First things first, when you are planning a trip to Morocco start practicing on your negotiating skills because you are going to need them!
When we were planning our trip to Morocco the first thing on our bucket list was a desert tour. We did some research en decided to book a tour in Marrakech.
Where to book a desert tour in Marrakech?
Searching for a tour operator that specializes in desert tours isn’t hard in Marrakech. You can find them on every corner of the street near the Djema el Fna, but finding a correct one is more difficult.
We went to a few who all offered us the same tour with the same activities, but with way different prices. For the 3 day guided group tour the prices varied from 140 euros per person till 60 euros per person. For private tours the price was of course more expensive.
We decided to go with Esprit D’aventure Marrakech because they offered us the best price for a 3 day group tour. We each paid about 60 euros. This tour included transportation, guided activities, 2 overnight stays + breakfast and diner, and a camel ride in the desert.
We chose for a group tour mainly because of the cheap price and because we also love meeting other people while traveling.
The itinerary: Marrakech – Merzouga.
Driving to the Atlas Mountains
Leaving Marrakech and driving through the Atlas Mountains is like entering a whole new world. You see a totally different side of Morocco. The landscape of this country is surprisingly beautiful!
I enjoyed admiring the landscape from the bus. Once in a while the driver stopped so you could take a picture of the stunning view. Just when you think this quite peaceful scenery, there they are… the pushy salesmen. Yes, of course the driver only stops where the salesmen have their stalls.
The first real stop after leaving Marrakech was the very impressive Kasbah Aït-Ben-Haddou. This is a medieval fortified village along the former caravan route between Marrakech and the Sahara. You have probably seen it before, as it is a very known film location. Major films such a The mummy, Gladiator, Alexander, Kingdom of heaven and many more were filmed there. A must see when you visit Morocco.
The guide explained us a little bit more about the city and led us around. The tour felt a bit rushed. We had no time to stroll alongside the wonderful souvenir shops, which I love doing by the way.
On the top we got 10 minutes off to take some pictures and then we had to go to lunch in a restaurant designated by the guide. Meanwhile someone of our group got lost and the guide was really stressed out about it. We had to wait on the same spot till he found the missing person. Honestly I felt a bit like I was on a school field trip.
After lunch we headed to the atlas studios of Ouarzazate. There they said we could choose to visit the studios or Kasbah Taourirt across the street, but we only had 20 minutes. Because this was a very short time period and in both locations we had to pay an entrance fee, we chose to enjoy a cooled drink on the terrace in front of the museum.
Till so far I wasn’t that impressed with this tour, but then again it was bargain.
Spending the night in Gorges de Dades
After driving a few more hours we arrived at our first night stay ‘Hotel Atlas Berbere’ in Gorges de Dades. A very basic hotel but everything we needed was available: food, a hot shower, a bed and WIFI! We ate a delicious tajine with our group for dinner. It was really fun to get to know our fellow travellers a bit better.
The next morning after breakfast we left for our second day on the tour. The sun was already up and we could see the amazing landscape of Gorges de Dades. We stopped a few times to admire the panoramic views and took some shots.
Gorges du Todra
Our first stop of the day was at Gorges du Todra where we visited a berber village. A new guide welcomed us and led us around. In contrary to the day before this guided tour went rather slow, because of many groups of tourists. We often had to wait our turn to see something or enter a place. The city itself was nice to see but not that impressive. We met the locals and saw how they lived and manufactured those mesmerising authentic carpets.
The children of the village are well adjusted to tourism and try to pick up a piece of bread by excessive begging. After a while this gets really annoying. I love kids, but when you leave a store with some supplies for the bus they almost jump you to get something out of your hands. Lucky for me the bus driver saved me out of this uncomfortable situation.
During the drive to Merzouga I saw the landscape changing from beautiful green mountains to mystique sandy desert villages. I noticed such colourful and stunning places from the window, but unfortunately no time for a little break. We needed to get to Merzouga before sunset.
Riding a dromedary
Arrived in Merzouga we heard we had about 2 minutes to pack some stuff into a little bag to take on our overnight camping trip in the desert. First of all we didn’t bring a backpack just our luggage and a laptop bag, second of all we didn’t know what to pack or what we needed for the overnight stay in the desert. So in hurry we packed our sweaters and some toiletries in the laptop bag and off we went.
We walked to the edge of the desert and I was so excited to see the orange sandy dunes and the dromedaries that I forgot how annoyed I was earlier by the lack of organization.
The berbers who own the dromedaries assigned one to each of us based on our height and weight. So were randomly divided and couldn’t choose to sit in the same line as the person we were traveling with.
Camping in the desert
Riding a dromedary looks cool but it was actually very painful. I was so glad I switched my shorts for long trousers before we left. After one hour on the back of the dromedary I was glad to arrive at our camp. First of all we needed to go find our tent, but the sun was already going down and the lightning was perfect. So I wanted to take some pictures first. This was the best decision ever because when we came back from shooting there was only one 2-persons tent available. The rest of the group who already had been in the camp, had to sleep in a group tent. The tents were very basic. It was definitely camping and not glamping.
I must say I experienced one of the most beautiful sunsets of my entire life there. The colours were magical and to share it with our group, felt even more special. We all enjoyed this moment so much. When the sun was down, the sky filled with stars. I had never seen so many stars together.
In the main tent tajine was served. Tip: take your own water with you, because there is nothing to drink in the camp. After dinner a campfire was lit and berbers were singing and dancing around the fire. They did a great job trying to involve us and after a while everyone was dancing. It was a perfect evening!
Sleeping in the tent wasn’t that easy because it was very cold. After Jan took some more blankets from the main tent I managed to sleep a few hours. I woke up in the middle of the night because I had to go to the toilet. Night-time was actually the best time to go, because there were no toilets en you had to find a spot in the desert between the sleeping berbers.
Rise and shine
At 5 AM we were woken up by the berbers. They said we had to hurry up to see the sunset without explanation. So it was only when we saw the others we knew we had to take everything because we weren’t coming back to the camp. So we headed back to the tent to grab our stuff, to then wait in line for a dromedary. This time we weren’t so lucky Jan and I were spilt up and I left for an amazing ride with first class view over the sunset in the dunes. I was magnificent to see that. Too bad I couldn’t share it with Jan.
When we got back from we desert the berbers asked a tip. Unfortunately Jan carries the money and he wasn’t with me. I tried to explain that, but at that moment they became very unfriendly and disrespectful. I was a bit disappointed with this mentality and the fact that they could switch from super friendly to so angry. When I saw Jan he was even more disappointed. There was a dromedary in his line too little so he didn’t even do the sunrise dromedary ride. They were just led to a parking spot and picked up by a bus.
The road back to Marrakech
After breakfast we headed back to Marrakech. Normally we would stop to visit a palace but this was cancelled from the itinerary because lack of time. During lunch our driver said we had to change to another bus and had to hurry up because the other driver was waiting for us. When we came outside the other driver was screaming at us not to waist his time. So we had to grab all our stuff in fast pace. When I told him to calm down that they had to tell us before lunch so we could have everything ready before, he became only angrier. Well this wasn’t such a pleasant end of 3 days desert tour. Lucky for us we arrived safe and sound back in Marrakech.
Pros and cons
In these 3 days I had both positive as well as negative experiences.
- You see a lot of Moroccan landscape in only 3 days. Too bad the driver only stops on assigned spots and lunch places. You have no control over the itinerary what so ever.
- Through the lack of organization (bad time management) and communication there were a lot of hick ups that could be easily avoided. If they only would be more transparent about what to expect when you book the tour. And give a bit more information about practical things, such as what to take with you (maybe a short list).
- The positive note is that first of all you see a lot of beautiful scenery in only 3 days. Secondly it isn’t expensive and almost everything is included in the price so you don’t need to worry about money during this journey. And finally you meet new people and can share these experiences with them.
This excursion is the perfect choice if you are looking for an affordable tour with a pleasant group experience. When you are looking for a more unique and customized tour, I would advice you to take a private tour. Prepare your itinerary well. So this way you can negotiate your personal route with the driver when planning the trip.
Are you traveling to Marrakech as well? Don’t forget to read our experience about staying in a traditional riad with additional tips about what to do in Marrakech.
If you have questions or something you to share about this blog post, please leave a comment below!
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