Visiting the Sahara Desert has been on my bucket list for years. Not visiting was my biggest regret during my first visit to Morocco in 2013. I was traveling while pregnant and making the journey just didn’t make sense. Thankfully I made it this time, with my whole family in tow. We literally took the most perfect Sahara Desert tour from Marrakech. Here’s mostly everything you need to know to book your own Sahara Desert tour.
Which Part of the Sahara Desert Should You Visit
The Sahara Desert in Morocco is made up of two areas, Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga. Erg Chebbi is the more popular of the two due to its proximity, being in between Marrakech and Fez making it easy to visit on the way from one to the other. If you want the option of staying in a hotel as opposed to a desert camp this would also be the best choice for you as many line the edge of the desert in Merzouga. Still a quick drive into the desert the hotel views are gone and you’ll feel as if you were hundreds of miles away from the nearest town. This is the part of the Sahara Desert we visited.
Erg Chigaga is further south and nowhere near a main town like how Merzouga is a quick 15 minute drive from Erg Chebbi. Instead the last two hour of your journey will be spent riding in a 4×4 through bumpy “roads” from Zagora, the nearest town to Erg Chigaga.Erg Chigaga is less traveled but from stories I’ve read online those who have traveled there say it’s spectacular. At the end of the day it’s a personal decision on which one you choose to visit, for us getting to Erg Chebbi seemed like less of a hassle.
Where to Book Your Sahara Desert Tour From
Depending on your Morocco itinerary you’ll most likely book your Sahara Desert tour from Fes or Marrakech. If you don’t plan on visiting either city, know you’ll most likely need to get to one of them first to get a tour guide. Fes is closer to the desert but as many people visit both Marrakech and Fes you can just visit the Sahara Desert on the way from one city to the other. Read our Marrakech itinerary here and our Fes itinerary here.
How to Get to the Sahara Desert
We looked into several drivers to get around Morocco. Our first plan was to have one driver take us everywhere but the price became astronomical quickly. It was much cheaper for us to get to each city on our own, including the Sahara Desert. The camp we stayed at, Desert Luxury Camp, offered round trip transportation at an additional cost. This cost was comparable to other transportation companies so we just booked with them to make things easier. We knew they’d know exactly where to go and familiar with the windy roads on the way.
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Another plus for us booking our transportation through them was as we were traveling to the Sahara Desert with kids they provided car seats. There was no additional cost for this and they provided one for each of our kids.
Where to Stay on the Way to Your Sahara Desert Tour
If you’re traveling from Marrakech like we were you might want to break up the 10 hour drive to Erg Chebbi. We did this on the way but on the way back we drove straight. It was great to break it up going as we made a lot of pit stops at points of interests which would have made the drive way longer than 10 hours. We spent the night at Dar Ahlam Dades. The hotel is new and offered family rooms in addition to regular rooms, which was great for us.
Included in your nights stay is breakfast but you can also have dinner for an additional fee. I recommend doing this as you’ll be so tired from the day you won’t want to venture out looking for something.
Things to See on the Way to Your Sahara Desert Tour
As mentioned we stopped many times on the way to the Sahara Desert. This included Tizi and Tichka-Ait Ben haddou, Ouarzazate, and Skoura Oasis before spending the night in Dades Gorge. The Tizi and Tichka is a very windy road up the Atlas Mountains. When you reach the top you’ll pass the Col Du Tichka which is the highest road in Morocco. There is a restaurant there and vendors selling trinkets.
Ouarzazate is the Hollywood of Morocco.It’s where many scenes from Gladiator and Game of Thrones were filmed. You can do a tour of the Atlas Studios, a one hour tour costs 80 dirham ($8 in 2019). Continuing on your journey you’ll go through the Todra Gorge. You’ll see rock climbers making their way up the tall rocks. There is a stream and it’s just a pretty formation to drive/walk through.
Our driver also stopped at a Berber house. Here we were able to learn about their history. One thing that stood out to us was that they don’t put money in banks. Instead their biggest investment is carpets, that’s what they sell if they need something. My daughters were able to take their hand at weaving a carpet as well. This stop was a great learning experience and I highly recommend asking your driver to allow time for it. Be aware after the presentation they will show you carpets to buy but the place we went wasn’t pushy about it at all and we didn’t purchase anything.
Where to Stay in the Sahara Desert
Once you arrive in the Sahara Desert you’ll stay in either a hotel in the nearby city or in the desert at a desert camp. I highly recommend staying at a desert camp for the best, once in a lifetime experience. We stayed at Desert Luxury Camp and I don’t know if we could have made a better decision. When we arrived it was just before sunset and the staff took care of our luggage and showed us where we could explore to enjoy the setting sun.
As we traveled to the Sahara Desert with kids our tent had three beds, two twins for the kids and a king for the adults. It was equipped with a heater/air conditioner unit, toilet, sink and shower. In front of our tent was a seating area. Watch the video below for a tour of our tent.
After it was time for dinner in the restaurant tent. You’re seated with only the people from your group and bottled water is provided for your table. Each night there is a specific meat that is served with a variety of sides. We didn’t realize this and that night beef was served which myself and children don’t eat (but my husband does). The staff was so accommodating and prepared an eggplant meal for us quickly without any fuss.
Once dinner was over we proceeded to the evening entertainment by the couches and fire. There were Sahara Nomads who performed songs with live music and got everyone up and dancing around the fire. It was nice and relaxing!
Breakfast is daily starting at 7:30 served buffet style. Both days there were pancakes, Moroccan crepes, cereal, hard boiled and fried eggs, toast with Nutella, fresh fruit, tea and coffee. We were very impressed with this desert breakfast as we weren’t anticipating so many options.
Unlike breakfast and dinner which is served in the large “restaurant” tent, lunch is served outside. This outdoor covered space is super cute with a variety of seating options. For lunch we were served vegetable tajine with chicken, bread, rice and salad. Everyone at the campsite eats lunch at the same time.
Staying at the Desert Luxury Camp isn’t cheap but it was so worth it. During our visit the rate was 200 Euros/night for adults, 50 Euros/night for kids 7-12 and free for kids 6 and under. Since we stayed two nights we received a 10% discount, reducing that price a little. The rate is all inclusive though including many activities listed below.
I’ve heard horror stories of other people sleeping in tents that didn’t have heat or A/C so they were freezing or burning up. Other stories about tents without beds or beds so hard you might as well not have had one. You can read more reviews here and book directly with the camp site here.
Things to Do on Your Sahara Desert Tour
Wake up for Sunrise
Depending on the time of year you visit the Sahara Desert sunrise can be as early as 5:30AM. Believe me I know that is super early and on vacation you just want to sleep in! Still it is so worth waking up for it at least one night, I did it both mornings we were there. The gorgeous colors of the sky with your toes in the sand as you watch the sun come up from the sand dunes was truly magnificent.
Go on a Camel Trek
I know there are mixed feelings about camel trekking but when staying at the Desert Luxury Camp (and most tent camps) it’s included in your stay of at least two nights. The trek lasted about three hours, starting at 10AM.
We trekked to a tall dune and the staff made us Moroccan tea at the bottom. After hanging out for a bit the guides took us up to the top of the dune. They let us know Algeria was only 25 miles away and gave us a little history on the area. We had time to take pictures which they will gladly help you with.
Like our matching outfits? Shop where we get all of our mommy and me dresses here.
Visit a Khamila Village
Another opportunity to leave the Desert Luxury Camp is to visit a Khamila Village. Here you’ll get to learn about the people who live in the area. The Khamila people are known for their Gnawa music, a traditional form of African Islamic spiritual music.
Have Lunch or Tea with Nomads
If you aren’t able to stop by a Berber home on the way to the desert you can arrange for a visit once you’ve made it. Instead of having lunch at the Desert Luxury Camp they can take you to a local family where you can have lunch or tea with them. Here you’ll be able to learn about their way of life and traditions in an intimate setting.
Enjoy Sand Boarding
Also included in our rate at Desert Luxury Camp was sand boarding! We’ve gone snowboarding in Lake Tahoe at Northstar Ski Resort and in Wisconsin Dells but never sand boarding. It’s the same thing, just with sand! It was a lot of fun but be prepared for a workout as there is no magic carpet or lift to get you back to the top of the dune!
Relax While Stargazing
We live in Miami so it’s never dark enough for stargazing. We also had horrible luck when visiting Anza Borrego Park as it’s perfect for stargazing but we were there during a full moon. So we were so excited for the absolute pitch darkness of the Sahara Desert! It is perfect for stargazing and once the nightly entertainment is done all lights are off in the campsite, minus individual tents of course but the light emitted through them isn’t much as the tents are thick. With seating right in front of your tent you don’t have to go far to gaze at the stars. It was a fun family activity pointing out constellations to our kids.
ATV Ride Through the Dunes
Want to see the dunes up close and personal? Whether you’re looking for an alternative to camel trekking or need to scratch your adrenaline itch, an ATV ride through the dunes is the perfect opportunity for both. This is one activity that was not included in our stay at the Desert Luxury Camp. Still they assisted us with arranging the tour and providing transportation to and from as it’s located away from the camp.
The company we did our tour through offers both ATV’s and Doon Buggy’s. The ATV’s were $60 each, seats two people and the Doon Buggy’s are $120 each, also seating two people. Since we were riding with kids we opted for the Doon Buggy’s as they are enclosed with doors, have seat belts and aren’t as easy to turn over as ATVs. We still took pictures on the ATV as that’s what our guide and another guest were riding!
Swimming in the Sahara Desert? Yes, it’s possible! The Desert Luxury Camp has a whole swimming pool on site. Covered by a large tent you’ll have shade in the hot summer months while cooling off in the pool. Access to the pool is included in your stay and perfect for those traveling with kids.
Watch the Sunset
A Sahara Desert sunset is like no other. If you’re only staying one night be sure to arrive well before sunset so you can settle down and really enjoy it. At the Desert Luxury Camp you can relax in the lounge chairs, walk out into the dunes, or even request a special seating area. With you so much space it’s easy to enjoy it with just your party and soak it all in.
How Long of a Sahara Desert Tour Should You Book
Our Sahara Desert tour lasted three nights with two nights at the desert camp. While I would still break up the drive on the way to enjoy all the sights we saw you have the time I recommend staying three nights at the desert camp. There were plenty of people who only stayed one night but I’m really against this. Most people don’t arrive in the desert until around 5PM and as we visited in late November the days are short so there wasn’t much time to do anything before sunset.
When you stay one night you leave the next day after breakfast so you really don’t have time to take it all in. Staying two nights like we did does allow for two sunrises and two sunsets but only one full day of activities. You still arrive in the evening on night one and then on the day you leave you’re gone by 8:30AM. Having that extra day would have allowed us to relax more and take it all in.
We also would have had time to visit the nomadic tribe which is still something I regret not having time to do. However, if you’re not interested in the camel trek, sand boarding or the ATV ride through the dunes that time could be used for relaxing and two nights would be just time.
We had the most perfect Sahara Desert tour and I hope we can return one day. This was truly a bucket list experience. Another experience you have to have in Morocco is visiting the Blue City, Chefchaouen (read our itinerary here). Did you find this article helpful? If so please share it!