When travelling North Africa, going to the Sahara is an absolute MUST! This is an experience that I highly recommend to anyone and everyone heading to Morocco. Your journey into the desert is honestly one of the most satisfying trips you'll make when adventuring this slice of Africa.
We've all seen the pictures and let me tell you, it's exactly how it looks. Bright blue skies, burnt orange sand and the hot African sun lighting up the long days! I've made my way to Merzouga four times now, and every time I am even more amazed that somewhere so beautiful, so serene and picturesque can actually exist in real life. Every year I find more to explore and I discover a new way to venture out to this epic place, a place that makes me feel so content and so damn alive!
There is no experience equivalent to being guided into the vast nothingness of the desert by a local Berber guide. You're sure to be enamoured by the magic of spending the night on the sand, eating and sleeping amongst the stars. The feeling is almost impossible to explain, to fully grasp just how extraordinary this place really is, you really need to experience it for yourself.
There's no doubt that your journey to Merzouga is one of the longest on land treks you'll do when in Morocco. Let's be real, the the desert is far! But once you've arrived there is so much for you to see & do and a few different ways to make this long, but satisfying travel. Here are my hot tips for what to do and how to make your way into The Sahara.
My tips are based on getting there from Marrakech, which has been a great base in Morocco for myself. It connects with almost every other city in the country via train, bus or plane. However, you can find many of the same kind of routes from most other major cities in Morocco.
Take the Bus:
I love to ride the bus out into Merzouga. At 8AM every morning, there is a Supratour bus which leaves from Marrakech. This bus will take you through the stunning Atlas Mountains, separating the Atlantic and Mediterranian coastlines from the desert. On the 12.5 hour drive you will stop at local towns for a 20 minute bathroom break and a 30 minute lunch break, to arrive in Merzouga at 8:30pm. This is the town you’ll stay in, and although it’s small, there are a number of great accommodation options.
I love living the backpacker life when I travel, so I usually opt to stay in hostels. My favourite local hostel in Merzouga is Le Gout Du Sahara, which is situated in a dreamy location, a 2 minute walk from the bus stop, and a 5 minute stroll to the glorious edge of the desert. From Le Gout Du Sahara, you can easily make your way out to the dunes on foot, and take as much time out there as you need. Once you get out there, you’ll understand why you need a lot of time to take in the arresting serenity.
Le Gout Du Sahara is owned by an amazing local man named Hassan, who is extremely welcoming, and goes out of his way to make the place feel like home. Although the amenities here are of a basic level, it’s still one of my favourite places to stay in Morocco. Now that you’re in the town of Merzouga, you’ll be able to book a tour for a night under the stars, just like that which is offered as part of the all inclusive tours, just without the breakneck travel speed. You’ll also be able to book a wide range of other incredible desert activities like riding on camel back, taking a dune buggy or a quad bike for a spin, and riding in a 4x4 across the dunes. More on those sweet activities later!
I spent my first night in the town exploring, learning about its atmosphere and what it had to offer. It’s a real delight to socialise with the locals and customise your desert journey to suit you, rather than being beholden to a tour. You may find that the serenity and isolation out here in the desert so alluring that you want to stay an extra few days - and you should!
When your time comes to depart, you might be able to hitch a ride back to Marrakech or any other major city with one of the tour companies operating out here, often for the same price or less than a bus ticket. This makes your return journey fast, and cheap. And by fast, I mean 10 hours.
Upon checking in to just about any hostel or hotel in Morocco, they’ll ask you if you want to book a tour to the desert. The desert package is quite standard across the board, and consists of a 3 or 4 day trek into the Sahara Desert. These packages are great value for money, and a perfect option for your first time in Morocco.
Your package will include a ride to and from Marrakech, with stops at various popular destinations along the way. Once in the desert you’ll receive a hotel for your first night, a camel ride into the dunes, a night sleeping under the stars, and meals.
These tours are an excellent introduction to Merzouga, and due to how far away it is, it's the perfect option if you haven’t got a lot of time. I did one of these tours the first time I visited. Although it was an incredible experience, it wasn’t necessarily my favourite. I’m a slow traveller, so I found the speed of the journey and stops along the way a bit overwhelming. It seemed as though too much had been packed into a small fraction of time.
The tour was split over 3 days, on the final night we arrived on the edge of the desert for sunset, and experienced a magical, unmatched feeling. But by the time we’d arrived, there wasn’t much light left to explore the dunes, which was the disappointing part for me. The tagine dinner we were served in the desert was incredible, and the whole environment was really special. Although the experience was wonderful, I yearned for more time to take it all in. However, it was my very first time in Morocco, and I doubt I could have navigated the desert confidently without a guide from beginning to end. If it’s your first time in Morocco, or you’ve got limited time, a tour is your best option. It’s cheap, easy, and offers you an incredible couple of days in delightful exotic locations - but be prepared for a lot of time in the car, and a whirlwind trip.
Rent a Car:
If you’re a confident driver, and want to incorporate a road trip into your Moroccan adventure, then renting a car is a great option for you. I would suggest purchasing a sim card with data, so that you can utilise live maps and not get yourself lost. It’s also really important to be aware of the road rules, because police are notoriously present on Moroccan roads. As long as you’re staying alert, cruising in a car to the desert is one of the best ways to travel.
The scenery you witness as you drive is jaw-dropping, and it’s a remarkable experience to stop and enjoy the beautiful, exotic locations along the way. The journey from Marrakech to Merzouga is fairly safe, and comfortable. The roads are well constructed, and there are a number of petrol stations and towns you will pass along the way. If you have experience driving on winding roads and have a yearning for the wheel, I would highly recommend driving out to Merzouga.
What To Do in Merzouga?
Sleep Under The Stars
Get yourself out into the dunes on camelback or in a 4x4, and enjoy the transcendent experience of sleeping under a sky full of stars, with no obstruction or light pollution. When you go on one of the trips you can book at Le Gout Du Sahara, you’ll be provided with a tent, a place to sleep, and a traditionally prepared Moroccan feast. All this while you’re surrounded by nothing but sand, under a sky littered with stars. While you’re out there, have a go at sand-surfing (more on that in a bit), and climb to the peak of the highest dune to enjoy stunning views of the sunrise, and sunset.
Tear It Up With A Quad Bike Or A Dune Buggy
Riding quad bikes and dune buggies through the sand is a special kind of thrilling. It was easily my favourite activity in Merzouga, exciting and exhilarating. There is a feeling of freedom as you cruise around the desert without a concern for time. You can source a guide to take you through the desert on a quad bike or buggy, and they’ll accompany you to the peaks of dunes that would be a struggle to reach on foot. When you get up to those vantage points, you experience the expansive surrounding terrain with an entirely new perspective. It’s a wicked experience, and I highly recommend it.
Check Out The Town
Smaller communities in Morocco like the town of Merzouga are fantastic to get acquainted with. Merzouga has a few nice local shops, and spots to grab a feed. It doesn’t take long to make your way around the whole town, but it's charming nonetheless, and a great place to relax and let the outside world float by.
If you love to feel the wind in your face and indulge in new experiences, sand-boarding is just the activity for you. It’s a high energy sport, and one of the best ways to spend an afternoon in the dunes. If you’re a confident skater or surfer, the skills are transferable and sand-boarding will be a breeze. If you’re a beginner, you can also sand-board with your feet strapped to the board, or by laying down like you would on a boogie-board. There are sand-boarding options for everyone on the dunes, regardless of your skill level. It’s an awesome, adrenaline-inducing experience which will be a nice contrast to all the chilling you’ll do in Merzouga.
You'll find everything you need including ATM's in the town of Merzouga.
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