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 on twisty mountain roads. The private driver or Sahara tour option is expensive, more for those who like luxury experiences. I recommend the shared Sahara trip option for budget or solo travellers.
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 offer you to have the same experience with my trustful partners. Starts and ends in Marrakech. Possibility to end the tour in Fez
Why shared tour?
Why choose the shared group tour? First of all, everything is taken care of. 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 great for making new friends and sharing unforgettable experiences. If you would like to book a trustful and my personally tried many times 3 days shared Sahara desert tour from Marrakech, check this experience Sahara desert tour Morocco – 3 days experience.
Merzouga vs Zagora?
If you are planning a trip to the Sahara desert, it can be confusing what desert to choose. Morocco’s most popular desert tours are 3 days/2 nights trips to the Merzouga desert, Erg Chebbi dunes. A shorter option is the 2 days/1 night trip to the Zagora desert. However, 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 location for your visit to the Sahara desert? 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; the last was 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.
Are you wondering what to bring for the night in the Sahara desert? Then, please 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 the day’s 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, which is 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 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 one of the most iconic Morocco monuments. All houses in the Kasbah were made of earthen clay, and they are melting with time because of the rain. 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, I was surprised by its beauty each time. Unbelievable how Moroccan ancestors used to live before.
Our guide Mohammed led us 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 visiting the Berber house and lunch, we continued our journey northeast. The change in the landscape was dramatic. We left behind vast valleys and small villages and encountered the strangest ways to transport people or animals. Our journey continued through the Valley of Roses, manufacturing products of rose water for the whole of Morocco. The driver made a few short stops to rest and see how the rose water was distilled.
Before the sunset, we reached our hotel in Tinghir. Many travellers were surprised by 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.
On our second day started driving to Todgha gorges, where we met our local guide. He showed the surroundings of Todgha gorges, the Palmeraie, and explained how locals harvest plants. After, we continued to see the famous Todgha gorges – a series of limestone river canyons, some of which are up to 400 metres high.
The last 600 metres of the Todgha gorge are the most spectacular and attract 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 the gigantic rock walls magically change colours during the day.
After lunch, passing the 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 us how to tie our scarves and the Touareg turbans (I bought my beautiful yellow 5 m scarf at Ait Ben Haddou shop for 200 DH, around 20 euros). Then, we had a slow walk to the desert almost comfortably sitting on camel backs. 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 could 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, 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 reach up to 150 meters high, twenty-two kilometres long and five kilometres wide.
After meeting the sunset of the highest dune, we jumped on the camels back to the desert camp. The camp had a few clean toilets and a sink to wash your face and brush your teeth (a bit of queuing, but who cares when your body is full of sand anyway). We had an evening full of tagines, tea and drum music there. Even though it was November, it was not cold to sleep in the tents; we had many blankets. You can read my article about what to wear and bring for the night in the desert here. The following day, 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, you could even have a small shower.
last day drive
The third day was the hardest; we had a long drive back to Marrakech. Finally, after 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 of seeing the desert dunes.
Happy cameling, my dear friends!
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: