A trip to the Sahara Desert in Morocco is one of the big highlights of a visit to Morocco. 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.
How big is the Sahara?
The Sahara Desert is huge covering most of North Africa. Imagine all of the continental United States as a desert. That’s the Sahara agafay desert camp. Interestingly the Sahara is approximately 30% sand and 70% gravel, a fact that becomes quite obvious when you drive through it.
Erg Chigaga or Erg Chebbi on a trip to the Sahara Desert?
There are two main overnight desert camps in Morocco accessible from Marrakesh. They both offer camel rides along with access to the sand dunes. One is called Erg Chigaga, the other Erg Chebbi.
The Erg Chebbi sand dunes, located a day’s drive and approximately 560 kilometres from Marrakesh are by far the most popular dunes. Erg Chigaga, the ones we visited are even further from Marrakesh 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 Sahara desert nomad who has spent most of his life in the 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 the worst it 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.
Book a 2 day tour to the desert
There are lots of options – and all will require a fair bit of driving. This 2 day tour via Get Your Guide includes a camel ride, sunset and sunrise in the Sahara desert agafay camp as well as a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ait Ben Haddou.
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.
Riding camels – a highlight of a trip to the Sahara Desert
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. It’s a bumpy ride but it doesn’t take long to get onto the rhythm.
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.
Note that in the winter months it’s frosty first thing in the morning. Temperatures are around freezing until the sun shows up. 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.
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. It’s the one thing Mustafa said he missed most when he left the desert.
The beauty of a trip to the Sahara Desert in photos
The following photos will give you an inkling of the beauty and what you’ll see when you visit the Sahara Desert.