Making a Sahara Desert tour and riding camels into the orange-hued sand dunes was a big bucket list item of mine. Perhaps I watched Aladdin far too many times as a kid (sorry Mom). Or maybe because after riding horses and going dog-sledding, this seemed like the logical next step?
Whatever the reason, when I was in Morocco I spent nearly two days of my life in a van from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert. Was it worth it? As the kids say… it’s complicated.
Like with much of my Moroccan experience, there were some serious highs and lows, and I wish I had been better aware of what the Sahara tour would actually entail – which is why I’ve written this post for you.
So, if you’re wondering if a Sahara Desert tour is worth the money, I’m here to break it down for you – the good, the bad, and the truly WTF.
Without further ado, here are the top 15 things I wish somebody told me before my Morocco desert tour.
Merzouga, the gateway to the Sahara, is 350 miles or around 560 kilometers of winding mountain passes and dizzying curves away from Marrakech. As a result, you shouldn’t expect to be able to reach the Sahara in a day from Marrakech. At a bare minimum, you need three days, all of which will entail serious amounts of driving. It’s about 12 hours of driving in a van each way between Marrakech and Merzouga, not including stops, so expect to spend a good portion of your 3 day Sahara desert tour on the road.
If you only have time to do a day trip from Marrakech, you will simply not be able to see true dunes line you can see in Merzouga and Erg Chebbi, full stop. Readjust your expectations so you won’t be disappointed. If you only have one day, you can do a camel ride through the rocky desert and palm grove outside of Marrakech. Prices are quite reasonable
With two days, you’re a little better off – you can get to the Zagora Desert and do a sunset camel ride, a desert overnight, and a sunrise camel ride the next day. Tours are a little pricier than the day trip, obviously, but still a good value at under $50 per day
You need a full three days to get to and from the Sahara, and if you can spare it, then I highly recommend it. In my opinion, the rock desert and palm oasis is nowhere close to how spectacular the Sahara Desert is, and as a result, it should only be booked if you have extremely limited time or funds and have a camel ride on your Morocco bucket list.
The Zagora Desert is closer to what you want from a Sahara Desert tour, but it’s still a ton of driving plus an overnight, so I’d urge you to just go for the full three day tour instead. It’s not much more money (about $30 more than the Zagora tour), and absolutely nothing in my life compares to the beauty of seeing the sun rise and set in the Sahara Desert for myself with my own eyes.
In my 60+ countries of travel, I’ve still never seen anything quite as beautiful as the Sahara Desert. There is something otherworldly about the contrast between the orange sand and the blue sky, and the way the sand rippled in perfect formations that look drawn by an artist’s hand
As sunset fell, I almost wanted to pinch myself to confirm that it was real. But if it was a dream, I didn’t want to wake up.
The softness of the orange sand, the seeming infiniteness of the rolling dunes, the way that footsteps looked as they left magical trails in the sand, and the inky blackness of the sky punctured by a million tiny stars at night — there’s simply no comparison to the Sahara Desert.
Getting to the Sahara Desert from Marrakech is a royal pain, and yet it is completely and utterly worth it.
The worst piece of advice that I got about taking a tour to the Sahara desert is that you shouldn’t book it in advance and rather wait for a tout in the souks to offer you a better price.
Here’s the thing: you will likely get a cheaper price, but you will not get a better deal, as you will make up for that price difference somewhere, either with poor quality service or through scams and upsells along the trip. Whether it’s getting told that the A/C in the van is “broken” on a 115 degree Fahrenheit day so they can save on gas, or the constant up-charging on everything from lunch to the made-in-China scarves that they insist you need for the desert, or getting scammed by a rug vendor (more on that later).
Instead, I highly recommend booking your Sahara desert tour in advance with a company with a good reputation and a strong online presence. Quite frankly, it’s because a company with a solid online presence has a ton more to lose than the hundred or so indistinguishable tour companies who make their profit off of selling to tourists on the street, for whom reputation means little. They will be more scrupulous and careful as to protect their reputation and their livelihood, and that’s a good thing for the consumer.