Camping in the Sahara Desert

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“I can’t believe we’re lost in the Sahara Desert.”

We all collapsed into a fit of hysterical/nervous giggles as we laughed at how ridiculous that sounded. Then the laughing stopped as suddenly as it started when we realized it just might be true.

4x4 in the sahara desert

I’m still not sure if our drivers were teasing us or we were genuinely lost but I’m sure we passed the same sand dune on more than one occasion! I have no idea how you differentiate one sand dune from another but the surrounding sand dunes were beginning to look worryingly familiar.

There were two 4x4s driving to our camping spot which was about an hour into the desert. After an hour of all the ups and downs and swerving around huge dunes we’d lost the vehicle in front and were in a frantic hurry to find our little camp site before sunset. We’d been promised that sunset in the Sahara desert is one of the most spectacular sights on earth so we had high expectations and didn’t want to miss it.

I was on a weeklong tour around Morocco with Intrepid Travel and I already knew that camping in the Sahara would be the highlight of the trip. I live in London but I’m a country girl at heart so I love being in the great outdoors. My usual camping trips involve mountains and lakes, an inevitable burst of rain and eating burnt sausages from an instant BBQ, so I wasn’t sure how this would compare. But let me tell you, camping in Africa is something else.

The day started on a high with a camel ride across the Moroccan sand dunes to take us part of the journey to our camp. The camels heaved us over giant dunes as we perched nervously on their humps.

The travel hack in Morocco

The trick to riding a camel is to go with the movement of their jerky steps.  You’ll find yourself lurching forwards and backwards as you hold on for dear life while clenching your thighs to their sides. It may not be the most comfortable journey but it’s definitely an interesting workout.

Camels are slow, gentle animals and you can’t help but fall in love with their relaxed attitude and those massive eyelashes.

After an hour of riding we swapped our camels for 4x4s and sped over the dunes to our campsite. It felt like a miracle when we finally saw our traditional tents waiting for us in the distance.

Traditional woolen tents in the Sahara desert

climbing sand dunes in the sahara

Happy to be in the Sahara

We reached our camping spot just in time to watch the sun set into the desert and we raced up the nearest sand dune to watch Nature’s show.

Our chatty group that had barely stopped talking since we met in Marrakech was silenced for the first time all week. And with a view like this, who could blame us.

Sunset in the Sahara

There wasn’t a single sound for miles around and it felt like we could have been the only people in the world.

The warmth in the sand disappeared the moment the sun went down so we raced back down the dunes to our traditional woolen tents where we huddled together to keep warm and drink sweet mint tea.

The tents were basic and had gaping holes in the sides which we found provided perfect windows to look up at the stars. It was quite possibly the most magnificent view I’ve ever seen.

There were so many twinkling stars above us that the sky didn’t even look dark. The Milkyway was a shimmering silver streak across the sky while shooting stars darted across it like diamonds. We dragged our sleeping bags and blankets out from our tents and lay in the soft sand to admire the view while making countless wishes on the shooting stars.

Moroccan tagines were served for dinner as we sat cross-legged in the tent around a steaming pot of delicious cous cous and vegetables. We sat there for hours, talking, laughing, telling stories and drinking sweet tea by candle light.

mint tea by candle light

Moroccan food in the sahara desert

Tahar telling stories

Tahar, our guide, turned out to be a great storyteller as he recalled his childhood memories growing up with his nomadic family in the desert.

Tahar didn’t leave the desert until he was 8 years old and had only ever met other nomadic families so he had no idea there was a whole world out there.

I remembered how I’d felt up on that sand dune where it seemed like the desert went on forever. It felt like there couldn’t possibility be other people out there, never mind cities or lakes or seas. He touched his face and his skin to indicate that he’d thought that the whole world looked like him, spoke like him and lived like him. I couldn’t image what a shock it must have been to discover how big the world really is.

He told us that he was a naughty child and didn’t take well to nomadic life. He was useless at looking after his father’s goats and always lost them so his father sent him away to school. He’d been brought up speaking a dialect known only by nomadic families so he struggled to learn anything at first but now he speaks 8 languages! He began working in hotels and gradually moved into tourism until he became the amazing tour guide that he is today.

Tahar woke us up early the next morning, promising that it would be worth it so we wriggled out of our tents. We took our blanket with us to keep warm and made our final tough journey to the top of the dune. You know it’s going to be a good day when you wake up to a view like this…

traditional moroccan tents

SONY DSC

watching the sun rise in the sahara

 

 

TheTravelHack

Monica is the founder and editor of The Travel Hack. She began the blog in 2009 when she left the UK to travel around Asia and Australia for two years. She's now a professional blogger and has travelled around the world in search of stylish adventure travel. Monica has recently had a baby and is now determined to prove that travelling with a baby is possible!

SHOWHIDE Comments (38)
  1. It looks gorgeous out there! It’s nice occasionally to be just in the middle of nowhere like that. No noise, no light pollution, no mobile phones.

  2. It’s so true. I don’t even remember the last time I sat around at night, drinking tea and telling stories. I think I need to switch my phone off more often because it was a lot of fun!

  3. We camped with Bedouins in Wadi Rum, Jordan and absolutely loved it! Though we didn’t love the camel trekking part. We trekked for about 3 hours or so and both had some pretty bad chaffing from doing so.

    1. Ouch, yes I can imagine that you’d be pretty sore after 3 hours. At first I thought that an hour on a camel wasn’t long enough but I was more than happy to get off at the end!

  4. I’ve never been to the desert but I’d love to. Especially to enjoy the view of the sky full of stars with no artificial light to interrupt the view. That would be fantastic! I need to make it happen 🙂

  5. Hey Monica, we’re excited that you had such a great time in Morocco and we’ve loved reading about your adventures.

    It’s certainly a thrill feeling like you’ve left the real world behind and spending a night in the most amazing camp. Needless to say it might seem like our guides are going around in circles, but people who are are born in the area, like your driver Tahar, have an uncanny knack of safely negotiating the shifting sand dunes to reach the desert camp – also in case anyone feels a bit anxious about being cut off from contact with the outside world, there is phone reception and our drivers have two sim cards so they can always get help if needed.

    Here’s to your next Intrepid adventure 🙂
    Sue, Intrepid Express Editor

    1. Hi Sue, thanks so much for your comment and clarifying that we probably weren’t lost at all, it’s just all about finding the safest place to negotiate those massive dunes!

      And please thank Tahar for being such an amazing guide and storyteller!

  6. This sounds like a perfect weekend away. The Sahara and the tents and the tea and the guide with all of his stories. We went to Mongolia a while back and this reminds me of the steppe experience we had there. Freezing cold nights in cosy tents with the most beautiful starry skies I’ve ever seen. The silence at night was almost deafening. I’ve never felt so free and/or alone in the world.

  7. What a fabulous experience!! I would have been terrified, excited, amazed and awestruck – probably all in the same moment. Thanks for the post, I feel almost like I was there (without the sand). Love the camel!

  8. Love it! You’ve captured the essence of that amazing desert and love your camel riding tips 🙂 I only once went to the Sahara on a day out from Cairo to see the pyramids and it was VERY difficult to get any sense of the place with hundreds of tourists everywhere …

  9. Thanks for sharing your Lovely story here!!
    My husband and two adult sons wanted a different holiday experience this year and decided to visit Morocco. We’ve lived in Europe and traveled extensively, but none of us knows North Africa. I discovered ( Marvelous-moroccotours.com ) online and sent a note explaining what we were looking for. Iddir’s responses to all my emails were thorough and amazingly timely. His recommended itinerary was perfect. We particularly enjoyed the desert camel ride and bivouac under the stars, and visit with a Berber family–really unique experiences we would not have found on our own.

    Our driver Said was the best, always attentive and willing to adjust to our needs. Iddir knows his drivers, tour guides and recommended riads and restaurants well. he is the best travel agent I’ve ever worked with, by far. My family has highest recommendations for Marvelous Morocco Tours!!

    1. That’s Ray. It wasn’t an Intrepid tour that members of the public could take. It was a fam trip (familiarisation trip for people who work in the travel industry) so it was a combination of a few trips to see the highlights.

  10. Hello, I’ve done a lot of research about going to a Sahara desert camping trip and have learned a lot about it. The one thing no one has wrote about is what to take with you on that part of the trip. Do you leave all your luggage at your original hotel in Marrakech? Can you take it with you? Or can each person just carry a backpack with them? What should I definitely pack? Thank you for any information!

    1. Hi. We were able to leave our luggage in our original hotel so I think most hotels will offer this service.
      You should definitely pack some warm clothing as it gets very, very cold at night. I’d pack a hat and some warm socks, a hoodie and even an extra blanket if you have it. And then in the day it will be very hot so clothing and skin care to protect you from the sun. And your camera of course!

  11. Hi Monica! Do you have recommendations as to which companies to book through? Most companies that I seem to find are luxury only with luxury price tags. Looking to do a 2-3 day tour and not brake the bank – any advice is appreciated! Thanks!

    1. My tour was through Intrepid and I’d definitely recommend them. They have a sister company called Urban Adventures who do short tours so they might be worth looking into as well! I hope you find something, it’s an amazing experience.

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The Travel Hack

The Travel Hack is a blog about stylish adventure travel and affordable luxury.

We believe luxurious travel can be affordable and isn't just for the rich. Follow along with our worldwide adventures as we share our trips and tips for incredible travel experiences on a modest budget.