“I ain’t the kind of person who likes group tours,” announced an old friend coming to visit me in Marrakesh. However, he really wanted to see the desert, we had zero time to search for a car rental or to plan the trip by ourself. Nor he wanted to spend 3 days driving through the twisting roads of Atlas Mountains. So, we took the three day group tour to the Sahara desert.
The tour began at 7 am when our driver Abdessamad picked up all travellers and explained details of the trip. Even though the trip started early, there was no time for sleeping in a car. How could you seeing a breathtaking scenery of the High Atlas mountains? I am originally from a flat country, Lithuania, that is so proud of its highest point of 294 m! Whereas during our drive through the High Atlas mountains we crossed Tizi n’Tichka (2260m), the highest road mountain in Morocco.
I’ve been to the Sahara desert before, so I knew that Tizi n’Tichka road can invoke again my fear of heights. However, this time, I had no problems with this. A big part of the twisty mountain road was fixed, wider and workers were remodelling the whole way to Ouarzazate. Our driver was also careful not making crazy turns, stopping any time we needed to take extra pictures.
The first stop was at a UNESCO World Heritage site listed Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou, dating to the 12th Century and one of the most iconic Morocco’s monuments. Many Hollywood and international films were shot in Ait Ben Haddou, such as Gladiator, Babel, The Mummy, Kingdom of Heaven, Prince of Persia or some episodes of Game of Thrones, Prison Break: Sequel, Homeland. It was my third time at Ait Ben Haddou and it’s still unbelievable how Moroccan ancestors used to live before. Even now there are many families staying in earthen clay buildings that are so sensitive to the rain and are literally melting with time.
Our guide Mohammed led through the kasbah and later drove together to the nearby city Ouarzazate, Africa’s little Hollywood. “Don’t be surprised in Ouarzazate seeing a lot of men with long black beards. They are growing them to be selected as Middle East terrorists in the upcoming movies,” said Mohammed while taking us on a tour to the local movie’s studio.
After tea break at a local carpet studio and lunch, we continued our journey north-east. The change of the landscape was dramatic. We left behind vast valleys, small villages and were encountering the strangest ways to transport people or animals. Our journey continued through the Valley of Roses that manufacture products of rose water for the whole Morocco.
Before the sunset, we reached our hotel located in the Dades Valley. The hotel had all facilities possible, our dinner was accompanied by live music. I wish to come back there in warmer seasons and enjoy the swimming pool with a splendid view of the city.
Our second day started driving to Tighir where we met our guide. He showed the oasis of Tighir and guided in Todgha gorges – series of limestone river canyons. Some of them are up to 400 metres high. It is said that during the day the gigantic rock walls magically change colors.
Finally, we were on the way to Merzouga, passing the cities of Efroud and Rissani. The driver dropped us at a guest house where we were transferred to the desert guides. Almost comfortably sitting on camel backs, we had a slow walk to a camp in the desert; we passed the sands of Erg Chebbi, a large sea of dunes of the Sahara Desert.
Honestly, before I was against riding camels as I saw it as too touristy experience. And here I was, sitting on my camel, feeling like a princess on her high throne, exploring her desert kingdom. It was a unique experience mixed with sandy wind and upcoming sunset.
I couldn’t believe that the shapes of the dunes can be so sharp. How do these sharp wrinkles form and, more importantly, stay that way? Is it the wind, the greatest sculptor in the world, that sliced the dunes with a knife or machete?
Slowly climbing the highest dune, we met our sunset and enjoyed the scenery of endless dunes. In some places, the dunes of Erg Chebbi are reaching up to 150 meters high and are twenty-two kilometres long, five kilometres wide.
Our day finished in the Berber camp where we had an evening full of tagines, tea and drum music. It was not cold to sleep in the tents, we were provided with many blankets. There was even almost a real toilet (with toilet paper!), desert cats and a gas heather in the dinner room. Those, who needed a shower, could do it in the morning after coming back to the main guest house. Oh, and breakfast there with dozen of small birds stealing our bread.
The third day was the hardest one, we had a long drive back to Marrakech. With many stops we came back home in the evening. Even though I was extremely tired, couldn’t sleep. My head was full of emotions, sand and this strange experience seeing the desert dunes.
Shall I do this group trip again? Yes, if I have friends visiting. It is much easier, no planning in advance, thinking where to rent a car or how not to get lost; the High Atlas road is also a bit of challenge for driving. Most important, it is much cheaper.
We paid 95 euro each and only had to take care of our lunch and tips to the guides. The last, you meet other travellers from all over the world. Even my dear friend that was so sceptical about group tours in the beginning, agreed he was wrong. Happy cameling, my dear friends!
If you are interested to do this trip, send me a message and I will help you to arrange it! I tried everything by myself and give my Blondie’s word that you will not be disappointed! firstname.lastname@example.org
My video about the trip:
p.s. greetings from my blonde camel!