Merzouga, Morocco | Glamping. Glamorous camping. Camping with amenities and comforts not typically associated with camping. AKA, my kind of camping. Join us as we share our experiences glamping in the Sahara Desert in Morocco!
Don’t get me wrong, I can really camp. I have been to Indiana beach. I’ve pitched tents (while drinking beer), and I’ve slept in a soaking wet sleeping bag after said tent flooded. I’ve (watched our friend RJ) cook over a campfire and I can roast a mean marshmallow. That’s “real” camping right?
I’m pretty sure the closest I’ve gotten to actual camping was when we hiked the Inca Trail for four days. That which was true camp living, but our amazing porters carried and pitched our tents, cooked us three-course meals, and even carried around a toilet for us. Not exactly roughing it either.
In all seriousness, legit outdoor camping is just not something I’ve ever done. It’s not that I don’t think I could do it, I just haven’t done it. We did really want to camp in Oman during this trip, but we didn’t have any of the right gear with us — you know, like a tent or a sleeping bag.
So when we heard we could camp in the Sahara Desert, no gear required, we were all in. And when they asked if we wanted to spend an extra 25 Euro to upgrade to “luxury camping”, we were like, “duh.” The experience did not disappoint.
Getting to the Sahara Desert
The Sahara Desert is huge and covers most of northern Africa. But if you’re interested in desert camping in Morocco, you’ll likely want to head to the city of Merzouga. This is where you’ll find the rolling sand dunes that are so typically associated with the Sahara.
Merzouga is not super close to the other major cities in Morocco —7.5 hours driving from Fes and 9 hours from Marrakech. So unless you plan to rent a car, you’ll likely want to book a tour.
No matter where you’re staying in Morocco, there will be a tour provider who will get you to the desert. Most tours will include transportation from your hotel to Merzouga, a night or two of camping, and transportation back to your city of origin. Some tours, will take you from one city to another, with a stop in the desert in the middle.
The tour we chose was a three-day, two-night private tour through Fes Desert Trips. The tour started from Fes and included several sightseeing stops in the Atlas Mountains, a night of desert camping and a night in Ouarzazate, before dropping us off in Marrakech. The desert camping was by far the highlight.
Getting to Our Campsite by Camel
No matter how you get to Merzouga, the next step is getting to your campsite deep inside the dunes. You have two options to get from the main road into the dunes: ATV or camel. And if you want the true desert experience, you’re going to want to pick the camel.
Getting from the main road to our specific campsite was about a two mile journey over towering sand dunes, which meant about 90 minutes via camel transit. Our camels and our cameleer were ready for us when we arrived.
Our tour guide wrapped our heads in the traditional head wrap (super practical actually) and sent us off with our cameleer, who was delightful. I had very romantic visions about how I expected this journey to go. I had been thinking about this camel ride ever since Egypt (where I intentionally didn’t ride any camels for ethical reasons), and I had about a million photo ideas in my head.
Let me tell you, this camel ride was not romantic.
Things no one tells you about camels:
- They’re tall. Camels are about 7 feet tall, from ground to hump (where you sit). That makes getting on and off the camel the thrill level of a small roller coaster. It also makes falling off a legit concern.
- Getting on and off a camel is not a graceful experience. You climb onto the “saddle” while the camel is sitting. Then, the camel elevates its hind legs — flinging you forward — and then rocks up to standing on all fours — flinging you up and backward at a healthy clip. And that all assumes the camel follows instructions, which it doesn’t always do. So you basically just hold on tight and hope for the best.
- It’s not a comfortable experience. The camel is equipped with a saddle of sorts, but it’s really just a series of strategically folded blankets and a sturdy metal handlebar. The camels lanky legs do an awful lot of wobbling as they make their way up and over and down the sand dunes. It is not a comfortable way to travel. My butt was killing me after about 10 minutes into the 90 minute journey.
- You really have to hang on. This is just a combination of points 1 and 3. You’re sitting 7 feet in the air on a camel that’s rocking back and fourth, and up and down. I had to ask to stop our caravan anytime I needed my hands for anything, like taking a drink of water or snapping a photo. I couldn’t stay balanced without holding on firmly with two hands anytime we were moving.
About five minutes into our journey, our cameleer asked if we wanted to camel or ATV back the following morning. I picked camel, thinking it would be my last chance I had to ride a camel for a while. I regretted that decision almost immediately. If he would have waited five more minutes, I would have picked ATV in a heartbeat because getting back on that camel the following morning was pretty brutal.
All that said, it was still a pretty cool experience and looking back I’m happy I did it. Then again, if it was the last time I rode a camel, that’d be cool too.
Sunset over the Sahara
When I think of the most beautiful moments in the past year, some stand out more than others. Moments like watching the fog lift over Machu Picchu, spotting my first glimpse of the Great Wall of China, and chasing waterfalls in Luang Prabang. Watching the sunset over the Sahara Desert was another one of these perfectly beautiful moments.
There is something magical about a desert sunset. Sand dunes go on for miles, catching the sun and creating drastic shadows across the landscape. The sand itself is so soft and fine, and stretches out in perfectly striped sheets. Everything is quiet and still and golden. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
These moments are why we travel. It’s a reminder that there is beauty and there is good in this world. It’s these moments that make you feel small and the world so big. There is something humbling about thinking of all the billions of sunsets there have been and there will be, and the billions of people who have sat around the world watching them. But we got this one, this moment, this sunset.
Some people choose to see the ugliness in this world, the disarray. I choose to see the beauty. To believe there is an order to our days. A purpose.Dolores, West World
Sunset over the Sahara is just good for the soul!
Let’s get back to this glamping in the Sahara Desert situation!
After watching the sunset, it was only a few minutes to our camp. The campsite was nestled in a valley between dunes near the Morocco border. So close in fact that you can actually see into Albania! (Our guide assured us that the border was quite secure and we were perfectly safe.)
The camp was more like a small village and mainly comprised six large guest tents, a dining room/lobby tent, and a communal activity open-air tent, each connected by beautiful Moroccan carpets and lit by lantern light.
In the center of camp was the shared activity space. This open-air tent was filled with embroidered, sparkly pillows as seating alongside low tables. There was a campfire where people gathered to hear one of the cameleers pluck on a sintir, a traditional string instrument of Morocco. It was the most inviting communal space and what glamping dreams are made of.
Our tent was close to the same size as our old apartment in Chicago and with about as many amenities.
The room included a full-size bed, a twin bed, a love seat, full chest of drawers stocked with extra pillows and blankets, bathroom with flushing toilet, running water sink, and shower with hot* water. In a tent! It seriously felt like the scene in Harry Potter when they go camping at the Quidditch World Cup.
*While the toilet and sink were fully functional, Kenny did try to take a shower and didn’t find that the hot water was particularly hot, but we weren’t too mad about that.
Food & Drinks
Just past the open shared tent was the main dining tent, which felt a bit like entering a circus tent. Inside the striped tent was a reception area with a few comfy couches where we were offered a hot mint tea and snacks when we arrived. On the other side of the tent were dining tables, where we’d later be served a full three-course meal and breakfast the following day.
Dinner was delicious. Well, it was at least as delicious as food anywhere in Morocco. (As vegetarians, Moroccan food is about as boring as you can get. It’s really just roasted root vegetables.) Breakfast was traditional Moroccan breakfast, which means a variety of breads and spreads.
As far as camping goes, if I don’t have to cook my own food over a fire or fish it out of a cooler of melted ice cubes in the morning, I’m calling it fancy.
The communal area also included sand boarding and sand skiing equipment to use on the nearby dunes. This looked both thrilling and terrifying, given the height and steepness of the actual dunes. But we were out of time and daylight by the time we made it to camp, so we didn’t get to try it out.
I wouldn’t have traded watching the sunset from the top of the dunes for anything, but I do wish we had more daylight hours at the camp. I could have actually gone for a whole extra full day and night at camp.
Seriously, the only thing close to as beautiful as sunset over the Sahara is stargazing on the Sahara. After dinner, we made our way up up to the top of one of the dunes and away from the light of camp and looked up.
I didn’t even know the night sky could hold that many stars. It was close to a full moon, so we didn’t even get close to seeing the full strength of the starry night, but it was still breathtaking. I’m from Middle of Nowhere, Central Illinois where we get some pretty rocking stargazing, but even that doesn’t hold a candle to stargazing in the middle of the desert. I even saw a shooting star!
Aladdin had it right: it’s an endless diamond sky. (I know, I know, the fictional city of Agrabah is inspired by Baghdad during the Islamic Golden Age, but I think they both had stunning desert skies.)
And that’s a wrap.
I intended to watch the sunrise, too, which I’d heard was as breathtaking as sunset. But by the time I thought to check what time sunrise was, I was in the middle of the desert with zero cell service. I set my alarm for 5:30 AM, but was woken up to a bright tent at 5 AM. So yeah, I definitely missed what must have been a very early sunrise. Maybe next time.
Instead, we took a short walk in the early morning light before grabbing breakfast. Before we knew it, we were being called to our camels to beat the morning heat. After another 90 minutes on our camels, we’d made it back to the main road, where we met our driver to continue our journey.
Glamping in the Sahara Desert was an absolute dream. If you find yourself in Morocco, which you should, you absolutely have to go glamping in the Sahara Desert!