On your first visit to Marrakech the first thing you may notice when you are making your list of experiences to live in Marrakech is the large number of tour operators offering tours to the desert in the most varied ranges of days and prices. Faced with this reality, how do you know which one to choose? I hope that the guide I have prepared for you with detailed information about the best experiences to sleep in the desert of Marrakech will help you to clear your doubts.
When we talk about the Marrakech Desert we really mean the Sahara Desert. Known as the largest arid area in the world that includes countries such as Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
In turn, the most impressive areas of the Moroccan Sahara desert are Erg Chigaga in Zagora and Erg Chebbi in Merzouga. Their beauty and tourist attraction have made them a favorite destination for millions of travelers around the world; people who consider a trip to the desert of Marrakech with all the wonders that come with the adventure as the main reason to visit Morocco.
1. Excursion under the stars in the desert of Merzouga
Merzouga is the destination for those who want to intensely enjoy an unrepeatable night in the desert of Marrakech. This is not an isolated opinion, but a common concept that is reaffirmed when you visit its dunes up to 150 meters high.
Let's start with the basic geographical location. Merzouga is the closest town to the Erg Chebbi desert; one of the two great deserts of the Moroccan Sahara together with the Erg Chigaga desert. From this village you move to the final location of a desert camp to enjoy the wonders of the Sahara.
Advantages and disadvantages of the Merzouga Desert
- Main advantage:
If you're looking for a desert of towering dunes where the concept of time and space seems to transport you to another galaxy, this is the perfect destination for you.
- Main disadvantage:
You'll need to consider travel time, stops along the way, and rest time. I do not recommend very rushed trips from Marrakech to Merzouga as you will not have time to rest and enjoy your excursions to Erg Chebbi. Full tours usually take a minimum of 3 days including the trip to and from Marrakech, plus some stops.
How to get to the desert of Merzouga?
My favorite option for trips with this level of complexity is to hire a tour with a specialized company. If you are going to make an excursion from Marrakech to the village of Merzouga you should know that there is a distance of 550 km with an approximate of 10 hours by car if you do not make stops.
From Marrakech you will find all kinds of excursions to Merzouga that include stops at the most popular and attractive tourist destinations. This means that on your excursion to the desert you can also discover a lot of Moroccan beauty and culture outside of Marrakech.
Where to sleep in the desert of Merzouga?
Most of the camps in the Merzouga desert are luxury camps. Even the more economical ones are focused on offering an individual experience that prioritizes comfort, albeit with the limitations of camping. If you choose one of the luxury camping alternatives you will find the following amenities: individual bathroom in each tent, fully functional shower, and electric fan.
Some camping options you could explore:
How are the camps?
In the camps you can do all kinds of fun activities such as camel rides to the dunes to enjoy the sunrise or sunset in the desert; typical dinners at the campfire; sandboarding on the sand and many more.
- Cost of this experience: The minimum price to pay for this experience is 100€ including transfer from Marrakech.
2. Overnight excursions in the desert of Zagora
Zagora is the closest Moroccan town to the desert of Erg Chigaga, located about 360 kilometers from the city of Marrakech, is an area with dunes of great tourist attraction and with a lot of activities to enjoy.
Advantages and disadvantages of the Zagora Desert
- Main advantage:
Distance. This destination is closer to Marrakech than its counterpart the Merzouga desert, which makes it the ideal choice for those who have a limited travel itinerary, but refuse to leave Morocco without seeing the desert dunes.
- Main disadvantage:
Zagora's dunes are a bit smaller in comparison. The dunes located just outside Merzouga in the Erg Chebbi desert have a higher concentration of sand so visually they are much more impressive.
How to get to Zagora desert from Marrakech?
Visiting the Erg Chigaga desert near Zagora requires a few days of travel through rocky landscapes. In the city of Marrakech you will find organized tours that offer transportation from the hotel, but you also have the option to rent a vehicle or arrange private transportation.
The Erg Chigaga dunes are more than 60 km from the nearest paved road, so once you have arrived in the town of Zagora you should be prepared to visit the sands on a camel or hire a guide in a 4x4 vehicle.
What activities can you enjoy?
The experience of enjoying the Zagora desert will depend largely on the time you have. However, many of the organized excursions include some of the following options:
- Overnight in a desert camp.
- Enjoy the dunes of Erg Chigaga in the Zagora desert.
- Camel rides in the desert
- Admire the sunrise and sunset over the dunes of Erg Chigaga.
- Friendly atmosphere, nights in bivouac and traditional dinner around the campfire.
- Visit the fortified village of Ait Ben Haddou and the film studios in the city of Ouarzazate. Place where productions such as the Game of Thrones saga took place.
Cost of this experience: The minimum price to pay for this experience is 75 € including transfer from Marrakech.
3. Excursion to spend a night under the stars in the desert of Agafay
Agafay is a rocky desert composed of landscapes that you should not miss on a trip to Morocco. It is the ideal destination for those who have a complicated travel itinerary, who want to make the most of their stay in Marrakech, but who, for one reason or another, have limited time.
Advantages and disadvantages of visiting the Agafay Desert
- Main advantage:
Its main advantage is that it is only 40 minutes from Morocco's most famous city and where most tourists land. The Agafay desert offers the priceless experience of a night in the desert with almost none of the inconvenience associated with long days of travel through the dunes.
- Main disadvantage:
It is important to note that the Agafay desert is not as impressive as other alternatives seen here. It is not a Sahara desert as such but rather a barren and arid plateau that emulates the experience of a night in the desert, but where you will not be able to see the impressive Sahara dunes.
Travel itinerary to the Agafay Desert
- How to get to the Agafay Desert?
To get from the hotel to the facilities in the desert you have several alternatives: private transportation, a cab bus ride or direct transportation alternatives offered by the tour companies that take you from the hotel to the destination and vice versa.
Whether you hire a cab or use the transportation of a tour company, it is possible that the driver will make prior stops at unsolicited destinations such as stores or markets. You will always have the option to enjoy this experience or ask the driver to take you directly to your destination.
- Where to sleep in the Agafay Desert?
If your goal is to spend a night under the stars there are several alternative desert campsites that offer many amenities and even entertainment options. Among the three most popular campsites in Agafay are:
- What are the camps like?
Both the amenities and the entertainment you find will depend on what the different camps offer. However, some amenities that I have observed include en-suite bathrooms and bathtubs in some tents, comfortable beds and welcome refreshments.
Cost of this experience: The average price to pay for this experience is approximately 50€. Most include transfer to and from your hotel in Marrakech.
What is the best time to sleep in the desert of Marrakech?
The best time to travel to Marrakech and spend a night in the desert of Marrakech is from October to May.
The worst time to spend a night in the desert is from June to August. The heat is so scorching that some excursion companies are forced to close their daytime activities for weeks at a time.
Note that the months of December and January are quite cold. Although the campsites function normally, and the Berber tents are made of dromedary skins that insulate the outside temperature, you should still be prepared with winter pajamas, coats and socks if you visit Marrakech in winter.
What clothes or equipment to pack for a Marrakech desert tour?
To make it easier I have divided the luggage recommendation by sections that I share below. Keep in mind that, depending on the destination you choose and the amount of days your trip will last, the time you will spend on the road will be quite significant, so in general terms dress as comfortable and cool as you can.
**For desert tours
**- Wear long-sleeved shirts
- Wear loose-fitting cotton or linen pants.
- Wear sturdy shoes. Preferably boots.
- A baseball cap or sun hat is recommended.
- Include a scarf or bandana to protect your face from the sand.
- Always carry something to eat and fresh water.
- On the tours, carry only an easy-to-carry backpack.
**For nights in the desert
**- During the night temperatures can drop to zero degrees, so it is advisable to take into account the following...
- Include a warm hat in your luggage.
- Include warm clothes and a sweater
- During the nights you will appreciate some warm socks.
**Other useful items
**- Pocket flashlight and spare batteries
- Sunscreen and lip balm
- A sandproof case for your camera
- Toilet paper
- Toilet bag with wet wipes
- Basic first aid kit
- Portable charger for your cell phone.
- Garbage bag.
What other destination to visit in the desert of Marrakech?
It is no secret that Morocco is a land capable of providing unparalleled experiences. If you have the time and budget for activities other than a trip to any of the deserts listed here, consider Ouarzazate.
Ouarzazate is known as the little Hollywood of Africa. You may have heard of this place, since its kasbahs or castles have been the setting for movies and high-budget productions such as Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars and Game of Thrones.
This destination is located 200 km from Marrakech, its popularity has made it a stop included in many excursions and desert tours.
Some of the attractions and interesting points that you can do during your day in the city of Ouarzazate are:
- Visit the Kasbah Taourirt. A residential castle made of rammed earth built in the twentieth century.
- The cinema museum is located just in front of the Kasbah Taourirt.
- The film studios of Ouarzazate. Unless they are filming a movie the studios can be visited as part of a guided tour.
- Ait-Ben-Haddou. One of the most interesting places to visit in Morocco and declared a World Heritage Site. It is a beautiful brick citadel and an impressive historical city.
- Visit the Fint Oasis. From Ouarzazate Fint Oasis with its beautiful palm groves is only 20 kilometers away.