Bright orange sand dunes contrast with the black shadows of camels and their passengers. This could be any time in history. Those travellers could be merchants traversing the sea of sand we call the Sahara Desert in search of riches, or they could be tourists complaining about the lack of comfort their camel is providing.
I was there on a 3 day Sahara Desert tour which I booked in Marrakech. The tour is much more than just sand and camels though – it includes a cinematic village, an impressive canyon, a drive through snow capped mountains and a huge variety of stunning views. Here are the stops we made along the way (and also keep reading for all the details on booking the tour/getting a good price).
The Atlas Mountains
On the first day we passed through some great scenery after leaving Marrakech. The first stop we made was at a restaurant with some awesome views over green hills and in the distance we got our first glimpse of the snow capped giants of North Africa, the Atlas Mountains. We stopped a few times to take photos as we passed through the peaks; it was a great (but very winding) ride.
You’ve probably seen this town before. It’s been featured in movies like Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia, and some scenes in Game of Thrones were also filmed there. It’s such a cool place to explore, the mud brick houses and desert-meets-mountains views are incredible. Even if you decide not to do a Sahara Desert tour make sure you visit Aït Benhaddou.
Further reading: Cinematic scenes from Aït Benhaddou, Morocco
We stopped here for an hour or so to stretch our legs and check out the town. The driver suggested we visit an old film studio/museum but we preferred to explore the town instead. We saw a cool Kasbah (a fortress thing) and some interesting shops (we saw so many cool things to buy in Morocco but didn’t have the room to purchase many of them). We stopped for the night in quite a nice hotel near Ouarzazate; although it was probably one of the coldest places I’ve ever slept (we did the Sahara Desert tour in winter). We did get a nice view from the terrace of our room the next morning though, so it wasn’t all bad!
A drive through some unique countryside
There was a lot of driving during our Sahara Desert tour but the scenery was usually so good that it really didn’t bother me. We stopped quite a few times to take photos and admire the views; it was cold but worth it!
A visit to a rug shop
Ah, the inevitable rug shop visit. Every tour in Morocco has something similar, but luckily the salesmen at this shop in a tiny and very scenic village weren’t too pushy. If you’re in the market for a Moroccan rug you should check the prices in Marrakech before buying one at a place like this.
A guide jumped in our minivan and informed us that he’d be our guide to Todra Gorge. He then just kind of walked with the group down the road even though there was absolutely no need for a guide. We saw what was going on and sped past him so we didn’t have to give him a tip.
Erg Chebbi – The Sahara Desert of Your Dreams
This is what you came for. The exotic sand, colourfully dressed camels and Berber tent tourist villages. It’s as good as it looks – a true natural wonder of the world and surely one of the best sections of the Sahara Desert. After the sunset camel ride we ate a communal dinner with a lot of other tourists and then sat around the camp fire talking, listening to local music and gazing at the stars. It’s a great experience, one I’ll remember forever.
Further reading: Erg Chebbi Sand Dunes: The Sahara Desert of Your Dreams
So, does the 3 day Sahara Desert tour sound good? Here are some tips on how to choose your tour and how to get a good price.
Choose your sand wisely
Imagine you’re in a sand shop (OK, first imagine that sand shops exist) and there are 2 options to consider. One is a rough looking yellow variety and the other is pristine, bright orange sand beamed in straight from the silver screen. If you’re booking your dream Sahara Desert trip you don’t want to scrimp on sand, go for the premier class. In other words, make sure you go to Erg Chebbi (the 2 day tour will take you to the budget version).
Find a good price
Make sure you shop around for a good deal. Agents will always try and fleece unsuspecting tourists – if you don’t do your research and shop around in Morocco you will get ripped off. We booked the tour through our hotel and paid 700 MAD each, which is around $70. This included all transport, 2 nights’ accommodation, a sunset camel ride and 2 meals a day (we had to buy our own lunches). A good tip for making sure you get a fair price is to talk to your hotel about the tour and see how much it is but don’t commit straight away. Then go for a walk through the streets of Marrakech where you’ll be bombarded by tour touts. Talk to one and tell him you’ve pretty much already booked one but haven’t paid yet. He’ll then ask how much you’re paying, and will try and beat that price if he can. If he doesn’t offer to beat that price you know you’ve got a good deal!
Be prepared for long days of driving
You’ll travel in a cramped minivan and a lot of your time will be spent on the road. The good news though… a lot of the scenery you’ll drive by is really stunning. If you get motion sickness make sure you bring some pills; Gia learnt that lesson the hard way.
Some other things to remember about the 3 day Sahara Desert Tour
We did the 3 day Sahara Desert Tour in winter and it got really cold at night and in the early mornings. They provide you with blankets when sleeping in the desert but it’s still cold; make sure you bring plenty of warm clothes. Also, there are no bathrooms or showers at the camp we stayed at and the tents we slept in were shared between around 8 people. One couple we met were told they’d have a private tent – if you only pay 700 MAD there’s no way you’ll have one all to yourself. One more thing; camels are quite uncomfortable to ride and it’s hard to take good photos while mounted on one. Don’t be afraid to tell your guide that you want to walk for a while, you’ll get better photos and the camels walk so slowly that it’s easy to keep up.
Are you considering doing the 3 day Sahara Desert tour? Have you been to a different section of the Sahara (or to any other deserts around the world)? Let me know!
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Sunday 23rd of April 2017
I'm also a kiwi blogger wanting to do the Sahara next month. Do you know the name of the company or have a contact for the tour that you did? Trying to shop around before I get there ;)
Thanks! Ainsley www.ainsleyabouttheworld.com
Friday 10th of March 2017
Thank you for the post. I'm flying into Marrakesh in early June and definitely doing the desert trip. Will try not to pay more than 800MAD!
Wednesday 15th of March 2017
Hey Jackie, enjoy the trip! Try and let me know how the bargaining goes, will be interesting to see if the prices have changed and if it's more expensive in summer.
Saturday 28th of May 2016
I just read this article and it reminds me of our desert tour from Marrakech, we say alot more then just dunes too :). Morocco is a great country with a lot of things to see.
Friday 29th of July 2016
Thanks Helena, it's an awesome tour!
Tuesday 17th of May 2016
Thanks for the great read Jon. Are you able to share the name of the hotel you stayed in? I am planning on going to Marrakech in early August. You said you booked the tour at the hotel once you reached Marrakech, Would I be risking it by not booking the tour in advance as August will be a peak season? Thanks
Monday 23rd of May 2016
Cheers Sanjeev. I can't remember the name sorry! I'm pretty sure you can book in Marrakech, I didn't visit in high season though so don't trust that assumption too much.
Monday 2nd of May 2016
Did you take your bags with you? We will be doing a similar trip in November, and packing light, but I'm not sure if we need to book our room in Marrakech for the entire time to leave bags behind. Thanks, great post!
Monday 2nd of May 2016
Good question, I forgot to mention that! We left our bag at the hotel we stayed at in Marrakech free of charge -- I'm not sure if all hotels do that though so maybe ask before you agree to stay there. It probably also helped that we booked the tour through the hotel.