Today’s the day! We’re hitting the road bright and early for an excruciatingly long but fascinating ride from Marrakech out to the Sahara dunes of Morocco!
The amazing and incredible Desert Luxury Camp arranges ALL of this so do yourself and book your tour through them. You’ll start the drive through the Atlas Mountains in Marrakech (wait, Morocco has mountains? YEP!), Ait Benhaddou, Morocco’s Hollywood, fossil stores and much more!
So, let’s get this road trip started!
The fascinating trek to the
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Written by: Stephanie
Driving to the Desert Luxury Camp
So, like I said, I recommend booking your desert tour through Desert Luxury Camp. Their campsite is incredible and they take care of everything, including transports, for you.
As you’re wandering around Morocco you will see other companies offering desert tours that are significantly cheaper. Just beware that they may not take you as far into the desert as our company does.
The morning starts with a light breakfast up on the rooftop at one of the best riads in Marrakech! Tell your new Moroccan family goodbye, and then meet down in the courtyard around 7:30 a.m. Your driver will make arrangements with the riad the night before about where to pick you up.
Again, nothing for you to worry about coordinating. After you’ve met your driver you’ll quickly head out of Marrakech and make your way to the Atlas Mountains. Your path will be through the Tizi n’ Tichka pass towards Ouarzazate.
If you’ve ever had any slight feelings of motion sickness I very strongly recommend packing Dramamine with you.
Shortly after you exit Marrakech you’ll start climbing in altitude and eventually hit the high Atlas Mountains. Like other mountains, the Atlas are all switch back and it’s a very tough ride on those of us with sensitive stomachs.
I was sick all morning so I didn’t take many pictures driving through the mountains, but I remember them being pretty. Even though they’re not snow-capped, they still have that fresh mountain air.
I had no idea Morocco even had a mountain range until I started researching prior to the trip. Your driver will make frequent stops and allow some time to stretch your legs.
The first major stop is in the area where the majority of argan oil is made. Argan is wildly popular all over the world and largely comes from Morocco. However, we didn’t see any argan trees or their goats, whomp whomp.
The shop we stopped at was enormous. Half the building was for the women working and the other half was full of various products made with argan oil. The working side housed about 6-7 women sitting on the floor behind various stages of the argan oil extracting process. There is a nice lady that will stand in front of each woman and explain what she is doing. It ranges from hand cracking the nut to obtain the kernels to pressing them with mortar and pestle like equipment to forming the oil into round thin cakes.
It’s no shock that argan oil is so expensive, it is probably the most time-consuming and arduous work I’ve ever seen. After going through the demonstration she will take you to the other side with the finished products. It is like walking into any cosmetic store in the states – lotions, creams, perfumes, and soap galore. There were unscented products, all well as those scented with roses or lemons.
They also had a section of oil for consumption, apparently, argan oil salad dressings are very popular. There are three tajines of various argan oils and she will give you a little piece of bread to dip into the oils if you wish to try it.
Related: Shopping in the Marrakech M
After you’ve browsed and maybe purchased some oil, head back to the car and carry on.
A little while later you’ll come across the Ksar Ait Benhaddou. This is a very famous area of Morocco and many scenes from television shows and movies have been shot here. This is also a UNESCO site, so that’s cool.
It is a quick stop and unfortunately, you won’t be able to get any closer than this. There is a nice overlook and there was a painter that was making these incredible pieces of art. I don’t remember what the product was, but when he would pass the paper over a flame the ink would darken and come to life. He also used pieces of indigo to color the Berber men’s outfits and it was so visually striking. I wish I would have bought one.
Onward a little further you’ll come to Ouarzazate. The town has a modern feel and our driver dubbed it “little Hollywood.”
Like Ait Benhaddou, many movies have been filmed here. We didn’t make any major stops here, just a brief one so our driver could talk to his buddies and buy cigarettes for the men in the desert, haha. Our driver makes the drive to and from the desert two to three times a week and I swear he knows literally every person in the country.
Our driver makes the drive to and from the desert two to three times a week and I swear he knows literally every person in the country. We drove through one tiny village and all the kids ran after his car. It was really cute.
From there, your drive continues through other smaller towns. We stopped at a Berber gift store and tried on traditional garb-
Related: How to spend one week in Morocco
kitschy, but they make you do it – whatev, when in Rome.
Km 2 Route De Rissani / 212 535 577030
Mon – Thurs 6 am – 9 pm, Fri – Sun 6 am – 8 pm
From there we made our way to Erfoud to stop at Morabit Fossils. We were so tired of being in the car and just wanted to be in the desert. I understand their motives for stopping – it is a long ride, and they want us to see different parts of the country and have the opportunity to shop if we want. But, we wanted to go from Marrakech to the desert, not partake in a countrywide shopping tour. That said, this place was actually pretty cool, even if it is a tourist trap.
Morocco is home to various fossils including ammonites and trilobits. There is a tour guide that will walk you through the geography of the past world, explain Pangea, how the continents became split etc. From there he explains various timelines and shows you huge slabs full of fossils. He goes on to detail the process of acquiring the fossils, cleaning them, and turning them into household products.
After the tour, head to the showroom where there are thousands upon thousands of fossil products available for purchase. We caved and walked away with two serving plates and a small desert rose. Hop back into the car for the last leg of the trip!
Middle of nowhere
The driver proceeds on for maybe another hour or so and eventually runs into a checkpoint. There is a long exchange between an armed guard and our driver, permits are shown, a lot of hand gestures are thrown around, and finally, we are allowed to pass through. We later learned that our driver runs into that same guard nearly every week and every time, the guard asks for his papers. He couldn’t understand why the guard doesn’t remember him each time.
The sun has set and we’re still driving, wondering how much further it could be and if we are in fact even still in Morocco. All of a sudden we come to a complete stop on the highway and make a 90 degree left turn.
“We’re here,” he says. For about 10-12 minutes we drive over rocky terrain, in and out of huge holes in the ground experiencing the “Berber massage”. When you’re just thinking we can’t possibly go over any more rocks or this car will get a flat tire it all becomes very still. In the blink of an eye, we go from an area with tan dirt into the golden sand dunes of the Sahara.
Desert Luxury Camp
Sahara Desert Camping in Morocco
The car goes from bouncing over rocks to fishtailing in the fine sand. We scale the sides of several dunes, reaching the top of each one and then plummeting down the opposite side. Then we come to another dune, reach its peak, and just over the top, we see hundreds of eyes staring back at us – a huge group of CAMELS!
We continue on being jostled around the back seat and then we hear tires spinning – uh oh, now we’re stuck. The driver reverses, tries again – no dice. “We’ll just park here.” Remove your shoes, climb out of the car, and let that cool desert sand bury your feet. I remember taking a deep breath, breathing in the clean, unpolluted air thinking, “I’m finally here.”
Leave your big bags in the car, the guides will grab them later. But, get your desert legs ready- walking in the sand is a tough workout. Continue walking for about 30-45 seconds and you will start to hear some camp chatter. Come up over one of the dunes and you’re greeted with this –
That long drive was worth it…
Words cannot adequately describe the beauty of this place, especially at night time.
After some of the initial
Unpack some of your bags and then grab some dinner from the dining tent. Afterward, you have some time to explore, don’t go too far though – music is up soon!
Once everyone has finished their dinner, one of the camp guides will start a fire and begin playing one of the drums. Everyone makes their way to the entertainment area and little by little more guides sit down with their drums. A lot of music, singing, and dancing occurs. About an hour or so later things peter out and eventually, everyone makes their way back to their tent.
Spend the rest of the night lounging around on the chairs under the stars before retiring to your tent.
Read Next: Epic camel treks in Morocco!
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Founder of Packing for Plenty in July 2017. Along with her husband, Pete, she is on a mission to visit most countries. And wants to take y’all along as well! On PFP Steff provides travel itineraries ranging from a weekend trip nearby to 2 weeks living abroad like a local…detailed destination specific travel tips that aren’t readily available elsewhere…and unique and interesting bucket list worthy experiences.