The Sahara Desert: You’ve probably seen it in plenty of movies and photos, but is what you’ve seen an accurate depiction of this huge sea of sand? Probably not. I certainly haven’t seen all of it, but most of what I saw is best described as colourless fields of nothing. It doesn’t sound too exciting, and for a lot of the drive it isn’t, but then the Erg Chebbi sand dunes come into view and the Sahara Desert you’ve always dreamed of becomes a reality. It’s a surreal looking place; giant waves of orange sand tower over an otherwise bland landscape – it almost looks like a plot of land that someone decided to grow huge sand dunes on.
An Uncomfortable Camel Ride at Erg Chebbi
We visited Erg Chebbi as part of an organised tour from Marrakech, Morocco. After 2 days in a minivan (with a few stops along the way), we finally arrived at Merzouga, a small town on the edge of the dunes. We climbed on our camels and set off into the Mars-like realm of Erg Chebbi. All was well in the world, except for the small fact that camels are really uncomfortable to ride on. After about 40 minutes of being constantly jolted up and down on a metal saddle, I climbed down off the camel and walked the rest of the way. It was the best decision I’ve ever made! Not only could I get better photos (it turns out being in a constant state of movement isn’t good for photography), but the fact that camels walk so slowly meant I had no trouble keeping up. I was climbing sand dunes and skipping through the Sahara Desert while everyone else in our group was struggling on board the camels (My camel did look a bit sad that I ditched him though, but it wasn’t personal).
Further reading: Interested in visiting Erg Chebbi? I wrote a post on the 3 day tour from Marrakech, check it out!
Can you spot the sad camel?
A Desert Camp
About an hour after we’d set off, we reached a small camp nestled beneath the dunes. We stayed in Berber tents, but what could have been a romantic night in the desert was ruined by the 5 other people sleeping next to us. I’m guessing you have to pay a lot more than we did for some privacy on these tours. It was fun though – there was a bonfire after dinner with lots of music and (forced) dancing, as well as a sky full of stars. The only thing lacking was alcohol – almost every social situation like this in the west involves alcohol!
The Cold Light of Day (and Night)
It turns out deserts get really cold. We visited Erg Chebbi in December, and once the sun went down the cold became quite shocking. We slept fully clothed and were still cold, and I was really dreading the impending early morning camel ride back to civilization. We got out of bed as late as possible (after about 5 wake up calls), and by the time we were ready to leave they had run out of camels, as one group had arrived in a 4WD the night before, and were promised camels the next morning. We were part of the unlucky (actually, really lucky) group that had to get a ride back to Merzouga in a 4WD. People say motorised vehicles shouldn’t be allowed on the Erg Chebbi sand dunes as they detract from the serene desert scene, and while that may be a good point, at that moment I was just happy to not be riding another camel (and we also got to go back to bed for another hour!).
If you want to see the Sahara Desert of your dreams, go to the Erg Chebbi sand dunes. It might be hard to get there, but I’ve seen articles on tours to other parts of the Sahara Desert and the scenery was really unimpressive – so take the 2 night/3 day tour to Erg Chebbi, suffer through the van ride (and the camel ride) and then marvel at this natural wonder of the world.
Further reading: Check out some facts about the Sahara Desert
Have you been to Erg Chebbi (or any other part of the Sahara Desert?) Let me know!
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