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36 Hours in the Sahara Desert …

Why make the long journey to Morocco’s Sahara Desert?

Spend 36 hours in the desert to experience the silence, the unique culture and hospitality, the canopy of stars, and glorious sunrises over the dunes.

Desert Solitude, by Michael Breitung

Top 3 things to do in the Sahara Desert

Sunset from the tallest point in the Erg Chigaga dune field;

Hiking through little-visited regions of the Iriqui National Park;

Marvelling at the Milky Way.

Three places that travellers shouldn’t miss?

Even if it’s only possible to see one of these dune regions: 

Erg Chigaga is a vast sea of sand where the dunes reach 300 feet in height and span approximately 40 kilometres. As night falls, sleep under a canopy of stars. 

Erg Zahar, is also known as the ‘screaming dunes’ for a legend that tells of a village buried beneath the sands there. Views of the stretching sea of sand are visible from the highest point of this little-visited dune region. 

The abandoned village of Erg Smar, a unique place with plenty of tree coverage for picnic lunches and overnight camping. The Draa riverbed runs through and the original earth settlement is being reclaimed by the dunes.  

Tea at Erg Smar village, by Alex Disaro

A must-do experience in the Sahara Desert

Beyond a sunset camel trek, we recommend multi-day backcountry hiking in the Iriqui National Park – either starting from, or finishing at, the Erg Chigaga dunes at the heart of the Park. These type of hikes allow visitors to experience a ‘nomadic’ way of life, even if just for several days. The goal is to disconnect from the outside world, to enjoy the rich environment (there is far more to discover than sand dunes), and to embrace slow travel.

What is spending a night in the Sahara Desert like?

The quietude and space in the desert are other-worldly, and the night-sky boundless. 

The evenings are spent next to the campfire where we normally play music (desert blues). The most impromptu of instruments always works, such as the jerrycan! 

Weather/temperature-dependent, we recommend sleeping out under the stars and falling asleep to the views above (or counting shooting stars). 

Sahara Gold, by Michael Breitung

Lodging options in the Sahara Desert

The rustic Al Koutban desert camp is located at the base of the remote dunes of Erg Chigaga, well off the beaten path. The camp is encircled by smaller, rolling dunes for privacy and shelter, which offer a great vantage point. The sleeping tents at camp Al Koutban are carpeted and lined. Guests sleep in comfort on a real bed, king-size with mattress and linens. There is a separate shower and toilet facility on-site, with hot water. There is also a separate dining-salon tent and outdoor space for relaxation and enjoyment of the campfire. In warm conditions, it is possible to dine outside. A campfire is lit on cold nights.

Desert Nights, by Michael Breitung

The Moroccan nomadic way of life in the desert

Our team is the last generation to have grown up as children in the desert, previously practising a way of life that was unchanged in centuries.

Water in the region is obtained through deep wells, yet is proving scarcer than ever. 

Some families who once practised transhumance, have opted to locate at the village at the desert frontier (M’hamid). Such families (approximately 35 in total and including Boulfrifi’s) lived in a desert settlement when their water source was reliable. They were able to farm the land and keep livestock. Once the water source, the river Draa, was dammed upstream, life in the settlement eventually became untenable. The desert encroached on farmland.

However, there are handfuls of families that live in the region, some keep a few animals and grow subsistence crops. It is possible to visit one of the families. 

Desert Nomad, by Wild Morocco

Luxury options for travellers to the Sahara Desert

We offer a private 4WD service round-trip from Marrakech, or from the nearest airport (Zagora), with an English speaking driver who knows the region. 

Should travellers want to camp in luxury for the night, we can arrange a stay in a completely private camp, with one fully-furnished bedroom tent and en-suite bathroom. The camp is isolated and is staffed by a team of two. Options for activities from the camp include remote picnic lunches, visit to the Erg Smar settlement (see above), or guided day hikes. The camp is 2.5 hours off-road drive from the nearest road (or a three-day hike by foot/camel). 

Hiking on Erg Chigaga dunes, by Matt Steel

When is the best time to visit the Sahara Desert?

Our preferred time to visit is between early October through the end of April. In January through mid-February, it’s not uncommon to see newborn camels and the carpets of wild rucola throughout the dunes. For photographers, the Winter light conditions are perfect for capturing the landscapes due to the low Winter sun. Nights are cold, however Winter is generally less windy than Spring.

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