What Actually Happens When Camping in the Sahara Desert, Morocco
Planning to do some Morocco Desert camping? Here’s what to actually expect!
So, one of the things Autumn and I wanted to make sure we tried to do was see some of Morocco’s desert. The most popular way to do this is to take a multi-day tour from Marrakech. However, with the way we planned our itinerary (in sort of a big loop), it made more sense for us to try to go from Fes.
We wound up spending 2 nights and 3 days in Merzouga, with one of those nights in the nearby Erg Chebbi dunes. I thought I’d go into exactly what happens on a Moroccan desert camping experience and answer any and all questions I personally had when we were trying to prepare ourselves!
The Sahara Desert, Morocco
So, I should start by saying the Sahara Desert itself is massive. It stretches across multiple countries. If we concentrate on Morocco, there are few ecoregions of the Sahara here.
In the south, there’s the Atlantic Coastal Desert, which is also in Mauritania. Then there’s the Northern Saharan Steppe and Woodlands, which also stretches through Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, and Tunisia. And lastly, there’s the Saharan Halophytics, which also go through Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and Mauritania.
One of the desert destinations for camping, Erg Chigaga near Zagora, is in the Northern Sahara Steppe and Woodlands ecoregion.
We went for the Erg Chebbi dunes near Merzouga. Apparently, they technically aren’t in the Sahara but in the Pre-Saharan Steppes. I don’t know enough about geology or the Sahara to know how all of this is different.
Anyway, Erg Chebbi has dunes that can go up to 490 feet or 150 meters. The word “erg” means large seas of dunes, so, yep, this is where you’re going to get some of those epic landscapes most people think of when it comes to the Moroccan desert. I will say those sand dunes at sunset were some of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen.
FAQs for Morocco Desert Camping
How much does it cost?
The luxury glamping experience is 700 MAD (~$72 USD)/person and the budget one is 450 MAD (~$46 USD). We got ours through our guesthouse in Merzouga, who had their own camels and whatnot.
Should I go for a more budget-friendly experience or glamping?
From what it sounds like, I’d pay more for the glamping experience. It really offers so much more, and it’s less than $30 more than the budget one. I also feel like it’s probably a bit safer since you have your own room and can lock the door.
What does my camp set-up actually look like?
It’s quite a gorgeous set-up! There’s a main tent for dining and then four tents on each side which are for sleeping. At the opposite end were two little sitting area set ups with hammocks and a fire pit in the middle.
What should I wear to the desert?
Pants! Wear pants on the camel. Goodness, I can’t imagine trying to wear a skirt! I wore these loose linen pants and a loose top as the desert is hot. Don’t forget sunglasses. I wore my white tennis shoes as well. There are no stirrups for your feet, so I can’t imagine what a pain it would be with slip-on sandals.
I didn’t feel like I needed anything to cover my head. I saw a lot of photos of people with little turban like things that protected them. However, to be honest, neither of us felt like needed one. Maybe there are windier days?
How do you ride a camel?
I’ve only ridden a horse like once when I was ten, so I’m not sure about comparisons. Autumn said it was quite different. Basically, you just gotta hold on for dear life. I kept squeezing my thighs and then trying to sort of move by hips/waist in rhythm with the camel.
Getting off is the scariest! You have to hold on for dear life as the camel goes down front legs first and then back legs. It feels like you’re going to catapult over the poor guy’s head!
Where should I do my desert tour from?
For Erg Chebbi, the closest city is Merzouga. It’s literally an hour’s camel ride from the camps, so probably like a 15 minute ATV ride through the dunes.
Honestly, if the weather is “cool” enough and you’re prepared, you could literally walk right through the dunes from one of the guesthouses a bit on the outskirts of downtown Merzouga. I mean, our guide walked the whole way in flip flops leading our camels, so it’s definitely not impossible.
I’ve read of women being sexually assaulted or harassed on their tour, should I be concerned?
I wonder if this happens more with the budget-friendly options because it’d be very difficult for it happen at our camp. We had our own tent, and we could put the latch down to keep it locked. I don’t know how someone would come in to assault us.
Does the camp have wifi?
Listen, I know someone is wondering! The luxury camps do have wifi, but it’s not amazing. Our power also went out for a solid few hours at night, so we couldn’t use it much anyway. I can’t remember if the cell service was decent because by then I’d used up my data allowance. I don’t think it was super strong though.
Our Trip to the Sahara Desert in Morocco
Getting to Merzouga
So when I first booked our trip, I knew Fes – Merzouga would be a long bus ride. However, I figured we’d just do it during the day, hop off to do a desert camping experience, come back, and get a bus to our next destination. Wrong.
There’s only one Supratours bus from Fes, and it’s overnight. We left in the evening and arrived to Merzouga around 6 am I think. After that, we slept, and woke up to horrible heat. Our guesthouse didn’t have A/C and we felt it almost instantly. We literally spent the whole day in a nearby riad’s pool to try and stay cool, only coming back to start our camel ride.
6:00 PM: Camel Ride
Around 6pm, we left our guesthouse for our camel ride. Because our guesthouse was a bit out of the main part of town, we actually got right on our camels and rode straight through the sand dunes. Our guide was this teenage boy who was pretty hilarious!
7:30 PM: Sunset
At different points, he had us stop to enjoy the views or take photos. We had a good bit of time to climb up and watch the sunset from one of the dunes. It really was quite stunning.
I will say, I had a laundry list of issues with our guesthouse, but the tour was well done. It was only us, so we weren’t in a group of people, and our guide paced everything out really nicely.
8:30 PM: Arrive at camp
After watching the sunset, we finished riding to camp. Since we were the first to arrive, we dropped off our stuff and went over to this little area where we relaxed on the hammocks. Eventually we were joined by a South African family and a Swiss mom and her teen daughters.
Once they all arrived, our hosts came out with some mint tea and cookies and nuts and chatted with us a bit about the camp and the dunes and whatnot. Then we were free until dinner.
9:30 PM: Dinner
I know, quite late! We went to dinner starving because we hadn’t eaten lunch, and our last meal would have been breakfast around 8:30 am.
Dinner was decent. It wasn’t my favorite meal in Morocco, but it wasn’t bad either. There were a few servings with salads, meat, and some fruit for desert.
10:00 PM: Campfire
This was my least favorite part of the night. It just felt so touristy. I know the whole experience is a tour, but it just felt so weird to sit there around campfire and watch three guys dressed up in garb playing the drums. Like, this obviously isn’t something they do in their free time or as tradition — it’s definitely a tourist-pleasing thing.
I really would have just preferred to relaxed and stargaze or read in the hammocks, but I kind of felt like we didn’t have a choice. It got real hammy when they had us try and sing our national anthems and dance with them.
Also, in case you’re wondering, no the desert in June does not cool down enough by 10pm that a campfire is welcome. I was already overheated, and this did not help.
Enjoy the Night Views
After about an hour of the campfire, we were kind of left to do our own thing. I started playing around trying to get some star photos using the ground and a drum as makeshift tripods.
The stars in the desert really are something else, and it reminded me of stargazing in the Atacama Desert, though much warmer.
My star photography session was interrupted by Autumn letting me know we had a slight feline problem in our tent. I’ll save you the story in this post, but if you want to know more, read about our experience with rabies and cats in Morocco!
6:00 AM: Sunrise
After a hectic night, we rolled out of bed for a 6 am sunrise. It was beautiful and delightfully cool. However, I was also ready to go back to sleep after five seconds of watching… which I did.
7:30 AM: Breakfast
Autumn woke me up for breakfast around 7:30. There was quite a nice spread, but I definitely remember that Berber omelette the most. It was quite tasty!
After breakfast, I proceeded to go to sleep again haha.
9:00 AM: Leave the camp
We were woken up probably around 8:30, with our guides letting us know check out was around 9 am. I kind of wish we had a teensy bit longer to enjoy the camp, but that might be because I was dreading going back to our guesthouse.
We opted out of taking the camels back and instead took a jeep back, which was much kinder to our thighs and bums.
The Day After
For the whole day after, we basically went back to the riad with the pool and stayed there until maybe 5 or 6 pm. There was an interlude where we had to go to the next town over for Autumn’s rabies shots, but that’s a whole other story.
After we finally pried ourselves from the pool, we showered and went into town for dinner at Cafe Restaurant Tenere. It was pretty nice, and we sat up on the roof by ourselves.
That night was probably one of the most torturous experiences we had in Morocco. Our guesthouse owner basically tried to bribe us by saying the A/C unit in our room could work and gave us the remote while also asking for a good review on Booking. Jokes on him because the A/C didn’t even work, and I was probably the most miserable looking person the next morning.
Honestly, if I did it over again, I would’ve just dragged a pillow and slept outside. It was much cooler out there than our room.
The Last Day
We woke up on our last day for breakfast and waited for an arranged shuttle driver to come pick us up to take us to Ouarzazate. Our guesthouse owner arranged it for us, and it was the same price as getting the CTM bus from town.
Let’s just say I was never more grateful for A/C in my life as I sunk into one of those seats!
More Tips for the Sahara Desert Camping
How to Get to Merzouga
Like I said, we took a Supratours bus overnight from Fes, and then a shuttle bus from Merzouga to Ouarzazate. You can check the CTM and Supratours sites to see the best route for you, or you could talk with your hotel to figure out private transport.
Where to Stay in Merzouga
We stayed at Family Moroccan House, and while it was dirt cheap, it was so not worth it. The temperatures were way too hot for any establishment to not have better ventilation or A/C! I do think you could make do if you stayed as little in Merzouga as possible. I’m talking — come in overnight, have the day in Merzouga, then do your desert camping experience, but leave early to catch the 8am bus out of town.
However, I also had a slew of issues with our owner, and if you ever meet me in person, I’ll be happy to share them. Just one example I’ll give is that he kept talking over us, even when I first spoke with him on the phone. It constantly felt like he was upselling us. I remember asking him the cost of the camp multiple times before he finally told me.
We actually spent most of our time at nearby Riad Ali, which I’d highly recommend for that glorious pool alone. I think we paid 100 MAD to use it. Autumn looked it up later and said the rooms came air conditioned, and it’s really not that much more at all.
Other places we looked at:
- Auberge Le Petit Prince (was all booked)
- Riad Dar Hassan
- Kasbah Mohayut
Weather in the Desert
I dunno, did I mention how hot it was in this post enough? We went in June, and it was beyond hot. Borderline too difficult to deal, and apparently it only gets worse in the later summer months!
I spent most of the time in a swimsuit in the pool, but you can see my other outfits above. That black dress was fine for town even though you can see my arms and calves. I didn’t feel uncomfortable or like I was dressed inappropriately.
Morocco Desert Tours
Here are some more desert tours to Erg Chebbi, both from Merzouga and Marrakech or Fes. These might be more appealing than our semi-DIY experience!
- Overnight Camel Trek from Merzouga
- Overnight Luxury Desert Camping
- Marrakech to Merzouga 3-Day Desert Safari
- From Fez: 3-Day, 2-Night Merzouga Desert Excursion
for more on morocco
For more inspiration for your itinerary, check out my favorite cities to visit in Morocco, like the blue city of Chefchaouen, historic Fes, the popular Marrakech, and the chill Essaouira. Check my post on how to get around Morocco for more practical tips.
And if you’re ready to eat, here are my picks for the best food and drinks to try!
Don’t forget to get travel insurance either, just in case. I recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWings depending on your budget! Check here to get a quote from World Nomads and here to get one from SafetyWings.
Have you been Moroccan desert camping? What did you think?
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Those pictures are stunning and I love your recommendation.
One of the things I like to add is where you are choosing your camp location plays a key part! Don’t go to camp that is close to proximity to next one. We stayed in Desert Luxury Camp and there was no one around! It was just amazing. You can walk for miles and not see anyone around. Most other camps are one next to each other and it can ruin the experience.
Good point! Ours was pretty secluded as well