A 3 Day Adventure to the Sahara Desert
An exciting adventure to see the Atlas Mountains, Game of Thrones Locations and spending a night in the Sahara Desert!
A trip to the Sahara Desert has to be done when you’re in Morocco right?! I didn’t get a chance to do much exploring last year when I was in Marrakech for my hen weekend and spending a night in the Sahara definitely had to be ticked off our list!
A 3 day/ 2 night Sahara Desert tour was organised to depart from Marrakech with Camel Trekking to visit Aït-Benhaddou, Todra Gorge, Todra Valley, Valley of the Roses and an overnight stay in the Erg Chebbi dunes of the Sahara Desert.
Let’s show you the highlights of the Sahara Tour …
We were to meet our driver by the Ben Youssef Mosque at 08.10am, however, our manager at the Riad kindly arranged for the driver, Aziz, to meet and walk us straight to the car instead. Once we arrived at Jemaa El-Fnaa, we met the rest of our tour group. Our group consisted of 6 people in total and the drive was in a 4×4 Black Toyota Jeep. Large pieces of luggage were placed on the roof rack and small rucksacks in the boot. We decided to just take a rucksack each and left the rest of our belongings at the riad as it was just 3 days… When I saw the 4×4, I thought yes this was going to be a comfy ride compared to a mini van. Just my luck, Ian and I were to be seated in the middle row and I was stuck right in the middle between the two guys. A bit squashed and not much room to move! In our opinion we felt the group should have consisted of a maximum of 5 adults for a more comfortable experience when using the 4×4 Jeep.
So off we went and we all quickly got to know each other and had a good laugh during the entire trip. We made a quick stop at O.Zate for our driver, Ibrahaim, to show us our tour route and where we would be stopping along the way. Shortly after we made another stop as Ibrahaim swapped with Aziz again (we had no idea why the change in driver!) and after a brief coffee stop, we made our way to the High Atlas range.
Tizi Ntichka Pass
We travelled this windy road between Marrakech and Ouarzazate which takes you through the High Atlas mountain. Here at 2260m high, we stopped and admired the beautiful views of both the mountains and valley.
During the drive we noticed how dry and rocky the land was; an arid, reddish, rusty brown landscape with sparse trees.
The road zigzagged around the mountain and there were so many bends I lost count! If you do get car sick, then I recommend taking travel tablets. Luckily Aziz was a careful driver although we did notice some crazy local drivers out there overtaking cars and lorries even on blind bends! Yes that’s right… blind bends! Seriously dangerous and I was so glad that Aziz was not one of those crazy drivers.
After a couple of hours driving we arrived at Aït Benhaddou – luckily we had a 4WD as we were able to drive up onto a steep dirt track road for panoramic views of Aït Benhaddou. The view of Aït Benhaddou was stunning … WOW.
Aït Benhaddou is a fortified city located in Ouarzazate, in the foothills, on the southern side of the High Atlas Mountains. The closely built red earthen buildings (also known as Ksar) are surrounded by high walls, which were used as a means of defence. This UNESCO world heritage site is renowned in the film industry, as it has been used in many film scenes such as Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade to name a few. Recently it was used in the scene with Daenarys Targaryan freeing the Unsullied in the global hit series ‘Game of Thrones’. This was the site we were most looking forward to exploring, being avid Game of Throne fans!
The architecture is striking with the red clay houses built so close knit with towers reinforcing the defensive walls. Even though some areas are in need of repair and restoration, tourists are still able to walk through the narrow streets here. There’s plenty of photo opportunities, which makes this site a very popular tourist destination. As you walk through the village, you can browse the shops and pick yourself up a range of souvenirs.
As we arrived here at 2pm, our small group decided to lunch first to work up an appetite then explore the area to avoid the crowds. The lunch was much needed – Ian and I shared a set menu and unfortunately for me, melon was for dessert!
After lunch, we headed to Aït Benhaddou and meandered our way past the little shops through the narrow streets and up many uneven steps, to finally reach the top for those panoramic views. At this point I was super hot and sweaty, but these stunning views were worth it!
We took lots of photos as our driver waited very patiently for us. Aziz then led us back down towards the river for more photo opportunities. As we approached the river, my first thought was … oh no, knowing my luck I’m going to fall in! No, no Lana be positive keep going and don’t stop! Sand bags had been placed for people to cross the river, a couple were a bit of a stretch for my little legs and involved a little leap of faith. There were kids hanging around wanting to help you, but really expected money – just ignore them as you won’t need their help. If I managed to cross the river, so can you!
Crossing that river was definitely worth doing for the pictures! The views were so pretty with the reflection of Aït Benhaddou on the river water.
I was in need of something refreshing from the walk and what better way to cool down than having an ice lolly! Oooh that ice lolly was a god send at 15 Dirhams – much needed in that heat. We then packed ourselves into the 4WD as our next stop was the Atlas Studios.
Tip: Wear trainers and be careful with the uneven steps.
Arriving at the Atlas Studios, I felt quite disappointed as this stop didn’t excite me. Personally I felt that this part of the trip could have been missed off. Atlas Studios is one of the largest film sets in the world and was first used for the film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Ouarzazate has been the location for many films, such as The Mummy, Star Wars, Gladiator, The Living Daylights and Body of Lies. I snapped a few pics of the area and jumped back into the car for the next stop.
Valley of the Roses
Here at the Valley of the Roses, it’s known for the beautiful roses that bud during April and May, thousands of pink roses bloom everywhere, which are then sold to the rose cooperatives in the valley. The pink roses are harvested by local families who then separate the buds from the pink petals. Did you know that the buds can be used for cooking?
The roses are bought by distilleries to produce rose soaps, rose water and pot-pourri. The petals are also distilled for rose oil, which is an important ingredient for the perfumeries. Apparently when the roses are in season, it’s a beautiful sight to see and very fragrant. Unfortunately for us the roses were not in season in September, although a stop was made if you wished to learn more on the rose distillery and the chance to purchase rose scented products.
Overnight stay at La Gazelle du Dades Hotel
We finally made our way to the Dades Gorge via ‘The Thousand Kasbahs Route’ and arrived at our hotel fairly late at 8pm. This hotel was pretty popular with various tour groups staying here overnight. We were allocated a private room on the third floor – the room was basic, very spacious, clean, furnished with two firm double beds, a private bathroom and toiletries were provided. There was even a large balcony area with a view of the river. Great for one nights stay.
Dinner was served on the first floor; the starter was harira soup, the main course was chicken tajine served with local bread and dessert included fresh fruit and sweet pastries. The pastries were lurrrvely! They were so good that I even ate the pastries from the next table! (Note that the drinks are not included with the evening meal). Straight after dinner we were invited to another area to enjoy some entertainment … live music from the staff!
Breakfast was served at 8.30am, although we did notice that the other tour groups had already left by this time. For breakfast we gobbled up fresh bread served with butter, jam, honey, boiled eggs, crepes and washed down with fresh mint tea.
Dades Valley & Monkey Fingers
Leaving Dades Gorge around 9.30am, we stopped at Monkey Fingers Valley to capture the views over Dades Valley. What a beautiful view of the red rocky mountains against the bright green fertile land of the valley, surrounded by the mud brick kasbah. Monkey Fingers Valley is named due to the strange natural rock formations that have been eroded, and now resemble ‘fingers’. The Dades Valley is great for those who love to hike – why not hike through the mountain ridges of the Monkey Fingers.
Stepping out of the car to be met by the lush green valley was a magnificent sight! The green fields and palm trees on the valley floor completely surround the red mud brick Kasbahs. What makes the area so lush and green, is the fresh water from the river feeding into the farmland. We even spotted local women working down in the fields.
Our driver dropped us off at the entrance to the gorge, which then allowed us to take a short walk through the canyon. The walls of the gorge are separated by a clear trickling stream – the water is so fresh it’s safe to drink.
We couldn’t contain our excitement to finally be sleeping in the dunes of the Sahara Desert. This is what we had been waiting for! Our bags could be left at the hotel, which was located on the edge of the dunes, however as we only brought a small rucksack each during our trip we decided to take them with us during our camel ride.
It was a camel each for the camel ride and hold on tight; the last thing you want is a face full of sand. I actually enjoyed the camel
massage ride, taking in the views of the Sahara Desert and the orange sand dunes. After an hour and a half ride we spotted our luxury camp, and was welcomed by the berbers with a glass of mint tea in hand. And time to relax.
Who would have thought that the luxury tents would have electricity with running hot and cold water in the private bathroom. Yes, you heard it right … we had our own bathroom. Dinner included a 3 course meal and drinks. After dinner all the guests in the camp gathered around the camp fire to listen to live music from the berbers.
The next morning we woke up bright and early for the sunrise – this is what we were all waiting for to capture that picture perfect sun rising over the dunes.
A quick breakfast was consumed, bags packed and we headed back to the hotel with the option to either return by jeep or by camel (we chose the camels again – why not).
Details of the overnight stay in the Sahara Desert will be provided in an upcoming post.
We met the rest of our group back at the hotel and prepared ourselves for the long drive back to Marrakech. The majority of the time on day 3 is spent in the car, so get comfy. Luckily there were only 3 of us on the return journey as the other 3 went on to Casablanca – so lots of room to stretch out. There were a couple of breaks during the long drive back with a stop for lunch. Aziz was very accommodating and allowed me to jump out of the car to take those scenic shots.
The drive back was pretty long and it took around 9 hours to eventually arrive at our riad. We did however capture the prettiest sunset over Koutobia Mosque.
- Lunch is not included during the tour and drinks were not included during the evening meal on the first night.
- Before arriving at the hotel in Merzouga, stop off at the shop to buy your bottles of mineral water . It’ll be cheaper here than the hotel.
- Bring comfortable shoes with you for walking around especially at Aït Benhaddou.
- For the desert, wear your flip flops when walking on the sand dunes. I stupidly wore trainers and my toes were drowned in the sand.
- If you’re taking an expensive camera with you to take the sunset/sunrise photos over the sand dunes, be careful as the sand may get into your lens.
How to Book:
We arranged our 3 day adventure with Camel Trekking via emails which was pretty easy. Omar was very helpful and responded to my queries very quickly. Full payment was made during the tour and no deposit was required.
Overall, the Sahara Desert tour is definitely worth doing and if time is on your side and not in rush, then we’d recommend the 3 days/2 nights tour. Just be prepared with the long drive back to Marrakech. Otherwise you can make your way to Fes from the Sahara Desert. Our driver Aziz, drove safely at all times, was helpful, patient and funny too!
Price: 150 Euros per person. For a luxury tent, it’s an additional 30 Euros per person.
Have you done the Sahara desert tour from Marrakech? What did you think of the tour?
* Disclaimer: We did receive a discount from Camel Trekking, in exchange for an unbiased review of our experience, and as always, all opinions are our own.
* The links used are affiliate links. By buying through the links we may receive a small commission for the sale. This has no effect on the price you pay.
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