One of the main reasons to head to Morocco was visiting the Sahara desert. I wanted to see with my own eyes the magnificent golden dunes and feel the softness of the silky sand. Giving the fact that I traveled solo, I decided to book a shared trip from Marrakech to Merzouga and take a chance to meet other adventurers. For organizing the trip to the desert I chose IGoMorocco and here is how the trip went. Don’t miss to check the video with some of the epic moments from our tour at the end of the post.
I was prepared and I knew I had to wake up quite early in the morning. A long way was ahead and a sacrifice needed to be made. IGoMorocco offers a pickup transport from your hotel or hostel so you don’t need to think about how to get to the meeting point. They made sure I’m in the right minibus and took care of my luggage.
The Atlas Mountains
It took us less than 30 min to start ascending the magnificent Atlas Mountains. Our first stop was almost at the top where we were able to have some fun with the fresh snow and enjoy the gorgeous view around us. We also spotted a few merchants selling beautiful jewels. Berbers are really good at selling things and stay cool even if you don’t buy anything.
Ait Benhaddou a.k.a Yunkai – the yellow city (for all GoT fans)
Within our arrival at Ait Benhaddou (Ait-Ben-Haddou), we were taken by a local guide. He introduced us to some curious details about the place. Ait Benhaddou is a kasbah i.e. a fortress and is part of UNESCO’s world heritage list. Besides the fact that Daenerys and her army of unsullied marched there we also found out that a few families actually live behind the mud walls. These walls work great to regulate the temperature inside the houses not only during the summer but also in winter. We had a sneak pick to one of the courtyards and we spotted a donkey and a few goats 🙂
Apparently, Game of Thrones and Lawrence of Arabia are not the only movies shot in Ait Benhaddou. The list is quite long and includes the Gladiator, Alexander, Kingdom of Heaven, Prince of Persia and more.
Little Big Tip: The guide will ask for a tip – around 20 MAD (approximately 2 euro).
Ouarzazate – The Gateway to the Sahara Desert
We had a short stop in Ouarzazate known as the gateway to the Sahara desert and titled as the Moroccan Hollywood. As I mentioned before a lot of movie productions were shot in the area. Ouarzazate hosts the famous ATLAS Film Studios claimed to be one of the biggest movie studios in the word. However, the city is remarkably quiet.
Night at Boumalne Dadès
The first day passed and we were somewhere in the middle of our way to the desert. We spent the night in a small hotel in Boumalne Dadès area. After that long day with several hundred kilometers traveled a warm and delicious dinner expected us in the restaurant. A food for body and soul.
Little Big Tip: Keep in mind that it’s really cold in winter and there is no heating in the rooms just some blankets. The staff is kind enough to provide with additional blankets on demand.
Tinghir – an oasis in the drought
Early in the morning after a traditional breakfast, we hit the road again. Getting close to the desert the landscape changed dramatically. After passing the Atlas Mountains, seeing a greenery was a rare event. By most we were able to spot some palm trees or bushes, that’s all. Just a wide severe drought. My eyes were used to that view so when we arrived at Tinghir I felt a bit wired. I guess that’s the feeling when you visit your first oasis. In the past, Tinghir was a common stop for the caravans covering the Sahara-Marrakech route.
Tighremt N’Tazgue and its gardens
Tighremt N’Tazgue is a small village not far from Tinghir. This little settlement is a kasbah surrounded by green fields. Maslouh, our guide, welcomed us in the garden and showed us around. Apparently, the soil is rich enough and they can grow fruits and vegetables. After the walk in the gardens, we entered the kasbah and followed the small streets up to the top where a beautiful view of the valley and the hills appeared.
The Carpet shop
Berbers are extremely hospitable and polite people. While in Tighremt N’Tazgue we visited a traditional house in the kasbah. We were actually hosted by carpet merchants who, over a glass of excellent Moroccan tea (a.k.a. Moroccan whiskey), showed us the art of making carpets.
The area around Tinghir is quite popular among climbers offering a gazillion of climbing routes. We headed to Todgha Gorge – a magnificent canyon known for its 300 meters high walls. As almost everywhere we spotted merchants selling souvenirs, jewels and desert scarves. Keep in mind that the close you get to the desert the higher the price rises. So if you are not prepared with a scarf it’s a good idea to buy one. They cost is between 40-60 MAD (around 4-6 euro)
After few hours of driving, we finally reached Merzouga. The town is like a harbor on the boundless sand sea. Sadly we didn’t have the chance to walk and see around because we were running out of time and we wanted to see the sunset in the desert. Here comes the funniest part – camel riding. A group of camels laying on the sand was waiting for us to hop on. Camels might not be the most graceful animals in the world but they are really tender at least the ones I encountered.
Here I am on my camel, gazing at the boundless sand sea, waiting impatiently to hit the dunes. Our small caravan departed sluggishly and soon we lost Merzouga out of our sight.
On our way to Erg Chebbi camp, we stopped to watch the sunset and what an astonishing sunset it was.
Erg Chebbi desert camp
We reached the camp in dark and our hosts, a bunch of kind and jolly Berbers, were waiting for us. We were separated into small groups and led to our tents. Shortly after that, the dinner was served and there was even a dessert. Such a feast, given the fact that we are in the desert.
But the best part was yet to come. Our hosts made a bonfire so we can enjoy their drum performance under the clear starry sky.
Lots of dancing and singing followed and some of us also tried to learn Berber words.
On the next morning we continued the tradition to wake up early but this time with a great purpose ahead – to watch the sunrise.
Little Big Tip: Mornings in the desert are marvelous but freezing so it’s a good idea to wear gloves especially while you are riding a camel.
After breakfast, it was time to say goodbye to our hosts and head back to Marrakech.
As always all opinions are my own.
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