Riding a camel over the dunes of the Sahara Desert has always been one of my biggest bucket list items…kind of like seeing the Aurora Borealis in Norway and snorkeling in the Maldives. This December I finally had the chance to check this item off my list and it truly was one of the most amazing trips of my life!
NOTE: if you’re looking for info on how to take the ferry from Spain to Morocco, tips on what you need to be aware of before visiting Morocco, or learn about cities like Tangier, Asilah and Chefchaouen check out this post now!
Getting to the Sahara Desert
These are the top two ways I’ve heard of people reaching the Sahara:
Driving from Spain: We decided to drive to the desert and use a tour company called Discover Excursions; we’ve traveled with Discover numerous times over the years (previously to Morocco and Portugal) and we’ve always had a great experience. Discover organized all of our food, transport and accommodation…enabling us to sit back and enjoy the trip. We met the tour group as they passed through Tarifa, Spain (they leave from Seville); once we got to Tarifa we crossed the Strait of Gibraltar by ferry, and then drove two days south and stayed in Rabat and Meknes along the way. Finally, we spent a night in Merzouga (at a really cool hotel – more info below) and the next day we rode camels to our campsite and slept in the desert. The trip lasted five days, four nights and cost in total about $390 per person (including bus transport from Seville, ferry tickets, four star hotels, food, transport through Morocco, tour guides in each city, excursions in the desert, etc.) – so you definitely get your money’s worth!
Fly to Marrakesh: Another way many people travel to the Sahara is flying to Marrakesh and then driving to the desert. There are a lot of tour companies that organize desert trips if you prefer to fly to Morocco; I had friends who just completed a similar trip with another tour group and they loved it. Their tour was five days and four nights with stops in Ouarzazate, Tafraout, Merzouga and one night camping in the desert – they had to pay for their flights separately but accommodation, food, transport, etc. were included in their tour package (flights cost them around $150 each and the tour cost about $170 each).
So which way is better? Depending on flight prices, both options can end up costing about the same (driving from Spain vs. flying to Marrakesh). If you’re not sure which option to go with consider the cities you want to see; each tour package will offer routes with stops in different cities on your way to the desert.
Things to do in the Sahara Desert
There’s more to do than you might expect!
1. Ride camels and quads
Riding camels was a very memorable experience (and great photo opp!) but riding quads over the desert dunes was one of the highlights of the trip! If you’re looking at different tour packages try to find one that offers this option!
2. Sleep under the stars
Also, whatever you do, you’ve got to spend a night in the desert! There’s nothing quite like watching the sun set over the dunes, and waking up to catch the sunrise in the morning. You’ll also see more stars at night than you’ve ever seen in your life! Honestly, it’s hard to explain how beautiful the Sahara is…just trust me when I say you’ve got to experience it for yourself.
3. Get to know the locals
We also enjoyed getting to know our guides in the desert; they were a family of Berber nomads who herd camels when they’re not toting tourists around their campsites. It was cool exploring Merzouga and learning about how the locals live; the communal oven, aqueduct systems used for watering crops, and checking out artisan rugs made by different tribes around the country. I was slightly disappointed to learn that we couldn’t go into any mosques in Morocco (unlike Istanbul, where mosques are the biggest attractions of the city), but it was fun chatting with locals and haggling in the markets.
Where to stay in the Sahara Desert
The hotel we stayed at near Merzouga was really cool; the rooms were beautiful and the food was great. If you’re headed that way then check out Hotel Xaluca and Hotel Toumboctou; you can reserve different excursions through the hotel websites too.
The perfect souvenir or gift from the Sahara!
At the market in Meknes I found this cute little bottle (I’m sure you can find them in any of the markets – or even online once you get home) – I forgot to fill an empty water bottle with desert sand but luckily another person on our tour was nice enough to give me some. This bottle cost €1 and is the perfect addition to my souvenir collection; if you’re not sure what to get your family and friends, or what to bring back from the desert for yourself – pick up one of these…they’re cheap, unique and super easy to transport!