The Sahara Desert is located in Africa, and is the largest hot desert, in the world, with a surface of over 9,200,000 square kilometers, and third-largest overall. It spreads over 11 countries, one of them being Morocco.
Since I knew I was going to visit Morocco, I was sure I need to see the Sahara Desert. There are plenty of beautiful places to go when in Morocco, and this one definitely has to be on the list if circumstances allow it.
How to get to the desert?
The easiest way to reach the Sahara Desert in Morocco is through Merzouga, the village spreading right where the dunes of Erg Chebbi start to take shape, revealing the vastness of the desert in front of the visitor’s eyes. Before approaching the village it already starts to look like a scene from a movie, with breathtaking sights.
Merzouga is located next to the Algerian border, at about 8hrs trip from Marrakesh on a car ride, and in my opinion, is the best option to reach it. We did a road trip, so I was well prepared for the long-distance ride. But be aware, the road gets complicated at times, and the streets and driving paths get narrow, especially while crossing the Atlas Mountains.
For people who don’t know very well the country as far as driving for long distances, it’s probably better to choose a tour guide or a tour group. You can also reach Merzouga from Fes, Rabat, or Agadir, pretty much from any big city in Morocco. The distances will vary, however.
Where to stay in Merzouga?
Merzouga has plenty of beautiful places to spend your days in, such as hotels, or luxurious camps right in the middle of the desert. We chose to stay at Nomad Palace, an incredible place with very wide and comfortable rooms, very traditionally decorated; it made me feel as if I am indeed sleeping in a nomad’s modern house. It had two pools as well, one of them with desert views, a restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner, an interior yard, and much more. It was definitely a great and unique experience.
What is there to do in Merzouga?
Merzouga is a small village, so don’t expect clubbing and fancy restaurants. It is a very good place to experience the real Morocco, as close as possible to the traditional way of living, aspect of the houses, and food choices, which personally I enjoyed very much. Most people come here to experience the desert and the beautiful minimalistic way of living.
Watch the sunset on a dune
Climbing a high dune, and watching the sun setting is one of the best views of the desert you can have. The colors match beautifully, and they create a contrast with the dark golden sand; it feels like a bliss. It is also the best time of the day to go up on a dune, because the heat is pretty low, and your body feels more at ease. It can get sandy, especially when a sand storm is starting to form, so is better to watch out for that.
See the stars in the midnight sky
I have never seen a more beautiful array of stars and night skylights. They were just like little diamonds shining bright, so many, one right next to another; I could even see the Milky Way so very well defined. It was an incredible sight, so peaceful and silent, and the sky so dark.
If you choose to stay in a desert camp, you’ll have a full view of the beautiful night sky and stars.
Wait for the sun to rise
Watching the sunrise was one of my absolute favorites. The sun is still feels cold on your feet from the night, and it’s just so amazing to see the sun starting to warm up the miles of fine sand, you look around and you see an ocean of dunes and nothing else for as long as your eyes can reach. It’s best to climb the highest dune that you can find for better views and go as early as possible, preferably at 6 am.
Tip: Don’t wander by yourself in the desert, or even in very small groups, for various reasons such as getting lost or injured, and also don’t get too far from your hotel or camp, because it could be dangerous being too close to the Algerian border, due to political conflicts between Morocco and Algeria.
Drink tea with the nomads
We had the chance to drink tea and meet with nomads in the area. Our tour guide took us to them; they prepared mint tea, bread, and honey for us, we chatted a little bit and got to see how they live. The nomads’ families stay for a while in a place, and then they move along to another one when they find it most suitable, and generally, they don’t have a village or specific place that they call home.
It was really interesting to get so close to them and to truly see how their life is going. It makes you really appreciate the little things in your life that are absent from others.
Get a camel ride
Ever dreamed of riding a camel? Now is the chance! Most locals own camels that they offer for tourists to ride. We got ours from the same tour guide, whose brother owned a lot of camels. It was my first time, so I was excited to see how it will go. You need good upper body strength (or medium) to hold your posture while the camel is getting up and getting down. Overall was a great experience.
Tip: In the desert during the day always keep your head and skin covered, the sun is way too strong and you might get burned or get headaches, especially during the day.
Watch The Gnaoua dance and singing
The Gnaoua are an ethnic group inhabiting Morocco. They are the descendants of the Guineas people brought to Morocco many centuries ago, and they perform dance rituals and call-and-response singing, with ties to the pre-Islamic African rites. It is a very lively and energetic performance while maintaining their traditions and customs. It was very interesting to watch.
Try the delicious Moroccan food and drink fresh camel milk
This goes without saying, that you must eat traditional food while in Merzouga. Delicious recipes, such as tajines, salads, tea, and sweets are everywhere to be found in the desert, overlooking some of the best views that there are. I did try the camel milk and was delicious! For non-vegans, of course, and if you are a dairy person. Rich and creamy, it tastes pretty much like cow milk. I actually really enjoyed it .
When to go?
The best time to go is in the winter time, the summer gets way too hot- over 40 degrees Celcius. We went in August and it was absolutely suffocating, but we made it work somehow. However, it’s best from November to May.
Do you need a tour guide?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that you need it, but it would be very helpful to have one. They know the best places and spots for everything, especially if you’ve never experienced the desert before. Also, they can drive you around and reveal local sites that maybe aren’t even on google attractions. He took us to see the sunrise, meet the nomads, and showed us different spots in the area, such as the abandoned kohl mine, exploited by the French for their luxury cosmetics. Overall, it was nice to have one.
It was a wonderful experience that I’m so grateful for living, that showed me a different perspective of life, and of us people as a culture in general. The Sahara Desert itself is breathtaking, magnificent in its grandeur, an immense body of sand with millions of years of existence. Such joy and happiness to witness its beauty and uniqueness.
Happy traveling, friends!