Into the Dunes: Exploring Morocco’s Sahara

Into the Dunes: Exploring Morocco’s Sahara

One of the best ways to experience the beauty and culture of the Sahara is to visit Morocco, a country that borders the western edge of the desert. Morocco offers a variety of options for exploring the Sahara, from day trips to overnight stays in traditional camps. Whether you are looking for adventure, relaxation, or romance, you will find something to suit your taste and budget in Morocco’s Sahara.

Desert Safaris

A desert safari is a popular activity for tourists who want to get a glimpse of the Sahara’s landscapes and lifestyles. A typical desert safari involves driving in a 4x4 vehicle across the sand dunes, stopping at scenic spots and historical sites along the way. Some of the highlights include:

  • Erg Chebbi: This is one of the largest and most spectacular sand dune fields in Morocco, reaching heights of up to 150 meters. It is located near the town of Merzouga, which is a gateway to the Sahara. Erg Chebbi is known for its golden color and changing shapes depending on the wind and light.
  • Erg Chigaga: This is another impressive sand dune field, located about 50 kilometers west of the town of M’hamid. It is less accessible than Erg Chebbi, but more remote and wild. Erg Chigaga covers an area of about 40 kilometers and has dunes up to 300 meters high.
  • Ait Benhaddou: This is a fortified village that dates back to the 11th century. It is situated on a hill along the Ounila River, and consists of several earthen buildings surrounded by high walls. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been used as a filming location for many movies, such as Gladiator, The Mummy, and Game of Thrones.
  • Draa Valley: This is a fertile oasis that stretches for about 200 kilometers along the Draa River. It is dotted with palm groves, orchards, villages, and kasbahs (fortified houses). The Draa Valley was once an important caravan route that connected Morocco with sub-Saharan Africa.

Camel Rides

A camel ride is another must-do activity for anyone who wants to experience the Sahara in an authentic way. Camels are the traditional means of transport for the nomads who live in the desert, and they are well adapted to the harsh conditions. They can carry heavy loads, walk long distances without water, and withstand high temperatures.

A camel ride can last from a few hours to several days, depending on your preference and budget. You can choose to ride alone or join a group tour with a guide. You will be provided with a saddle, a blanket, and a turban to protect you from the sun and sand. You will also have the opportunity to interact with your camel and learn how to control it.

A camel ride will take you through some of the most scenic parts of the Sahara, such as sand dunes, rocky plateaus, dry riverbeds, and oases. You will also get to see some of the wildlife that inhabits the desert, such as lizards, birds, insects, and maybe even a fox or a jackal.

One of the best times to go on a camel ride is at sunrise or sunset, when the colors of the sky and the sand create a magical atmosphere. You will also be able to enjoy the silence and tranquility of the desert at these times.

Stargazing

Stargazing is another amazing activity that you can do in Morocco’s Sahara. The desert offers some of the best conditions for observing the night sky, as there is little light pollution and minimal cloud cover. You will be able to see thousands of stars twinkling above you, as well as planets, constellations, meteors, and even the Milky Way.

Stargazing can be done from anywhere in the desert, but some places are more suitable than others. For example:

  • Merzouga: This town has several hotels and camps that offer stargazing tours with telescopes and guides. You can also rent your own telescope or binoculars from some shops in town. Merzouga is close to Erg Chebbi, which is a great spot for stargazing due to its high elevation and clear horizon.
  • Zagora: This town is located at the end of the Draa Valley, and is a starting point for many desert tours. It has a few hotels and camps that offer stargazing services, as well as an observatory that is open to the public. Zagora is also close to Erg Chigaga, which is another ideal location for stargazing due to its remoteness and darkness.
  • Ouarzazate: This city is known as the Hollywood of Morocco, as it hosts many film studios and sets. It is also a hub for desert tourism, and has several hotels and camps that offer stargazing options. Ouarzazate is near Ait Benhaddou, which is a stunning place to watch the stars from, especially when the village is lit up at night.

Stargazing can be done all year round in Morocco’s Sahara, but some seasons are better than others. For example, winter (December to February) is the best time to see the Milky Way, while summer (June to August) is the best time to see meteors. You can also check the lunar calendar to avoid nights when the moon is too bright.

Conclusion

Morocco’s Sahara is a fascinating and diverse destination that offers many opportunities for exploration and adventure. You can experience the desert’s natural beauty, cultural heritage, and astronomical wonders through activities such as desert safaris, camel rides, and stargazing. Whether you are looking for a day trip or a longer stay, you will find something to suit your taste and budget in Morocco’s Sahara.

FAQs

  • Q: How do I get to Morocco’s Sahara?

  • A: You can get to Morocco’s Sahara by flying to one of the main cities near the desert, such as Marrakech, Ouarzazate, or Errachidia. From there, you can take a bus, a taxi, or a rental car to your desired destination in the desert. You can also book a tour with a travel agency that will arrange your transportation and accommodation.

  • Q: What should I pack for Morocco’s Sahara?

  • A: You should pack light and comfortable clothing that covers your arms and legs, as well as a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a scarf to protect yourself from the sun and sand. You should also pack warm clothing for the night, as it can get very cold in the desert. You should also bring water, snacks, toiletries, a flashlight, and a first aid kit.

  • Q: What are the best times to visit Morocco’s Sahara?

  • A: The best times to visit Morocco’s Sahara are spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November), when the weather is mild and pleasant. Summer (June to August) can be very hot and dry, while winter (December to February) can be very cold and windy.

  • Q: Is it safe to visit Morocco’s Sahara?

  • A: Morocco’s Sahara is generally safe to visit, as long as you follow some basic precautions. You should avoid traveling alone or at night, respect the local customs and laws, and avoid any political or religious demonstrations. You should also check the travel advisories of your country before you go.

  • Q: How much does it cost to visit Morocco’s Sahara?

  • A: The cost of visiting Morocco’s Sahara depends on several factors, such as your mode of transportation, your choice of accommodation, your duration of stay, and your activities. You can expect to spend anywhere from $50 to $200 per day on average. You can also save money by traveling in low season, bargaining with vendors, and joining group tours.

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