As a part of our trip to Morocco, we did a 3-days-tour to the desert of Merzouga. It was an incredible experience not only because visiting the desert cannot be compared to anything you’ve ever done but also for the cultural shock it is to visit traditional Berber towns and their people.
In this post you will find a day-by-day detail of our trip to Merzouga. If you want to know the differences between the two desert areas of Morocco, as well as some options you have for such a trip and tips and utilities to travel there taking the most of it without spending your entire budget, check my previous post ‘What you should know before visiting the desert of Merzouga’.
You can check here other posts about my trip to Morocco. These are the ones currently available:
- Visiting Marrakech
- 7 tips and utilities to survive Marrakech
- What you should know before visiting the desert of Merzouga
- Toubkal trekking experience
- Climbing Toubkal: the route stage by stage
1. The basics of our tour
Once we decided we were spending our vacations in Morocco, we absolutely knew that we wanted to visit and sleep in the desert. However, we didn’t decide if we wanted the experience to be in Merzouga or Zagora until we arrived at Marrakech, and it was the fact that a trip to Merzouga included also Tinghir palm-grove, the Todgha gorges and Aït Benhaddou that helped us make the decision.
Desert of Merzouga
If you want information about the types of trips available and my advice on how to book guided tours -if that’s the option you choose-, check my other post ‘What you should know before visiting the desert of Merzouga’. There you’ll find all the information you need to know when planning your trip to the desert and I strongly recommend you give it a look to complement this current post.
Right now, I’m just going to explain you the basics of our trip so you can have an idea of what it was while reading my experience. We booked an organised group tour with private rooms. The party was of 15 people (plus the driver), although in every stop we took we were grouped with other parties who were taking the same tour as us (we always met the same people at every stop).
We moved in a minibus. The trip lasted three days, starting at 7 am the first day and finishing around 8 pm the third. We were picked up and left at our hotel and we travelled a total of 1,150 km (715 mi) approximately.
Visiting the desert
Everything from the beginning to the end was organised, including the time we had at every stop and whether we could be by ourselves or we had to follow the group. It was comfortable in the sense that we didn’t have to worry about anything; however, we had almost no freedom to decide by ourselves. We would have liked a little more flexibility.
2. Day by day tour
7 am. Pick up from our riad. At least that’s what it was supposed, because they arrived almost an hour and a half later. Keep this in mind: schedules in Morocco are only indicative. They took us to the minibus and as we were the last ones to arrive, we had to sit separated. We departed around 9 am.
11 am. 15-minutes coffee and bathroom stop surrounded by the Atlas Mountains.
Surrounded by Atlas mountains
2 pm. Visiting Aït Benhaddou, one of the ksars (fortified ancient cities) along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. Currently the city is almost inhabited and, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it attracts a lot of tourists. It is also worth mentioning that, because of its excellent state of conservation -mainly for the constant renovation efforts of the community-, it has been the set of quite a few movies and TV shows, such as Gladiator, Babel or Game of Thrones.
The city of Aït Benhaddou
Our guide told us the history of the city and that the constructions were made of dung (that’s why they had to restore them every 5 or 10 years), we visited a traditional house were they showed us how they painted with natural colorants -such as saffron or tea- to ‘reveal’ the painting with fire (and of course offered us to buy their paintings) and a sort of movie museum, with pictures of all the movies and TV shows that were filmed in the city.
Picture revealed by fire
After that they took us to a restaurant where we had lunch and it was AMAZING to see how in two seconds it started raining cats and dogs to stop almost as abruptly. The sequence repeated itself through the whole lunch and left us wondering how many rainy days they had in that desert region.
We started driving again at 4.30 pm and a beautiful double rainbow joined us for almost the whole drive.
Rainbow after the rain
The restaurant you choose is also important. If you walk five minutes to the nearby town instead of staying in the restaurant they recommend you, you will eat just as good for half of the price.
6.30 pm. 15-minutes coffee and bathroom stop in the middle of nowhere.
8.30 pm. Arrival to the hotel in the Dadès Valley (near Dadès gorges). It took us some time because the driver had to go to three different hotels to distribute us all. We didn’t have any activity planned there, so we just had dinner and went to sleep. Some people of our group took cool pictures of the stars.
7 am. Breakfast.
8 am. Departure, picking up the rest of our party from their hotels. Around 9 am we stopped for 10 minutes to take some pictures and resumed the trip.
11.30 am. Visiting Tinghir palm-grove. We had a guided tour, this one included on our trip. We took a short walk through Tinghir palm-grove and we visited the city and a traditional house where they manufactured and sold all-size and types carpets.
Walking in Tinghir palm-grove
They gave us Moroccan tea and explained us how they worked the wool, the colorants they used to dye it (all of them natural), which animals the wool came from and the characteristics of the wools from different animals.
Of course they also showed us a lot of carpets but they were so chill and relaxed that you didn’t feel harassed to buy anything at any moment (so different from our experience in Marrakech!). All in all, despite what it may seem from the outside, it was one of the most interesting experiences of this trip.
Some of the carpets on sale
I don’t think that in this visit we had the option of going by ourselves because the driver picked us up from a different place that where he had left us and we needed the guide to take us there.
1 pm. Visiting the Todgha gorges. It was a 20 minutes stop so we didn’t have much room for doing anything. We had read that there are hikes in the Todgha gorges that take you to the top of the gorge and we would have loved to do one, but obviously there was no time to do so. That’s one of the reasons why I would have preferred to do this trip by car instead of in a group (read my post ‘What you should know before visiting the desert of Merzouga’ for more information on this matter). Anyway, the gorges were beautiful and I was able to climb a tiny rock, so the stop was not worthless at all.
The Todgha gorges
2.30 pm. Lunch stop in the middle of nowhere. In this case we didn’t have the opportunity to choose where to eat because the restaurant was isolated from everything in the middle of the desert. We resumed the journey at 4.30 pm.
6 pm. Arrival to the hotel and preparation for the camel ride and the night at the desert. The hotel room was shared by everyone on our party, and other groups too, to leave our luggage –we didn’t use the room for anything else-. We only wore a small bag with the basics to the desert (check the post ‘What you should know before visiting the desert of Merzouga’ for a list of what you need).
We put on the traditional Berber foulards to protect ourselves from the sand in case of wind or storm. I had the inestimable help of Kenneth Joe Uy put on mine while Erick Von Fredeluces was recording it. Ken and Erick are two amazing guys that take every opportunity they have to discover the world. Check their Youtube channels to see the Vlog of their experiences in the desert and all their travels!
Traditional Berber foulards
7 pm. Camel ride. The hotel was at the very edge of the sand dunes so we started our camel ride from the front door. Camels are very quiet and don’t get upset easily, so the ride was peaceful.
Me while riding the camel
At some point, once we were surrounded by sand dunes, we stopped to rest and to contemplate the sunset. The pictures don’t do any justice to the beauty of the moment.
Sunset at the desert
It was also the first time that we walked barefoot (it was easier than with sneakers). The sand was cold and welcoming. We resumed the camel ride.
8.30 pm. Arrival to our haima. We were welcomed with mint tea and peanuts, and we sat around the bonfire while the guides assigned each group their room. Then we had an amazing dinner (the best chicken tagine we had in Morocco) and after that we sat again around the bonfire, but this time it was show time.
Traditional Berber music
It started with traditional Berber drums and we enjoyed a few songs listening and clapping to the music, however, at some point a group of African girls spontaneously started to dance around the fire and soon enough everyone followed their lead. We were really freed: dancing, jumping, laughing, holding hands with everyone. It was a moment of pure happiness shared with every stranger around us.
11 pm. Climbing the highest dune of the desert – or at least the closest one. A bunch of people went with our guides to walk through the dunes when the drums had finished. Some of us even accepted the challenge of going to the highest dune we had around us. At first it seemed easy but as you were approaching the top, the dune was getting bigger and bigger, so at the end it was quite a trek and my heart rate was at its highest. Anyway, it was a welcomed change after two days of sitting in a bus, and the most important of it, now I have the experience of having climbed to the highest dune of the desert at night!
Walking the dune at night
12 pm. Time to sleep. Sleeping in a haima was an interesting experience. The rooms were inside tents, divided from one another by blankets hanging from other blankets that shaped the structure of the tent. The doors were of course also made of blankets and there was nothing similar to a lock to be found anywhere. The lights were shared between rooms. The sense of intimacy was almost nonexistent but I felt that contributed to the magic of that place: to share the experience with a community.
There were people who slept outside the haima directly on the desert sand, under the night stars. I bet that was pretty magical too.
6 am. Waking up.
6.30 am. Camel ride back to the hotel. By then our legs and groins were a little sore but it was nothing we couldn’t bear. However, that’s one of the reasons why I would recommend going to the haima by camel and leaving by 4×4 (or the other way around). The other reason would be to experience driving a 4×4 on the desert.
4×4 driving through the dunes
We stopped to see the sun rise and take pictures that once again make no justice to the beauty of the event.
Sun rising at the desert
8.30 am. Delicious breakfast at the hotel. We also had some time to refresh ourselves and prepare for the long journey back to Marrakech, because there was no touristic stop planned for this last day.
10 am. Departure.
12 am. 20-minutes coffee and bathroom stop. The ones that went to Fez instead of returning to Marrakech were picked up at this point.
3 pm. Lunch stop in the middle of nowhere, so we couldn’t choose the restaurant.
4 pm. Departure.
6.30 pm. 10-minutes bathroom stop.
8.30 pm. Arrival to Marrakech. We were left at our riad.
As I have mentioned during this post, I encourage you to read also
There I explain everything you need to know when you are planning a trip to the desert of Merzouga, including the list of organised trips available and other options such as renting a car, or interesting tips on how to behave or what you need to have with you both for the trip and the desert night.