Camel trekking in the Sahara

There is an abundance of tour companies who can take you on sunrise, sunset or overnight tours of the Sahara Desert and dunes of Morocco, starting at places like Marrakech and Agadir. Travelling by a combination of camel and 4×4 vehicle you’ll take in gorges and valleys and pass through palm oases before you reach the immense sand dunes of places like Erg Chebbi and then the Sahara Desert itself.

If you choose an overnight stay, you’ll be put up in a luxury camp – usually with toilets and private tents. Seeing millions of bright stars overhead, you’ll get to experience the Berber culture through food, music and traditions before waking to the most spectacular sunrise.

When to go

The best time of year for camel trekking is September to February.

Although many tour companies provide treks year round, the guides will be much more accustomed to the summer heat than you, which builds from April onwards. Visiting the desert in March means you can see spring blooms at the oases and camel calves grazing, but there may be some light rain.

Travelling around October provides warm daytime temperatures and pleasant evenings, although desert nights can be cold. In December and January night-time lows will be around freezing but the low winter sun during the day at this time of year makes for a stunning outlook.

Overnight tour from Marrakech and back

Travelling towards the Algerian border, an overnight tour from Marrakech can take in the Atlas Mountains, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Ait Benhaddou Kasbah and the Draa Valley which runs alongside it.

Things to ask for in your tour are visiting the Tizi Ntichka pass, where you’ll get outstanding views over the landscape. It’s also a good idea to stop to take in the Ait Benhaddou Kasbah, which has been used in film sets from Gladiator to Lawrence of Arabia. There’ll usually be a break for lunch in the cafes around here too.

Most of this initial part of the journey will be by 4×4 vehicle, however once you’ve passed the pre-Saharan Berber villages you’ll start your journey on camel back. Camps are generally around an hour and a half into the desert and once there you’ll watch the sunset, have some dinner and bed down for the night.

For many, the best part of the trip is seeing the sun rise over the silent and still desert the next morning. You’ll be woken early to enjoy this experience then have some breakfast before making the journey back to Marrakech.

Rocky desert landscape

For a desert with a difference that’s only 40 minutes south of Marrakech and even closer to Agadir, head to the rocky, barren Agafey Desert. Here you can experience the Berber culture in a remote, almost lunar-like landscape and choose to go to onward destinations including the lake of Lalla Takerkoust and its dam, plus the unexpected greenery of the Kik Plateau. Travel on a Saturday and you can also experience the souk of the small town of Asni at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains.

Floating on sand or through the air

If you’re looking for something a little more active than a trip to a Berber camp, you can try sandboarding in the vast Erg Chigaga or Erg Chebbi dunes. You’ll probably have to add an extra day on to your itinerary to enjoy the sport, but whizzing down the orange sand is an exhilarating experience. As a plus, it doesn’t hurt too much when you land on the soft drifts of sand.

Formed by wind swept Saharan sands, Erg Chebbi is the most accessible of the two set of dunes, with more camps and dunes of up to an enormous 150 metres high. If you don’t fancy a long 4×4 journey or getting sand between your toes, you could alternatively charter a hot air balloon from Marrakech and drift over the desert effortlessly, watching the balloon’s shadow as you go.

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