In December I went to Morocco with my brother. We stayed there for 8 days. Before we left for Morocco, we knew we wanted to do a 3-day tour to the Merzouga desert. We were checking websites of different companies but we didn’t know which one to choose and we had no idea how much we should pay for it. Now I can say that some of these agencies are overpriced and it’s not necessary to book in advance. Because of that, I would like to tell you about our experience that you know what to expect from the trip.
When we arrived to Marrakech, we had already the accommodation reserved in N12 Hostel. A young Moroccan guy who owns the place was very helpful and gave us a lot of information. He also told us about the trip to Sahara desert – to be aware that some companies take deposit for the trip and then you never see them again or that they don’t provide any insurance etc. He also offered us the tour with “safe” company which cost 80€ per person. Since on the internet we found prices around 150€, we got quite excited about it and we were almost sure we’ll do it. Following day, we decided to book the excursion, the day after they picked up us from the hostel at 7:15 a.m. and at 8:00 a.m. we were leaving Marrakech.
After an hour of driving we made a first stop at road cafeteria and a shop with argan oil. There were two ladies who were producing the oil – one of them breaking the argan nuts and the other one using the cold press to get the oil. It’s the traditional way of getting the argan oil.
One of the next stop was on the road in order to stretch the legs and see the curvy mountain roads in Al-Haouz – Zerkten.
Later on we stopped for some sightseeing in Aït Benhaddou. Let me tell you more about it.
Aït Benhaddou is a fortified village (called ksar in Arabic). It’s a striking example of southern Moroccan architecture. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. In the village, several films have been shot.
In the village we got a tour guide called Abdul and it was the worst tour guide. He took us to visit the ksar and he was always in a hurry so we didn’t have much time to look around. He requested 30 dirhams as an “official entrance” to the ksar even though it wasn’t written anywhere and additionally he asked for a voluntary fee for his guiding. It was repeated several times and at the end we had to give it to him while eating in the restaurant which was very rude and impolite. During the tour, he also never forgot to repeat the same thing about the fact that the village lives just from the tourism and film shooting. I don’t even mention that he had the best phone from our group so obviously he get all the entrances to his pocket!
One more important thing I should say about this guide is that he told us that we will need a “passport” to Sahara. He meant the scarf that you put on your head and around your face while you’re in the desert. We were told that he would take us to the LAST shop where we can buy it on the way to Merzouga desert. I think you can imagine what kind of bullshit we were told! All the scarfs in the shop were, of course, super overpriced so obviously they just wanted to steal money from us.
Anyway, after that he lead us to the restaurant where we could have a lunch. I guess you won’t be surprised when I tell you that it was overpriced as well. As we were hungry, we got a menu for 120 dirhams and then we were quite glad to get out of that place! So be aware of that and don’t get easily fooled.
Last two stops
When we left Aït Benhaddou, we headed to Ouarzazate. We did very short stop at the road in order to see and take a photo of the Atlas film studios. It’s the world’s largest film studio and it has served as a shooting location for many films. It’s possible to visit the studios, the entrance fee is 50 dirhams.
Before going to the hotel, we went to see the Dades valley with the Monkey toes – a strange majestic rock formation:
After the full day of driving and sightseeing, we went to the hotel called Auberge Tissadrine. We got accommodated and then we had some time before dinner. We were told that there is no shop to buy water or something. It was a lie – again! We went out to discover where we actually are. We were walking along the road and we found two little supermarkets. In the second supermarket a very old couple was selling the scarfs that we “needed” for the desert. We went inside and we asked for the price. And that’s how our story begins.
Our conversation with the old man was limited by writing everything on the paper. He didn’t speak any English and we didn’t speak any French. So as you can imagine, it was very hard to explain him that we didn’t take any money with us and that we will come back in few minutes. Even though we were trying a lot, he seemed that he didn’t understand anything. We left to the hotel in order to take money and tell about the scarfs to two American girls that were actually joining us for the tour.
All together we went back to the shop. The man was very surprised that we came back. After we bought three scarfs and bottles of water there, he seemed to be deeply moved. He obviously didn’t expect us to come back. We were even feeling sorry while haggling with him. When we finished the purchase, he put the scarfs to our heads and we asked him for taking a photo with us.
Berber evening in the hotel
After buying the scarfs we were going quickly back to the hotel because they were already serving the dinner. We had a typical Moroccan “chicken tagine” which was delicious. After the dinner, the Berbers were playing music for us, using drums and “qarqaba”. Qarqaba is a pair of two-sided hand cymbals, clapped together to make interlocking rhythm patterns. Berber music consists of highly repetitive chants that are partially improvised. It was good fun, we were clapping, dancing and we also got a chance to play the instruments. We really enjoyed the evening!
We got up quite early as we had breakfast at 7:30 and at 8:00 we were supposed to leave from the hotel. At least in the morning I could take some a photo of the hotel.
And of us being ready for the desert adventure!
After an hour and half of driving we stopped in the city called Tinghir (or Tinerhir). There was other tour guide waiting for us, his name was Mohammed. He was very nice, he gave us a lot of interesting information, he even made jokes so we really enjoyed the time with him. First of all, he was leading us through their fields and he was explaining to us how it works and what they plant there. We could even try a fresh date which was much better than the dry one.
Then he took us to the old part of the city, he explained us how the houses were built and then we went to visit the Berbers. They invited us for a tea and then they were telling us about their production of carpets which they make manually and it goes from generation to generation. They had loads of the carpets, different sizes, colours, materials. We were offered to buy some but no one from our group was really interested.
Our next short sightseeing stop was in Todgha Gorges. They are a series of limestone river canyons in the High Atlas Mountains. There used to be a hotel but it was partly destroyed by huge rock that fell down and since that time it remains closed for the safety reasons.
Our group was following Mohammed, walking along the river. Then we gave him tips (as he really deserved it, much more than Abdul), we took a photo with him and then we got back to the bus as we had to go to have a lunch.
Camel trek in Merzouga
After having a lunch, we were finally driving to the Merzouga desert. We still had many hours of driving in front of us. On the way, we had just short breaks in order to get to the desert on time. When we got there, we just took a small backpack with us, the rest of the things we left in the bus. Finally, the sunset camel trek was waiting for us! We put our scarfs on (as we learnt before) and we got on the camels. It took a while to adapt on the camel movement but generally it was a great experience. Sitting on the camel, walking in the desert, watching the sunset…
After a while we got off the camels and we could hike up to the sand dunes in order to watch the sunset, take photos and just enjoy the time in the desert. I would say that it was the most peaceful moment that you can just imagine….. until some young Asians came with a speaker listening to the loud song “We wanna party”. Guess what, they completely ruined the pleasant atmosphere but they obviously didn’t care about others at all. We were just glad when they left! We stayed for a bit more and after the sun got down, it got quite cold so we decided to go to our camp.
And we got our tent…
Spending night in the Berber tent
When we got to the camp, we were drinking tea with our Berber guide and we were talking. I forgot to mention that we were a group of 12. It was a Turkish couple, Finnish couple, four member of a Chinese family, two American girls (originally one from India and one from Pakistan) and my brother and I. It was quite international group and we got on well. After having a dinner (chicken tagine as usual), two Berber guides started to play music for us as we were sitting around the fire. It was very nice just shame that people didn’t want to participate much. Later on we went to sleep as we knew we will have to wake up early to be able to see the sunrise.
We got up at 7:30, took our things and went to get on the camels. It was very cold so I was glad I put on many layers! We were riding again the camels for a while and then we stopped at one place to watch the sunrise and take some photos.
Driving back to Marrakech
After watching the sun rising, we got on the camels again and went back to the hotel where our bus parked. We had a breakfast there and then 10 hours of driving was ahead of us. On the way back we always made short breaks, the only longer break was for lunch. We arrived back to Marrakech around 20:00. After such a long drive we were quite exhausted but really happy. We enjoyed the excursion a lot and I would recommend it to everybody. It’s an unique experience that you can do in Morocco and it’s really worth it!
Included: transport, accommodation (one night in the hotel, one night in the Berber camp), camel ride, breakfast, dinner, tour guide in Tinghir
Not included: lunch, beverages, tour guide in Aït Benhaddou
Visited places: Al-Haouz – Zerkten, Aït Benhaddou, Atlas studios in Ouarzazate, Dades valley with the Monkey toes, Tinghir, Todgha Gorges, Merzouga desert