The Sahara Desert is a dreamy destination unlike any other. With its sea of rolling sand dunes and atmosphere of complete solitude, many travelers consider a trip into the Sahara a true travel highlight. The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world, covering 3.6 million square miles—roughly the size of the U.S. With endless possibilities for adventure, the Sahara Desert should have a place on everyone’s travel bucket list!
What some travelers don’t realize is that the journey begins days before you even reach the burnt desert sand. If you’re traveling from Marrakesh or Fez, the car ride will take at least a day. Much of the ride is over the Atlas Mountains and one-lane roadways; if you get carsick easily, pack some medication to ensure a comfortable trip. While no one likes a long car ride—especially when the anticipation is so high—just think about the beauty you’re about to discover. Part of what makes the Sahara so special is how isolated it is. If it was right outside of the major cities, then it just wouldn’t be as special.
The town of Merzouga signifies the entrance to the Sahara, and there’ll be a few shops should you need to pick up any essentials. Here you’ll meet your guides, who'll lead you into this mystical land. While the setting would be unforgiving for most, the guides are extremely knowledgeable and feel completely at ease, a unique trait thanks to their Berber roots. Berbers are the nomadic people inhabiting the land who descend from pre-Arab North African ancestors. They’ll open your eyes to the desert’s secrets, navigating by sun, moon, and stars.
As far as trekking deep into the Sahara goes, there are two main modes of transportation: ATVs and camels. While an ATV will get you there faster and may be a more comfortable ride, there’s nothing quite like taking in the endless landscape by camelback. Camels and the Sahara Desert are an iconic duo in both real life and film (à la Lawrence of Arabia) and a classic activity you don’t want to miss. Groups leave in the afternoon to avoid the hottest temperatures. The journey will be easier on flat land, but traipsing up and down the dunes can get bumpy and you’ll likely be feeling a bit sore the next day. However, compared to an ATV, the height makes for a better view and the slower speed will ensure you don’t miss a thing. Some people find it helpful to stretch out their legs by resting them on the handle or walking alongside the camel. While the trek can be mentally and physical challenging, embrace it; this is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and the destination makes it all worth it.
As the sun sets on the horizon, you’ll climb the tallest dune around to get an incomparable view. Gaze upon the sun’s glittering rays dancing upon the soft swells of sand, painting them vibrant golden hues. Take some pictures, but more importantly take a moment to breathe it all in. The awe-inspiring beauty of this moment will stay with you for a lifetime.
When evening falls, you’ll reach your camp and a true cultural immersion will commence! Feast on authentic dishes, such as chicken tagine and vegetables. Savor the flavorful spices before lounging with a cup of famous Moroccan mint tea—also known as Berber whiskey. Revel in the open air as you listen to traditional music and dance around the campsite underneath a sky full of never-ending stars—it’s possible you’ll never see this many again. When it’s time to retire for the night, some prefer to sleep inside the tents while others gather their bedding and sleep beneath the stars, looking for famous constellations and sparkling shooting stars.
The next morning will be an early start in order to watch the sunrise from the dunes. Even if you’re not a morning person, rising before dusk is so worth it. The absolute silence is deafening, but rather than feeling imposing, it brings a sense of total peace. Looking out at the horizon you’ll see no buildings or people, just fiery shades of orange, pink, and gold blanketing soft sand. After marveling at the sunrise, adventure awaits. Sandboarding is a popular activity and one you can’t do just anywhere. Get to know the local people by visiting a family’s home, learning about their history, culture, and traditions while diving into an home-cooked meal, such as Berber pizza. This Moroccan-twist on a classic dish is a bit different from the pizza you know, but it’s delicious all the same. Most Saharan tours are one or two days, so those on a one-day tour will head back to civilization, leaving this fascinating land behind.
Morocco is a conservative country, and visitors are expected to act and dress accordingly. Even though this area is more remote than the bustling cities, it's also more modest. The more coverage, the better, but at the very least you should keep your shoulders and knees covered. The most popular travel time is October through May, as the summer months are much too hot. Temperatures drop during the night, especially during the winter, so pack layers. Loose, breathable fabrics are best for the daytime desert heat, and if you plan to ride a camel, long pants are ideal to protect from chafing. Sun protection is a necessity, and a scarf will protect your head from the sun’s harsh rays. As for footwear, sandals are best, right? Not so fast! The sand gets extremely hot, so closed-toe shoes are the way to go (sandals are okay for letting your feet breath at the campsite). A flashlight and tissues are a good addition for bathroom needs, and of course bring plenty of water—guides will often provide bottles, as well. Overall, try to pack lightly. For a more in-depth packing list, check out the Essential Packing Guide to Morocco.