How to Choose a Sahara Desert Tour in Morocco

Camping, Camels and Sand Dunes in the Moroccan Sahara

As my taxi pulled into Cairo International Airport in advance of my flight to Casablanca, Morocco, the driver informed me of one destination I’d missed during the marathon two weeks I spent in his country. “Camping in the Western desert near the Libyan border” he said, “is something you must do the next time you’re in Egypt.”

Never one to wait for a “next time” — or to count on it, for that matter — I began researching trek’s into the Moroccan Sahara almost immediately after landing.

Let Me Plan Your Trip to Morocco
 

Although the dune-y portion of the Sahara desert within Morocco is small by African standards, a huge variety of tour options exist. Decide on how many days you want to spend in the Moroccan Sahara, what you want to do there and where you want to sleep before you commit to a tour to ensure your expectations match up with what you find among the dunes.

How Many Days?

 

When you begin investigating Sahara desert tour options in Morocco, you’ll notice headings for all tours offered specify the number of days you spend on the tour. When I visited in October 2011, tours were available for durations as short as one day and up to four days, although fine print always specifies that longer stays are available.

Morocco is a huge place: Most of the tours depart from Marrakech, located near its eastern seaboard, while the Sahara occupies the eastern frontier of the country. As a result, you have to understand that even getting to the desert takes a pretty significant amount of time, so if you choose a one- or two-day tour, I don’t know how much of the actual desert you’re going to see.

 

As a general rule, I would say you should book as long an itinerary as you can afford — the longer your tour, the further into the Sahara you can get. I embarked on a three-day, two-night tour at the advisement of my hostel’s owner. Shorter tours, she warned, don’t permit you access to the dunes of the Sahara. You know, the portion of the desert that actually looks like desert.

Making Sure You See the Dunes

I actually wish I’d booked a four-day, three-night instead. The first day was comprised of a long drive over the beautiful Atlas mountains and ended with us barely entering into the “rocky” portion of the Sahara, spending the day exploring the Kasbah of Ouarzazate, where several of the movies in the “Mummy” series were filmed. We slept in a hotel near the Dades Gorge in the Draa Valley, admittedly one of the coolest places I’ve ever been.

 

It wasn’t until just before sunset the second day that we arrived in the town of Merzouga, the gateway to the dunes of the Moroccan Sahara near the Algerian border. We hopped promptly onto camels and traveled a few kilometers into the desert, where we set up camp — as in tents, fires and sleeping bags, oh my! That night, the adventurous among my group (present company included) smoked hashish with our Berber guides and climbed to the top of a 300-meter sand dune, which provided incredible views of the entire desert.

Unfortunately, morning came quickly: By 6, we were on our dromedaries and en route back to Merzouga, where the “third day” of the tour was about to begin. Again, I will emphasize that you should book as long a tour as possible, particularly if being among the dunes and camping are your highest priorities in seeing the Sahara. The longer your tour, the less of it (percentage-wise) you spend in a motor vehicle.

Onward Destinations from Merzouga

 

The last day of whatever tour duration you select is spent completely in transit — either back to Marrakech, the starting point of most tours, or onto other places in Morocco, namely the city of Fez in the country’s central valley.

Do be aware that if you choose not to continue back to Marrakech, you are responsible both for facilitating and paying your way onward. Two of the German girls in my tour group wanted to continue on to Fez as well, so I wasn’t alone in my struggle — and I’m going to be honest, it was kind of a struggle.

 

From Zagoura, you need to take a “petit” taxi to the town of Er-Rachidia. The cost of this taxi is negligible if you have several people, but be warned: You will share this cab with five other passengers, in spite of its (rightfully) being labeled as “small.”

Several onward options exist, including a government-owned CTM bus directly to Fez. After a few days in the desert, however, I have a feeling you’ll be like me and wanting a bit more luxurious transport. If you have some extra dirhams to spare, a car to Fez can be yours for 720 DH, or about $86. That sounds like a lot — and it is — but if you have three or more people, the extra cost is well worth the comfort and freedom.

Another advantage of taking a private taxi to Fez is that you can make your driver stop along the way so that you can enjoy the stunning views you get descending out of the Atlas mountains into Morocco’s vast central valley.

Where and How to Book — And How Much

I’ve mentioned several times in this article that I departed from Marrakech and accepted advice on which tour to take from a hostel owner there. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Marrakech is the place to book.

I’d also recommend you follow my advice and book directly through your hostel. Although you will certainly be placed on a third-party tour with people from other hostels and hotels in the city, booking through your hostel ensures you get a fair price and gives you an outlet for recourse in the event that something goes wrong with your tour — it shouldn’t, but I’m just saying.

As far as price, I paid 950 DH for my three-day, two-night trek — the worthless (inasmuch as I detailed above) one- and two-day treks are slightly less, the longer ones slightly more. Unless you are spending a huge amount of time in the desert, I wouldn’t pay more than 1,200 DH.

So what does the price include? All your transportation and lodging — including a camel ride in the Sahara and a camp there — as well as breakfast and dinner. That means you’re left to pay for lunch, incidentals and drugs out of pocket.

About The Author

is the author of 523 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Hi Mary:

    Although it is theoretically possible to book your tour from Ouazarate, waiting to do so will limit your options and, in a worst-case scenario, leave you at the merch of the touts there. My advice would be to shop around for tours while in Marrakech and bargain with the tour company to accommodate you on a flexible, customized basis. This will not only allow you for greater leverage when it comes to price and itinerary, but in the event that anything is not to your liking, you will have some recourse.

  • Emma Joyston-Bechal

    Hi Robert we have just opened a comfortable eco camp beach and then from October Sahara. It was started for our yoga and healing retreats but is also open to any travellers. Would love you to visit Emma

    http://www.moroccoretreats.com/luxury-eco-desert-camp-adounia/

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Cool :-)

  • Allison Beth

    Hi Robert,
    Do you know anything about the Sahara excursion (in particular 1 night/2 day trip) organized by the Riad Layla Rouge Hostel? I haven’t found too many reviews on their excursions but I’m staying there and it seems convenient. Its between that and a more expensive tour by a very well reviewed “desert majesty”, Any suggestions or feedback on which is better for a solo traveller (female) would be appreciated. Thanks!
    Allison

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Hi Allison:

    I think as long as you are going on a group tour, your gender or solo traveler status will not be an issue. As far as the hostel tour, even if you have no reviews to go by, the good news is that you always have recourse (i.e. complaining to the hostel) if it’s terrible.

  • Halley Souza

    Hi Robert,

    I live in Portugal and I’m planning to go to Morocco by motorbike. Do you have any idea if wild camping is allowed all across Morocco ? Thanks

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Halley: I am reasonably certain that it is allowed, but I am not sure if it’s always a good idea, i.e. in terms of wildlife and climate. You might want to speak to local berbers wherever you go to make sure it’s safe.

  • Juliana Izabel Polydoro

    Hi Robert, I’m going to Morroco in july with my sister, we are going to Marrakesh, I just booked the flight didn`t book the hotel yet, and I want to spend 3 days two nights on the desert, so should I book the hotel just for the nights I will stay in Marrakesh? I`m just afraid to do this then I can`t get any tour to the desert….

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Juliana, you will definitely be able to find some tour in the desert!

  • Faidy Rusinque

    Hi Robert,
    I’m also going to Marrakesh in July with my brother, I just booked my flight but I don’t have a hotel nor I have a tour. Do you have any suggestions for a good hotel/hostel that will be in a good location for us to find the best tours?
    Another question, will we be able to find tours to go to the desert in earl July?
    Thank you

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    HI Faida:

    I recommend staying at Hostel Riad Marrakech Rouge, which you can book on HostelWorld. They can also arrange a tour!

  • Nadine

    Hi robert. i am planning on going to marrakesh in february next year. I’d like to book a desert tour in advance so that i wont even have to pay for a hostel or anything. Which tour provider did you decide for? Any tips? Thanks in advance.

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Hi Nadine:

    Due to the way the tours work, you will need to spend at least one night in Marrakech, so it’s better to wait until you get there to book.

  • mohamed

    Overnight Camel Trek with “Cameltrekking Excursions” is an experience you will never forget and one which we hope will bring something unique to your adventure,Our DESERT TOUR offer traditional music and drumming,excellent cuisine and sleeping in the desert beneath a stunning canopy of stars in our tradicional nomadic camp!

  • chiarnia

    can you tell us how much did you spent for the tour? thanks!

  • chiarnia

    hey Juliana, can you please tell us how much did you spend for the desert tour?
    thank you!

  • http://www.choice1tours.com Medoti Mohamed

    Insighfull instructions about Desert Tours in Morocco! Choice1tours.com has many of the advantages recommended in this article for a memorable experience. your interests and experience matter. Time, caring and exploration. you are welcome to Morocco

  • Butterfly

    My husband and I have travelled extensively and always independently but decided to book a desert tour during our honeymoon. we Started our tour Marrakech and Ended it in Marrakech, The things we saw were amazing too. The snow covered High Atlas and Middle Atlas mountains, we visited several Kasbahs such as Kasbah Taourirt Kasbah Amridelt the best being Aït Benhaddou and Oasis, and some impressive valleys like Dades Valley where we spent our first night in a beautiful hotel as well as Todra Valley & Draa Valley.

    The highlight of the trip was a camel trek out into the Sahara, with a berber camel guide to sleep in a berber camp. Riding a camel is a bit of an adventure, but you really need to do it! The camp is very basic & authentic, drum players came to our camp to sing and entertain – and sunrise was awesome.

    We would recommend Marvelous Morocco Tours to anybody thinking of arranging a tour in Morocco. From the initial tentative communications by email to arranging the detail of the tour to the actual tour itself everything has been faultless. All correspondence has been prompt, informative and clear and the physical tour was of a high standard, exceeding our expectations. We often didn’t notice we were on a tour, we just felt like we were trekking independently with some new friends who didn’t mind carrying bags, setting-up camp, cooking, cleaning and having a chat – That was priceless to us. We are sure we will return to Morocco at some point in the future and we will not hesitate to book another tour with MMT http://www.marvelous-moroccotours.com

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Thank you so much for sharing your detailed story – it was very beautiful!

  • exciting trip

    exciting trip
    this article to every one want to discover the magic of moroccan desert us you know there are many desert in morocco for example the desert of erg chebi its realy an ocean of sand it take you to an specefic period of time were the people living in a simple life under tent and using a camels to travel or taking a baggage from one plaes to another f its really a terriffy place where the hotels any way the agence of morocco-sahara-tours are ready to take you in a trip in all part off morocco in imperial city or desert or attlas montain it does not matter you can find more information this web site http://www.morocco-sahara-tours.com

  • Pingback: Where is the Best Place to Ride Camels in Israel?

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