Riding Camels through the Sahara Desert
Even after 40+ visiting countries, surfing some of the best beaches, sliding down a volcano on a piece of wood and driving Tuk Tuks across India, riding a camel through the Morocco Desert is still one of the most (if not the most) memorable thing I’ve done in my travel life. The feeling of being surrounded in complete silence, just laying there on the warm sand with 10 new friends I met on the trip and literally just staring out of this world, gazing at the stars. I was completely stunned as if I had never seen them before, because I hadn’t, not like this.
I can honestly say I never had planned to go to the Sahara Desert, I mean I knew about it and knew it was a huge iconic place but to be honest, that’s all I knew. It wasn’t until I met my Australian friend Azza in Porto (Portugal) when he mentioned he was going to travel down to Morocco just to ride camels and spend the night in the desert. That’s when it really sparked my interest.
Feeling quite embarrassed, I actually had to Google where Morocco was (dropped out of high school) but upon realising it was so close to Spain, I started asking more and more questions. Sure enough, 10 minutes later and a few glasses of Port down, I decided to join him on his journey not really knowing what I was getting myself into.
Arriving in Marrakesh
6 weeks later (13th June 2015) we boarded our plane leaving from Granada, Spain to Marrakesh, Morocco and I couldn’t have been more excited for what we were about to embark on. I did end up doing a bit of research into Morocco and to be honest there was a lot of mixed reviews about the people, attractions and the cities so I was arriving with no expectations and just going to ride the wave.
Only a few hours later we touched down in Marrakesh and the heat wasn’t much different to Spain so that was a relief. After grabbing our bags we were stuck in a gruelling 45-minute wait in Immigration line before we finally got our stamp and were set free to explore the country.
It was a bizarre feeling once we walked through the security doors when we saw hundreds of people huddled together at the arrival lounge, some wearing their djellaba’s and holding name cards with squiggly names. Lucky for us, the hostel we booked for that night made a name card in English so we knew where to go. I have to admit, after spending 6 weeks in Portugal and Spain to then arrive in Morocco is like arriving in a whole different world.
Hostel Waka Waka
After about a 20-minute taxi to the city centre, myself and Azza was shooed out of the taxi and greeted by another man who walked us down a side street to the hostel. It did admittedly feel like we were being set up, only because we were walking down narrow alleyways with a guy who spoke no English. So in reality, we were 2 tourists with all our possessions following a man we’d never met to a place we didn’t even know if we were close to. But then again I always overthink situations.
We did eventually arrive at the Hostel Waka Waka where the host Jawad invited us in and asked us to drop our bags. He then brought us out cups of traditional mint tea and mountains of biscuits on plates. A few minutes later, he then brought out the biggest hashish pipe I had ever seen and we all just sat there and ended chatting, drinking tea, having hashish, using wifi and snacking on biscuits for quite a long time. A very refreshing way after just getting off a plane.
Finally about 2 hours after we arrived, we checked in, had a shower and set off around Marrakesh on foot to explore around and look for food.
What to expect in Marrakesh
Marrakesh was definitely unlike any other place I have visited. In my mind, I was expecting sandy streets, quite high poverty and for it to be quite dirty but what I found was the opposite. Clean streets, an abundance of horses and carts and amazing architecture. I was blown away!
It was slowly getting dark so we thought we’d walk to the Medina (old walled city) and look for a place to eat, that’s when all the fun started. The sounds of drums got louder and louder as we weaved our way in and out through thousands of people, trying to see what was going on when a hand full small ladies about 4 feet tall ran up to us trying to sell us this and that. We managed to get away without buying loads of unwanted things and carried on our way through the Medina’s Chaos.
Once we got out of the centre and into the streets, I noticed that either side of the street was filled with small stalls, selling nicknacks from small shish pipes to leather belts and handbags, glass ornaments to Moroccan traditional wear. All with local store man out front using their best sales techniques to lure us inside to see their goods.
As annoying as it was, it was kind of a sign of relief. Unlike in Asian touristic hotspots like Thailand and Bali where they always try and sell you fake western branded goods, the Moroccan people were selling hand made local items so it made you feel like you were in a non-touristic place.
Anyway we found a nice rooftop restaurant and I experienced my first Authentic Chicken Tajine, which I ended up eating every single day for the next 4 weeks while in Morocco because it was literally that good. It was like a slow-cooked chicken with vegetables drizzled with the most amazing thick sauce. Heavenly. Just to give you an idea, the most common foods you will eat in Morocco is either Tajines or Cus Cus served wither with chicken or made vegetarian.
The next day, myself Azza with our new friend Justin decided to go out shopping for Djellaba’s that we could wear for the desert, and I don’t know how it happened, but I ended up buying an outfit you wear to a wedding. It turns out it was 100% silk and was the completely the wrong thing to wear out in the desert according to Jawad, the hostel host so being the absolute legend he was, he gave me one of his own Djellabas as a gift!
So as you can tell by now, I really enjoyed Morocco despite all the things I had heard. The city was beautiful (but very hot), the people were really friendly and chilled and the food was amazing.
The 3 day Merzouga Desert Tour
The next day we sat down with Jawad and had some more tea and cookies while he explaining to us all the options for organised tours that started in Marrakesh. He suggested that we do the 3 days Merzouga Desert tour, which is apparently the part of the desert you want to go to. So at only $80 USD each for the whole trip (minus lunches), we booked it for the following morning and convinced Justin to come along too. Jawad also offered to store our luggage as we wouldn’t need to bring much with us to the desert, just a few changes of clothes so that made things a lot easier.
At 8 am the next morning, our shuttle bus arrived and we jumped on board to join 8 other people which happened to be all around the same age as us, which was really lucky! Sure enough, it only took a few minutes before we all started talking and cracking jokes so I knew we were with a good crew.
I don’t think any of us knew what we were really in for.
Moroccan Desert Tour – Day 1
So I really have to hand it to the tour company, they do jam pack in all they can into the 3 days they have with you but man, it was a long journey. Altogether, the first day consisted of about 9 hours driving in the minibus with the temperature, increasing ever hour that we got closer to the desert. The aircon also wasn’t powerful enough to reach the people at the back of the minivan, luckily I was towards the front.
It wasn’t a solid 9-hour drive though, we did every hour or 2 to stretch and every place we did stop had a jaw-dropping landscape. Whether it is high up on a mountain looking over the desert land or down near a small ravine surrounded by the luscious green of trees or rice paddies. I was definitely impressed so far.
We did also stop at the small fortified city of Ait Benhaddou where we got to walk go explore around for an hour or so. It turns out famous movies like “The Gladiator”, “The Mummy” and “Prince of Persia” were filmed there, so that was a pretty cool experience to have. It was really hot though and one girl did start getting heatstroke which was freaky! I’ve never seen that before. She was with another tour company so I hope she came right.
The whole trip so far was all sort of a surprise to me so I asked the others what we were going to see next. To my surprise, we then realised that no one was given an itinerary so we didn’t know how much longer we were going to drive for, where we were going to stay, when we were going to the desert, nothing. That was an interesting feeling for sure but it was out of our hands, we just had to sit back and relax.
As the sun started setting, we actually arrived at a Chateau and we were all gobsmacked! It was a really nice place in a gorge with a small flowing river at the bottom. We all had comfortable single beds and there was a banquet hall for dinner followed by live some traditional music. It ended up being a really good night there so it finished off the day perfectly.
Moroccan Desert Tour – Day 2
Feeling refreshed after a good nights sleep, we were ready to jump back in the mini van and head off towards the desert yet again. This time we were only on the road for a few hours before we arrived at a small village on another Ravene where we were greeted by a local villager who had been organised to show us around his village.
It was a great change of scenery walking through the rice paddies and hearing the crazy stories of their religion. Things like how the more attractive the woman, the more chickens she’s worth and how the Moroccan men are allowed 5 wives each, who then will have 3 kids each and all 16 will live in these tiny houses they have. The kids would then grow up to essentially do what he does and the cycle continues on. Such a different world to what I know.
Shortly after we walked through the length of the farm, we arrived at the hardened mud village where to our surprise, we walked into a local rug display room and were all handed tea and biscuits. After about 15 minutes of what turned out to be a sales presentation, we were then given the pitch and considering none of us even exp
ected to go there, we all declined. We did however sit in silence for the next 10 minutes just looking at each other around the room, it was so awkward.
When we finally did escape and get outside, we burst out laughing, no one expected that to happen and I think one guy was cornered while everyone was leaving and ended up giving in and buying the smallest rug there. It was a crazy situation I have to admit but a memorable one.
After we all went for lunch at a rooftop restaurant which overlooked a church and surrounding village. It was a nice place to eat and I had chicken tajine, it was amazing.
Once we all had lunch, we hit the road once again for about 2 hours before stopping at the coolest canyon I never expected to see. It was crystal clear freezing cold water with fish jumping in it. It was such a refreshing place to arrive at and quickly dip our feet in for a few minutes before we had to go.
By now you can see there are a lot of stops, to keep a long story short, after the canyon, we then stopped at a few more places, one being a marble museum and another an artefact type places and small other shops. Nothing too amazing.
Finally at around 5:15 pm we were officially driving in the middle of nowhere and we got our first peek at the orange Saharan sand. To my surprise there were actually a lot more camels around than expected, they were just chilling around the place it was an awesome sight to see!
10 minutes later we spot a caravan of about 30 camels all sitting around in a circle with a few djellaba’s standing around across the road from a desert compound and we knew, those were our steeds. we all got one last chance to stretch and go to the toilet then we walked over to the caravan. I was the most eager so I jumped on a camel first and with a few commands from the Berber, the camel rose on all fours and there I was, about 2 metres in the air on top of a camel!
By the time everyone was on their camels and ready to go, it was close to 6:00 pm and started outride into the endless mountains of orange sand. I can see why they started so late, it was so hot out there, I’d hate to see what it would be like at noon.
We rode for about 2 hours and watching the sunset over the desert dunes with the only sound you could hear is that from your camel trotting, it was a truly magical moment though pretty uncomfortable I have to admit.
As the light turned slowly into darkness, we arrived at a large tent pitched in a gully where we all jumped off our camels and chilled on the sand. Out came the hashish pipe and for about the next 3 hours, all 10 of us lay on that warm desert sand just staring out to the universe. I had never seen the stars so bright before and you could clearly see green and purple in the milky way it was breathtaking, it really put into perspective how small we are compared to the universe.
The Berbers then called out as our dinner was prepared and ready to eat, lucky for me it was Chicken Tajine so I was really happy. Once everyone had finished dinner was done, we all went outside and sat around a campfire listening to traditional music being played by the Berbers and slowly I fell into a trance and went to sleep.
Moroccan Desert Tour – Day 3
Today started far too early, but all for good reason. The Berbers all walked around waking us all up at 4:30 and we gathered our things getting ready to go. Our camels were woken up and we jumped aboard in almost complete darkness to start our return back to the compound.
I didn’t realise but the night before shortly after everyone fell asleep, a sandstorm came and blasted half the people! I must have been really lucky and just been out of the winds path or something because I slept through the whole thing with no problems.
I have to admit, the beginning of the ride this morning was a lot harder than the previous day just because we only had like 3 hours sleep. My eyes were puffy and I was ready to fall back asleep but gradually it got lighter and lighter and just as the sun started rising, everything became golden. The sand had no prints on it and it was just orange as far as the eye could see.
The Berber was meant to be walking my camel because I was at the front of the train, but instead, he took my camera and walked off and left me to lead the train. It was really confusing and I went a little bit off track but 15 minutes later he came back and returned the camera to continue on. I had no idea what he was doing but the battery died so I couldn’t find out until I got back. Watch the video to see what he did!
We arrived back at the compound at about 7:00 am where we disembarked off the camels and got to enjoy a few last minutes of the desert with these gracious animals.
Back at the compound we were given tea and biscuits then started our ride back to Marrakesh.
This time the trip went a whole lot faster, I don’t know if it was because we were all so tired that we slept most of the trip back or that the driver was just speeding, who knows. There were definitely less stops though and we ended up arriving back to Marrakesh at around 6 pm concluding our tour to Merzouga.
Now 10 months later finally deciding to write about this trip, I still think it was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my adventure life. It did help though that the people we ended up doing the trip with turned out to be in the same age group so we got on really well with each other so I guess that’s another reason why that trip turned out so good, that and of course a little hashish when in Morocco has never gone astray.
Would I recommend you to do it? 100% It is one of those bucket list moments in my opinion and I think those with the adventurous spirit should go out there and see what it’s like. Morocco I’ve heard is a little creepier for female’s though so preferably go with at least one friend when you do go apart from that, it was an epic time and i’ll no doubt treasure those memories forever.