The desert is a place of immense beauty and mystery. There is something awe-inspiring about desert landscape that evolves before your eyes, the nomadic people that call it home, and the extremities in weather that allow only the toughest creatures to survive there.
Recently, I was searching the Internet for travel inspiration when the Sahara Desert in Morocco popped up. It seemed that many travellers visited Morocco purely to see the desert and spend a night under the stars. As I dug deeper, I started to learn about Morocco’s stunning blue city, the fascinating Berber culture, and impressive ancient sites.
Being in Spain at the time, I thought to myself – why not book a trip to Morocco as it’s just a short flight away? The goal was to fulfil a lifelong dream to venture into the Sahara Desert and experience Moroccan culture on a thrilling 3-week trip. Starting in Marrakesh and traversing more than 6 destinations, this trip was full of adventure and unique experiences.
Exploring the Narrow Alleyways of the Marrakech Medina
My trip to Morocco began in the vibrant city of Marrakesh. I spent a couple of days there wandering through the narrow alleys of the city’s ancient walled medina. In the busy streets of the medina I encountered specialty souks selling everything from spices to lanterns, emblematic Moroccan architecture, beautiful rooftop terraces, and ancient modes of transport such as donkey carts!
I also visited the incredible Jardin Majorelle founded by the French painter Jacques Majorelle and later gifted to Marrakesh by the French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. I spent several hours there walking amongst the cacti, palm trees, and fountains; as well as popping into Majorelle’s beautiful art deco studio which showcases over 600 indigenous artefacts.
After a few wonderful days in Marrakesh it was time to set off on a 3-day tour to Merzouga – a small Moroccan town in the Sahara Desert near the Algerian border and the gateway to the rolling sand dunes of Erg Chebbi. This adventure turned out to be the highlight of my trip and an experience that I will never forget.
Magical Sunsets, Night Skies and Sunrises in the Sahara Desert
Our trip began with a visit to the Berber villages that surround the Atlas Mountains and to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou in Ouarzazate province. The Ksar is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat famous for its earthen buildings surrounded by high walls and corner towers. We were fortunate enough to meet some local Berbers and taste their local brand of whisky which was just incredible!
Day 2 saw us quickly visit Tinghir and the Todgha Gorge before starting our 1.5-hour camel trek into the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi where our desert camp awaited us for the night. This was easily the highlight of our trip, as we got to see the most spellbinding sunset imaginable from the top of the highest sand dune we could find. It was a dream come true.
I would say that the Sahara Desert is the best place in the world to watch the sun set. As you look out at the rolling sand dunes with the sun melting into the horizon you instantly feel so small in such a huge place. Having nothing but sand in every direction makes the sun feel closer than it really is because distances are harder to judge.
Another wonderful feature of the desert is the lack of light pollution. Not only did we catch the sunset along the way but sleeping in the tent under the most basic of conditions allowed us to see the night’s sky in a glorious setting. I might have counted over a dozen shooting stars that passed by that night. Sleeping in the desert was such a magical experience.
Waking up the next day there were no more camels left for my tour group, so I had to join another group to take the jeep back instead. Luckily, the jeep was delayed by 45 minutes and we got to catch the stunning morning sunrise while we waited. Then it was a long drive back to my hotel in Marrakech where I would next set off to Chefchaouen, Fez and Agadir.
Moroccan People are Sophisticated and Friendly
Morocco has been a melting-pot for centuries now. In addition to the indigenous Berber people, the country has hosted a variety of cultures from around the world including Phoenicians, Arabs, Romans, Spanish Andalusians, French, and Sub-Saharan Africans. Most locals speak Arabic and French, with some speaking Spanish and English too.
I was lucky to meet a few locals in Marrakesh, Merzouga and Chefchaouen to name a few places. They were all incredibly friendly and helpful people. On one occasion, I got lost navigating my way around Chefchaouen because every corner looked identical to one another. So I went into a local store and asked for directions.
One of the store employees was kind enough to walk me back all the way to my hostel even though he was unsure where it was located at first. Morocco was the first developing country I have visited, and I must say that I was taken back by the generosity and hospitality of the people.
Although, like in most touristy places in the world, you have to be careful of people trying to scam you with various false guide schemes. Basically, they would try to befriend you or offer to show you around the city and expect some sort of monetary compensation at the end. But if you just say no and remain firm, you will be fine.
Delicious Moroccan Cuisine and Heavenly Mint Tea
Moroccan cuisine is amazing to say the least! Tajines are one of the main dishes there – a stew which consists of a variety of veggies, meat and spices cooked in an earthenware pot. You can also find incredibly cheap street snacks like Moroccan style pancakes for 5 Dirham.
One of the best things about Morocco is the Mint Tea. You will find this iconic Moroccan drink pretty much everywhere you go – whether it be at restaurants or offered to you by shopkeepers inside their stores. The tea contains spearmint leaves and piles of sugar. It’s hard to say if the tea is healthy but it sure tastes amazing and surprisingly refreshing on a hot day!
Morocco is a truly incredible destination with a unique culture, history and many places to explore. Throughout my three weeks there, my trip was nothing short of amazing. I will never forget the magic of this country and the incredible Sahara Desert!