Peter Orsel

How To Visit The Sahara Desert in Morocco

How to visit the Sahara Desert in Morocco

Visiting the Sahara Desert has been something I dreamed about for so long. When I planned a trip to Morocco, I knew for sure that I wanted to spend some time in the desert too. After considering all the options, I decided to do a road trip instead of going on one of the tours. In this blog I’ll tell you all about your options to visit the Sahara Desert in Morocco, so you can make the most out of your trip!

In This Post

Market views in Marrakech
Marrakech is a great place to start or end your Morocco trip.

Where to fly in to Morocco?

If you’re considering a trip to the Sahara Desert, you might be wondering where to start. The most common way is to start in Fez or in Marrakech. Both cities have an international airport with frequent connections from and to especially Europe. Personally I picked Marrakech, as I heard great stories about the city. 

From Marrakech it’s 565km to Merzouga. This will take you about 9 hours according to Google Maps, but be ready for at least two more hours as you’re driving through a variety of landscapes with many sights. 

From Fez, it’s 457km to Merzouga. This will take you about 7 hours according to Google Maps. 

Views in Dades Gorges Morocco
Beautiful views in Dades Gorges, Morocco

Visiting the Sahara Desert with a tour or independent?

After picking your travel dates, it’s time to consider if you want to visit the Sahara Desert on your own or with a tour package. I did it on my own, but maybe a tour is the best option for you! 

Take a tour: 

  • If you’re on a tight schedule. There are 3-day or 4-day tours to get to the Sahara Desert with pick up and drop off in Marrakech or Fez. 
  • If you’re not keen on driving in a foreign country. In Morocco, cars drive on the right side of the road and the road trip will lead you through the mountains. 
  • If you don’t want to arrange everything yourself. 
  • If you want to be sure that there are others on your trip

Go on your own:

  • If you want to be the one who decides how much time you spend in Merzouga / the Sahara Desert.
  • If you want to make multiple stops along the way, wherever you want
  • If you want to save some money, especially when you share your car with 2-4 others. 
  • If you’re in for an adventure 
  • If you like to arrange everything by yourself. 
Crossing the Atlas Mountains in Morocco
Views just one hour out of Marrakech

How to book a tour to the Sahara Desert?

If you’re already in Marrakech or Fez, it’s easy to arrange a tour with one of the vendors on the streets. Sometimes you just want to be sure that everything is arranged beforehand. Booking through a trustworthy platform like GetYourGuide could be your option then. Their customer service is very good and you can read reviews of previous visitors. By using one of the links below, you support my travels without paying anything more. Thanks in advance! 

Dades Gorges, Morocco.
Dades Gorges, Morocco.

How to arrange your trip to the Sahara Desert by yourself

Morocco is a great country for a road trip, so traveling independently is a great option.  started my road trip in Marrakech. The first 30 minutes can be discouraging because of the chaotic streets of Marrakech, but as soon as you get out of the city, things get quiet and much better. 

A self-drive isn’t complete without a car, so that’s something you need first. If you plan to spend some days in Marrakech beforehand, make sure you don’t take the car immediately. You don’t need it and can’t use it in Marrakech at all. There are taxis everywhere and the bus system is pretty good too. Pick up your car as soon as your road trip starts, drop it off as soon as you finish your road trip. 

For booking a car, I’d recommend Rentalcars. Morocco is one of the cheapest countries where I’ve rented a car, so I’d recommend to take a slightly bigger car with enough space to get a comfortable ride. Lastly, I’d recommend to take one of the bigger agencies. I rented a car at AddCar and they didn’t have their own desk. It was hard to meet up, they didn’t accept my credit card and all in all it didn’t feel like the best customer experience. 

Some notes for driving a car

Even though I think driving a car is perfectly doable for anyone with just some experience, there are some notes I would like to give. 

  • The first kilometers can be hectic as you’ll be leaving airport territories. The same for the way back. Don’t let it scare you. Just stay in your lane and blend into the traffic. 
  • The police have this habit to stop cars (maybe tourist cars) for no reasons. Just show your papers. If they say something is wrong, let them call your car agent. 
  • Always make sure you have an active internet package. Both navigation as contacting your rental agency will be way easier. 
  • The police loves to use their radar speed guns to track your speed. Make sure you don’t drive too fast, as they are relentless in giving you a fine. 
  • You’ll find hitchhikers along the way. I brought one who wanted me to bring him to a very specific area of Ouarzazate. I felt a bit hesitated and as soon as he realised, he got out of the car. A weird experience, so use your common sense whether to pick someone up or not. 
  • Bring some cash! You’ll find street vendors along the way, portable coffee cars and more. 
Famous snake road in Dades Gorge Morocco
One of the views you don't want to miss on your road trip in Morocco

Stops along the way

When you’re driving from Marrakech, you’ll be amazed by the beauty this country has to offer. Crossing the Atlas mountains is an amazing experience and there are several interesting stops along the way. Here are some of my favourites! 

Ouarzazate

Ouarzazate is the biggest town you will cross on your way to Merzouga. You can stay the night in one out of many hotel and guest house options, or just do a quick visit. A typical tourist sight is Atlas Studios, the film studios know for many desert style movies. You can see the set of Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, Gladiator, The Mummy, many Christian movies and more. It’s also a perfect location to visit Aït Benhaddou, the next place I recommend. 

Beautiful view in Morocco
One of the stunning views you will find close to Ouarzazate.

Aït Benhaddou

A stop in Aït Benhaddou is something you can’t miss. This town is just 30 minutes out of Ouarzazate and a stop that many tours make as well. Game of Thrones fans will recognise the streets from the series and it’s just a nice and small town to visit. It gets very touristy during the day, so be aware of that. 

Aït Benhaddou is a small village not to miss in Morocco
Aït Benhaddou is a small village not to miss in Morocco

Dades Gorges

Dades Gorges is the place where most of the tours stop for the night, and I’d recommend you to do the same. There are several guest houses and the rock formations are simply amazing. Besides the Sahara Desert, Dades Gorges was my favourite photo location and I was so happy not to be on a tour here. 

I could stop at any corner and make the most of my time. During sunset, I ran into a group local boys playing football on a gravel pitch. They waved at me and asked me to join. Hands down one of my favourite memories of my Morocco trip. This area is famous for hiking as well, so if you have a lot of time, stay another day to make the most out of your Dades Gorges time. 

You might not expect it, but the photo below has been taken from my balcony. I stayed at the Hiking Nomads Guest House. A cheap and great option for one or two nights with the best recommendations on how to get around. 

Milky Way in Dades Gorges
Milky Way in Dades Gorges, Morocco

If you drive the Dades Gorges road for about 45km, you arrive at the famous snake road. You can take cool photos at the top! After that, drive on for a little more, to capture the canyon with high walls just next to the road. 

The photo below was taken around 11am. The sun already hit the rocks and I increased the temperature on the rocks to give it that warm glow that I was aiming for. The Mercedes car could have been a paid actor, as it gives the perfect vibe to the shot, but it was just me being lucky that morning. 

Dades Gorges
Dades Gorges

Arriving in Merzouga

Merzouga is also known as the gate to the Sahara Desert. It’s a small tourist town with loads of accommodations, tour operators, restaurants and more. Even though it’s very touristic, it has an amazing and unique vibe, being right next to the desert. 

Take your time to relax and I’d suggest to book a hotel with a pool, as it will be very hot in this area. There are options for everyone. 

I stayed in an amazing hostel for €5 a night and I had the best time. If you have more money to spend, why not try one of the fanciest hotels with amazing desert views? Booking.com is a great place to fix your accommodation and my go-to search engine whenever I’m in need of a place to sleep. 

 

Arranging your desert tour

As soon as you feel ready to continue your journey, it’s time to book a trip to the desert. The best way is asking your hotel owner, or any local man you will find on the street. Everyone will be able to arrange a tour for you. Me and some German friends decided to go for a private tour, and we just asked around to find the best option. 

The private tour we booked costed us around €25 euros or $30 USD. On this trip we got: 

  • A personal camel to make our way through the desert. 
  • A guide going with us
  • Delicious Berber Pizza for lunch (prepared by the mom of our guide)
  • The option to go sand boarding at lunch time
  • A magnificent sunset
  • Delicious dinner, made by the staff of our private camp
  • One night in a tent in the desert 
  • A stunning sunrise in the desert
  • Delicious breakfast
  • And of course… Unlimited Moroccan tea. 
 

The average tour with tour operators will look kinda the same, but you usually start your camel ride one hour before sunset. This way you don’t get to experience the real desert vibe if you ask me. The camp is always located on the edge of the Sahara Desert and will still be close to civilisation, due to practical reasons for the camp owners. 

If you have the choice, I would always suggest to arrange your tour privately. You can adjust your trip to your needs and include extra hours. For the amount of money we paid, it’s a no brainer. 

 

Climbing Erg Chebbi in Morocco
Climbing Erg Chebbi in Morocco

Other activities in the Sahara Desert

Besides the camel tour, there are several other activities to do in the Sahara Desert. There is horse riding, buggy riding, a desert safari, hiking some of the highest sand dunes of Morocco and more. If you want to do one of these activities, I would just recommend to walk around in Merzouga and ask about the options. 

 

Desert Tour in the Sahara
Desert Tour in the Sahara Desert

Returning to Fez or Marrakech

As soon as you finished your trip, it’s time to head back to Fez or Marrakech. You can stop at one of the locations I mentioned above, or head back immediately. I’d always recommend to take it slowly and make some stops. I’m sure you’re gonna love it! 

 

Cat in Aït Benhaddou
A posing cat in Aït Benhaddou

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