Why go desert camping in Morocco?
Ever wanted to get off the beaten track? How about straying so far, you can’t even find one? Let me suggest a little Moroccan dream – desert camping in the Sahara!
Desert camping in Morocco is not only a great idea for your African travel adventure, but you’ll be also joining the ranks of generations of people before you who gazed upon the Sahara stars as they drifted to sleep.
Or maybe you just want to embody Zendaya in the movie Dune (very justified tbf).
Nevertheless, it will change your perspective on travel forever. I’ve compiled an itinerary that could assist you on your way, and sprinkled throughout are diary entries from my own travels.
Where can you desert camp in Morocco?
The Sahara Desert is the largest hot desert in the world, spreading at an impressive 9,200,000 square kilometres. It covers ground in ten countries: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sudan, Tunisia – and of course the magical Morocco. It’s a popular choice, and the location I opted for.
The Atlas Mountains spread throughout Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. In Morocco particularly you’ll find traditional Berber villages which you’ll pass on your way through to your desert camp in the Sahara.
The Agafay Desert is a great alternative if you’re short on time as it’s just outside Marrakech.
What to pack
- Long sleeved, flowy t-shirts and long trousers – the local Berber people are very conservative and traditional, and it is important to be respectful of this. Also it helps protect your skin from the harsh weather of the blazing sun during the day and frequent sandstorms – long clothes just make sense!
- Portable charger – you probably won’t come across many charging points, so best to carry one to make sure you have enough battery to take a library full of photos!
- WATER WATER WATER! In the desert, bottled water is the liquor of the gods – for obvious reasons.
- Headscarf and sunglasses – the perfect combo to protect yourself from sand.
- Extra cash – to tip local guides and buy snacks along the way.
- Hygiene products like soaps and wipes – no frills camps like the one I stayed in had holes in the ground for toilets!
I departed early in the morning, canalling through Marrakech’s normally busy medina streets, with a backpack in tow and accompanied by my dad (we were on a cute father-daughter backpacking trip through Morocco and Portugal). We were headed on a two-day journey into the Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert in a small minibus alongside a handful of other travellers, all ready to disconnect…
Most tours will leave from Marrakech as it’s the least amount of driving time into the Sahara and Atlas Mountains compared to other cities. Even so, it’s still a multi-hour journey! Put in some headphones and take in the breath-taking scenery – because it WILL be a long (and very bumpy) ride!
Organised tours will go through Zagora and will stop through the famous landmarks of Ait-Ben-Haddou and the ancient city of Ouarzazate.
Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou is a UNESCO world heritage site that has literally stood since the 17th century. More recently it’s been a frequent filming location à la Game of Thrones and Lawrence of Arabia.
Then drive through the picturesque Drâa valley to reach the city of Zagora where your chariot to the desert camp awaits! And by chariot, I mean camel…
Trotting through the Sahara in a line of camels, all in complete silence, while I stared at a forever horizon. The sun was setting, leaving the desert in a warm yellow glow. A golden hour if there ever was one.
Camel riding is a popular activity to reach your desert camp. However, it is worth noting that ethical aspects need to be considered when doing it for tourism. Consider some ethical tour options or donations to charities like Spana who help these hardworking creatures.
Roughly two hours later, darkness surrounds and I make out a small group of white tents (or bivouac as they’re known). We had arrived.
Dancing, stargazing, tagine-eating and more awaits you at your camp. What happens in the desert stays in the desert of course. The night is yours.
I sat on a large Moroccan rug in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by strangers and a tummy full of tagine as I watched the stars appear one by one. A stillness in the breeze and an absence of city-life sounds – the silence was new to me, but readily embraced.
Brush off the sand and gather yourself to take some photos of you + the sunrise + the dunes. Take some time to bathe in the rare silence before preparing to head back to civilisation.
On the way back, consider stopping at the Atlas Film studio in Ouarzazate, where you can see film sets for blockbusters like The Gladiator and Prince of Persia.
Another spot worthy of your time is the ancient Kasbah in the city of Agdz.
Make sure to grab some traditional Tagine (spiced Chicken or lamb stew) and some mint tea at one of the many charming roadside restaurants for local cuisine and views of the Atlas Mountains to finish off your one-of-a-kind experience.
Where to stay
After being huddled in my stuffy tent, a sandstorm passed and I grabbed my blanket and sat on a swing outside my tent. The cool, largely sandless breeze was a welcome addition. Accompanied by the locals’ drums, I gazed at the stars while I drifted off to sleep.
If you’re on an organised tour, they’ll usually opt for traditional and basic bivouac tents. My experience was great but note they can be quite stuffy if unventilated. They also don’t have electricity – it’s purely about the remote vibes!
If you’re daring to organise your own desert camping experience, there are plenty of options in Zagora that are perfect.
Bivouac of Sahara Peace is a great option as you get both Sahara Desert and Atlas Mountains, as well as traditional bivouacs and camel rides.
If you fancy extending your trip, the Atlas Mountains has some charming choices, such as the Riad Jnane el Karma.
If you’ve got a tighter schedule and are close to Marrakech, stay at Selina Agafay for the full desert experience. As well as stylish tents and an onsite pool, it turns into one big desert rave once the sun sets!
If you’re extending your stay in the country (because why wouldn’t you), there are many truly incredible hostels in Morocco that you should add to your list.
How much will it cost?
Depending on the kind of trip you want, there will be a desert camping trip that should fit your budget but not waiver on experiences.
My tour that I booked directly through The Central House Marrakech Medina (formerly Rodamon) was 725 DHs (around 65 euros). This included transport, dinner, breakfast, accommodation, and a return camel ride. And you should be able to sign up from a lot of hostels in Marrakech. If you’re feeling extra glamourous there are SO many glamping options available too.
Take an extra amount of spending money depending on your budget for food/souvenirs, tipping and entry into certain sites, such as Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou museum, which is 20 DHs (1.80 euros). Other than that, an organised tour means it’s basically all inclusive baby!
Now it’s time for a (temporary) break-up with the outside world, while you opt for a desert-dream of a retreat that you can hear calling your name. Get going!
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