Picture a place so quiet that it becomes deafening. A place so beautiful that nothing else will ever compare. Food so flavorful and delicious that you will be left craving it for weeks after returning home. Imagine yourself atop a camel so large that you can see for miles and miles. The red-orange sand surrounds you, captivating you. At night, the stars fill the sky as you’ve never seen before. There are shooting stars everywhere as you listen to nomadic music while sitting around a fire. Where is this beautiful piece of heaven I am describing? The one and only Sahara Desert! As a little girl, I remember seeing pictures of the Sahara Desert in school and being in awe of its beauty. I wondered if it would ever be possible to visit, but never in a million years did I dream that I actually would!
A lot went into planning this luxury desert vacation. That’s because there isn’t too much information on it yet. I found the idea for the Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp trip from Helene at Helene In Between. She and her husband traveled there in February of 2018 and she partnered with them to offer a 10% discount on their stay to any of her readers by using the code Helene.
So what all does go into planning a trip like this? I’m glad you asked…
Getting to the desert
There are two ways to get to the Sahara Desert. You can drive yourself or you can opt to have one of their drivers pick you up. We went with the private driver without the overnight stay.
Now, it does cost a few hundred dollars more to hire the private driver than to drive yourself. You might spend about 150 euro to rent a car in Marrakesh for 3 days. But you have to pay for gas there and back, find your way to the Sahara, and you miss out on all the stops that the drivers know are must-sees. It is about a 9-10 hour drive as well.
Our driver was Ibrahim. He was great! He stopped at so many beautiful scenic mountain views along the way. A lot of the trip is spent driving through the Atlas mountains. WOW! It was amazing. At times, there were drought-ridden red rock mountains and right next to them were snow-covered mountains with a beautiful river flowing through. The best way to describe it is if the Grand Canyon and Pikes Peak were conjoined.
He drove us through Morocco’s version of Hollywood, Ouarzazete. We were able to see where movies such as Gladiator, Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation, and The Mummy were filmed.
We were able to stop at different kasbahs old and new (castles), saw ruins of older cities, we ate at the most amazing restaurants, and we stopped and spent some time at the Dades Gorges. It was absolutely mesmerizing. We were not expecting to be able to see that! Plus, he was so great at taking pictures, we had our own private photographer for the entire trip! We are SO happy that we had Ibrahim as our tour guide throughout the entirety of the trip.
What to do in the Sahara during the day
There are so many excursions that the Merzouga Desert Luxury Camp has to offer. Some of these include sunrise/sunset camel rides, sand-boarding, riding dune buggies through the Sahara, visiting and getting to see how nomads live, seeing real fossils, music entertainment, and more! There was never a dull moment.
When arriving at the dunes, there were two camels and a camel jockey waiting to take us to our camp. I couldn’t even begin to describe my excitement. As we were on our first camel ride of the trip (which was a sunset camel ride), we took in the amazing scenery and the deafening silence. Have you ever heard absolutely nothing? Your ears start ringing so loud that you have to start making noise. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. No traffic, no technology, no busyness…just us on our camels trekking through the dunes.
One of the things Trent really wanted to do was to ride dune buggies up and down the dunes of the Sahara Desert. So, that’s what he did. He had the time of his life! I opted not to go because I knew he would want to be a little more adventurous and I didn’t want to hold him back. Donuts and such just aren’t my style. Instead, I laid on the side of the dunes and soaked up the amazing Moroccan sun.
We also hiked the dunes…some of those were quite a doozy! It was so worth it to watch the sunset over the sand, turning to from orange to red. A sunset like that is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. It blows my mind that something so spectacular as that happens every night and so few have witnessed it.
What to do in the Sahara during the evening
After we completed our sunset camel rides, the jockey took us back to the camp and we were greeted with warm mint tea (don’t forget the sugar), hot towels, and a cozy seat by the fire. On the first evening, we talked with the other members staying at the camp and got to know them while waiting for dinner to be served. For dinner, there was a 5-COURSE-MEAL and it was amazing.
After dinner that first night, we went back around the fire and the nomads pulled out their drums and Moroccan castanets. We listened to them sing songs as we all took turns playing along with them. We watched for shooting stars until about midnight. I saw five! The number of stars that you could see at night will blow your mind. It was like looking at a picture that NASA took of the Milky Way. Seriously! With no light pollution, it was one of those moments you’ll never forget. I honestly think I saw a UFO that night. Ha!
We got up and headed to bed for an early morning sunset camel ride. Make sure to do this at least once during your stay. It was gorgeous! I’m honestly not sure if I enjoyed the sunset or sunrise more.
The one food you have to eat
I am a very picky eater. I didn’t really fall in love with any of the food our entire trip, except this famous Moroccan dish. Lemon Chicken Tajine! Jiminy Christmas, Batman. I fell in love. I could eat that every single day for the rest of my life.
What is lemon chicken tajine? It is a skinned, bone-in chicken breast cooked in a clay pot (called a tajine) and it simmers in there with lemons, onions, garlic, olives, and different seasonings. The chicken becomes so tender that it falls right off the bone. They let it simmer for a little, enough for it to develop this savory tangy sauce at the bottom of the tajine. I’m not even sure how to describe it. It’s the perfect dipping sauce for your bread or french fries.
I almost forgot! I don’t know what they do to their french fries, but MY LANDS! Never in my life have I had french fries like that. I almost wonder if they cook them with some lemon juice or something because they were the most flavorful fries and I’m drooling just thinking about them.
When should you go to the Sahara Desert
Ibrahim told us that the busy season is usually from February to April. This is when the weather is at it’s best and the tourists are at maximum capacity. I understand wanting to go when the weather is so perfect, but I personally don’t like being around that many people.
There are two camps: the private and the main camp. The private camp is the one we opted for. It was about 150 euros more than the main camp, to us it was worth it. The main camp houses roughly 14 tents while the private camp houses 5.
We ended up going in the second week of December and I think that was perfect timing. During the day, the weather was absolutely gorgeous. I don’t know if I’m describing this right, but it was so beautiful outside that it didn’t even feel like there was any weather. Does that make sense? Regardless, it was perfect! Every day was 75 and sunny without a cloud in the sky. The nights though, those were very cold! Thank goodness the rooms had heaters and big blankets, and they had a fire to sit around. It got into the 30s at night. That was pretty cold, as was the sunrise camel ride, but it was still worth it! I just had my sherpa sweatshirt and jeans and I was fine. During the night, I had to take off my sweatshirt from sweating so bad. They definitely keep you warm in the tent.
The first night, we had 7 other people staying with us. The great part though was that when we woke up in the morning, they all were leaving. Trent and I had the entire camp to ourselves! It was definitely a private camp! Ha! We really enjoyed the time to ourselves in the Sahara, the lone camel rides, and having the dunes to ourselves during the sunset. Surreal being the only people way up there. I wish I could have frozen time at that moment.
So for me, I say go in the shoulder season (Nov-Jan) to get the most privacy and still great weather. I advise against going in the summer though. They were telling us that it can get up to 125* F or higher. The sand starts to burn your feet and the sun will quickly dehydrate you.
Side tangent – the mirage thing is totally real. The dunes were very close to the Algerian border. You could easily see into the country, it was so close. The border was like a long giant plateau mountain, okay? When driving near them, the entire time I could’ve sworn that there was a giant lake bordering the mountain, but there never was. It looked as if the water was flowing freely and green plants were growing. Nope, dead plants and no water. It was extremely trippy!
Which part of the desert should you visit
There are two different dunes you can visit during your stay in the Sahara. Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga. The dunes of Erg Chigaga are closer, so that’s a plus there. Erg Chebbi has taller and richer colored dune at though. To us, if we were going to do this, we wanted the best view possible. So we went with Erg Chebbi and don’t regret it one bit! The sand and the way it changed from pink to red to orange when the sun hits it…I’ve never seen anything like it. I feel like I keep repeating myself by saying that, but there are no other words to describe it! This trip was one of the best experiences of my life.
The extra bit of the drive is worth it for the views! But in the end, it’s really up to you and how much time you have there.
How long should you stay
There are a few options for length of stay that you can view on their website. The most popular one though is the 3 day/2 night excursion. That’s the one we did. You spend day one and three touring all of Morocco and seeing things you never would have gotten the opportunity to. The one full day in the desert though is more than enough. You may not want to leave, but there really isn’t enough to do to justify spending more days there. We were extremely satisfied with the length of our stay and did not feel like we were cheated out of any time, activities, or experiences.
During the full day in the desert, we were able to go on a sunrise camel ride, tour every inch of the Sahara Desert, visit with nomads in their homes, see camels roaming in the wild, and go searching for dinosaur fossils. Along with all of that, we had a picnic lunch, and still had time to spend hours relaxing in the dunes before our sunset camel ride. After the camel ride, we sat around the fire telling jokes and listening to more music under the stars until roughly 8:30 pm. We ate dinner, another 5-course meal, and ended up in bed around 10:00 pm.
I was worried that there wasn’t going to be enough time. I am extremely pleased with the amount of time spent in the desert, especially with us being the only ones at the camp.
What to pack for the desert
If you decide to go when we went, you definitely are going to want to bring clothes for both late spring weather and winter weather. I suggest jeans and short sleeve shirts for the day and a warm sweatshirt and long sleeve for the night. I also had a wrap for around the time of the sunset. It was still warm when the sun was setting, but when the sun set the temperature dropped quickly. Having that wrap for the camel ride back was the perfect amount of coverage.
I’d also recommend a scarf of some sort. You’ll need it for protection from the sun (especially in the hot months) and in the case of a sandstorm. The nomads at the camp used their scarves and showed us how to properly wear them and let us use them for the day. That was a lot of fun wearing those!
So there you have it! I hope you enjoyed reading about our amazing life-changing experience to the Sahara Desert. Don’t forget to use the code Helene when booking your trip to get 10% off your stay at the Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp to save some money. Let me know below in the comments if you are planning a trip out there soon!