Things to do in Morocco: The Moroccan desert

Written by Sam Van den Haute aka CheckOutSam

The Sahara speaks to everyone's imagination. It's been a decor for most of the fairy tales of 1001 night, and that's no surprise. The desert is breathtakingly beautiful and very mysterious!
During my trip through Morocco, I went to the Moroccan desert from Marrakech for three days. In these days you'll see all the highlights, but it promises to be a tiring trip!

Sam Van den Haute CheckoutSam

Hi, I'm Sam, the blogger behind CheckOutSam!

Sam Van den Haute has been a full-time world traveler for ten years and has therefore gained a lot of travel and lifestyle inspiration on all continents. Do you still have questions after reading this blog? Ask them in the comments section or send me a message at [email protected] and I'll be happy to help you wherever I can!

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Morocco desert tour in 3 days

From Marrakesh I had to get up very early to head to the Sahara. Do you plan a desert tour yourself and want to know what you shouldn’t miss out on? Or do you want to take an organised trip from Marrakech?
I’ll help you with my 3 day itinerary, whatever your choice is!

Dag 1:

Sleeping in is not included in this three-day excursion!
At half past seven I was already expected to be in front of the famous Café de France at the Jemaa El-Fnaa square. A comfortable bus picked me up with thirteen other adventurers and not much later we started our long drive towards the Moroccan desert.

Ait Ben-Haddou

We hadn’t even driven that far from Marrakech before we were thrown to the left and right while climbing and descending the sharp curves in the road. Below us, we could see beautiful villages in a lush, green area right next to the zigzagging road. An attraction in itself!

Once we descended from the high Atlas Mountains, we were put in the blender for just a little bit more until we arrived at Aït Ben-Haddou. It didn’t ring a bell for me, but this unique village had already served as a decor for many Hollywood blockbusters!
From the arid roads, we pulled into a pretty modern city and once we got behind the houses we couldn’t believe our eyes. Aït Ben-Haddou stretched out in front of us; a beautiful city made of mud and straw.
Our guide told us that, in spite of its beauty, nobody wants to live there anymore. There are no water facilities or electricity, so there are only a handful of families left living in Aït Ben Haddou.

Our guide took us around the dried mud streets and showed us a couple of beautiful views on the way. Game of Thrones, The Gladiator, … A lot of movies and TV shows were filmed here, and I’m not surprised. What a wonderful place this is!

Ouarzazate: the gate to the Sahara

Once we’ve left this little city behind, we hit the road for another couple of hours, until we reached Ouarzazate. This place is also known as the gateway to the Sahara of Morocco.
Here we had some time to stretch our legs and marvel at the gorgeous Kasbah’s exterior and the famous Ouarzate film studios.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have so much time here and soon we drove on to our final destination for today. The Boumalne Dades, again passing arid and dry roads and gorgeous scenery.

boumalne dades morocco

The Boumalne Dades shake you from left to right, but the view you get is worth it!

view from aït ben haddou

The gorgeous views from the highest point of Aït Ben Haddou.

Aït-Ben-Haddou must do in marrakech

You might recognise Aït-Ben-Haddou from a TV-series or movie such as Game of Thrones or The Gladiator.

ouarzazate kasbah

The Kasbah of Ouarzazate, the city which leads to the Sahara!

hotel near sahara ouarzazate

A hotel near the Sahara isn’t that bad. Not bad at all!

Day 2:

After a cozy meal with my fellow travelers, I went to bed early. On day two, we had to get up early again so that we would arrive at the dunes of the Western Sahara early enough.

Tinghir and the Todgha gorges

Pretty fast we were driving along breathtaking landscapes once again. The dry region had already been exchanged for beautiful valleys with a lot of greenery and especially fairy-like villages that popped up here and there.
After a lot of extra miles and turns, we were welcomed by our guide in the Todgha gorges. An oasis amidst… Well, nothing!

A raging river has paved its way through the giant rock formations, creating a beautiful, shady canyon. Exceptionally beautiful!

Our guide took us to the surrounding nature and a small village amidst all that beauty. Again, this beautiful village is characterized by the orange-like sand color of the cool Berber homes.

sahara dessert tour morocco

The south of Morocco is gorgeous! It immediately made me thing of all the fairytales of 1001 nights.

tinghir, sahara morocco

Tinghir, on our way to the Sahara. An oasis in the midst of huge canyons!

Merzouga and the tent camps in the Sahara

From Tinghir it was only a few hours before we arrived in Merzouga. Unbelievable how the landscape could change even more!
I thought the surroundings I had seen today and yesterday were already dry, but damn… Now we really got to see the desert!

Sandy plains with a cactus or another arid loving plant here and there, a berber with his head wrapped into several layers of clothing to escape from a sandstorm. Yes, I was pretty sure we had really arrived in the desert!
When we actually saw the Sahara sand dunes, we could no longer hide our enthusiasm.

In Merzouga we had to leave our big suitcases, and put our clothes and supplies for the next night and morning in a smaller backpack.
Once everyone was done, we could get up on our camel.

Guided by a Moroccan Berber, the camels walked slowly over the uneven orange dunes. Unfortunately, there was a heavy sandstorm throughout the ride, and we often had to tighten our eyes and withstand a rough scrub.
Fortunately, that didn’t take away from the beautiful environment we traveled through. A constantly changing sandy landscape with towering dunes. Mile after mile we looked at huge masses of minuscule sand granules. Until we suddenly could spot one of the tents camps near one of the biggest dunes I had seen so far.

sahara overnight stay

We’re ready for it! Let’s head to the tented camps!

tented camps sahara

Our tented camps in the Sahara looks tiny, seen from this huge sand dune!


After an hour and a half we could finally descend off the giant camels after they had kneeled through their strange knees.
The friendly Moroccan Berbers welcomed us in the tent camp in the Western Sahara. The tented camp was fully shielded with high fences on which carpets were hanged, so we didn’t have to worry about sandstorms.
The entire floor was also covered with beautiful hand-woven Moroccan carpets.

We were assigned tents, and left all our stuff there so that we could finally explore the Sahara with our own feet.

Almost everyone ran onto the giant sand dunes, and believe me; It’s a lot more tiring than it seems!
From there we got a phenomenal view over the beautiful desert we found ourselves in. Sand and dunes as far as the eye can see. Impressive!

A few tens of meters down, our camels were resting on the sandy surface. While we all fell down or rolled down from the giant heaps of sand.

When the Berbers gave us a snowboard to upgrade our sandboarding skills, we of course couldn’t say no. Sandboarding is actually the same as snowboarding. But on sand of course!
The snowboard we used went a lot slower than it does in snow, and so it took some time to adjust. With a lot of falling and getting up, and a lot of sand in my mouth, I finally managed to speed of one of the dunes.
Sand boarding in the Sahara, check! Another thing to cross off of my bucket list!

sandboarding in the sahara

One… two… three… Sandboarding in the desert is fun!

Berber music

Unfortunately, we couldn’t really enjoy the sunset in the Sahara due to the never ending sandstorm. Nevertheless, we didn’t let that spoil our party. Because, let’s face it. This really is a magical experience!

After filling our stomachs with a delicious Berber Tagine, we were treated to a night of fun with these sandnomads.
Once the campfire was lit, the party started!

Tamtam’s and all kinds of cymbals were used to create beautiful tunes, and the enthusiasm of the Berbers soon made everyone dance with them.
By the end of the evening, I and some other visitors also tried to get some sounds out of the musical instruments. I don’t think it sounded very good, since a couple of minutes later the Berbers took the instruments away to play more enchanting tunes themselves.

After a great night, I silently head back to my tent. I don’t think I slept one tiny bit. Were it the many impressions of today or the persistent sound of the sandstorm combined with partying Berbers? Who knows…

berber tent camp sahara

At night we were treated on great music by the Berbers in the camp.

Day 3:

Unfortunately, this wonderful excursion had already ended.
From the tent camp we left early on our camels to Merzouga. Unfortunately, the sky was still not visible this morning and we couldn’t enjoy the otherwise beautiful sunrise. But nevertheless, this is an experience to never forget!

From Merzouga we traveled back to Marrakech, dusty, tired but oh so happy. About ten hours driving later, we said our goodbyes and all went our own ways again.

How big is the Sahara desert?

Big. Very big!

It’s even the biggest sand desert on our globe! From Morocco, the orange dunes extend all the way to Egypt. Almost 5000 kilometers further. Make sure that you don’t get lost. It might take a while for someone to find you…

Planning a visit yourself or arranging a desert tour?

The fun of self-planning is that you have much more freedom. You can set up your schedule yourself and go wherever you want.
During the three-day excursion, I found it sometimes unfortunate that we had too little time to really see certain sights. For example, I could’ve easily spent an extra hour in Aït Ben-Haddou and I would’ve liked to see the Kasbah Taourirt from the inside as well.
Also in the restaurant selection you have very little input. The food is not bad, but with the help of TripAdvisor you might find better, I think.

However, I personally chose an excursion for various reasons. The price was very cheap, you don’t have to drive around Morocco yoursel (there is no public transport to the Sahara), and the driver and guides will help you find out more about all the places you visit.

Normally I don’t really like excursions, and I prefer to arrange everything myself. But in the case of the Sahara in Morocco, I found that would be an insane amount of work, planning and cost… Unless you rent a car. And just by walking on the Moroccan streets I prefer not to die at my young age yet!

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