Updated August 22, 2020.
It took a little convincing, but I managed to get my husband to agree to go glamping! That’s right, glamorous camping. It’s one of the only ways to experience the Moroccan Sahara, and there are several companies that offer tours. We chose Merzouga Luxury Desert Camps after reading about them on my friend Helene’s blog, heleneinbetween.com. She got us a 10% discount, and we had an incredibly… memorable experience! Here’s our review, complete with “wish I’d known that” details and tons of photos!
Booking and Payment
We booked directly with Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp by emailing them at the address on their website. They offer desert camping packages from Fes, Marrakech, and Ouarzazate, or if you will have a car in Morocco and want to drive yourself as far as you can, you can meet them in Merzouga.
Keep reading: What to Know Before You Visit the Moroccan Sahara
Surprisingly, payment was expected in Euros, not Moroccan dirham! That was going to be difficult for us, since we are American and don’t have ready access to Euros without hefty bank fees, especially in such a large amount. We paid the deposit by credit card, but the rest was to be paid in cash when we arrived. We offered to pay in dirhams since we thought that might be easier to get from ATMs in the country, but they were kind enough to offer to let us pay in American dollars.
We chose the Weekend in the Red Dunes package from Ouarzazate, which cost 1210 Euros ($1342 USD) for two people and included five meals, transportation, all activities, and two nights at the Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp.
Note, you may be picked up and dropped off in two different locations, but there will be a surcharge. We asked if we could trade transport back to Ouarzazate for transportation to Fes instead, but we would have incurred a 200 Euro surcharge.
What I appreciated most about our booking experience with this company was their responsiveness. I rarely expect anyone to respond to e-mails within a week (based on previous experiences with companies all over the world), but we always got a response within a few hours (often within just one hour).
Keep reading: Our Morocco Mistakes (and How You Can Avoid Them)
What’s Not Included
Something that surprised us was that water was not included in our desert experience! We assumed that it would be, even if only for health and safety reasons. We thought it was strange that the staff were reluctant to bring more when we finished a bottle, but imagine our surprise when we got a bill for our water at the end of the trip! Each 1.5 liter bottle was only 30 dirham (dh; or approximately $3 USD), but that adds up—we drank eight bottles between us! We had brought some water with us, but not enough for the whole trip. Had we known about the water situation, we would have definitely picked some up in Ouarzazate before we started our journey!
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Our tour started and ended in Ouarzazate, which is the closest city of the package options. Our driver with Luxury Desert Camps was Ibrahim, and he picked us up at our hotel at 11:00am for a 368 km (229 mi), 5 hour and 10 minute drive to the Desert. He was great!
We took a little longer than 5.5 hours because there were things to do and see along the way. We stopped off in Rose Valley, where the roses they grow are celebrated every year and used to make rose-scented everything. We stopped off at Dades Valley for stunning panoramic views and learned about the date palms that grow in huge groves. And we stopped for a short walk through Todghra Gorge to get our legs moving after all that time in the car! We made it to the camp in plenty of time for sunset views and settling in before dinner.
Each “tent” at Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp has a solid wood floor and actual structure to keep the walls in place. Each one also includes a shower, sink, and Western-style toilet, so it’s really very little like camping!
Keep reading: Staying at Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp
The only criticism I have of the accommodations is that the promised air conditioning was not always available. The generator got clogged with sand (I mean, it’s the desert—don’t they have a solution for that by now?), and the air conditioner and lights went out from about midnight until 7:00am when someone finally got around to fixing it. It was over 100 degrees inside our tent.
Similarly, they actually turned the generator off during the day, since most people are only there overnight anyway. You should be prepared for this, especially if you travel with any medications that will stay in the room all day. Again, when we arrived back from our 1/2 day desert excursion, the temperature inside our tent was over 100 degrees!
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So, what is there to do in the desert? Most people just come here for an overnight trip, so they do a sunset camel ride in the evening and a sunrise camel ride in the morning, and then they start the long drive back. We chose to spend two nights here, which gave us a full day to find out what there is to do in the desert!
Our driver, Ibrahim, came to pick us up at 10:30am, and we set out into the desert to find some panoramic views, visit an old mine in the Anti-Atlas Mountains, see some sea-life fossils in the rocks in the desert, and learn a little about the Berbers and their nomadic life. We thought we had signed up for a dune hike, but that wasn’t part of the day. We stopped for lunch and got back to the camp around 2:30pm. We spent the rest of the day exploring the dunes close to camp, and I took a short nap as well, once the air conditioning got turned back on!
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Our Weekend in the Red Dunes Package included five meals: dinner on Day 1; breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Day 2; and breakfast on Day 3. You will also enjoy fruit juices, coffee, mint tea, and milk. As I mentioned above, you will have to pay extra for water, but the food really was some of the best we ate in all of Morocco!
Read on: What to Eat in the Moroccan Sahara
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