15 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Sahara Desert Tour

Taking a Sahara Desert tour and riding camels into the orange-hued sand dunes was a big bucket list item of mine. 

Perhaps it’s because I watched Aladdin far too many times as a kid (sorry Mom). Or maybe because after riding horses and going dog-sledding, this seemed like the logical next step?

Or perhaps it was the solitude of the desert and the immensity of the dunes that compelled me. Either way: I was sold.

Whatever the reason, when I was in Morocco I spent nearly two days of my life in a van from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert. Was it worth it? Well… it’s complicated.

Photo of shadows in the sand dunes in the Sahara Desert in Morocco. A line of camels is walking in the desert on a sand ridge.
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Like with much of my Moroccan experience, there were some serious highs and lows, and I wish I had been better aware of what the Sahara tour would actually entail — which is why I’ve written this post for you.

I found that managing my expectations was key to enjoying my time in Morocco, and I think it will be the same for you.

So, is a Sahara tour worth it? I’ll let you decide.

If you’re wondering if a Sahara Desert tour is worth the money, I’m here to break it down for you – the good, the bad, and the truly WTF experiences I had along the way.

Without further ado, here are the top 15 things I wish somebody told me before my Morocco desert tour.

Ripples of sand and sand dunes in a beautiful orange color in the Sahara Desert in Morocco
Is a Sahara tour worth it? I’ll let you decide.

Morocco Desert Tour FAQs

How do you get to the Sahara Desert in Morocco?

The best way to get to the Sahara Desert is typically by guided tour from one of Morocco’s main tourist hubs. 

You can also take a bus to Merzouga and then book some desert activities separately. 

Alternately, if you really want to avoid the drive, you can fly to Errachadia Airport. However, it’s still 2 hours away by car from Merzouga, and you won’t be saving that much time.

How do I get to the desert from Marrakech?

Visiting the Sahara Desert from Marrakech is the most common way to access it. But it’s not close! It’s typically about 12 hours to the desert (one way), spread across two days of transit on the way there and then one full day on the way back.

Typically guided tour is best but other options include booking a bus to Merzouga, renting a car and driving to the Sahara, and flying to Errachadia and then booking a taxi to get you to Merzouga.

What are the best desert tours in Morocco?

I’ve done a ton of research on what the best tour companies are after my subpar experience (which you can read about more below). 

If you’re coming from Marrakech, I suggest this tour. If you’re coming from Fes, I suggest this tour.

If you are coming from Essaouira, Rabat, or Casablanca, it’s a lot further to the desert and I suggest making a waypoint at Marrakech.

The rooftops of Marrakech with the tall minaret of the mosque and Atlas Mountains in the distance on a sunny day

What sand dunes will I see in the Merzouga Desert?

Since most desert tours from Marrakech go as fast as possible, you will likely see the Erg Chebbi dunes, which are the closest to Merzouga.

On a 3-day tour to the Sahara, you will not see Erg Chigaga, the largest dune in the Sahara. This would require different planning than your standard Sahara desert tour.

What are the best things to do in the Sahara Desert?

There are all sorts of activities you can do in the Moroccan desert — from camel trekking to desert glamping to sandboarding to ATV riding and more. 

A 3-day tour actually gives you fairly limited time in the Sahara Desert. You will do a sunset camel trek, have a desert camp meal, sleep in a tent, stargaze, and be able to watch the sunrise before leaving again — that’s about it.

If you want more time in the Sahara Desert, I suggest taking the bus to Merzouga and planning an independent trip there rather than taking one of the Marrakech tours.

How do I visit the Sahara Desert independently?

Eco tents in a glampsite in Morocco with views of the dunes and some desert shrubbery on a hazy day.

If you don’t want to do a tour, you can visit the Sahara Desert (fairly) independently by getting yourself to Merzouga, either by bus or rental car, and then renting accommodations in the desert.

There are all levels of desert camp available. There are some great luxury glamping options such as the Sahara Desert Luxury Camp and the Desert Bivouac Merzouga which offer improved amenities such as private bathrooms and beautifully designed rooms.

There are also more bare-bones accommodation options like Desert Berber Fire Camp and Dune Merzouga Camp.

Tip: When pricing out your trip and making decisions, don’t just look at the base price, but also look for what’s included in each property and make an assessment based on that. You may have to pay for transit, meals, etc. which could eat into your “savings!”

What to Pack for a Sahara Desert Tour

Person tossing sand while wearing a scarf around their head sitting in the orange sand of the Sahara Desert

Motion sickness pills: Don’t underestimate how winding the roads will be leading out to the desert! You will cross all sorts of high mountain passes between Marrakech and the Sahara Desert. Motion sickness pills will be your friend. I had motion sickness bands and they helped (but not quite enough). I wish I had Dramamine!

Snacks: I didn’t enjoy the food at the lunches we stopped at along the way and I wish I had packed enough snacks to skip a lunch or two. Snacks can also be a nice pick-me-up when you need a little sugar rush after countless hours of driving. I like packing Larabars for a pick-me-up.

A filter water bottle: I used a lot of plastic during my Sahara desert tour and I regret it. I since have become more conscious of my plastic waste and now use a Grayl water bottle which filters out all manner of icky, undrinkable water and makes it 100% safe to consume.

Long sleeve shirt and pants: Even if it’s hot, you’ll want to have your arms and legs covered for multiple reasons during your desert tour. For one, it’ll protect you from the hot Moroccan sun… but for another, it’ll shield you (a tiny bit) from prying eyes.

A scarf: It can occasionally get windy in the Sahara Desert. Your guides will insist that you have a scarf they can wrap around you like a turban to protect your face from the sand, and they will make a stop in Erfoud or somewhere nearby the desert to buy overpriced scarves. Just bring your own scarf because the scarves you can buy there are not good quality and are basically single-use.

Layers (in winter): If you’re visiting the Sahara in the winter, you’ll want to bring warm layers as the desert can drop down to freezing in the nighttime (not kidding!). Bring a thermal top/leggings (I like these from 32 Degrees) as well as a thin down jacket to keep you warm.

A camera and tripod (for night photography): You’ll want a camera with a zoom lens and the ability to use manual settings to capture the best of the desert in all its beauty. A smartphone won’t quite do it!

This is the camera I used in the Sahara desert. I also suggest a tripod if you want to photograph the Milky Way and do some astrophotography — you’ll likely never find darker skies!

Tents for camping in the Sahara Desert at night, lit up by a fire or lantern, with the Milky Way overhead

Things to Know Before Your Morocco Sahara Desert Tour

You cannot do a Sahara desert trip on a day trip from Marrakech.

Merzouga, the gateway to the Sahara, is 350 miles or around 560 kilometers of winding mountain passes and dizzying curves away from Marrakech. 

As a result, you shouldn’t expect to be able to reach the Sahara in a day from Marrakech! At a bare minimum, you need 3 days, all of which will entail serious amounts of driving. 

It’s about 12 hours of driving in a van each way between Marrakech and Merzouga, not including stops, so expect to spend a good portion of your 3 day Sahara desert tour on the road.

If you only have time to do a day trip from Marrakech, you will simply not be able to see true sand dunes like you can see in Merzouga and Erg Chebbi, full stop. Adjust your expectations so you won’t be disappointed! 

Cushions set up around tables to enjoy tea in the rock desert outside of Marrakech
A desert camp in Agafay Desert outside of Marrakech

If you only have one day, you can do a camel ride through the rocky desert and palm grove outside of Marrakech. Prices are quite reasonable – you can check prices for one-day tours here.

With two days, you’re a little better off – you can get to the Zagora Desert and do a sunset camel ride, a desert overnight, and a sunrise camel ride the next day. 

Tours to Zagora are a little pricier than the day trip, obviously, but still a good value at under $50 per day – learn more about two-day tours here.

While Zagora isn’t quite as impressive as Merzouga (by a good margin), it’s still a worthwhile option to compare. I wrote quite a bit more on how to decide between the two in this post on choosing between Merzouga vs. Zagora for your Morocco desert trip.

A desert camp in Zagora, Morocco

If you can spare the time and the money, then I highly recommend picking the Sahara desert.

 In my opinion, the rock desert and palm oasis outside of Marrakech is nowhere close to how spectacular the Sahara Desert is. As a result, it should only be booked if you have extremely limited time or funds and have a camel ride on your Morocco bucket list. 

The Zagora Desert is closer to what you want from a Sahara Desert tour, but it’s still a ton of driving plus an overnight, so I’d urge you to just go for the full three day tour instead. 

It’s not much more money (about $30 more than the Zagora tour), and absolutely nothing in my life compares to the beauty of seeing the sun rise and set in the Sahara Desert for myself with my own eyes.

Book your 3 day Sahara desert tour here!

The Sahara Desert is even more magical than you expect.

People in the Sahara Desert on a camel trek through the sand dunes led by Berber guides

In my 60+ countries of travel, I’ve still never seen anything quite as beautiful as the Sahara Desert, even to this day and even despite some negative experiences I had there (more on that in just a bit).

There is something otherworldly about the contrast between the orange sand and the blue sky, and the way the sand rippled in perfect formations that look drawn by an artist’s hand

As sunset fell, I almost wanted to pinch myself to confirm that it was real. But if it was a dream, I didn’t want to wake up.

The softness of the orange sand, the seeming infiniteness of the rolling dunes, the way that footsteps looked as they left magical trails in the sand, and the inky blackness of the sky punctured by a million tiny stars at night — there’s simply no comparison to the Sahara Desert.

Getting to the Sahara Desert from Marrakech is a royal pain, and yet it is completely and utterly worth it.

Book your Sahara tour in advance so you can read reviews.

berber guides leading a small group of four people through the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert

The worst piece of advice that I got about taking a tour to the Sahara desert is that you shouldn’t book it in advance and rather wait for a tout in the souks to offer you a better price.

Here’s the thing: you will likely get a cheaper price, but you will not get a better deal, as you will make up for that price difference somewhere, either with poor quality service or through scams and upsells along the trip. 

I went on one of the cheapest tours I could find, and I don’t recall the company name as I booked it from a random tout in the souk (as I was told to do). But I can tell you — I didn’t save any money in the end, and I had a worse trip for it. 

One of the worst parts was getting told that the A/C in the van is “broken” on a 115 degree Fahrenheit day so they can save on gas. 

They put on the fan and insisted the A/C wouldn’t work, and they only put it on after I insisted many, many times… upon which, the A/C magically worked perfectly.

I was constantly up-charged on everything, from lunch to the made-in-China scarves that they insist you need for the desert. I was stubborn and just tied a shirt around my head at this point, just to prove a point.

Oh, and I also got scammed by a rug vendor in a Berber village, but more on that later.

Instead, I highly recommend booking your Sahara desert tour in advance with a company with a good reputation and a strong online presence. 

Quite frankly, it’s not because of any merits of the company itself or the uniqueness of the tour. All tours follow a similar route (High Atlas Mountains, Aït Benhaddou Kasbah [which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site], the Dades Valley & Dades Gorge, Todra Gorge, Ouarzazate, etc.)

It’s just because a company that has put in work to establish a solid online presence has a ton more to lose than the hundred or so indistinguishable tour companies who make their profit off of selling to tourists on the street, for whom reputation and word of mouth means little. 

They will be more scrupulous and careful as to protect their reputation and their livelihood, and that’s a good thing for the consumer.

After carefully researching several Sahara Desert tour offerings and comparing them to my own experience, the company that I’m comfortable recommending to my readers is Ando Travel

With an average of 4.4 stars out of nearly 2,000 verified reviews, including several positive reviews from women, this company is tried and tested in a way that I’m comfortable with recommending, despite not having tried this exact tour for myself. 

You can check tour specifics, itinerary details, and prices here on Get Your Guide

A sunset happening in the Sahara desert with an orange-toned sky.

In the sake of fairness, it’s important to note there are some bad reviews, mostly from people who said that there’s too much driving — unfortunately, this is true no matter what company you go with. 

Be aware no matter what you choose that the Sahara desert is huge, as it’s the largest desert in Africa (and the largest hot desert, period, after the Antarctic and Arctic deserts). 

Morocco’s section of the Sahara Desert is basically on the border of Algeria, and you have to cross through the High Atlas Mountains, so there is simply no avoiding the drive. 

Any shorter tour will not take you to the Sahara, but instead to far less impressive rocky deserts closer to Marrakech.

If you want to go onward to Fes after your trip instead of returning to Marrakech (a common choice to avoid backtracking, and one that I made), they also run a tour from Marrakech to the Sahara ending in Fes, which you can find here.

Be cautious and do your research if you are a solo female traveler.

The sun setting over the Sahara Desert with brilliant pink and dark clouds

I’m telling you this because I, in my eternally stupid penny-pinching ways, did exactly the opposite and paid the price. 

I don’t remember what the exact name of the tour company I went with: something incredibly generic, literally like Sahara Tour Morocco (I should note that I did this tour before becoming a more diligent note-taker as a blogger)

I followed the (bad) advice of others and just went wandering through Marrakech and booked it in-person from one of the men selling tours, as I was told it was the best (read: cheapest) way to book a Sahara desert tour by other backpackers. 

While sure, it was cheaper (I paid about the equivalent of $75 USD for a 3-day trip in July, after some haggling), I ended up having a pretty horrible experience. 

They lied about many things: the inclusions, the air conditioning, how I’d get to Fes after my tour finished. But worst of all – I was sexually harassed by my guides, and I was nearly groped in my sleep on my tour. 

It all started innocently enough, sitting after dinner chatting with a guide trying to learn more about Berber culture. 

Without victim-blaming myself, I must say that I need to remind myself that North American (and specifically Californian) friendliness is not always the smartest move with people from more conservative cultures, as some men take talkativeness as an invitation.

After a while, this guide got progressively creepier and creepier as the night got darker, angling closer to me as we talked. 

Then he asked me if I wanted to go somewhere alone with him to see the stars better (um, they’re plainly overhead, but k), despite my repeated insistence that I just wanted to sit and enjoy by myself.

Eventually, I had to tell him quite directly that he was bothering me and needed to leave me alone, and he went away. It may sound simple enough, but for a nonconfrontational girl like me who hates conflict, it was difficult. 

Luckily, he left without much protest, and I enjoyed the next few hours a lot, chatting with my fellow travelers and admiring the vastness of the sky and the hints of the Milky Way overhead.

Later that night, choosing to sleep outside where there was a breeze instead of the stuffy, impossible to breathe in tents (as all the other travelers were doing), a different guide set up his sleeping site about five feet from me. 

He placed a large pillow as a buffer between us, which I took comfort in, and I fell asleep. I honestly remember feeling glad that I had a benevolent guardian to keep me away from the creep who was hitting on me earlier.

I woke up maybe an hour later to him staring at me, saying “shhhhh,” just a few inches away from my face, the pillow he had placed between us nowhere to be seen. It was, in a word, terrifying. 

He tried to tell me to go back to sleep, but you better believe my a** was up and in my hot stuffy tent as quickly as I could manage in my sleep-drunk state. I didn’t sleep much the rest of the night, obviously.

Since I didn’t book online, had no plans to return to Marrakech (I ended my tour in Fes), or have any papers confirming who I went with, I didn’t really have a way to review the tour. I also didn’t feel comfortable going to the police for a variety of reasons (language barrier, gender norms, etc). 

If I had booked it online, I could have read reviews from other female travelers. In the event that something happened, it would have been much easier to report the bad behavior I experienced on this tour and to ensure it wouldn’t happen to other female travelers down the line. 

I still feel sort of sick to my stomach when I think about not being able to report this and the fact that this behavior will likely continue to other women. This is why I recommend booking in advance with a reputable company.

Ripples in the sand in the Sahara Desert beautiful orange sand

For solo female travelers, I recommend booking online. I suggest this tour if you want to go onward to Fes, or this tour if you want to go back to Marrakech at the end of your trip.

Sadly, this kind of behavior is not that uncommon for Morocco. Other women have had similar experiences with their guides in the desert (read Lauren of Never Ending Footsteps’ experience here and my friend Kiona’s experience with Morocco here

I’ve also, of course, heard positive stories as well, though these usually come from men or people who traveled as a couple. 

As a solo female traveler, I can tell you though that it’s better to spend the extra money and book a tour in advance so you can read all the reviews. That won’t completely shield you from an assault or harassment, but it’s one small (but important) layer of protection.

A lot of fuss is made about dressing properly in Morocco. I will say that I was covered up almost all the time and not particularly provocative in any way, shape, or form, and I was harassed frequently.

Allison wearing a dress that comes down to her knees and a white light linen jacket
A typical outfit I wore on my Sahara Desert Tour, outside of Dades Gorge (my skirt didn’t show my knees, it just blew up a little in the wind as I took the photo)

When writing this post, since I didn’t have a personal tour recommendation, I vetted the companies and pored through the reviews pretty thoroughly. 

The tour I recommend above looks to be the best, safest option for solo female travelers; however, I’d check reviews again before you book as things may have changed since when I wrote this.

Read what is included carefully.

Camel shadow on the sand dune in Sahara Desert, Merzouga, Morocco

My Sahara desert tour included round-trip transportation to and from Marrakech and the Sahara Desert. This included pick up and drop off at your riad.

When booking my tour with one of the tour operators in the medina, I told them I wanted to go onwards to Fes, a common thing tourists do to avoid backtracking. 

The tour operators said that all the transportation (including to Fes) was included in the price they gave me, but I never got that in writing, and surprise surprise – when it came time to get a shared taxi towards Fes, we ended up having to fork out about $30 USD or so per person to get there. 

But at this point, after nearly being groped by one of the guides, I was ready to get out of there — no matter what the cost.

Tip: If you want to go onward to Fes like I did and avoid backtracking, be sure it is included on your tour! I suggest this Marrakech to Merzourga to Fes desert tour.

The shuttle bus was comfortable enough, but they kept insisting that the A/C was broken after the first day, which was annoying, as I was overheating with only the fan on. 

After enough of the minibus complained, they turned it on again and voila: it was magically working. Strange.

The tour included two nights accommodation, one in a hotel on the way to the desert and one in the desert camp itself. The accommodations at both were of decent quality, actually, they were better than I expected for the price, to be fair. The tour cost included the camel ride as well.

a dish of meatballs served with bread in a tagine
A (much better) meal in Marrakech

Here are a few things most tours do not include: no lunch on any of the days, so you’ll have to either BYO food or add on another $10 USD or so for each meal. 

No matter what tour you go on, you can be guaranteed that you’ll be forced to eat at expensive, mediocre restaurants — likely wherever your tour guides get the best kickback, unfortunately! 

Most tours don’t include any beverages, water, personal expenses, etc. If you choose to not return to Marrakech and instead go onwards to Fez from Merzouga, that transportation is not included, either.

Keep your expectations in line with reality.

rugs surrounding a campfire and some makeshift tents in the Sahara

The price range of Sahara Desert tours varies wildly based on the level of luxury. 

One blog post I read said their (comped) tour cost $700 USD per person for a 3-day tour, which is expensive for many — and definitely an outlier for Morocco.

However, it would absolutely be worth it for a special occasion like a honeymoon when you won’t want to be crammed in a van with 15-odd other travelers. 

Meanwhile, on the low end, you can spend as little as $75 USD for a 3 day – but with significant sacrifices in comfort, luxury, and flexibility. 

You won’t be staying at the luxury desert camps you’ve seen the Instagram girls enjoying, but rather bare-bones tents with an outhouse and very few creature comforts. 

But who needs showers when you can bathe in the gorgeous light of a million tiny stars in the clearest night sky you’ll ever get a chance to see?

Most tours cost somewhere in the ballpark of $100-200 USD for a 3 day, 2 night Sahara tour, and that’s a fair price.

The tour that I recommend above is a little more expensive than I paid, costing around $130 USD, or about $43 per day (currently running a promotion for about $100!) – which I think is fair given all the inclusions and its good reviews. 

Check out the ratings & reviews of this Sahara Desert Tour!

There is also this private tour option by the same company which routes Marrakech – Merzouga – Fes.

This is a great option if you are continuing onwards north to places like Fes, Meknes, Chefchaouen, and Tangier.

Riding a camel is not at all like riding a horse.

A group of camels near the dusk hour sitting on the sand

If you’ve romanticized a camel ride in the desert, let me demystify that for you. This is no pleasant horse ride through a field. 

Riding a camel is among the least comfortable things I’ve done, and I’m amazed that people actually even trained camels to be ridden after feeling how freaking uncomfortable it can be!

While camel trekking, my thighs were sore by the end of the first hour. I could barely feel my butt when I got off the camel. 

The camel slid in the sand quite a bit, leaving me lurching and clutching on for dear life (camels are even taller than they look).

Anyway, the next day, I was given the option to ride on the roof of their ATV or go back the same way doing a camel trek – you better believe I chose the roof (though TBH, that was mostly to avoid the creepy guide).

Despite my complaining about the discomfort, however, I’d do it again – the views are simply that magical, and the camel ride — as uncomfortable as it is — is a huge part of the desert experience.

Going in the summer isn’t the worst idea ever.

view of Erg Chebbi Dunes in the Sahara Desert - at sunrise, in Morocco

I did my Sahara Desert tour in July… aka the stupidest time in the world to go to Morocco. 

It was 115° F (46° C) in the desert the day we arrived… so that may have had something to do with why the prices were so low.  

The car was hot and stuffy, but that was because my driver purposely shut off the A/C, something that won’t happen on a reputable tour.

Still, I’ll say that 115° F in Morocco isn’t nearly as bad as 90° F and humid in NYC (I’m a Californian who grew up in a particularly hot part of the state, and I will fight to the death that dry heat is 100x better than wet heat). 

To me, the desert heat wasn’t a deal-breaker, especially since we arrived at the desert at sunset when the night breeze was already coming in nice and cool.

And at night, it cooled down to a nice 75° F (24° C) or so, and it was downright pleasant and beautiful with a light wind.

The tents were still like an oven that would have been impossible to sleep in, but outside underneath the stars downright pleasant (minus the would-be gropey guide…)

On the other hand, it will be freezing in the winter.

Man wearing winter clothes standing in the Sahara dunes

Many people approach the desert with the misconception that it’s hot year-round, but this is patently false. 

The desert is home to wild temperature swings – even in the summer, a 115° F day dropped to a 75° F night, a 40° F temperature variation. This is standard. 

This is true even in the winter. In the peak winter months such as January, the desert will be around 65° F / 18° C in the day and hovering around 32° F / 0° C at night.

And yes, it even snows sometimes in the Sahara!

If you visit the Sahara Desert in winter, you’ll want to bring some thermal tops (I like these from 32 Degrees) as well as a thin down jacket to keep you warm.

Be prepared for long days of driving and some dull stops.

Atlas mountains in Morocco with a road below it at a mountain pass on a sunny day
The beautiful Atlas Mountains on the way to the desert.

It’s about two long days in a van from Marrakech just to get to the Sahara desert (not including the 12 hour drive on the way back). 

If you have 2 or 3 weeks in Morocco, that’s fine – but if you have a really limited amount of time for your trip, it’s a lot of time in a car.

The views are simply beautiful, particularly the Atlas Mountains and the Dades Gorge, so keep your camera at the ready to snap some shots. You’ll pull over a few times at scenic overlooks throughout the trip, which helps to break up the drive.

However, besides stopping at the UNESCO site of Ait Ben Haddou (where some scenes of Game of Thrones were filmed) and a pretty gorge, most of the stops are pretty uninteresting. 

Many stops were aimed at getting as much money out of you as possible as opposed to being interesting for sightseeing. This is common with group tours, even small group tours, but it was annoying nonetheless.

I will say that they did give us a lot of bathroom stops, which as someone with a clinically small bladder, I really appreciated!

Bring some anti-nausea pills.

Allison, the author of the article, standing with a dress with matching seasickness bands and shoes
When your motion sickness bracelets match your shoes, that’s fashion.

There are so many twists and turns on the road to the Sahara Desert because you have to pass through the Atlas Mountains, the Dades Gorge, and the Tizi n’Tichka mountain pass — all of which involve countless hairpin turns!

I get motion sickness quite easily, so I lulled myself into a state of near-constant semi-slumber for the two days with the help of my Sea Bands

They worked okay at keeping me from barfing, but I would have preferred actual Dramamine (personally, I’d choose the normal version over the non-drowsy, to better help me sleep of all those hours in the van).

I’d also bring some stomach medicine like Pepto Bismol tablets just in case, as Morocco has some issues with food safety and undrinkable tap water that can end up messing with some travelers’ stomachs. 

I was fine during my two weeks in Morocco, but I know several people who got food poisoning while they were there, so better safe than sorry. 

Bring plenty of cash (about $100 USD worth).

A wallet on a table with 20 50 100 and 200 dirham notes

There are plenty of little add-ons throughout the Sahara Desert tour that end up driving up the price quite a bit. 

Figure about $1 per bottle of water (unless you come equipped with your own Steripen or LifeStraw water purifier, which I recommend to help reduce plastic waste), $2 per soda, money for tips for various people you encounter along the way, and extra for souvenirs and strongly “recommended” purchases along the way.

Your guides will also take you to expensive and uninspiring restaurants for lunch, though since I wasn’t a big fan of Moroccan food to begin with, that wasn’t a huge loss in terms of flavor. 

The cost of lunch while on your Sahara desert tour is usually about $10 USD per meal, which is about 3 times the price of a meal elsewhere in Morocco.

This is pretty standard for every tour and is part of the reason why the price of your Sahara Desert tour is so low – virtually all tour guides are getting a kickback for bringing people to the restaurant.

Be aware that most stops are designed for the guides to make more money

Pretty much every stop we made along the way to the desert was rushed and not that interesting. 

All of these stops seemed designed for us to spend extra money, rather than to enjoy a particularly beautiful location.

For example, the stop at the rug store, the gift shops at Ait Ben Haddou, and the completely unnecessary stops to encourage us to buy specific scarves to wrap around our heads for the desert tour.

I understand this is how they make up for their slim margins, but I just wish the tour cost a bit more and we didn’t spend so much time making a million souvenir stops and instead spent more time at the few stops that were interesting, like Ait Ben Haddou and Ouarzazate and the Draa Valley and the Gorge. 

But anyway, that’s how guided tours in Morocco go, I guess!

Buy a rug with caution.

A man pouring mint tea at a rug shop

In a moment of weakness, I splurged on a gorgeous hand-woven Berber rug at the village near Tinghir, paying about $35 USD for a very small lambswool rug. 

Mind you, when I took this Sahara desert tour, I didn’t even have a home — so why I needed a rug was beyond me.

Anyway, when I unwrapped it a few days later, I discovered they had swapped it out for another one entirely!

Despite not having touched the rug, I opened it to find it completely and totally falling apart at the edges.

I ended up trashing it rather than lugging around a fraying rug for the rest of my trip. Nice one, friendly-seeming rug guy. Nice one indeed.

Anyway, when I unwrapped it, I discovered they had swapped it out for another one entirely – it was completely and totally falling apart at the edges, and I ended up trashing it rather than lugging around a fraying rug for the rest of my trip. Nice one, friendly-seeming rug guy. Nice one indeed.

Consider the pros and cons carefully.

A hazy sunrise in the Sahara desert

While I had a mixed bag of experiences, in my opinion, it was still absolutely worth taking a Sahara Desert tour, as it was a huge bucket list item. 

However, if I could do it again, I would have researched what tour I took, and not have just gone with the cheapest desert tour option that a tout offered me on the streets of Marrakesh. My safety is worth more than a few dollars, and so is yours.

I don’t want to scare you from taking a Sahara desert tour: thousands of solo female travelers take them, and take them safely.

But in the spirit of full transparency, I want to share my experience with you so you can be prepared should any shadiness occur in the Sahara. (And judging by the fact that my story is not unique, that is a possibility).

I will readily admit that traveling Morocco can be frustrating as a woman. Adjust yourself accordingly: be courteous, but distant; not rude, but not friendly, and you’ll likely have a more positive experience than I did.

I’m of the belief that you shouldn’t let fear dictate what you do or take away from your dreams. 

Even though I had a bad experience on my Sahara desert tour, there are a few things I could have done differently. 

I could made friends with and stuck with other female travelers rather than chatting with the guides. 

I could have vetted the tours more carefully and picked one with better reviews rather than the lowest price.

To be clear, this is not to victim blame myself, nor to victim blame anyone who has had something similar happen to them – it is solely upon the predator to not be a predator, and not on the victim to prevent harassment or an attack.

However, just like there are measures to can take to avoid theft, there are a few things you can do to make yourself slightly safer against harassment from men. 

I hate that I have to write this here, but my experience is so not out of the ordinary that I feel compelled to share these tips. Sadly, these are just facts of life for traveling alone in a country as unfriendly to solo women as Morocco is.

If you don’t like the idea of a Sahara desert tour, you could take the badass alternative and rent a car and driving out to the Sahara Desert, like fellow travelers Along Dusty Roads did. 

But again, if you’re solo, this may not be the best course of action – road trips are always best enjoyed with a travel buddy.

Ultimately, you’ll have to make the call, but in my gut and despite what happened to me, I say go for it – the Sahara desert is something that must be seen to be believed. 

Even with all the crap I dealt with on my 3 day Sahara tour — I wouldn’t take it back. I’d just go with another company, obviously.

More Morocco Travel Resources

I’ve written quite a bit to help you plan the perfect trip to Morocco! 

First, start with my Morocco travel planning checklist – it walks you through every step of the planning process.

Next, check out my Morocco packing list with specific advice for what women might want to wear in Morocco. 

If you are starting your trip in Marrakech, like most people do, I have a guide to the best riads in Marrakech on any budget, as well as a guide to spending 3 days in Marrakech with recommended tours and outings.

77 thoughts on “15 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Sahara Desert Tour”

  1. Hi! Nice and helpful blog! I’d like to know the tour operator you got on this trip. I find it affordable. 🙂 Can you please drop me an email? Thanks!! 😀

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  2. Hi Allison! Thanks for the post – it’s very helpful! Can you please email me details of the tour group you used?

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    • Thanks Shumaila! Unfortunately, I don’t remember the tour company I used. I also wouldn’t really recommend them due to the harassment issues I had. You’ll find the same tour on offer virtually everywhere in Marrakech 🙂

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  3. Thanks for sharing! I’m traveling to Morocco in April 2019 and doing research about the usual stuff (scams/theft, pinching pennies, female travelers).

    My plan is to book a 3-day Sahara tour starting in Marrakech and ending in Fes in order to save a little time and money, but I never considered renting a car for my party of two. Very useful tips.

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    • Hi JD! Glad to hear you are doing the research ahead of time. It will pay off in Morocco for sure. I definitely think it could be worth renting a car, especially because it will give you more time to enjoy the desert. Hope you have a great time in the Sahara, it is such a beautiful place!

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  4. Thank you so much for sharing this. I wanted to see the actual Sahara too. I love spending the night in Sahara desert and do it every chance I get, but I’ve never seen one quite so orange–that looks amazing. That sounds like an amazing experience in Sahara desert trip but also not like the funniest experience getting there. The Sahara Desert trip also give so many activities to the tourists to do. So I was very excited to go there and do so many fun in the Sahara desert trip.

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  5. Thanks for the honest blog! My friend and I, both females, want to do this next year. I’m thinking I’ll book a well known tour from our home here in Australia instead of when we get there. I’m happy to pay more for safety and no gross gropey men. Though I’ve heard morocco is terrible for women travellers. Do you think two 30 year old Aussie women travelling Morocco and Spain will be ‘safe’? I’ve travelled a lot of Asia, Dubai, USA. But Morocco is my next bucket list adventure as is camping in the Sahara.

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    • Hi Lucinda! I had some crappy experiences (mostly what I’ve written here) and so definitely recommend you book online and vet reviews thoroughly before. Get Your Guide is great because they are transparent about the companies they work with (unlike Viator which hides the names which I find so sketchy) so you can read reviews and they take down tours that do not meet standards. I think Spain and Morocco are safe enough, but I would pay for guides in the souks to avoid unwanted attention and stresses. I got spun in circles by people in Marrakech souks trying to get me to buy from their shops and I nearly had an anxiety attack – they put up all these signs saying “to the big square” which just led me… of course… into another shop. Keep in mind though that if you travel with a guide they will usually inflate the prices quite a bit… the guide I had in Fes brought us to a shop that charged about 5x more for argan oil than any other shop and we didn’t even properly bargain at those shops… in short I find Morocco safe enough but so, so exhausting.

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  6. Compared to the majority of Moroccans, we Westerners are extremely well off. Even if I am not rich by UK standards, compared to most of Africa, I am wealthy and can afford to travel, though of course not on luxury trips. So please remember that all the Moroccans vying for your cash are just trying to make a living and support their families. Of course they want to get the best price for their goods/services, but they are not malicious or trying to cheat you.

    Personally I wouldn’t sleep outside as a lone female in the UK or Europe, so why would I think this is going to end well in North Africa? I think people let their guard down when they are travelling. I don’t do stuff there that I wouldn’t do at home.

    I have had some dodgy experiences in Morocco sure, but no worse than in the UK tbh. In my experience on my many trips to Morocco, the people (especially away from the tourist traps in Marrakech) are very kind and welcoming. They will always help a traveller in need. And if they want a tip at the end, how is that different from the person who carries your luggage in the US?

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    • To your second paragraph, because I can’t even with the victim blaiming… Literally, every single person on this tour was sleeping outside because it was 45 C during the day in the desert in July, and the tents were like being baked alive. Surely, the people who you are quite literally paying to guide you and keep you safe should not be expected to attempt to molest you if you sleep outside with, I repeat, the entire tour group. That doesn’t make me somehow deserving of an attempted groping.

      I have no qualms with recognizing my privilege relative to where I’ve traveled. I don’t tend to haggle much and prefer to accept a slightly inflated price, knowing I can afford it. What I do not like, however, is having people lie to my face, and that’s what happened to me quite a bit in Morocco. I encountered plenty of friendly people who were doing tourism right, haggling, bargaining, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, I also encountered a lot of people who straight up lied to me, and the same goes for other friends of mine as well. That’s not acceptable behavior in the tourism industry, no matter what your poverty level is, and trust me, I’ve traveled to countries far more impoverished than Morocco and never experienced the same level of cheating.

      Your experience seems to be different than mine – which is great, and I’m so happy your memories of Morocco are less fraught than mine. However, you are trying to argue with me about my own experiences, which I’ve tried to present honestly and in service of the reader so they can have a better time than I did. I find that insulting.

      The worst of my experiences has also happened at home. Statistically speaking, that’s usually the case, just by virtue of how long you spend there vs. other places. However, out of the 60-odd countries I’ve been to, Morocco was the toughest country I’ve traveled to as a woman in terms of harassment. I’ve heard a lot of stories from other female travelers in Morocco being assaulted or harassed, including at least three fellow female bloggers I can think of who were victims of either assault or attempted assault. It’s something we should be honest with our readers about (even though you risk being picked apart by other lovely women such as yourself!) so that other women can experience destinations safely.

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    • It is – that’s why I published your comment, even though it was rather rude and belittling of what I experienced. However, you can’t expect to victim blame me on my own website and have me not respond to set things straight.

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      • Kudos Allison. Speak your truth. I think you handled Kathy’s comments quite professionally 🙂

        Thanks for this info. I am traveling with my hubby, but this is great as we begin to plan our trip.

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        • Thanks Stefanie 🙂 I get thousands of comments and generally try to respond professionally… but I’m only human and comments can get under your skin, especially when recalling an unpleasant experience. Glad I handled it OK from an outside eye, and thanks for the encouragement 🙂

          I hope you guys have an incredible and memorable trip, and I’m glad it was useful! Despite the problems I had, my night in the Sahara was a magical experience, and I strongly recommend everyone do one while in Morocco – where else can you see such orange sand and such an incredible night sky?

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  7. Hi Allison,
    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I would love to get a referral from you on your hotel/riad in Marrakech and which company you used for a souk guide. I’m traveling there in September and have been feeling overwhelmed trying to vet companies, hotels, etc. Female, traveling alone, although a good generation older than you. Were there any Marrakech tours you found exceptional? I’ve been considering Majorelle Gardens, an Atlas Mountain & 4 Valleys day trip. I’ve read other articles that mentioned leaving the friendly smile at home, thanks for reiterating.
    Thank you!!

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  8. Hey Allison

    I booked a trip from Marrakech to the Sahara and up to Fez through Ando Travel. It came down to them and another and after reading your article I went with Ando. Maybe they have cut some major corners recently but the experience was terrible. Look into seeing if there is a better group you can suggest as this trip just kept stumbling from the get go. Otherwise I appreciate your insight to the adventure!

    Thanks

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    • I’m sorry to hear your trip let you down! Can you be a little more specific as to what some of the problems were? I’m happy to recommend another tour company but need to know what the issues were with Ando to see if people would encounter the same issues on other trips (for example virtually all trips have a ton of shopping stops where they try to make commission, crappy overpriced food, etc.) I see many complaints to be honest when I do the research so it’s really hard to find one that’s universally rated highly – I’ve found one that’s universally pretty positive but it’s quite pricy as it’s a private tour. Let me know more and I’ll see what I can update!

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  9. Amazing and well-written post. If you want to experience the desert from Marrakech, you need 4 days. If you only have 3 days, you’ll have to drive a lot from Merzouga to Marrakech on the last day. Thank you for sharing

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  10. amazing blog post, Loved it! I just wanted to ask you about what you did with your luggage or what you can do. Do you leave it at the hotel you will be staying in after the Sahara desert tour , or do you take it with you on your Sahara tour, if yes can you take all the luggage with you? Thank you.

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    • Thanks Shania! I brought my luggage with me because I went onto Fes. Most people who returned to Marrakech packed a smaller bag and left their larger suitcase at the hotel. There is room for luggage but not a TON so if your bag is very large, it’s better to leave the bigger bag in Marrakech unless you are not returning there after the Sahara

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  11. Very detailed assessment, Allison. I read in one of your responses that you went from Merzouga to Fez. Was that through a tour or on your own? We will most certainly book the Get Your Guide tout but could not see an option of Marrakech – Merzouga – Fez.

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  12. Hello Allison: I read everything about your Morocco trip. Thanks a million. I wish I had read yours before booking a tour with Gate 1. Since we leave town on Friday, there is no way we could catch the Saturday tour you recommended, Do you or other travelers know any decent 3-day group tour starting on Sunday from Marrakesh? We plan to go directly from Casablanca airport to Marrakesh by train. (Saturday – losing 1 day). Stay overnight. Then take the 3-day Sahara tour then catch the train from Marrakesh to Rafat to catch our tour.

    I particularly thank you and other travelers for sharing the learned lessons because it takes courage (to share your lessons) and generosity (helping others to avoid them). Life is too short to learn all my lessons on my own. As a single female traveler, I had a very unpleasant experience in New Zealand. So, these advice are greatly appreciated.

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  13. Hello Allison:

    Thank you very much for your blog and articles and passed on your lessons. I learned a lot from them. I wish that I have read them before booking Gate 1 Morocco tour. Now, we are trying to squeeze in what we learned from you and adapted it to our tour.

    We live home on Friday and arrive at Casablanca airport on Sat at 2:30 PM. Do you think that we have enough time to get to Marrakech that night to take the next day 3-day tour Saraha? After the Saraha tour, we need to take the train that night to Rabat. Which is the best reasonable Riad nearest to the train station in Marrakech? Or should we go on to Fes with our luggage then try to go from Fes to Rabat to take our tour on Wednesday night? Any advice is greatly appreciated.

    Also, do you know of any private tour for 1-day tour in Fez? My travel partner read many blocs and found none of the recommended ones have a solid record, without complaints on stirring shopping since we have only 1-day in Fez.

    If we want to go to Chefchaouen, we need to take the tour from Fez, do you know any tour to Chefchaouen from Rabat? Again, thank you very much for all the information.

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  14. Thank you so much for this, Allison. I am a senior citizen with some back and hip problems. I REALLY want to have this wonderful experience but an hour and a half on a camel does not sound like a smart idea for me. Do any of these companies offer the option of a short camel ride with the rest of the treck done in a van?

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    • Hi Vickie! Yes, with some back and hip problems a camel will surely be quite uncomfortable. I can’t speak to this tour specifically but I know when I went, there was an ATV which they brought all the gear for cooking dinner in the desert, etc. and I was able to ride this back in the morning. If you e-mail the tour operators about your concerns, you can most likely take the ATV into the desert and not have to ride the camel but still get to experience the Sahara. I don’t know if they’ll be able to accommodate the short camel ride as well but you can ask!

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  15. Hi! I loved your post, it is really helpful for women who are going to morocco. I tryed to book my tour with ando travel but They dont have tour during my days in morocco. Do you have any other companies to recommend?
    Thank you!

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  16. Hello Allison,
    thank you for all of this very helpful information.
    A question- in the article you mentioned Ando Travel as a company you’d recommend for a Sahara desert trip.
    My partner and I would like to a 4 day (rather than a 3 day) Sahara desert trip from Fez to Marrakesh. Ando Travel only offers 3day trips from Fez to Marrakesh, not 4 day trips. Do you have any other Sahara travel companies that you’d recommend that might offer a 4day trip from Fez, rather than the 3day? If so, please advise! Thanks in advance, Allison!

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  17. You’re awesome. So many insights on what to do, what to expect, etc. I plan on visiting Marrakech in March, I don’t know if I am going solo or not. I had planned on staying 5 days total in Morrocco. Do you think its worth visiting the Sahara Desert with the limited time because I also want to see the blue city and tour Marrakech in general as well.

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    • Hi Rashida, those are all really far apart… I would perhaps suggest Fes instead because you can do the blue city (Chefchaouen) as a day trip from there. I wouldn’t suggest the Sahara Desert with that limited of an amount of time, unless you skip the Blue City entirely

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  18. I love your honesty….the good, the bad, the ugly. You’re very gutsy!
    Lots to consider. I plan to give the Sahara a miss.
    Thanks

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    • Thanks Patricia! I always want to be honest with my readers, as I’d feel bad if someone had a bad trip based on incorrect or lack of information. Have a great trip, even if you don’t see the Sahara 🙂

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  19. Hi Allison, it was so comforting to read your post. I just returned from Morocco and a trip to the Sahara Desert. I went in September knowing it would be hot but didn’t count on it being “fly season” as well. We spent a lot for the “luxury” desert camp but felt so disappointed. Between the heat, the flies, and windowless tents (that were oven hot and claustrophobic), it was not fun. Then my husband got food poisoning from the “gourmet” dinner (not good food). What made me most sad however, were the number of scammers. It was hard to trust anyone even people who seem totally benign.

    How nice to read an honest review as many bloggers these days are simply advertising rather than giving the full picture.
    Happy Travels!

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    • Hi Rachel. So sorry to hear your trip was not what you hoped it would be 🙁 You’re definitely not alone and I hear that a lot which is why I tried hard to research better companies (though I hear mixed things about basically every company so it’s not an easy task!). It’s such a bummer that your luxury experience sounds basically the same, if not worse, than my own budget experience. I hope you have other positive memories of Morocco to help balance out how disappointing the Sahara was for you. Morocco was way more full of lows than highs for me personally, it’s a really difficult place to travel in my opinion, so know that you aren’t alone!

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      • Hi Allison! Thanks for this post – it’s very helpful. I am contemplating a 4-day trip but am stuck on whether to do it round trip from Marakkesh or back via Fez instead. Which would you recommend?

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        • It depends where you are flying out of and how you’re planning your journey. If you want to see Fes and Chefchaouen then I’d suggest going onwards to Fes rather than going all the way back to Marrakech and backtracking. But if you’re flying out of Marrakech, or want to spend more time along the coast such as in Essaouira etc, then going back to Marrakech is a good idea. Personally, I really didn’t like Fes that much, but I loved Chefchaouen and it made sense because I took the ferry to Spain via Tangier. But for other itineraries it’s hard to say 🙂

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  20. Hi Allison,

    I just wanted to say that your review was super informative and I’ll definitely be booking the company you recommended for our trip this coming Christmas. Thank you so much for the writeup!

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  21. Hi Allison,
    thank you for all the info. Would you recommend a desert tour to a solo (male) traveler? I will be solo traveling for the first time and although I enjoy the perks coming from that, I feel that a 3-day experience could be a bit extreme. What are your suggestions?

    Thank you

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    • Hi Luigi! If you want to see the desert, yes. If you want to go to the Sahara, it is a minimum of 3 days… unfortunately there’s no getting around that due to how far away it is and how you have mountains in between Marrakech and the Sahara. I was glad I went, despite my own personal bad experience, and still recommend it!

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  22. Do you think a private tour is worth it compared to a shared tour for a group of 8? For us it is 1.5x more expensive for the private tour. This is for 3-Day Sahara Desert To Merzouga From Marrakech

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    • Hi Chippy, I’d be inclined to suggest the private tour because you’ll have more control over the itinerary and its stops, especially if you are a group as large as 8. I think you’d have a better time!

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  23. Hi! This is super helpful, thanks for the review. I was wondering if by any chance you could remember the shitty tour you experienced if you saw a name or logo? I booked one here [redacted] nd when i read your review i got scared it might be the same! I’m going in January so I’d still have time to change if you happened to remember or recognized it. Thanks!

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    • Hi Natalia! That doesn’t look to be the same tour I took… but I couldn’t guarantee it [I removed the link as its against my comment policy :)]

      I hope you have a fantastic trip regardless of whether you go with them or the company I suggested!

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  24. was our first time visiting Morocco and we definitely made the right choice by choosing this tour. I picked this one specifically because I didn’t want a tour company that had seen so many tourists that they start to not care about taking people around their country. Where it’s more a money-making business, where you are part of a big group and you will not receive any sort of bespoke individual experience. We were so lucky to have ismail as our tour guide as he was a genuine and nice person, who loves his country.

    From the very first email ismail was extremely polite and helpful, more than any other tour company I’d spoken to. We ended up travelling with just him, my husband and me. We went from Marrakech to Ait Ben Haddou, to the Todras, Atlas Mountains, several Oasis and obviously to the Sahara desert. It was still a whistle stop tour as we only had 3 days but it was definitely the way to go. Having stayed in Marrakech for 2 days I was very much ready to leave the hustle and bustle (and generally being harassed at the souks) to explore what Morocco was really about.

    Todras gorge was really lovely. There had been some rainfall so you could walk into some of the water. Really nice. It was quite busy though, but no more than the other big landmarks like Ait Ben Haddou.

    My favourite place was actually Skoura, one of the little Oasis on the first night. The place we stayed was run by a family business and you can really tell. It was remote, but stunning. Not at all touristy, and very authentic. The food was the best I’d had in Morocco, just divine! Just as an aside, although I love tagines, you do want some change, so this was the one that stood out as it felt a little more authentic. Most of the food you’ll get in Morocco (not just in the tour) is very similar — varying types of tagines, wraps or kebabs, with rice or salad. Not a huge amount of variety unless you really look for it. We loved Nomad in Marrakech, this restaurant has amazing food!

    The trip to the Sahara was amazing, albeit short. We set off on camel when the sun was quite low, maybe 6–7pm and then arrived at the camp by nightfall. We had dinner with a few other people on the tour, and the locals did a song and dance for half an hour or so. We then ventured out to the desert to see the stars, and although we went back to the camp around 1am, the moon was so bright you could have slept under it for sure. The temperature was perfect. However we had to leave at about 5am to catch the sunset, so thought we’d better sleep in the bed. The camp was extremely clean and nice given it’s in the middle of nowhere, so if you’re a clean freak like me, you’ll have no problems! There’s good toilets and running water. You sleep in a type of metal room, which is probably ventilated but still quite warm. The beds aren’t exactly comfy, quite hard really, but there’s electricity and sheets, what else do you need!

    You can see more of my adventures and what I experienced from my pictures.
    All in all, what you see is what you get. The tour speaks for itself. You visit all the places on the itinerary and you’re greeted with nice people and go to places that are really quite unique. On top of that, you’ll be with a guide who knows a good deal about Morocco and will work hard to make sure you have a good time. We were even privileged enough to see ismail home, meet his family (they were very shy!) But an insight into how Moroccan people actually live? That is something you can’t buy.

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  25. Well, I am SO glad I saw this as I am planning my trip to Morocco. I love your writing and the info you include is so helpful. Keep writing!!

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  26. I just have to say this was incredibly informative and very in depth! Well written, thank you so much for sharing 🙂
    Did you feel the tourists sites along the way to Merzouga were worth the stops? we’re torn between selecting a 3day/2night tour that is spent either 2 nights in the desert (basically driving from marrakech>merzouga in one day and back on the third day) or 1 night in a hotel in Dades and one night at the desert camp (Marrakech>Dades hotel, Dades>Merzouga, Merzouga>Marrakech) that has more time for tourist stops along the way.
    Again great blog post! 😀 can’t wait to experience this (the good parts lol) for ourselves.

    Reply

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