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A Trip to the Sahara Desert

In January 2018 my daughters and I started thinking about the next trip we wanted to make. One of my daughters had just started work as a teacher and my other was studying, so we were looking at going somewhere in the summer when we would all be free. We had been to Italy before but I had always wanted to do a food tour there, so we were looking at Italian food and wine experiences. Then my eldest daughter’s friend called and recommended Morocco – she had been there the year before with her 10-year-old and loved it! She sent photos of the desert trip they went on, the camel trekking, the nomad tents and the campfire – we changed our minds and booked flights to Morocco, just like that! It just looked fun and different and a bit adventurous and not like any other experience we had been on together. Our trip was in July – we were to spend the first few days in Marrakech and then had arranged a private three day tour to the desert. the first night we were to stay in the Dades Valley and the second in tents in the Merzouga Dunes.

Marrakech – Ait Ben Haddou – Ouarzazate – Dades Valley

Our driver was to pick us up at 8am at our riad in Marrakech to begin our trip. Jean-Francois, the manager in the riad, warned us that Moroccans were not great at time-keeping and so if we were left waiting for a while we shouldn’t be too worried. We weren’t too worried, as Irish people often use times as ‘approximations’ as well! But pretty much at 8am our driver arrived and helped us with our luggage through the cobbled lane-ways to the minivan. We were excited but nervous, as we were used to making our own way around on trips and had never done a private tour before. Our driver, Ali, was relaxed and friendly and chatted easily with us. Making our way out of Marrakech towards the High Atlas Mountains, we were taken with the landscape and the scenery. The further into the mountains we drove, the more intrigued we became. Berber villages of mud houses seemed to be carved out of the hills here and there, we passed by bee hives being tended and goat and sheep-herders guiding their charges carefully along the side of the road. Ali stopped a couple of times for us to take photos, and for rest breaks and coffee!

“Halt here friends.

Allow me private pause alone

to remember a love, a longing, an unrequited right

here where the sand dune’s rim whorls between where

we’ve abandoned and where we’re bound for.”


Best Desert experience in Morocco


Our  first ‘proper’ stop was at the village of Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where many films like Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven and Game of Thrones were shot. We had lunch in a local restaurant there and then Ali set us up with a guide to take us to the old Kasbah. The guides are dependent on tips, so we were advised roughly how much to pay (not much!) and we went off. We trekked across a dry riverbed to get to the walled city and then began our tour. It was hot, the worst time of the day and crowded – but so worth the visit! There were traders, carpet sellers, scarves and pottery to buy along the way. We made our way to the top and the views from there were amazing! By the time we got back to the van we were very hot and well-exercised but had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We drove on through Ouarzazate to arrive at our hotel in the Dades Gorges where we were spending the night. The hotel was really nice and clean – it was a race to the shower! We enjoyed a tapas-style dinner on the hotel terrace that evening and slept like babies in our triple room that night! Breakfast was a traditional Moroccan buffet and we were well fed and rested when Ali came to pick us up around 9.30am for the next part of the trip.

Dades – Todgha Gorges – Merzouga Dunes (Erg Chebbi)

We began driving after having a good rest and a good breakfast and headed towards the Todgha Gorges. We stopped first to have a guided tour of the fertile oasis at Tinghir. After being met by a guide who was warm and friendly, we were led through fields irrigated by the Wadi (River) Todgha. The guide talked to us about the crops that were grown by the locals there, the types of irrigation used and the hardships faced by the farming families. Strolling along raised pathways in the fields, we were able to see farmers working and children helping! We then were brought to an ancient part of the city there, saw the Jewish quarter and got to see a local woman spinning yarn that would be used in the weaving of the beautiful traditional carpets and rugs that you see all over Morocco! There was a bit of pressure to buy a carpet before we left – we really didn’t want to, but left what we could as a tip and a ‘thank you’ for telling us all about the weaving process. Also, we wished we had brought some sweets or something nice for all of the children that we came across here. They were all very friendly and were coming to say ‘bonjour’ and talk with us (in the little French we had!) We had lunch sitting outside in a local restaurant and then walked it off in the Todgha Gorges. Ali dropped us off at one side of the gorges – limestone river canyons – and said that he could either stay there and we could just stroll around, or he could drive to the other side if we were up for a longer walk. We went for the longer walk! It was really nice to walk here – there were a lot of tourists and locals, enjoying the scenery and cooling down in the river running through the center of the valley. The air-conditioned minivan was a welcome sight at the end of our walk and we buckled in and got ready for the rest of the drive to Merzouga.

A Trip to the Sahara Desert


We started then the long-ish drive to Merzouga. We stopped for coffee and to stretch our legs along the way. At one of the stops, we had the opportunity to dress up in some traditional clothing and one of the young daughters of the couple who owned the dress shop offered to do some henna designs on my daughters’ hands. Ali advised us to buy some bottled water to bring to the campsite, as it would be hot and we wouldn’t have the opportunity to buy any once we were there. Approaching the desert was quite an emotional time for me – I never imagined that I would get the opportunity to see the Sahara Desert! I’ve since found out that the dunes at Merzouga are not actually the Sahara, but an area of steppes at Erg Chebbi (dunes leading into the desert). This doesn’t detract from the experience for me, though. It was a beautiful, remote, isolated landscape, the likes of which I had never seen.

We arrived at the hotel we were beginning our camel trek from – as the weather was quite hot, the camel handlers there said that they wanted to wait for a while before we set out, until the sun was not quite so intense! We sat and relaxed, had some mint tea and water, and chatted about what we expected our camping experience to be like. Ali said we could have our luggage brought to the tents, but we decided to leave it with him and just bring a few things for overnight. When it had cooled down somewhat and was now nice and ‘fresh’ (it wasn’t fresh!) we went out to the camels with the group. We mounted our noble steeds and made ready to set off! The camels were tethered together in caravans of about six and were guided by a camel handler. There were a few other guides walking along-side the caravans, just in case anyone needed anything – or fell off, I guess! It was such a unique experience – the dunes are so quiet and feel so remote. As you are moving along, the only thing you can see in any direction is sand and sky. We stopped just before sunset, and were given the opportunity to climb one of the dunes for photos and to experience a sunset like no other!

It was just getting dark as we arrived at the camp. We were shown to our tents and given a little while to settle in and freshen up before dinner. We had decided to go with the standard tents. If I was going again, I would definitely go for the luxury ones. Our tents were a good size, there was a toilet with a sink in the tent (which we weren’t expecting, in fairness!) and we each had our own bed. The luxury ones had a proper shower in them and this would have been nice. It was so hot in the tents! It was July and we were in the desert, so I guess that shouldn’t have been surprising! We freshened up as best we could and then were invited to dinner with the other campers. Dinner was fantastic – we were given a platter of different meats, vegetables, breads and dips and then plenty of fruit for dessert. After dinner, we were invited to sit around the campfire with the other campers and the camel handlers and guides for some music, dancing and a sing-song! We had a great evening, chatting to everyone and enjoying the music. There were campers of all ages – children, teens, adults and a couple travelling to celebrate their retirement! – and from all over the world. This was definitely an evening I’ll never forget!


After a night in the tent (or rather, under the stars – the tent was so hot we decided to bring our blankets outside to sleep on!) we were roused before sunrise so that we could find a good dune from which to experience dawn in the desert. This was surreal and beautiful, and I’m happy I got the chance to experience this with my daughters. We had a buffet-style breakfast and then returned to the camels to make the trek back to the hotel where Ali was waiting for us. This was the longest part of the journey – about a 10 hour drive back to Marrakech. We all napped for a bit in the van and we had a few stops for lunch, coffee and photos to break up the trip. We also stopped briefly at the Atlas Film Studios in Ouarzazate. Many films like ‘Gladiator’, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ were filmed in the area, and some of the sets and props used in filming are on display. To be honest, we were tired and really just wanted to get back to our hotel in Marrakech so I don’t think we really we able to appreciate this properly! For the last few days of our trip we had booked into an all-inclusive hotel, so Ali dropped us off here – we arrived at about 8pm.

The desert trip was a great experience – I’m glad we listened to my daughter’s friend and didn’t go with the Italian food and wine trip (although I’m hoping I will get to do this one day!). It was hot and there was a lot of driving, it’s not necessarily the Sahara Desert you are visiting (as it’s sometimes described as) but dunes leading up to it and I have seen people advising visitors not to go for this trip if they go to Morocco – I can understand this, too. But from our perspective it was something we had never done, it was a unique experience and it felt like we were going on an ‘adventure’ together. We still talk about it and laugh about some of the things that happened (the ‘eclectic’ music Ali played for us in the van, the funny guide we had in Tinghir, the children following us and trying to talk with us, the group of old ladies trying to walk to the top of Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah in heels and carrying umbrellas, how nice and ‘fresh’ it was in the dessert, the music and dancing around the campfire – the list goes on!)

I would certainly recommend it to visitors. It might be more difficult for someone with mobility issues, or if you had very small children – but most of the companies that offer tours will work with you to address any issues and adapt the trip accordingly (for example, the company we used said that they could spread the trip over one or two more days to make the drive-times more manageable, you could opt for different types of accommodation, you can be driven in 4×4 vehicles to the camp instead of going on camels, etc…) I have gone to Morocco a few more times now and not undertaken another dessert trip – it’s definitely on the cards, though!

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