There aren’t really words to fully describe the feeling of solitude you are first hit with when your arrive in the Sahara Desert. The orange-red sands have a thousand different shades scattered among the rolling dunes and as far as the eye can see that’s all there is until it meets the horizon. No people, no plants, only you sitting atop a camel, very uncomfortably might I add. The sun sets so quickly you almost don’t believe what you see. The piercing blue sky quickly changed in to twilight. Once the night sky takes over there are thousand of stars lighting it. I’ve never dreamed of seeing so many in my life.
Venturing into the Sahara has been something I thought I could only dream of. While we were planning our trip to Morocco we knew it was at the top of our list of things we wanted to see. Even if it was an eight-hour drive from Fes. You may believe it’s something far too expensive for you to be able to do, but if we can do it so can you. If you’re going to Fes, check out our ultimate itinerary.
First, we spent a lot of time researching different companies to go with for a camel trek and one night in the desert. We had a limited time in Morocco or we would have chosen to do two nights. We just wanted to make sure we could fit it in. Many companies will tell you one night is not worth it and will not offer it as an option. Finally we found Fes 4×4 excursions after many emails. First of all they were the most affordable group as well as had many different options as far as starting in Fes, or Marrakech or if you just wanted to plan day trips. For the two of us to ride from Fes to Merzouga (an 8 hour drive) and return, as well as a night spent camping in the Sahara with a camel trek to and from the Kasbah it was only €185! This included dinner and breakfast in Merzouga and a private taxi in a passenger van with stops all along the way for photo opportunities and for lunch (this was not included we actually paid for our lunch but it was very cheap!), as well as WiFi in our van! Our guide, Hassan was so knowledgeable and his English was great so we got to know each other pretty well! We discussed a lot of local customs and learned about each other’s cultures while we made the trek to Merzouga. He even picked us up at the door of Riad Jamai. Which I don’t know if you have been to Fes yet or Morocco in general but it is VERY easy to get lost so I really appreciated the door to door service. Neither of us were able to sleep a lot the night before and we got up earlier than breakfast was ready, even though they were nice enough to pack us a bag each – we still had no coffee before beginning our day long trek to the desert. We set out on our trip sleepily getting to know each other before we made our first stop to Ifrane. Ifrane is known as Little Switzerland, which looks exactly as it sounds. Pointed houses lined the streets and I felt like we blinked and had left Morocco. It was such a cool little spot to see that we wouldn’t have gone to visit for any other reason besides just passing through. We grabbed a quick coffee in an unfortunately smokey hotel and checked out the nearby gift shop and ATM to make sure we had enough cash for the trek. Hassan told us our next stop would be in Azrou – the largest cedar forest in Morocco. It was known obviously for the trees but it’s also home to Barbary Apes. Once we arrived Hassan pointed out one of the first Apes he saw right there on the side of the road! He pulled over to let us get out and take pictures. At first we were the only ones there and keeping a safe distance because man, did it have huge teeth. A caravan of other travelers on the same path arrived shortly after us and unloaded groups of people taking pictures and feeding the Ape. We took a few and then got out of there so we could get ahead of the group. Our journey carried on this way for quite some time. Hassan stopped through out the Atlas Mountains for us to take pictures or have a coffee as frequently or as infrequently as we chose. The landscape throughout Morocco was every changing as were the colors. I would have never guessed Morocco was so rich in everything you could dream of. We visited Kasbahs, canyons, oasises, reservoirs, and cute little suburban towns. We stopped for Rotiserrie chicken for lunch in a normal every day town, aside from the predominant red clay we couldve been in any country in the world. Finally we arrived at Boumaine Dades Gorge which was known as the Grand Canyon of Morocco. It’s just that, a huge, huge piece of the earth cut out with layers and layers of reds and browns and oranges lining the deep diving walls. Pops of green with oasis at the very bottom of the canyon. It was unreal and breathtaking and HUGE. We took a moment to buy scarves while we were at this shop to prepare for the desert as well, i’m sure we could have found them a little cheaper if we had prepared ourselves and bought them on our own somewhere in Fes, but now we have a matching souvenir from Dades Gorge so it’s alright.
We headed back out after a bit on our last leg to Merzouga watching the enviroment change all over again. Hassan took us to our second argan oil co-op of the trip while he took a moment to pray. We looked around and while everything was nice it was out of our budget. Once we got back on the road we stopped once more so we could take some more photos with the Sahara Dunes in the background. And you know, I wouldn’t have always thought to stop at these places so I’m so thankful for Hassan showing us around. We finally entered the last little town before arriving to our Kasbah in the desert so we stopped for some bottled water to take with us overnight in to the Sahara – what we wish we knew then was we could have bought some beer or wine to take with us. Oh well. Next trip. When we arrived at the Kasbah we parted with Hassan for the evening and paid at the desk for our camel trek. We paid only 10% deposit upon booking and what was really nice was we could pay in either euros or moroccan dirham. We had a room that we were able to leave our luggage in and to come back to freshen up in the morning before breakfast, which was unexpected but I am so happy that we had it.
Shortly after arrival we rushed to our camels to embark upon our trek so we could still make the sunset. We met our guide who as it turned out spoke ZERO English. Luckily, he spoke French and we were still able to communicate. Have you ever tried to get on to a camel before? I had not, nor had I even remotely thought about the process of climbing on one. They are laying down and will stand up after you are on them. It’s scary as hell. They quickly lerch forward and learch backward faster than you have time to recorrect yourself as you hope you dont go flying face first over the camel. I didn’t do any of that But I never go the hang of it. It scared the hell out of me every time. Then we were off, being led into the Sahara Desert, just me and Christie riding our camels bumping along with just our Guide pulling us through sand. Suddenly once we climbed the first dune and were on our decline it was only desert. So many shades of red and orange cascading everywhere around us as far as we could see. In the distance we could see other camel treks slowly moving along. It was truly just a sea of sand everywhere around us. We sat in awe taking it all in as we moved silently through the Sahara. Our guide stopped us a few times for photos on and off the camels, and eventually we came to a peak where we hopped off and watched the sunset. It was so fast. It came slowly at first creeping down and just rapidly sped up and the sun was gone. We were sitting in the twilight in the middle of nowhere in a desert with a guide who didn’t even speak english on the other side of the world. It was so much to take in but it was such an amazing freeing feeling and to be able to share it with your friend is uncomparable.
We arrived at our campsite shortly after. Now you know how little we spent on our trek so you already know we were not glamping in any kind of way but we weren’t really sure what to expect. The structures were made of a frame and the walls were moroccan rugs layered over more rugs over more rugs. There were actual cots in each room – and we had a whole room that couldve easily slept 10 people to oursevles. We had electricity from Solar power and running water too! We were served traditonal Moroccan Mint tea upon arrival too. We took it all in after dropping our stuff in our space and wandered out to the now very dark desert to check out the stars. I said before I had never seen so many but I really just don’t know how to express this. The world out here is so quiet and at home everythings lit up for miles and miles. Everything is blocked out. It just makes you feel so small to look at this vast dark sky filled with more stars than you ever dreamt existed. We got called back for dinner after a while and had a fantastic chicken tajine before all joining together around a campfire hearing our Berber guides sing traditional Berber music. Right about now was when we discovered we couldve brought beer and wine with us which was a bummer but we still had a lot of fun around the fire. We didn’t really get a lot of sleep that night because we had to be up well before the sunrise to head back and see it on our camel trek, plus we terrified ourselves thinking about scorpions and other desert creatures. The trek back was a lot like the trek there, and man was our camel / desert guide great at taking photos. I’m sure he does it regularly but he really has perfected it. We really appreciated him and upon arriving back he wanted to show us some little trinkets his family made that he was selling. We had discussed tipping him so it felt like a good way to do it buy getting a few little souvenirs for ourselves in the process. We met back up with Hassan after breakfast at the kasbah and set out to buy some more Moroccan textiles at a rug shop. The pillow case I got here was probably my favorite of the trip. We also visited a fossil museum before departing the desert. We made a few stops on the return road trip but we were just so tired after the past two days that we sadly fell asleep a lot of it. While arriving back in Fes, Hassan discovered his friend was heading to Chefchaouen and knew we had been planning to go so he set us up with him for a cheap ride there. We got info as we arrived back at Riad Jamai and thanked him a million times over for everything.
This trip was such a special one for us and a real once in a life time kind of thing. If you’re thinking of going too you’ve really got to reach out to either Hassan directly or Fes 4×4 Excurisions because they made this trip unforgetable for us which is the most important thing but they also made this trip affordable for us. I’m not entirely sure we could have afforded to do it if we paid outrageous prices at some luxury site. So thanks Hassan! If you want to get in contact with Hassan directly, here’s a link to his facebook! We can’t wait to return to Morocco and explore the rest of the country!