Sleep amid the sand dunes under the Milky Way in Merzouga. A luxury desert camp awaits on your next trip to Morocco, primed for stargazing and Saharan camel rides. And you can book your stay with Culture Trip.
Why not join TRIPS by Culture Trip’s epic 13-day small-group adventure – and embark on a journey that takes you from ancient cities to the Sahara, and from Casablanca to Marrakech.
Glamping in the Sahara Desert is one of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures. While temperatures soar to 40C during the day, at night the mercury drops, revealing clear night skies. The world’s largest desert is equivalent in size to the United States, but a world away from the city lights. Out here, you can expect an unobstructed view of the Milky Way and beyond.
The good news is you don’t need to trek for days to reach this desert idyll. The well-connected town of Merzouga is the gateway to Erg Chebbi, home to some of the largest and most impressive sand dunes in Morocco. Local legend has it that God sent them to cover fertile land as a punishment when a tired traveller was denied hospitality, but it’s hard to see anything other than beauty.
Camping out under the stars gives travellers the chance to understand how local Berbers live. These native tribes traditionally lived in desert tents. Kam Kam Dunes provides just that – with a hint of luxury. Located 10km outside of Merzouga, these large tents are made from camel leather and are equipped with hot water showers, private WC and comfortable beds. Electricity is provided by solar power. It’s a true escape from the raucous streets of Fes and Marrakech.
But the real charm of this stylish tented camp lies in its hospitality. After a dinner of Moroccan tagine, colourful cushions heaped on hand-woven Berber rugs will tempt you to lounge and chat over a glass of mint tea. Evenings are spent around the campfire, where local musicians provide an authentic soundtrack – dancing is very much encouraged.
You can’t visit the Sahara without taking a camel ride through the terracotta dunes. In the past, dromedaries were used to carry salt, cotton and gold across the desert. Today, you can follow in their footsteps with camel treks typically lasting an hour or two.
If you’re keen to pick up the pace, book a 4×4 tour of the desert. Specialist all-terrain vehicles depart Merzouga to tear up and down the dunes with a competent local driver at the wheel. It’s a bumpy but exhilarating ride. Alternatively, try a sandboarding lesson – rather like snowboarding, but you ride down the 150m-high (450ft) Erg Chebbi dunes. It takes some effort to climb to the top, but strapping on a board and carving an elegant arc as you descend at speed is great fun.
After dark, the clear skies of the Sahara desert attract stargazers. Far from light pollution, it’s common to see planets such as Saturn and Jupiter or the Milky Way. You might see a meteor or a passing satellite. Tour companies provide telescopes and knowledgeable guides to help you interpret what you are seeing. Alternatively, download an app like Sky Map, a handheld planetarium for your phone.
Many travellers prefer spring and autumn – strenuous activities are more comfortable outside the extreme heat of summer. Spring brings sporadic sandstorms, though operators are well-equipped to deal with them. Warm summer nights might seem ideal but the reality is it’s just too hot. In fact, many operators shut down in July and August altogether. In winter, the lack of cloud cover in the desert means any daytime heat is soon lost after dusk. If you can cope with the chill, these trips can be pretty special.
The fastest way to travel to Merzouga is by private car – it’s about 7 hours from Fes and around 9 hours from Marrakech. However it’s cheaper to travel by bus. Supratours, affiliated to national rail operator ONCF, offers a direct overnight bus service from Fes to Merzouga. It arrives before 8am and the journey time is about 11 hours. Alternatively, daytime and overnight CTM buses from Fes travel to Rissani. Journey time is approximately 9-10 hours. From Rissani, you’ll need a shared or private taxi transfer (45 minutes). Getting to Merzouga from Marrakech requires a change of bus in either Fes or Meknes.