planet and is a completely unique experience that you will remember for years to come.
After the chaotic, noisy cities, a few days rest and relaxation in the desert will leave you feeling refreshed and ready for the next round of chaos in Marrakech or Fes as you continue your trip in Morocco.
My days in the desert were some of the few where I didn’t feel stared at constantly. No one was hassling me for money or trying to scam me. I slept like a baby at night in complete silence.
In the day I let my inner child play freely, rolling down sand dunes. I got up early and watched the sunrise bathe the dunes in pink light. I explored the vast deserts meeting local tribes and drinking mint tea inside a Berber tent.
When the golden hour arrived, we hopped onto camels and trekked to the highest dunes where we watched the most perfect sunset, the sun slowly dipping below the dunes.
You absolutely can’t miss out on a desert trip in Morocco.
Read next: Backpacking in Morocco – the ultimate guide
Which Desert should you visit in Morocco?
Most people choose to visit the edge of the Sahara desert from Merzouga, Morocco’s largest desert city. Here you can access the Erg Chebbi dunes, some of the largest, most vivid and most impressive in Morocco.
However, there is another option 3 hours closer to Marrakech and only 2.5 hours from Ouarzazate. Here you can visit the desert from Zagora. However, it is more of a rocky desert rather than a sand desert and I’d encourage you to travel the full distance and see the deserts near Merzouga for the best desert experience in Morocco.
How to plan a trip to the desert in Morocco
There are five ways you can explore the Sahara desert;
If you don’t mind planning your own transport to Merzouga, you can save some pennies by booking accommodation at a desert hotel of desert camp directly. You can then arrange activities like camel rides and sandboarding direct with your hotel or camp.
But I would urge you to break the journey in Ouarzazate as there are some great places along the way that you shouldn’t miss.
- Scrimp: If you love camping and don’t mind roughing it just a little, then you can get an absolute bargain at a basic glamping site like Berber and Camel Trek. You will still get to sleep in comfort in a proper bed within your tent and you can spend your evenings sitting around a simple campfire listing to drums or joining in the local Berber dance. Check it out here.
- Save: If you’d rather sleep in a hotel then consider this budget desert hotel, Kasbah le Berger. It is right on the edge of the dunes and has a beautiful swimming pool. Check it out here.
- For those looking for a more luxurious hotel, check out Riad Cafe Du Sud. The decor is gorgeous and just check out that pool! Check it out here.
- Splurge: If you want a more glamorous glamping experience then this place is incredible. Sahara Majestic Luxury camp is the sort of place you’ll never want to leave. Check it out here.
You can arrange your own transport to Merzouga then take a multi-day guided tour from Merzouga itself.
There are lots of companies organising multi-day tours from Fes or Marrakech returning to the same place which will include your accommodation, activities and some food. This is a great way to visit a few highlights along the way eg Ben Ait Haddou or Todra Gorge.
I would suggest booking in advance because they can get booked up in peak season. Also, since there are a lot of people happy to scam you in Morocco, I’d advise booking with a company who you know and trust. I personally recommend GetYourGuide who offer single and multi-day tours all over the world. See their trips below;
Alternatively, you can book tours which start and end in different cities which is great if you are travelling around Morocco rather than basing yourself in one city. Most trips start in Marrakech and end in Fes or vice versa.
You could also consider booking a guided tour around Morocco which incorporates a desert trip. This is a great way for solo travellers to meet other people. It’s also a great way to explore Morocco if you’re anxious about exploring independently and allows you to see a lot in a short period of time.
- G Adventures is my favourite travel company and I have travelled with them 9 times. All their tours focus on sustainable adventure travel and include visits to a few off-the-beaten-track places along the way. See their trips to Morocco here.
- Intrepid Travel is a very similar company who I’ve travelled with twice. A few of my friends have travelled to Morocco with Intrepid and raved about their experience. Check out Intrepid Morocco trips here.
Things to do on a desert trip in Morocco
There are plenty of things to do on a desert tour to keep you entertained for at least a few days.
You may just want to relax or cool off in the hotel pool. Alternatively, you may wish to join many of the adventure activities on offer.
Go quad biking
One of the popular ways to explore the dunes is by quad biking. I went quad biking in Essaouira and had an absolute ball. The lack of power steering took me a little while to get used to but by the end, I was whizzing up and down sand dunes. I can only imagine its EVEN better right in the Sahara desert with sand dunes stretching for miles.
Explore by 4WD
Another popular way to explore in the daytime is to hop in a 4WD. You can really gather some speed and cover a lot of distance enabling you to visit various tribes and villages.
We saw fish fossils ingrained in rock formations, explored an abandoned mine and sipped mint tea and ate freshly baked bread in a Berber tent, sheltering from the hot sun. Our tour finished with a drumming performance by the Sudanese tribes in the village of Khamlia.
Another great way to enjoy the dunes is to give sand boarding a try. Or alternatively, just have fun log rolling down the dunes like we did!
Take a sunset camel trek
As the sun starts to go down, hop aboard a friendly camel and head off into the desert enjoying the most stunning scenery. Don’t forget to capture some shadow photos!
Just before the sun sets, you’ll disembark your camel allowing them a well-earnt rest whilst you climb the highest dune for the most incredible sunset before returning to you desert camp or hotel.
Walk a little way from your camp or hotel (but not too far, it’s easy to get lost) and lie on the soft sand gazing at the stars. If you’ve never seen the stars from somewhere so remote before, you will be amazed by how much they sparkle. You’ll likely be able to make out the Milky Way.
Enjoy a Berber campfire
At most hotels and camps, there will be a campfire for you to join in the evening. Usually accompanied by drumming music and often dancing.
How to get to Merzouga independently
If you want to travel to Merzouga independently and avoid taking a tour, then it is best to break your journey in Ouarzazate.
Firstly, catch a SUPRATOUR coach from Marrakech to Ouarzazate. This will cost 90 DH, take 5 hours and there are usually 2-3 coaches each day.
Spend a day or two exploring the area around Ouarzazate then catch the daily bus from Ouarzazate to Merzouga which will cost 155 DH and take 8 hours.
You can book your coach here.
The total journey cost will be 245 DH plus accommodation costs in Ouarzazate and the cost of your desert trip in Merzouga. It may actually work out cheaper to take an organised tour.
Things to see on the journey to the desert
As I’ve mentioned before, there are a few must-see places on the way from Marrakech to Merzouga and so this section of the journey is best enjoyed slowly.
Here are just a few of the highlights you will get to see along the way.
- Ait Ben Haddou – this UNESCO world heritage site is one of the best-preserved kasbahs in Morocco. Various popular TV shows and films have been filmed here including Game of Thrones and Gladiator. Nowadays, you find various vendors selling souvenirs as you climb up to an epic viewpoint.
- Todra Gorge a series of limestone canyons on the edge of the High Atlas Mountains, great for hiking and climbing.
- Atlas film studios. Visit the studios where films such as ‘The Mummy’ and ‘Gladiator’ were filmed.
Frequently asked questions about Desert trips in Morocco
Is the Sahara desert safe?
There are parts of the desert which aren’t safe such as the Western Sahara and close to the border with Algeria.
However, the area near Merzouga is very safe and there are no rebel tribes in this area.
That said, it would be very easy to get lost in the ever-changing dunes so it’s wise not to venture too far from your accommodation without a guide.
What to wear on a desert trip in Morocco?
The same rules apply as for the rest of Morocco, that visitors should dress conservatively out of respect.
This means shoulders, knees, cleavage and midriffs should be covered at all times.
It can get very hot in the desert especially in the summer months so it’s advisable to wear loose, lightweight, light-coloured clothes which reflect the sun. Think long flowy skirts with light t-shirts tucked in or linen trousers with a lightweight, breathable shirt.
You may also want to pack a lightweight scarf. You will be shown how to tie this in a way that it can protect both your head and your face from the sun and from sand storms.
What to pack for a desert tip in Morocco?
- Plenty of sunscreen. The sun out here is HOT. Not only, that, but it is reflected off the sand so you are more likely to burn. Make sure you have plenty of high factor sunscreen when you leave home as it can be very expensive to buy it in Morocco.
- A hat. This will be useful for times when you are relaxing around the pool and need to keep the sun off your face.
- Most people chose to wear their headscarf in the Berber way. Partly to protect themselves from sudden sand storms. Partly because it looks cool in photos…
- Something warm for the evening. It can get surprisingly cold at night in the desert so make sure you plack some warmer layers.
- A swimsuit – in the heat of the desert, you’ll want to take a refreshing dip in the hotel pool. I would personally suggest a swimsuit rather than bikini to be sensitive to the local conservative culture. That said, hotel staff are used to guests wearing swimwear so it is not a taboo.
- A decent camera. You will have the opportunity to take some incredible photos in the desert. I personally use my Sony A7iii with a. Tamron 28-75 f2.8 lens. But if you are looking for a decent camera which is a little more budget-friendly, I’d suggest the Sony A6000 which is also a lot lighter!
When is the best time to visit the desert in Morocco?
Summer in the Sahara desert can be unbearably hot with temperatures sometimes exceeding 45°C whereas it can get bitterly cold at night if you visit in the Winter.
Your best bet is to visit in Spring or Autumn or possibly early Summer. The weather will still be warm, maybe even hot in the days and fairly cool at night.
- Backpacking in Morocco – the ultimate guide
- Solo female travel in Morocco – what you need to know
- 17 of the best things to do in Essaouira – Morocco’s hipster town
- How to get from Marrakech to Essaouira
- How to survive your first hammam
- One day in Fes – the perfect itinerary
Hopefully, you feel a little better prepared for planning a trip to the desert in Morocco. If you have any questions, just pop them in the comments box below. And don’t forget to pin it to your Pinterest boards with the pins below so you can come back to this guide later!