When it comes to glamping in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, the list of options may be overwhelming. While Merzouga is the ultimate favorite among the travelers, there are also quite a few other areas attracting with the scenic dunes and luxurious camps, as well as with lots of unique things to do in the desert.
Things don’t get easier once you’ve narrowed the search down to a specific erg because next comes the question of what is the best desert camp? How long should you stay? Which of the activities should you put on the itinerary and which you will need to sacrifice due to the lack of time?
Hopefully, this small guide on glamping and spending the night in the Sahara Desert in Morocco will help you make up your mind about what kind of experience you would prefer. I personally am not a newbie to exploring deserts. I was lucky enough to do it in Nevada, Egypt, Israel, and Ukraine. Each of these is a very different experience, and the Moroccan adventure definitely deserves some attention. From where we stand, we were able to fit only one night in the desert on our itinerary, but if we had the time, we’d stay for longer.
Where to spend the night and sleep in the desert in Morocco?
There are currently several sites adapted to tourists camping in the desert in Morocco. These are the popular Merzouga with lots of things to do in the area, a harder-to-reach and more authentic Zagora area, and Agafay, which is not Sahara at all, but a separate desert. It is perfect for day trips and is a speedy desert adventure of sorts.
The key question is – what is the difference between these locations, and which one is a better fit for your Moroccan travel itinerary?
Merzouga desert tours: classic glamping in the Sahara Desert
Merzouga desert trip is the perfect choice for everyone looking for glamping at its finest. Erg Chebbi is located less than an hour away from Merzouga, allowing to either book riads in the town or to opt-in for any of the numerous camps among the dunes. Moroccans that run camping businesses in this area definitely know a thing or two about turning an overnight stay in the desert in Morocco in the luxurious experience.
Getting to Merzouga’s Erg Chebbi is possible by camels or by a 4×4. If you come to Merzouga by car, you will most likely be able to leave it on the parking lot of the kasbah that is nearest to the dunes. Usually, the owners of the camps in the desert run them as the additional source of income to the hotels, kasbahs, and riads in the town.
Once in the camp, you will be spending the night in a luxurious tent that will have wi-fi, running water, and an in-tent bathroom, as well as dinners and breakfasts, served on-site.
The list of things to do in the area includes camel trekking, quad biking, exploring the dunes, taking pictures, stargazing, and watching an evening Berber-style performance by the fire.
There are lots of glamping camps to choose from in this part of the Sahara Desert in Morocco. We chose ours by meticulously scanning all the reviews on booking and eventually picking a place that ended up being even better than the feedback from the listing promised. We elaborate more on it as well as on our Merzouga experience, too.
Agafay Desert experience in Morocco
Most of the Moroccan desert trips start in big cities like Fes or Marrakech. The distance from each of them is long and the journey, be it by a car or a bus will take at least 8 hours.
For instance, getting from Marrakech to Merzouga is a full-day trip of 12+ hours by bus. If you are on a circular route around the country, such a journey simply does not make sense. If you are looking for things to do unique to Marocco rather than places to see, we would recommend swapping Sahara’s Merzouga for the Agafay Desert.
It takes about an hour to get here from Marrakech, which makes it a perfect day trip to a desert in Morocco. Agafay’s sands are darker and more saturated because it is a stone desert. So, not having the golden dunes of Sahara on the background of the images may be the only downside.
As for the rest of the activities, they are pretty much the same. You’ll be able to enjoy quad biking, camel trekking, stargazing, dining with the local families, and glamping. The list of luxurious camps in the Agafay Desert is smaller, but it is still quite decent.
Exploring Zagora for a desert trip
Zagora often pops up among the best Sahara Desert tours in Morocco, but if we are getting into all the details, it is not exactly Zagora that you should be researching. From Zagora, it is a 2-hour drive to the village of M’hamid, where the road ends. From here, the only way to get to Erg Chigaga is on a 4×4, but even if you have one, but lack dunes driving experience, the safest bet is to book a tour in M’hamid.
Comparing Chebbi and Chigaga ergs is a discussion as old as time. Chebbi’s dunes are higher and the camps are chicer, but Chigaga is a remote area with a more authentic experience.
Time flies by. More and more travelers visit Morocco with each passing year. Hence, the country expands its tourist sites and offers. Erg Chigaga, while it still has simpler camps with no red carpets leading to the tents, also opened a few luxurious listings to choose from.
As far as the activities go, sandboarding is the one I saw being mentioned in Chigaga more frequently than in Chebbi. The local tour companies will also offer you to try and bake the bread on the sand, to visit the local Nomad Scool, to wander the oasis, and to enjoy the sunset or sunrise from one of the dunes.
What to wear in the Sahara Desert in Morocco?
We visited the Sahara Desert in October, and may I just say that it was the perfect timing. The sun during the daytime was not excruciatingly hot. We took care of covering our shoulders and legs before trekking to the camp. It was perfectly warm in the morning and in the evening, no layers needed.
However, these layers might be useful if you are going to the desert in the winter. The weather is comfortable during the daytime but it gets colder as soon as the sun sits down.
Packing a pair of comfortable pants, a long sleeve shirt, glasses, and a scarf to protect the head is the advice applicable to any season. As far as the shoes go, I’d recommend comfortable tennis shoes, not flip flops, especially if you are going camel trekking. The quicker you can put them on or take off – the better. There will be a time when you will want to take the shoes off and go barefoot.
As far as clothes for the night go, much depends on the sleeping arrangement. For glamping, I would not worry much about bringing lots of layers to sleep in as there will be beds with blankets, and the walls of the tents may be covered with carpets from the inside to protect from the winds.
What to do in the Sahara Desert in Morocco?
Camel trekking is the most popular activity in the area. It is very meditative, too. These big and patient animals walk slowly in caravans, following the leader, and all you have to do is sit and enjoy. Camel trekking can be both a way to get into the camp (as opposed to taking a 4×4 to drive there) or a sunrise/sunset activity.
Speaking of the 4×4 driving adventures, we saw quite a few travelers opting-in for the wild rides across the dunes. If you’d prefer a safer way to drive around the desert, quad biking may be a good alternative. This can be done either in a group or as an individual tour.
Another activity unique only to the desert is sandboarding. Not all the camps offer it, but it sure is plenty of fun, even if you never stood on the board before.
Many camps will offer activities around the evening fire, with Berber dancing, singing, and music instruments. While we are on the subject of exploring the local lifestyle, there are also cooking classes, dining with the nomads, and baking bread on the send. Of course, if booked via tour sellers, do not expect these to be truly authentic experiences. Like any other like-a-local-style things to do, these are more staged, with a bow to the origins of the lifestyle.
And no matter how busy your day was, find the time and motivation to wake up around 3 am to go stargazing. The sky above Sahara is like no other sky in the world. It is simply mesmerizing.
When is the best time to visit the Sahara Desert in Morocco?
Based on what the locals told us, the summer months appear to be the most stressful when it comes to visiting the desert. The temperature during the day rises to 40º C (104º F), and it is quite hot during the nights. The temperatures don’t drop below 25º C (77º F).
October through November and March through May are the most comfortable months to visit the desert. It is rarely above 30º (86º F) during the day, and by night, the temperature drops to around 17º (63º F).
I would not exclude the winter months, either. It may be colder as the sun sits down, but the daytime temperature (given that you’ve taken care of the layers) is great for all the outdoor activities.
Written by Inessa Rezanova
I am a Kyiv-based screenwriter with 10+ years of experience in producing scripts. I love my job, and no, I did not quit it to travel the world. I see different countries in my spare time. As a storyteller, I believe that it is the emotional journey that matters the most. This is why together with my sister I started this blog to encourage everyone to travel and to do so with a heart and mind opened to adventures.