Imagine, meeting the sunset on the giant 400 m dunes. Or sleeping under the millions of stars in the desert. You don’t need to be a dreamer to achieve this, come to Morocco. The Sahara desert of Morocco is a must experience. Even though it’s a long drive, the breathtaking dunes will leave unforgettable memories.
Shared or private tour?
There are many ways to experience the magic of the Sahara desert. You can rent a car and arrange everything yourself. You can hire a private driver or book a private desert tour. The first option is more for adventurous travellers who have experience driving in the twisty mountain roads. The private driver or Sahara tour option is expensive, more for those who like luxury experiences. For budget or solo travellers, I always recommend the shared Sahara trip option.
Why shared tour?
Why choose the shared group tour? First of all, everything is taken care off. I was swamped with work and didn’t have time to plan a private desert trip. Second, none of us wanted to drive such a long distance. Third, the shared group tour to the desert cost only 105 euros and included almost everything except lunches and some tips.
A shared group tour is also a great way to make new friends and share amazing experiences. Last but not least, for a couple of years, I’ve been partnering with a great tour operator and knew they do their best.
Merzouga vs Zagora?
If you are planning a trip to the Sahara desert, it can be confusing what desert to choose. Most popular desert tours in Morocco are 3 days/2 nights trip to the Merzouga desert, Erg Chebbi dunes. A shorter option is the 2 days/1 night trip to the Zagora desert. The latter one is a bit confusing. Tours bring travellers to the rocky desert formation next to Zagora town while the real Zagora desert is located next to the M’hamid city. So, how to choose the right desert of Sahara? Please read my full article called Merzouga vs Zagora for the Sahara desert trip?
My experience: 1st day
I did the shared group tours to the Sahara desert myself. My first time was three years ago, and the last one in November. An old friend Cindy paid me a short surprise visit from Canada. Her dream was to experience the Sahara desert; therefore, I offered her to do the 3-days shared group tour.
Wondering what to bring for the night in the Sahara desert? Read my post What to bring for the night in the Sahara desert of Morocco.
The shared Sahara tour from Marrakech began at 7.20 am. Our driver Mustafa picked up all travellers with a comfortable minibus and explained days’ itinerary. Even though the trip started early, there was no time for sleeping. How could you see the 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.
Because of my motion sickness, I didn’t take any breakfast. The twisty Tizi n’Tichka mountain road is a bit challenging experience for weaker stomachs. However, Mustafa was driving carefully, not making crazy turns, stopping now and then at photogenic places.
Around noon, we reached the fortified village called Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou, dating to the 12th Century. A Unesco Heritage site, the village is and one of the most iconic Morocco’s monuments. All houses in the Kasbah were made of earthen clay and because of the rain melting with time. Ait Ben Haddou is still inhabited by three families, while the rest of the villages move to the other side of the river.
Many Hollywood and international films were shot in Ait Ben Haddou. From the famous shot in the Kasbah, you probably know Gladiator, Babel, The Mummy, Kingdom of Heaven, Prince of Persia or some episodes of Game of Thrones, Prison Break: Sequel, Homeland. Even though it was my fifth time at Ait Ben Haddou, each time I am surprised by its beauty. Unbelievable how Moroccan ancestors used to live before.
Our guide Mohammed led through the Kasbah and told more stories about Africa’s little Hollywood. “Don’t be surprised in Ait Ben Haddou and the nearby town 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 around Ait Ben Haddou village.
After a visit to the Berber house and lunch, we continued our journey north-east. The change in 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 of Morocco. The driver made a few short stops to rest and see how the rose water is distilled.
Before the sunset, we reached our hotel in Tinghir. Many travellers were surprised how nice and clean was the hotel, even better some of them were staying in Marrakech. We had a huge dinner; the restaurant also served alcohol.
Our second day started driving to Todgha gorges, where we met our local guide. He showed the surroundings of Todgha gorges, the Palmeraie, explained how locals are harvesting plants. After we continued to see the famous Todgha gorges – series of limestone river canyons, some of them are up to 400 metres high.
The last 600 metres of the Todgha gorge are the most spectacular and attracts many travellers. There the canyon narrows to a flat stony track, in places as little as 10 metres wide, and rock walls up to 160 metres high on each side. I didn’t witness it, but during the day the gigantic rock walls magically change colours.
After lunch, passing cities of Erfoud and Rissani, we were on the way to Merzouga. First, we arrived at the guest house, where we had a welcome tea. Our desert guides showed how to tie our scarfs, the Touareg turbans (I bought my beautiful yellow 5 m scarf at Ait Ben Haddou shop for 200 DH, around 20 euros). Almost comfortably sitting on camel backs, we had a slow walk to the desert. We passed the sands of Erg Chebbi, a massive sea of dunes of the Sahara Desert. Camels dropped us near the high dunes where we had some free time to explore the mesmerising scenery.
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 most celebrated 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.
After we met the sunset of the highest dune, we jumped on the camels back to the desert camp. The camp had a few clean toilets and sink to wash your face and brush teeth (a bit of queuing, but who cares when your body is full of sand anyway). There, we had an evening full of tagines, tea and drum music. Even though it was November, it was not cold to sleep in the tents; we had many blankets. My article what to wear and bring for the night in the desert you can read here. Next morning, we woke up before the sunrise and on the camels came back to civilisation. The breakfast was served in the main guest house, and if you were fast enough, could even have a small shower.
last day drive
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 exhausted, I couldn’t sleep. My head was full of emotions, sand and this strange experience seeing the desert dunes.
Happy cameling, my dear friends!
How to book 3 days tour?
3 days shared tour to desert (I tested many times)
The overnight Sahara desert experience should be on everyone’s travelling to Morocco bucket list. I went on the shared 3 days Sahara desert trip many times and offering you to have the same experience with my trustful partners. Starts and ends in Marrakech. Possibility to end the tour in Fez.
Check my Instagram account, in the stories highlights, I added my 3 days Sahara desert trip experience.
Check it out my video from the first shared desert tour a few years ago: