Dreamy shots of girls running through sand dunes in colourful dresses, groups of camels walking atop a sand dune with the sun setting in the background, luxurious tented camps laid out as if its a Vogue photoshoot. You have seen the beautiful pictures all over your social media feed and have decided to spend the night in the Moroccan desert. But is that what it is really like to spend the night in the Sahara desert? The answer for many of us is, no.
The reality for me in fact was this: two hot and uncomfortable days travel to the Sahara, an epic sandstorm, a long walk when the camels become too uncomfortable to ride, lost belongings and not a single dreamy photo of me running across sun tinted sand!
But with all that being said, a night in the desert can be fun and since we arrived in the desert completely unprepared for the above, I want to share with you what to expect, what to bring and what it’s really like to spend the night in the desert!
BOOKING YOUR NIGHT IN THE SAHARA
First of all you will want to book your tour. If like us you are starting in Marrakech then there are plenty of cheap options available once you are in the city, however I would recommend doing some research in advance and potentially spending more money to improve the experience. We opted for a budget two night tour which included transport, a first night spent in a hotel Le Vieux Chateaux De Dades, the second in a tented camp in the desert.
You will likely meet with your tour group in Jemaa El Fna early in the morning around 6am, however don’t expect to leave on time, our bus didn’t leave until 7.30am. The journey to the Sahara is long, covering two full days of travel with some stops in between at sites such as Ben Haddou and Dades gorge. Your group will stop for meals during the journey, but I would still recommend bringing some snacks and some entertainment for the long rides.
You will stop for a night on the way, the quality of your accommodation will depend on what package you have chosen, but for many tours you can expect a basic hotel with a good meal in the evening. On second day you will continue your journey to the Sahara, arriving before sunset.
Unfortunately, the last hour of the car journey we could see a huge sandstorm over the desert which only got thicker as we approached our destination. We were told we would still go by camel to the camp, which was extremely unpleasant being blasted by sand for two hours! We were told that 50% of the time there are sandstorms, so here are my tips on how to prepare yourself for either a beautiful sunset or a sandstorm!
WHAT TO BRING:
- A scarf (or two) to cover your head and face, not for the pretty pictures, but to protect you should you get caught in a sandstorm like we did. These are not provided and may not be able to purchased where you begin the journey so buy them in the souks in advance.
- Water. We were told water would be available at the camp, but it was not.
- Tissues/ Hand Wipes
- Warm clothing to sleep in and long trousers for the camel ride
- Waterproof mascara! If you plan on wearing make up, make sure its waterproof. I had so much sand in my eyes, that they were streaming constantly to try and clear it.
- A small rucksack or overnight bag to take to the camp. You can only take overnight essentials and will have to leave your suitcases and bags behind. Ideally this should seal to protect any electronics or cameras you plan to bring with you, to protect them from the sand.
WHAT TO EXPECT:
- The camel ride can be long and uncomfortable, it took us two hours to reach the camp. Being in a sandstorm also made this unpleasant and in the end many people walked the majority of the way.
- The camp may be very basic and you will be sharing a tent with 4-6 other guests. The beds are mats on the floor.
- It can get cold, so bring some layers as you will only receive one blanket.
- There are no toilets, or even a protected area to retain your dignity. You will be peeing in the open desert!
- There are no extra amenities, food or water. We were given a small tagine to share between six people with some breads for dinner. The portions were minimal, so definitely bring some snacks along.
- You will be woken up at dawn to go back by camel during sunrise. Make sure to check you have all your belongings, we were given around 2.5 minutes to collect everything and unfortunately left behind a Kindle. We realised at the end and were told by staff we would need to pay US $100 for them to take the ten minute car ride over the dunes to get it for us. We did not pay and said goodbye to the Kindle!
Overall, whilst our experience in the Sahara itself was not amazing, I loved the experience of travelling to the desert and the stops we made along the way. Whilst we did not get the beautiful sunset, the dreamy Instagram shots, a luxurious tented camp and came entirely unprepared I would definitely recommend going! Just make sure to fully research the company you book with, splash out to improve the experience and go prepared!
I hope this post has helped you plan and enjoy your own Sahara adventure!
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