One of my most anticipated stops on my tour of Morocco was the chance to visit, and spend the night in, the Sahara Desert. Yes, the very western edge of the Sahara Desert can be found in Morocco outside a little town called Merzouga. What followed on our visit there proved to be an unforgettable moment and a real highlight of my Morocco trip in 2015.
The day began as we drove out of Midelt and ventured south towards Merzouga. As we went, the towns grew smaller and humbler until we reached Merzouga and turned off the main road into a bleak, endless waste. It was here that the winds picked up and swept light sand across the barren landscape. I’ve visited deserts in Australia before, but never felt a sense of isolation and detachment quite like the drive out there.
Thankfully the flat wastes started to make way as vast dunes began to rise from the horizon. These were the dunes of Erg Chebbi, a sea of sand dunes that stretches off over the nearby Algerian border. It wasn’t long before their imposing form filled our windows and a sense of excitement built. Pulling up at a small house on the edge of the erg, we alighted and prepared for our journey in. This generally meant wrapping our scarfs up over our faces to protect us from oncoming sand.
Next, we were brought down to meet the train of camels that would be taking us into the dunes. Each of us were sized up and allocated suitable camels for our camel trek. Mine would turn out to be overly eager and fast despite his burden (i.e. me). I frequently found myself level with the rear of the camel in front, somewhere I’d prefer not to be. So yes, we were soon led off into the desert. For roughly an hour we lumbered up and over dunes, slowly digging deeper into the heart of Erg Chebbi.
As we did, our tour guide Khalid would run off along side, heading off in random directions before returning with a smile on his face. The wonder of the place is not lost even on someone who frequently visits here.
I was quite glad when we finally laid eyes on our camp for the night. Ahead of us you could actually see several camps scattered across the landscape, but still with plenty of privacy. As someone who has never really ridden animals, the discomfort from an hour on my camel was quite new. I wasn’t looking forward to the return trip.
Our Bedouin camp was at the foot of a huge dune and sheltered by a small field of desert grass. The tents were arranged around a small “courtyard” of rugs and cushions. Definitely one of the cooler places I’ve spent the night. Once we had all put away our belongings it was shoes off and into the sand. The sun was starting to set at this point and the sky was turning vibrant yellows and oranges. The sky transformed the already-unreal landscape of the Sahara Desert into something alien and truly surreal.
Someone in the group decided that climbing our big dune would be a great idea, especially to watch the sunset. A bunch of us followed. Unfortunately, the approach we all opted to take was straight up. Instead of finding the ridge and going the easy way, we were stumbling up its steepest, most fluid face. Smart, right? While the fitness junkies of our group made short work of it, I did not. Photo breaks were a great way to mask my dire need for air.
After our foolhardy venture up the dune, it was dark and time for food and music. We ate our couscous/tagine (I honestly can’t remember which, but in Morocco, either is a safe bet) and sipped our tea. Once we’d finished, our hosts performed some traditional music for us under a cloudy night sky. I’d been hoping for a clear night to see what the sky was like so far from light pollution but c’est la vie.
As people settled down for the night, a few of us wanted to go for a wander. There was enough moon light to vaguely see where we were going, useful when walking barefoot at night, but we had torches with us as well. Cool sand between our toes, we wandered over to some palm trees rustling in the cool wind. It wasn’t long before we encountered several bedouin with torches, curious as to what we were doing. It turns out that this close to the Algerian border, sometimes people through the Sahara Desert at night and these men were on guard. A little spooked, we quickly headed back for camp.
Back at camp, everyone was a sleep outdoors out on the rugs and cushions. With no room left, we had to make do with the tents, which were unfortunately too warm. Outside would have definitely have been better. Just before sunrise, we were up and back on the camels. The dunes were far stiller in the early morning and the views even more stunning, despite our bleary eyes. Another hour and we were back at the house and our minibus. All too quickly, the dunes were a slight lump in the horizon.
Note: If you’re looking for a great tour through Morocco, I’d definitely recommend booking with Intrepid. I really enjoyed this tour, and my other tours with them. This is purely just my own recommendation, not sponsored or anything.
Have you ever ridden camels or visited the Sahara Desert? Is it something that you dream of ticking off your bucket list? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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