Some experiences are in almost every traveler’s bucket list, and visiting the desert is one of them. There is something unique and almost otherworldly about imagining ourselves in the middle of the infinite dunes: the sun above us, the finest desert sand beneath our feet, and an unforgettable landscape all around us. Our desert trip in Morocco was one of the most magical travel experiences we’ve ever had, and through this guide we hope to inspire you to plan your own and turn your dream into a reality as well.
In this post we tell you the full story of how we ended up desert camping in Morocco, and share all the details to help you plan your own visit. We explain the difference between a visit to the Zagora and Merzouga deserts, tell you all about our dreamy night in a luxury desert camp in Morocco, our itinerary to get there, and the things you need to take to the desert with you.
Our Time in Morocco
Our First Time in Africa: A Short Visit to Marrakech
The first time we visited Morocco, we went with Rui’s mom and only stayed in Marrakech for a couple of days. We considered a desert trip from Marrakech, but in the end, we realized that we didn’t have enough time. We were dedicated to experiencing Marrakech itself, the country’s main economic center, home to countless palaces, and one of Morocco’s four imperial cities.
I (Maria) personally loved Marrakech: I was dazzled by all the trinkets in the souks, dedicated to haggling with the street sellers, and in love with the colorful tiles. So much so that I almost tried to haggle the price of a Moroccan pottery sink, even though we’re nomads who don’t have a house, and I was only traveling with a small suitcase. Rui was not as impressed with the city, tired of all the time we spent in the souks, the constant harassment, and the need to constantly be on the lookout for a fast motorcycle or a camel just crossing the street in front of you when you least expected.
Nevertheless, we knew we had to return to Morocco. We had only experienced a small slice of what the country had to offer, and we knew we had to cross a visit to the Moroccan desert off our bucket list. We currently spend a lot of our time in Portugal, which is located right next to Morocco, with plenty of easy and accessible connections.
Returning to Morocco
When João Leitão invited us to stay at the amazing Dar Digital Nomad apartment in Ouarzazate, we knew that this would be the perfect opportunity to plan our Morocco desert trip. João has been living in Ouarzazate for more than 10 years and has probably lost count of the number of times he has been to the desert in Morocco. When we asked him for advice in regards to our plans of visiting the desert, he was kind enough to include us in one of his company’s desert tours. We participated in part of RJ Travel Agency’s 7 Day Marrakech & Desert Tour. The agency is focused on offering adventure holidays within everyone’s reach, and they’re true to their tagline.
Because we were already in Ouarzazate, the gateway to the Sahara desert, we only did part of the tour (Day 3 and 4). However, if you’re planning a trip to Morocco we truly recommend you take a look at the whole tour, and the other ones that are available.
We were gifted this experience, but all opinions are our own. We 100% would’ve paid for the tour (which is incredibly affordable), and we have personally recommended it to many of our friends and family. Looking back, we still can’t believe the number of things we were able to see and experience in just two days.
How To Plan Your Desert Trip in Morocco
If you’re planning a trip to Morocco and want to include a visit to the desert while you’re there, there are two main ways to do it: you can either look for a tour that suits your needs or go about it independently. It all depends on the amount of time you have, your main priorities, and how you personally prefer to travel. We usually travel independently, and setting itineraries is one of our favorite parts of planning our trips. Nonetheless, we knew there were plenty of challenges involved in doing it solo (starting with renting a car in Morocco, which we’ve never done ourselves, but have heard from many that can be a challenge).
Why We Went With a Desert Tour
We wanted our first time in the desert to be adventurous, but hassle-free. Sometimes allowing somebody else to plan everything for you actually enables you to enjoy the trip more, without having to worry where to eat, if there’s a bathroom on the way, or if the place you booked is actually what it looks like on the Booking photos. We’re sometimes doubtful of group tours because we’re afraid we’ll be put into a huge group and we’ll just have to hurry from one place to the other. As travel photographers we love (and need) to spend time in each stop, to appreciate the view and compose our photos, and create the content we share with you. As curious wanderers, we love learning about the places we visit, engage with the locals, and try to understand life in the part of the world we’re seeing.
RJ Travel Agency’s desert trip from Marrakech is well thought-out to show you the main sights you need to see, but also very balanced, in order to give you the time to actually appreciate each stop. In our case, we traveled as a small group of six. This meant we had time to get to know the people we were traveling with and enjoy the experience with them.
One last thing to note when you’re planning your desert trip in Morocco is that if budget is a priority, a desert excursion from Marrakech truly is one of your best options, as long as you research it carefully. Even though Morocco is a very affordable destination for tourists, traveling independently means adding on many costs and forgoing the discounts and low rates travel agencies are able to negotiate. The 7 day Marrakech & Desert Tour by RJ Travel Agency costs only 430€, including all transportation costs, one night in a stunning luxury desert camp, five nights in great riads, many meals, and even transfers to and from the airport.
Visiting the Moroccan Desert: Zagora vs. Merzouga
One important thing many people don’t realize is that a desert doesn’t always include the magnificent golden sand dunes we usually associate with the word. Many of the faster tours from Marrakech will actually take you to a part of the Zagora desert that is only a dry stone desert, and not what you associate with the quintessential desert imagery. While these tours may be more practical and affordable due to the closer proximity to Marrakech, they’re very different from experiencing the sand dunes in all their glory. In these faster tours to Zagora (which take around 6 hours driving from Marrakech), you actually won’t be experiencing the feeling generally associated with the Sahara Desert as you do with Merzouga tours (which take at least 10 hours driving from Marrakech). While planning your trip, note that there is a part of the Zagora desert that is similar to what most consider a sand desert: the Erg Chigaga dunes. However, this area is more expensive, harder to access, and there are not many tours to this specific region.
Our desert tour with RJ Travel Agency took us to Merzouga, and the stunning Erg Chebbi dunes, the gateway to the Sahara Desert. This specific desert trip from Marrakech includes a night in a stunning luxury desert camp right by the magical sand dunes. Two camel rides are included in the tour: one to watch the sunset and to get to the desert camping site, and another in the early hours of the day to watch the sunrise. However, riding camels is not mandatory. If you have a good enough physical condition, you can easily do these trails walking. Rui actually did this, and even though it takes a bit more time, the guide was always making sure he was behind the group and in the right direction to the camp. We are not well informed enough to deeply discuss the ethics of camel riding, but we think it’s important to let you know that if you are against it (either because of your personal beliefs, because you’re afraid, or any other reason), there are options.
Stay in the Merzouga Desert: Our Luxury Desert Camp
As we mentioned above, we stayed the night in an amazing luxury desert camp in Morocco. We were very unsure of what to expect, but we were amazed by the conditions when we got to the camp, a luxury bivouac as the locals refer to them. Firstly, we were greeted with some delicious cookies and some very sweet Moroccan mint tea. Then, we were taken to our room, which was our own luxury tent: a spacious bed, a lounging area with water and snacks, an air conditioner, and a complete and fully functional bathroom. The tent/room was beautifully decorated with traditional textiles and even a beautiful Moroccan pottery sink.
Dinner was served buffet-style in one of the tents and was included in the tour. There was a lot of variety of great Moroccan dishes, different breads, and plenty of fresh fruit. We mentioned before that we don’t eat a lot, especially when we’re tired and it’s warm, but we got to try little pieces of many different things due to the buffet-style dinner at our specific luxury desert camp.
Afterwards, we went outside, as everyone gathered around a fire pit. The local musicians prepared their instruments, and a full on Berber concert ensued. This was certainly one of the most memorable parts of our desert trip in Morocco. As we were called to dance around the fire, to try and play the instruments ourselves, and join in on the concert in the middle of the desert, as the stars started appearing in the sky. Everyone seemed genuinely moved by the moment we were all sharing, as the sound of drums and krakebs echoed through the desert.
Later at night, we got a bit further away from the camp to see the stars. We were not particularly lucky as the sky was hazy, but it was still beautiful to sit down in the fine sand and look up at the infinite sky above us. It was a surprisingly warm September night (we know it can get very chilly at night in the desert, but that was not our experience).
We were tired from our long day traveling through Southern Morocco, but we almost couldn’t believe all that we had seen in a day when we got to bed. We only slept a few hours, as we were up very early to watch the sunrise. This is an optional activity, but we honestly don’t think you’ll want to miss it! Back at the camp, we had a filling breakfast to get us ready for another long day. Before the weather got too warm, we lounged for a bit with the rest of the group. We were all in disbelief of all that was around us, and genuinely grateful that we got to experience it.
Our Southern Morocco Itinerary
We are so glad to share with you that our desert trip in Morocco included so much more than our actual visit to the sandy desert itself. In all honesty, the desert experience would’ve been enough to make us happy, but the reality was that our two days on the tour included so much more.
As we went south to get closer to the Sahara Desert in Morocco, we fell in love not only with the planned stops and the remarkable landscapes along the way, but also with the roads between them. The cars were few and from many miles we would often see no one else, but then we would cross ways with a man in his carriage, or enter a small town and get to genuinely witness part of the daily lives of the locals. As we watched from our windows we were greeted with inquisitive smiles, some people even stopped to greet us, kids peeked inside curiously, many genuinely puzzled by our presence.
Getting to the desert in Morocco from one of the main cities does take a lot of time, but the tour organized by RJ Travel Agency has plenty of amazing stops to entertain you along the way. We only took part in two days of the tour (and all the photos you see here were taken by us), but the whole 7-day tour includes even more amazing spots as you get from Marrakech to Ouarzazate, down to the desert, and then back to Marrakech after a few days. You can check out the complete itinerary for the 7 days on their website.
As we were already in Ouarzazate, our first day is equivalent to the third day of RJ Travel Agency’s tour. The day started early with a nutritious breakfast at the charming Dar Rita in Ouarzazate. We got to the car and started making our way to the desert. Hahmed was our driver and guide, a kind man who spoke many languages and kept us entertained with his stories.
The Draa Valley was the main attraction for the first half of the day, as we stopped along the river to appreciate the unique landscapes around us. The Draa is Morocco’s longest river, formed by the confluence of the Dadès River and Imini River. Even though much of the river is dried for part of the year, it’s the birthplace of a fertile strip of palmeraie and settlements. We stopped for lunch to rest and appreciate some traditional Moroccan cuisine. The restaurant seemed located in the middle of nowhere, and we all marveled at the infinite straight road through this arid region of Morocco. Suddenly, it felt like we were in the set of a classic American Western: peaks in the distance, an orange tone all around us, a dryness in the air as the hot sun stood above us.
After lunch, we stopped at Rissani, the ancient capital of Tafilalt, which greeted us with its majestic gate, that many have called the door to the largest sand desert in Morocco. Our last stop before reaching the Erg Chebbi Dunes was just to drink some delicious Moroccan tea and get prepared for our trek to the dunes. We had some difficulties tying the headscarf ourselves, but thankfully Hahmed helped us. If you want to learn how to do it yourself, we definitely recommend watching an instructional Youtube video beforehand.
Once we left the luxury desert camp and got back on the road, our first stop was at a fossil workshop in Erfoud. The tour was short but informative, and the shop was huge and tempting. We’ve read online many people complaining about their Marrakech desert tours due to the constant stopping at shops along the way, and harassment to buy. This was not our experience at all. We mainly stopped at cafes along the way, to rest for a bit, and use the bathrooms, and we never felt pressured to buy anything.
The main attraction was the staggering Todgha Gorges (Gorges du Todra), which included one of the most spectacular canyons in the world. Nevertheless, the viewpoints we stopped along the way were almost as memorable. The sudden green in an otherwise yellow landscape, and the abandoned Kasbahs along the way, which seemed to merge with the more recent developments.
A stop at the famous Valley of the Roses was on our itinerary, even though we didn’t get the timing right by visiting in September. Still, there were plenty of cosmetic products for rose-lovers, and pictures of the famous Rose Festival, which celebrates the annual harvest. Right before arriving to Ouarzazate, we were greeted by another magical sunset. Our trip was over, but our love affair with this striking region of Morocco was just starting.
What to Take to the Desert
If you’re wondering what to pack for a desert trip, our advice is to keep it simple and comfortable. Of course we’re basing this out of our own experience, as part of a desert tour, and not as independent travelers driving the Moroccan roads alone.
What to Wear in the Sahara Desert in Morocco
- Comfortable clothes. Think light, loose, and stretchy. Bring comfortable clothes because even though visiting the desert is a magical experience, it’s also a tiring one.
- Tennis shoes. You may think that sandals are the most suited footwear, but our advice is to use a comfortable pair of tennis shoes or hiking boots instead. These make it easier to walk on the sand, which can also get quite warm.
- Warmer layer. It’s also important to check the temperatures and pack a warmer coat or woodie for the night, as it can get chilly. It was warm during the night when we visited, but you may not have the same luck.
- Accessories: sunglasses, a long scarf that you can wrap around your head, and a hat. These three are not only essential for shade, but also to avoid the sand getting in your face if it’s windy.
What to Pack for a Desert Trip
- Travel Medical Kit. We always travel with a small medical kit for safety. For the desert don’t forget to bring some paracetamol (your body will most likely be sore after riding a camel) and motion sickness tablets for the road.
- Hand sanitizer and Pocket Tissues. Again, things we always travel with as you never know what to count with as you stop along the way. Wet wipes may also be a good idea.
- Sunscreen. Always a must, but especially necessary when you’re visiting the scorching desert.
- Personal Toiletries. Our camp included basic toiletries so we didn’t have to care much about these, but we always love to travel with a can of thermal spring water to remain refreshed along the way.
- Reusable water bottle with a filter. We took our Water to Go bottles to the desert and refilled them along the way. We did end up buying a couple of plastic water bottles along the way (keeping it honest) as we were absolutely craving cold water, but we were still able to save tons of plastic bottles by mostly refilling our filtered bottles at restaurants and rest stops.
- Small Flashlight. We mentioned before that we love using head torches like these. They were super useful when we ventured a bit outside the desert camp to search appreciate the stars at night.
- Camera. You’ll certainly want to record this experience! If you’re curious about our equipment, we use a Sony a7III.
- Power Bank. Our desert camp had electricity plugs, but it was still nice to have a power bank available during the road trip as our phone batteries last about two seconds.
- Travel Insurance. Not actually something that you pack, but certainly something that you should always take with you when traveling. We use IATI Seguros.
Again, remember that if you’re not on a tour/not staying in a luxury desert camp, you may need to add quite a few things to this list.
Our Morocco Desert Trip
Our visit to the desert in Morocco was one of the most exciting travel experiences we’ve ever had, unlike anything we had ever experienced before. Booking a (well researched) tour is a great way to go on this adventure without any concerns, and that is why we truly recommend RJ Travel Agency. Besides their super affordable 7 Day Marrakech & Desert Tour in Morocco, they have other tours in the country that may better suit what you’re looking for.
If you are curious to see what our experience looked like in video form, you’ll be glad to know that we traveled with Kasoest, an inspiring couple of Youtubers who created a lovely video about our trip to the desert (English subtitles are available). For some inspiring travel content, you can also follow them on Instagram.
Let us know if you have any questions about visiting the desert or traveling through Morocco.
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