Must-Do in Morocco – 3 Day Desert Trek
When going to Morocco, a MUST do is going on a desert trek. You’ll find that there are numerous companies selling tours within the Medina in Marrakesh. They all practically have the same itinerary, but the quality of the van, driver, and guides are what differ between the tours. Minh and I had read online about waiting until arriving to book, as booking online is usually much more expensive (which, it really is!).
[pi_wiloke_quote quote=”Booking a Desert Trek: Wait until you arrive to Marrakesh to book a tour. You’ll be able to get a better rate than online, and if you book multiple tours, you’ll be able to negotiate for an even better deal!” author=”Two Peas Travel Tip”]
Usually, you can have a tour arranged for you through your Riad or guesthouse, but because we were staying in an Air Bnb, it was up to us to find a place to book through. Our first day in Marrakesh, we sought out to find a decent tour and probably visited a half dozen agencies who all quoted different prices and different promises. In the end, we went with Marrakesh Travel Services, as they had an actual office, and seemed the most legitimate of all the tours we spoke to. We went with the most popular tour, a 3 Day, 2 night tour.
Just something to note about the tours that are sold – you’ll be expected to tip each guide at each place you go to. In addition, they tell you that you have “free time” to eat lunch, but it’s really them taking you to the middle of nowhere, where there are no other lunch options around, so you’ll have to eat at the overpriced restaurant that serves only mediocre tagine, cous cous, and kebabs.
We were picked up from our Air Bnb in the early morning and picked up a bunch of other people along the way who were to join the tour. It was a full van of 17 foreigners from all parts of the world -people from Holland, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, and the U.S. were all on this tour. We were off on our long drive and arrived at our first rest stop.
The first portion of our drive was extremely curvy with constant hairpin turns, and one of the girls in our car got very car sick. We had to pull over a few times because she wasn’t dealing well with the turns. I thankfully had my seasick bands, otherwise I probably would have gotten sick too. Be prepared for some windy roads if you don’t do well with motion-sickness!
A few hours later, we arrived at our first stop – Ait Ben Haddou. This place may look familiar, as it’s a town that has been used for various filming locations such as Gladiator and Game of Thrones. You can read about the Game of Thrones locations we visited while in Morocco here. It’s an actual village of people who live in this historical town, and still utilizes the traditional architecture made out of clay.
While exploring the complex, there was a cute baby goat!
After exploring the complex, we were taken directly into a restaurant for lunch, where there were no other options around. As expected, the food was overpriced and wasn’t anything to write home about. Among those at our table are Sandy and Ping from Singapore. They’re both studying abroad and decided to meet and travel around together in Morocco. Another fellow from Australia has also been traveling solo for the past few months exploring Asia and Europe.
We hopped back into the car to make our way to the hotel, where we made a few short stops along the way.
After a full day of activities and driving in the car through the windy roads of the Gorges du Dades, we arrived to our hotel where we had a family-style dinner with everyone.
We got to chat more with the rest of the people in our tour where we met another travel couple from Florida – Tessa and Matt of Travel, Where to Next. Matt is interning in Switzerland, while Tessa has been traveling around solo. It’s always great meeting so many like minded people on this trip and swapping travel stories.
We had an early morning the next day, so we headed back to our room. It was freezing cold in our rooms (with no heaters), and our shower was basically a hose with a shower attachment. Minh was not having it at all and was complaining about it the whole time. Sadly, I may have stayed in worse before when I traveled around in my early 20s, so it wasn’t too shocking to me.
Knowing we were going to stay in the desert the next day (with no electricity), we made sure to plug in all our camera batteries and external chargers before going to bed.
[pi_wiloke_quote quote=”Bring external battery chargers with you and make sure everything is fully charged before heading out to the desert!” author=”Two Peas Travel Tip”]
I woke up extra early to try to get hot water for the shower (before everyone else in the hotel used it all up). It seems maybe the hotel hasn’t turned on the gas or lit the fire for the hot water, as there’s hardly any and I take the fastest shower of my life. Minh didn’t get any hot water and had to take a lukewarm/cold shower.
Suffice to say everyone had a rough night and morning, as it was extremely cold. We piled back into the van to drive to the first stop of the day – a Berber farm in Merzouga.
After walking through the farm, we were led into the village where the women here specialize in carpet making. It was a very well versed sales pitch where they served us tea and explained the process of making a carpet.
They showed us various gorgeous designs and sizes of carpets. The craftsmanship of the carpets were really stunning.
It was kind of awkward at first because we kind of felt like we were being held hostage in that room until someone agreed to buy something. Luckily, Sandy and Matt & Tessa ended up buying a carpet, and the group was finally released from the room. Thanks guys! =P
In all seriousness, the carpets were beautifully hand crafted pieces with great durability. Minh and I probably would have bought one too if we had the money and space to take it with us. The cost of these hand made carpets are about the same as you would find at Ikea! Definitely can’t find quality like these carpets back home at Ikea price points!
Next stop: off to lunch and then Todgha Gorge!
We hopped into the car and made our way to the final stop, and the one everyone was excited for, the Merzouga desert! We finally arrived about 30 minutes before sunset. We were told to only take what we needed for the night and leave the rest of our luggage in the car. Everyone scrambled to get what they needed, as they were rushing to get us on the camels before the sun went down.
Getting on the camel was kind of scary, as it was a very unfamiliar feeling to get atop an animal, especially one that’s so tall!
It was really surreal to be riding through this gorgeous landscape with the sun setting. It made for amazing pictures and everyone couldn’t help but take picture after picture.
We rode through the desert on our camels for about 30 minutes to our camp site.
We were slowly approaching an amazing camp site with bright lights, solar panels, and fancy tent setups.
We were all excited that we’d finally arrived! However, our camels continued to the left, away from that camp site, and we arrived at our camp site that was very dark and looked much less fancy. It was really funny as everyone in the tour thought we were headed to the fancy campsite, and then we arrived at our much more “budget” campsite, complete with lots of camel poo in front!
Despite not being in the fancy tents, just being in the desert, away from civilization amongst the stars is so amazing. We settle into our tents, and take in our incredible surroundings. It sort of feels like we’re in summer camp and everyone in our tour has become fast friends, as we’ve already spent so much time together.
While waiting for dinner to cook up, we have lots of time to star gaze and capture amazing photos. There are also lots of kitties around (I wonder how they got there?), which makes this cat lady very happy!
Dinner is, yep, you guessed it, tagine again! After dinner, they set up a bonfire where they played the drums and sang songs for us. At the end of their performance, they point to the mountain behind us and ask if we want to climb it to watch the stars.
A bunch of us enthusiastically say yes and follow one of them up the mountain. He rounds all of us up with “Yallah, yallah“ and says “better to not use the light” as we have our cell phone flashlights on as we head up. We laugh at his funny joke, which turns out is not a joke, as it took us a good 30 minutes to reach the top! Walking up a steep, soft and sandy hill is so much harder than we expected! I made the not so smart decision to carry one of the heavy furry blankets that felt like it weighs 10 lbs, and couldn’t abandon it! It was really cold at the bottom of the mountain, but by the time I was at the top, nobody was cold anymore as we were all sweaty from the intense hike up! I was seriously considering giving up half way, as my thighs were cramping up and I was losing my breath, but it was one of those things where you’ve gone too far, and you just have to keep going.
After the grueling hike to the top, we realize the guide is not even at the top! He tricked us! Turns out Ping also brought up a giant 5 gallon water jug with her up the mountain to use as a tripod! Once at the top, we could see more campsites around the area and back to the city. It was a nice view, but was actually not as good for photos vs at the base of the mountain, as the lights from the other campsites were interfering with picking up the stars in photos.
After enjoying the views at the top, we made our way down, (which took us only 5 minutes!) and set up the go pro for an overnight time-lapse to capture the amazing night sky before we went to bed.
Here’s a quick time-lapse capture of the unforgettable night under the stars (a little short, as the battery died half way through the night):
That morning, I awoke from hearing other people walking around. Good thing, as Minh and I had no idea what time we were leaving that morning, and it seemed like half the camp was already ready to go.
The sky was lit, but the sun had not risen yet. We all got on our camels again and rode in the sunrise back to the city.
This ride was even more amazing than the sunset one, as it was our first activity of the day. I find that I enjoy sunrises more than sunsets, as it seems so peaceful and calm (partly because you’re probably only half awake), and you’re starting off your day with this gorgeous sight.
The camel I was riding seemed to not want to stay in line, and I somehow kept ending up beside Minh. Maybe our camels were an item and just wanted to be close…heh.
We had breakfast and headed back on a grueling 11 hour journey back to Marrakesh. Luckily Minh and I had anticipated not being able to charge any electronics in the desert, so we had our external battery chargers for our phones and iPods for entertainment. Lots of people’s phones and cameras had died at some point, and I’m sure the journey was much more taxing on them.
By our first break time at lunch, everyone looked really beat up and exhausted. We were all ready to go back and have a nice hot shower and sleep in a comfortable bed.
As we approached the Medina in Marrakesh, I was becoming so overwhelmed with everything that was going on. Coming back from the peaceful desert and going straight into the Medina was a huge shock to my senses as it was a Saturday night and there were horses, donkeys, cars, pedestrians, bicycles, snake charmers, vendors, etc. passing by and hollering from every which way.
We said our goodbyes to our new desert trek camp friends and went straight to KFC for dinner. Minh and I were so tired of tagine at this point and just wanted familiar comfort food, lol.
Overall, the 3 day tour was a really unforgettable experience. Truth be told, the best part is the overnight stay in the desert. Some of the sites we visited could probably have been skipped, but it seems to be added to break up the travel time to the desert site (otherwise it would be 11 hours each way!).
Riding camels through the desert watching the sun set and rise are images that I’ll always remember and cherish. If you are headed to Morocco, I highly highly recommend adding it to your itinerary!