A trip to see Morocco’s Sahara Desert is one of the highlights of any trip to Morocco, ours included. The Sahara will bewitch you with its otherworldly beauty and the infinite patterns you’ll see in the sand dunes. It will surprise you with its lushness after the rains. And if you’re patient you just might find magic in the night skies as you lie on a carpet waiting for shooting stars.
The Sahara Desert is huge covering most of North Africa. Imagine all of the continental United States as a desert. That’s the Sahara. Interestingly the Sahara is approximately 30% sand and 70% gravel, a fact that becomes quite obvious when you drive through it.
What you should know about Morocco’s Sahara Desert
There are two main overnight desert camps in Morocco that offer camel rides along with access to the sand dunes Erg Chigaga and Erg Chebbi. The Erg Chebbi sand dunes, located a day’s drive and approximately 600 kilometres from Marrackech are by far the most popular dunes. Erg Chigaga, the ones we visited are even further from Marrakech and camps are more rustic.
Even though I did not visit the Erg Chebbi dunes, I would never want to after hearing about them from our driver, a nomad who has spent most of his life in the Sahara Desert. He told me that at the height of the busy season there can be up to 5,000 people in the camp, spread across both luxury and rustic hotels. He says worst of all are the ATV’s that ride through camps, making a heck of a lot of noise.
I loved our experience at Erg Chigaga. These sand dunes are definitely off the beaten path and accessible via four wheel drive only. Though they aren’t as tall as those at Erg Chebbi, they do cover a larger area and they’re quiet. As they are about 60 kilometres from the nearest road, I wouldn’t want to attempt to get to the desert camp on my own. As it was, we got stuck as did another vehicle and had to be winched out.
The ride into the camps was unbelievable. It had rained recently so our drive through this part of the Sahara Desert was through a mass of wildflowers. Camels roamed this area, grabbing mouthfuls of flowers while their babies let out contented sighs – at least according to Mustafa, our driver. I wouldn’t have known the sounds the babies made were ones of contentment.
Our original plan had been to catch sunset from the top of one of the sand dunes before heading to our camp. But as it took a while for help to come and get winched out from our sand trap so we were only able to catch the sunset from afar. Fortunately the next day we were able to enjoy an early morning camel ride to catch the sunrise.
In February, it’s frosty first thing in the morning. Temperatures are around freezing until the sun shows up so you really have to dress for the desert with a coat, mittens and a hat. By 9 AM you’ll probably be in short sleeves.
Riding a camel is touristy but at the same time it’s a cool experience and one I’d recommend. The camels take you to the base of some of the big dunes and from there you climb to the top for the views. We probably spent an hour walking and sliding on the dunes and taking a heck of a lot of pictures. In hindsight another night and day would be lovely just to revel in the beauty of the area.
After breakfast we still had a few hours to explore the dunes on our own before heading across dry Lake Iriki on our way to Tata. I just took off on my own for the dunes, keeping the camp in sight while John went off in search of birds. One of the biggest takeaways from our time in the Sahara Desert was the complete silence we enjoyed and the one thing Mustafa said he missed most when he left the desert.
The photos below will give you a sense of the beauty we experienced in the Sahara Desert.
Should you ever make it to Morocco include at least a night in the Sahara Desert. It was an unforgettable experience! We booked with Sun Trails out of Marrakech, a company I’d highly recommend.
Other posts you might enjoy about Morocco
- A 2 Day Hike in the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Southern Morocco
- 30 Interesting Facts and Observations about Morocco