While still in Marrakesh during my trip to Morocco earlier this month, I opted for a desert tour that came with my hostel deal: 2 days and 1 night in the Sahara Desert. That, along with including two nights in the hostel itself for a total of 75 euros, made out to be an excellent deal that I definitely took advantage of.
Granted, the Sahara desert is a far way from Marrakesh, easily five to six hours of driving- and that’s only to get to the start of the desert itself! For adventurers who want to go further into the Sahara, there are also two and three-night tours to get a more in-depth experience of what the place has to offer. While I would’ve loved that, I didn’t have the time to do so, considering that I’d already planned everything down to a T back in February with my friend (whom I would be meeting later upon returning to Marrakesh), which left no wiggle room for an extended stay. Any case, I found that the one night in the Sahara was just right for me, and I’m glad to have benefited from this opportunity.
After a rather rushed hostel breakfast, I was escorted to the coach van by the driver and then driven to the Grand Taxi station, where taxis and many tour vans were parked. There was some confusion regarding my tour receipt (for some reason, they kept thinking I was going for the two-night desert tour, even though I firmly said that I’d paid for the one-night), but eventually things panned out and around 8h00, I boarded the correct desert tour van with twelve other tourists (all from different countries, including Japan, France, Spain, Russia, Italy, Colombia, even Latvia!) and before we knew it, we were off!
As previously mentioned, it takes pretty much the whole day just to get to the base of the Sahara Desert. Along the way, the driver stopped at several places for bathroom and water breaks, as well as photo opportunities of gorgeous landscapes of which I don’t know their names. What surprised me was how green it was, as I had the impression beforehand that Morocco was only dry desert and nothing else. That goes to show that I was wrong, and I was astounded by the diversity of the scenery throughout the country.
Around midday, we stopped at Aït Benhaddou, a village which is famous for its Berber history and old Medina, the latter which has been the filming location for popular films such as Gladiator and even the series Game of Thrones. With its rather other-worldly architecture from the distance, I could see how it has inspired such films to be set there!
We were given a walking tour of the Medina; since it was midday, the sun was intense, beating down on our hungry, sweaty bodies as we visited the walled village and learned about the Berber culture. Aside from being a popular filming location, it also used to be part of the caravan route for salt trade, back when salt was as valuable as gold. It was interesting to learn all about this, as well as discovering a place in Morocco outside of the bustling cities like Marrakesh.
The tour lasted an hour, and we had lunch afterwards in the New Town of Aït Benhaddou: it was a relief to finally eat something, as I treated myself to a vegetable couscous. We left shortly afterwards from the village, continuing on to Zagora, a town near the base of the Sahara and where we would be starting from to see the desert.
We arrived around 19h00 at a site just a few kilometers away from Zagora, where we would begin our camel ride at sunset over to the camp where we would stay the night. Knowing that things would get quite windy and sandy in the desert, I’d brought the headscarf that I’d purchased in Marrakesh the day before, and after having the camel guide tie in up for me, I climbed up onto a camel and held on for dear life as we took off towards the camp in the evening.
Although the ride was far from smooth like what you would expect from riding a horse, it was nevertheless a cool experience- I can now say that I’ve ridden a camel! The sunset was absolutely gorgeous, too, as the ball of light continued to dip lower and lower behind the mountains, eventually disappearing altogether.
After an hour, we reached our camp site, where we were shown to our rooms to sleep: I roomed with the three Russians in my tour group, and they proved to be incredibly nice people. We didn’t have much time to rest, though, as the camp ground leaders gathered us on the carpets outside of the cabins, offering Moroccan mint tea (delicious, by the way) as an aperitif, before we were taken into the dining room for a simple, but rustic three-course meal of soup, chicken and vegetables, and one of the juiciest, sweetest honeydew I’ve ever had. The meal certainly made up for the lack of running water in the bathrooms; I couldn’t shower, and the best I could do was wash my face and brush my teeth by using the water bottle I’d brought with me. Certainly the camp life, to say the least.
We went to bed and we were promptly woken up the next morning around 6h30 to catch the sunrise. After another simple breakfast of bread and more Moroccan mint tea, we took the camel ride back to the road, where we would get our tour van all the way back to Marrakesh.
Just like with our drive over to the Sahara, we also made stops along the way for landscape views. Also stopped at Ouarzazate, a city which like Aït Benhaddou is a popular filming location, for films like Lawrence of Arabia and The Mummy. There was also a cinema museum in town dedicated to its history, which we didn’t explore but nevertheless was cool to consider.
After a couple more pit-stops, we finally reached Marrakesh close to 18h00. Passengers were dropped off at different locations based on their hotel/hostel/Airbnb situation: I, along with the Japanese couple, was dropped off at the Jemaa el-Fnaa, where from there I walked back to my hostel. Got dinner at the same cafe I’d eaten at two days prior, and met up with my friend, who’d just gotten in that evening, back at the hostel.
While my trip to the Sahara desert was brief, nevertheless I enjoyed it. The drive was super long, but I got to see so much beauty in the countryside, which I’d never experienced before. Camel ride was great, too, even though I got a massive butt burn that lasted for two days afterwards- at least I can cross the camel ride off my bucket list!
More adventures from Morocco to come soon. Next up: Chefchaouen, Morocco!
— The Finicky Cynic
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