Our Sahara Desert tour was one of the highlights of our two week Morocco trip. Not only was it like nothing I had ever done before, but it felt like a proper adventure. A journey into the back of beyond. A place where time goes slower and the stars are just so much brighter.
Before we left for our Morocco trip, we knew we wanted to do a Sahara Desert tour, but we didn’t really know how to go about arranging or planning it.
We didn’t know how to get to the Sahara Desert or how best to plan our time there. It took quite a bit of research and planning to work it out, but in the end, we decided to visit the Sahara Desert on a 3 day organised tour. We chose a local company through Get Your Guide and decided to go in a jeep with a private driver.
I often prefer using public transport and planning trips entirely myself, but with the Sahara Desert, it doesn’t really make sense to. Public transport in the desert is limited and infrequent. It doesn’t add to the adventure. Exploring by jeep however and having a local guide with us to share anecdotal stories and insightful information was invaluable.
So in this travel guide, I will cover suggested Sahara Desert tours, as well as a guide to each of the places you’re likely to visit in the Sahara Desert. Read on and get excited for your own Sahara Desert tour!
A Sahara Desert tour in Morocco – Essential Things to Know
When is the best time to go to the Sahara Desert?
This might seem obvious, but I wouldn’t recommend doing a Sahara Desert tour in the summer months of June, July and August. Temperatures can exceed 50 Celsius and it would make the trip a lot harder than necessary.
Additionally, it would be too cold to go to the Sahara Desert in the winter months. Therefore, I would recommend going in March-April, or October-November when the day temperatures are lovely and hot, and the night time temperatures are not too cold.
What to take to the Sahara Desert
Things like bedding and towels are likely to be included in the accommodation on your tour, but I would recommend to definitely check this beforehand.
I would definitely suggest bringing lots of baby wipes. I seemed to be permanently dirty from the dust and the heat.
For the camel rides in the Sahara Desert, I recommend bringing some loose clothing and cover-ups, as it can get a bit cold. Also, sunglasses and a scarf to protect against the sand is essential too.
Choosing a company for your Sahara Desert tour
Realistically, most companies offer similar Sahara Desert tours, even at somewhat similar prices. The most important things to factor in when planning your trips are start/finish points, quality of accommodation and to check which meals are included. Another thing to consider is whether you want a private Sahara Desert tour, with the luxury of having your guide to yourself and the ability to adjust the itinerary, or if you’re happy with a group trip.
I would also refer to TripAdvisor to check reviews, as these are often really insightful and helpful when choosing a company.
We were hoping to use our Sahara Desert tour to actually eliminate an awkward leg of a journey – travelling from Fes to Marrakech. Fortunately, we found a Sahara Desert tour that did actually offered exactly that. With pick up in Fes and drop-off in Marrakech, with three days of exciting Sahara Desert adventure in the middle it was perfect.
There are hundreds of local tour companie offering two, three and longer adventures to the Sahara Desert, mostly departing from Fes and Marrakech.
Even if you opt to book through a company such as GetYourGuide, they’ll still be working with a local tour partner. If you book through GetYourGuide you get extra peace of mind, knowing it’s a tour with a tried and trusted local company.
I’ve picked out a few suggested tours below:
- Marrakech to Merzouga – 3 Day Tour
- Merzouga to Erb Chebbi Dunes
- 3 Day Tour to Sahara Desert to Marrakech from Fes
Our private Sahara Desert tour, departing from Fes and arriving back in Marrakech cost EUR250 per person. This included almost everything, except gratuity and lunches. The jeep was very comfortable, with charging points, great air-con and ample room to stretch out.
Our guide was friendly and his driving was safe. He didn’t take us to too many local trade stores, which is an added benefit of being on a private tour.
Key Sites and Attractions in the Sahara Desert
No matter where your trip starts and finishes in, these are all of the main places to visit in the Sahara Desert. If your route will go to and from Marrakech, then ignore Ifrane and Azrou on day 1, as you would only visit these if leaving from Fes.
I’m listing all the main places to visit in the Sahara Desert in the order we visited them on a our three day Sahara Desert tour.
Sahara trip: Day 1 Morning
Our guide picked us up in the jeep in Fes at 8am and drove for around 1.5 hours to Ifrane, located in the Middle-Atlas mountains. Having heard it was like a Swiss ski resort, I was really excited to see the town.
Ifrane is a beautiful ski resort during the winter months, and for the rest of the year, it is a leafy mountain town. It is very popular resort town for Moroccans to visit and the architectural style is very European. I found the town centre of Ifrane to be very clean, organised and well-maintained.
Next stop was the famed cedar forest in Azrou to meet the very friendly population of Barbary macaques monkeys. We bought some nuts to feed them and were relieved to find they were quite polite, as monkeys go.
After Azrou, we continued on to Midelt. Here, the landscape really started to change and become far more arid. It also started to feel really remote and more as I imagined the desert to be.
Here, we stopped for a light lunch before crossing the pass of Tizi N’Talghamt.
Sahara trip: Day 1 Afternoon
As we drove further south, the landscape really, really changed. We stopped at the viewpoint of Ziz Valley and its beauty blew me away.
In the fertile riverbed where water once flowed, were now thousands of date and palm trees creating a very cool visual effect. Old ksour (ancient villages) are dotted along the way. Yhis reall challenged my pre-conceptions of the Sahara Desert – it is so much more than just sand dunes!
We then stopped briefly in the busy desert town of Errachidia. Firstly, I really couldn’t believe how clean and organised it was, and secondly, how busy it was! It felt like we were so remote and so far south in Morocco.
We then drove onwards and started to approach the famed dunes at Erg Chebbi with growing excitement and anticipation.
The sand dunes did not disappoint. It was almost all of a sudden that the landscape outside of the car window changed. Rocks and mountain faces were swiftly replaced by golden sand as far as the eye could see. Incredible.
Soon, we were driving through the heart of the Sahara Desert towards the largest town around, Merzouga. This is also the tourist centre of the Sahara Desert, so if you were travelling to the Sahara Desert independently, this is where you’d be trying to get to for a desert adventure.
We arrived at the beautiful Auberge du Sud where we were going to stay for the night. I wasn’t sure what to expect with a hotel in the Sahara, but it was not this.
This huge property was luxurious, with gorgeous gardens and a big pool, although unfortunately it was full of sand, as there had recently been very strong winds.
Our Desert Camp in the Sahara
Interestingly, most of the camps in the Sahara Desert are owned by hotels. This means you have the luxury of a safe place to leave your bags overnight as well as the use of showers in the morning, whilst having a near-authentic experience in the desert camps.
I would say the camp that belonged to Auberge du Sud was mid-range. It was pretty basic but very comfortable. I had no complaints at all, as after all, we were only there for one night.
The journey into the heart of the desert from the hotel to the camp was done on camels, which is included on most Sahara Desert tours. We met our Berber guide who prepared us for the ride. It’s important to know you leave your large suitcases at the hotel, and take a smaller overnight bag with you on the camel.
We rode for around 1.5 hours. The camel ride started off with a lot of excitement, but towards the final third of the journey, my hips and back were hurting and the novelty had worn off. As we peaked at the top of every new dune, I really started to hope the camp would emerge.
It did finally, and we were able to finally jump off our camels to be greeted with Moroccan mint tea and some very welcoming soft giant cushions.
Sahara trip: Day 1 Evening
Our wonderful Berber guide, Hamed, cooked us up a huge Moroccan feast. He made us a delicious warming tagine together with cous cous and salad. For desert, we enjoyed lots of freshly cut fruit.
The temperature really does drop in the night, so it’s highly advisable to bring lots of warm layers.
We joined up with another couple for this journey, who happened to be a Singaporean couple on their honeymoon. We were lucky as the four of us got on so well and we had a fantastic evening. Hamed and his friends sung and played the drums with us, it was a special time.
Sleeping under the stars in the Sahara Desert
The Berber guides decided we should go and see the stars. So we followed them over the dunes for some minutes, into the deep dark black hole that is the desert. This is one of the best things we did in the Sahara Desert, it was magical.
There truly is no light pollution and my eyes struggled to adjust, it must be the darkest place I have ever been. They laid out some giant blankets and sort of tucked us up!
We lay there for what must have been 45 minutes – just enjoying the moment. It really felt quite special, lying on a blanket deep in the Sahara Fesert with new friends.
Sahara trip: Day 2 Morning
Sunrise in the Sahara Desert
After a few hours sleep, we were woken at 6am to see the sunrise. Whilst Hamed prepared breakfast, we went off to explore the dunes and capture some shots.
Hamed prepared our breakfast, which was far more extensive than I expected in the desert! We then prepared for our camel trek back to the hotel.
After a freshen up and a change of clothes back at the hotel, we journeyed into a nearby town called Rissani. This wasn’t officially part of our itinerary, but our guide informed us that they have really good Sunday markets and it was a Sunday after all. This freedom and spontaneity is definitely a perk of going with a private tour!
Rissani was fascinating and a great insight into rural desert Morocco life. Locals were eager to show us their products and we even visited the animal market where locals come afar to haggle for a new camel or a new donkey, for example.
Sahara trip: Day 2 Afternoon
From Rissani, we headed further north again to the Todra gorge. Here, we stopped at a small-scale rose water production store in the town of Kalaat M’Gouna, which is known as the Rose Valley, famous for producing rose water. It happened to be full bloom time in April when we were there and the gorgeous pink flowers everywhere were a great contrast to the sandy desert colours.
Our guide also stopped briefly at the side of the road, where I got to unexpectedly hold baby desert fox!
That evening, we stayed at Riad Tawaza, a gorgeous locally-run boutique riad perched atop the banks of the Todra Gorge. Our room, decorated with rose petals, was perfect after a long day of driving in the heat.
We enjoyed a delicious four course meal before crashing that evening.
Sahara trip: Day 3
After a breakfast on the roof overlooking the gorge in the warm sun, we continued on with a journey north towards Marrakech.
Ouarzazate and Ait Ben Haddou
The town of Ouarzazate could be considered the Hollywood of Africa as ,amy films have been created here. These include Lawrence of Arabia and The Mummy, leading to the introduction of a number of film studios in the area.
However, we didn’t linger for long here as we’re not movie buffs.
The real excitement for us just lay further up the road at Ait Ben Haddou. This settlement is centuries old, once occupied but now empty. This is the most famous ksar in Morocco and easily the best preserved. We enjoyed a tour with a local guide who explain its history, as well as its role in films, including Gladiator.
The last leg of the this epic Sahara Desert adventure was a long winding drive in the High Atlas Mountains towards Marrakech. We passed through the Tizi N’tichka pass at 2260m and unsurprisingly, the temperature was significantly cooler and quite rainy.
I don’t know if a holiday dedicated to exploring the Atlas Mountains would be my thing unless the forecast was better.
And that was it. We crawled into Marrakech in the early evening, after a brilliant few days exploring the Sahara Desert.
Sahara Desert tour
Have you visited the Sahara Desert in Morocco before? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.
I would highly recommend doing a Sahara Desert tour. Although you could do this kind of adventure with local buses and shared taxis, or even your own hire car, we actually enjoyed the jeep. We didn’t feel restricted at all and it was useful to have a local guide with us the whole way through.
If you are planning a longer trip around Morocco of a week or two, you might find some of my other blog posts useful. I’ve written detail guides to Rabat, Chefchaouen, Fes, spending 3 days in Marrakech, Essaouira and enjoying a beach break in Taghazout and Paradise Valley. I’ve also written some more specific blog posts on visiting La Mamounia in Marrakech as a day visitor, visiting Le Jardin Majorelle and a guide to some of the best places to eat in Marrakech.
Disclaimer: This visit to the Sahara Desert in Morocco was entirely paid for by myself. There was no involvement from the tourism board or any local companies. This is an independent guide
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