3 Nights in the Sahara: Camel Trekking Morocco
3 Nights in the Sahara: Camel Trekking Morocco
Without question the highlight of our three week trip through Morocco was our 3 nights camel trekking Morocco through Erg Chebbi and the stunningly beautiful Sahara desert.
In this post we share our own first hand experiences trekking through the world’s largest desert while also sharing our best travel tips along the way to help you plan your own Saharan adventure!
We were unsure upon arriving into Morocco if we’d even be able to do the camel trekking because it was late May heading into June and the weather was beginning to get very hot. We were also concerned that this would end up being just a massive tourist trap, inauthentic and frustratingly overbooked as these things sometimes are. Thankfully upon arriving into Merzouga, a tiny town on the literal edge of Erg Chebbi, the giant sand dunes of the Sahara, our concerns began to disappear one after the other.
Travel Tip: Merzouga offers more hotel options than M’Hamid further south. Also, M’Hamid is already 45-50 degrees in early June whereas the Merzouga area is about 10 or so degrees cooler.
We ended up not booking a tour ahead of time but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. We contacted quite a few guides who were recommended through a few sites we visited but they were either full or on vacation. This was mostly due to the fact that a lot of guides and tour companies do not operate during the month of Ramadan (June 17 at the time of writing) as most Moroccans are fasting during the day and it is usually extremely hot in the Sahara during this time.
Travel Tip: During Ramadan and the rest of the summer, many guides do not work and the ones that do will only agree to a 1 night tour maximum due to the heat. If you are looking to do a 2 or 3 night or even longer trip into the Sahara go before mid-June or after mid-September.
As is usually the case there was a tour guide waiting at the bus top as our night bus from Meknes pulled in around 6am. He offered to take us to his hotel and provide breakfast and a place to shower and sleep during the day for only 50 Dh per person.
We were thankful to be able to get some rest after a terrible night bus where the driver kept the temperature below freezing and his assistant, a real bag nazi, yelled at anyone who dared put their bag at their feet instead of in the overhead compartment. I suffered his wrath around 3 am as he woke me up and yelled at me for having the audacity to put my camera bag at my feet. He then entered into a shouting match with a passenger who tried to put his baby in a car seat instead on his lap. For a country known for hasheesh this guy was surprisingly high strung!
After breakfast we spoke to the tour manager about the different tours available and after some back and forth negotiations we agreed on a 3 night camel trekking tour in the Sahara.
Travel Tip: You should not being paying anymore than 400 – 500 Dh per person per day for your camel trekking tour. This should include the guide, all meals and water, accommodations, head scarf and transport to and from the bus station. Not included souvenirs, soft drinks, and any tips.
Travel Tip: If you cannot get your exact price on your tour price per day, get them to include the hotel and/or food the night you get back. Everything is negotiable in Morocco.
After catching up on the sleep we missed on last night bus we met up with our guide Said, a young guy with a lanky build wearing a traditional blue jellaba and orange turban. After exchanging few quick hellos he led us a little ways into the desert where we met the real stars of the show, Ferrari and Volkswagen our camels, or rather dromedaries for the next four days.
Now, I’ve never ridden a dromedary before but let me tell you two things I learned pretty quick:
1) Hang on tight when they stand up and sit down. My god hang on! I asked Said if tourists sometimes fall off and he replied stone faced, “Yes, many”.
2) If you are planning on doing more than just a one night tour your ass will hate you in the morning. I for one could’ve really used one of those donuts pregnant ladies have to sit on after giving birth during breakfast the next day.
Due to the heat, the middle of the day is not a great time to trek during the beginning of June so we set out into the dunes just before 6pm when the temperatures had dipped. The first night was nice as we rode through the dunes of Erg Chebbi led confidently by our guide.
After about an hour and a half we stopped at our first camp, a little oasis at the back of the largest sand dune outside of Merzouga. We made it our mission the first night to get our guide to open up a little bit as he had been pretty quiet until then and with three more days in front of us we wanted to make sure everyone was having fun. We spent a few hours talking with Said about his family, being Berber, his job and how things have changed over the last few decades in the Sahara.
We had heard some mixed reviews about the food on these trips but oh my god the food was fantastic and we were never able to finish our meals. The first night we were treated to a chicken vegetable tajine cooked slowly over a few hours.
Up early the next day we wanted to beat the mid-day heat in order to get to our next stop so after a quick breakfast we saddled up Ferrari and Volkswagen and set off back into the dunes about 9am. It was obvious right away that our time spent getting to know our Said had paid off as he was like a different person during our morning walk, telling odd Berber jokes, chit chatting about desert life and occasionally running off to try and catch a “desert fish”.
We were thankful to arrive at our next camp around 11am as we were beginning to cook like the tajines we had the night before! We were again treated to a feast for lunch by Said who prepared a delicious berber omelette and a moroccan salad. After a bit of mint tea, we wet our head scarves and the three of us took a mid-day siesta nap in the shade.
In the early evening as the air began to cool we set off toward the Algerian border where we would be staying with a Berber family for the night.
The views as we rode out of the dunes and toward the black desert were some of the most beautiful we had seen with the golden sand dunes illuminated on one side while shaded on the other by the early evening sun. In front of us the black desert and the mountains of Algeria.
As soon as we got out of the dunes we jumped off Ferrari and Volkswagen and walked the rest of the way in order to give our butts a break which I’m sure our dromedaries were thankful for as well!
As we approached the homestead we were both very relieved with what we saw. It was an actual Berber family living in a small home and not a circle of huts created for tourists which we were worried it would be. We were greeted by Abdul who first offered us some tea before showing us our room and around his property. The home was a small semi-permanent home built with a mixture of mud and cement with a small kitchen, a small bedroom where we stayed and larger main room where the family all slept. Out back was a good sized pen for the families few dozen sheep who were all being called back from their grazing fields as we arrived.
That evening the family prepared a vegetable couscous for us and our guide which when done traditionally takes about three hours to cook. After dinner a massive thunderstorm crossed right overtop of us bringing with it a stunning showcase of mother natures beauty as well as fury. 1 km from us a lightning strike had started a fire in some brush and as Said said, because of how dry it is there, this could pose a serious threat to the handful of families living here.
“Inchalah (God willing) the rains puts it out”. Twenty minutes later the rain came for only a brief moment but thankfully fell long enough to put the fire out.
You know that moment where you wake up and for a few moments you aren’t sure where you are? Well get this, the next morning I awoke to a sheep inside my room staring at me. I shooed it away and went back to sleep. Perhaps it was just a dream. No. About twenty minutes later I could feel someone staring at me and sure enough the damn sheep was inside our room again but this time closer to our bed just glaring at me. Berber alarm clock?
After saying our goodbyes to our hosts for the night we started off early to our next stop which was about a 2 hour walk through the black desert to a little outpost that was formerly used by French miners in the early 20th century. The town is now inhabited by only one family who own about a dozen sheep with all the other buildings left to disrepair. The ruins of old mud buildings which are so different from anything we’ve seen so far in our travels, provided me with a solid hour of photographic bliss.
For lunch we were treated to a “Berber Pizza” which is essentially a large calzone with lamb, onions and a few other veggies thrown in cooked under hot coals. Alyse said it was her favourite meal of the tour which is saying a lot because we were treated to lots of great food.
My god that afternoon was hot. Our guide said that it as 45 degrees and so we didn’t set off for our final oasis until 630pm when the weather was at least half bearable. Again, the contrast of the black desert against the dunes of the Sahara provided an unbelievably stunning view. This spot for me was the most beautiful of the entire trip.
With the sun quickly disappearing behind the dunes, we quickly put our bags into our tent for the night, grabbed a snowboard and tried our best to find the steepest dunes in the area. I wasn’t going to leave the Sahara without trying my hand at some sand boarding!
That night we took in our last sunset of the trip. Just the two of us sitting atop a dune in the middle of Sahara feeling fortunate and grateful for this experience.
That night we again ate like kings, enjoying kahlia this time which is like an omelette with lamb and some veggies mixed together. Later that night we played the drums with our guide and the security guard of the camp and were schooled by a pro in how to tell the difference between grade 1 and 2 hasheesh. You know it was a good lesson because I only sort of remember it…
We awoke at the crack of “what the F” the next morning, climbed aboard our trusty stallions and set off to the one of the largest dunes in Erg Chebbi in order to take in the sunrise. Said was absolutely booking it through the dunes and still to this day I don’t know how he could walk on top of the dunes like a ninja meanwhile whenever we would try we would end up half buried after a few strides!
Said then led us up the big dune not even breaking a sweat meanwhile just buckets and buckets for me. The view from the top was incredible.
After the sunrise our guide stood up, took us by the hand and said ok now we run down the dune. Alyse and I looked at each other in a way a couple only knows basically like you ok with this cause I am. Without warning Said said ok lets go and just starts sprinting straight down perhaps the largest and steepest dune in Erg Chebbi. What a thrill!
After a short ride back to our hotel we said our goodbyes, exchanged contact info with Said and headed straight to the showers!
Our 3 nights camel trekking in the Sahara turned out to be the highlight of our entire trip in Morocco and we couldn’t recommend it more. Try to do 3 nights or even longer as you are able to see a lot more of the Sahara as well as places that the hoards of 1 night tours never get to.
Where We Stayed
Hotel: Les Pyramids
Review: We found the hotel clean, basic and ok for just a night and the dinners were of good value.
There are plenty of other hotels in Merzouga ranging from basic to luxury so talk to other travellers, read reviews online and reach out to guides online to find one that’ll work you for your budget.
As always, if you have any questions fire them our way and we’ll do our best to answer them.
Thanks for liking and sharing this post and cheers for stopping by!
Ross & Alyse