For someone who loves city vacations, all my favorite travel experiences have been in nature. And one of the best was in Morocco, where we took camels out into the Sahara Desert and camped there overnight.
The camel ride
To get to the desert, we drove out to an inn called the Auberge Les Dunes D’Or, which is right on the edge of the desert. There are dozens of camels out back ready to trek out into the Sahara. They create a caravan of them based on the size of your group and a Berber guide walks in front of the train of camels to guide them into the campgrounds.
So what is it like to ride a camel? Well, I don’t even really care for horses – skittish fuckers. But camels, though they smell and spit, are actually quite docile and relatively safe to ride. That being said, the experience is still mildly terrifying. You have to mount them when they’re sitting down. And camels stand up by straightening out their back legs first, so you have to hang on when suddenly they’re ass up and you feel like you’re about to face plant on the ground.
Once you’re up, it’s time to hit the dunes. Your amazing guide will somehow walk the entire hour or so on foot pulling the camels. And you never go faster than a gentle trot. But a gentle trot on a camel on giant hills of sand can still be pretty rough. Our male friend was in so much pain from the bouncing that he walked/ran back with the camels the next morning. He said his testicles couldn’t take the abuse anymore. Some of the trek is a little precarious, with a deep slopes on either side of you, but camels are surprisingly adept at walking along razor thing edges.
Despite that, the walk is mostly peaceful and beautiful. They take you at sunset so the sand is especially golden. And the sun creates really deep shadows. By the time you get to the campground which is in a little valley, you can climb up a pretty sizable dune to watch the sun set. The guide recommended to go up barefoot, and I would definitely echo that recommendation.
The camping experience
Even though camping is generally not for me, I loved sleeping under the stars in the cozy campgrounds. They really goes all out to create an inviting environment. There are maybe half a dozen or so individual camps, which have private tents for the guests and for the guides. In the center, they have a table where you can sit around and have dinner.
When you arrive, while you enjoy the sunset, they cook dinner. And then after the sun has set, you get to sit in your little outdoor tent in the candlelight to enjoy a hearty meal and some fruit. We also bought our own wine bottles, because obviously. The Berbers also play their drums and you sing songs with them. If you’re lucky, they’ll let you play the drums too. It was a really lovely night. And because you’re in the middle of nowhere, you can see all the stars in the sky.
It does get just as chilly as you would expect overnight, but the tents are well equipped with heavy comforters to keep you comfortable. Each tent also has a private bathroom, which is like a fancy portapotty, that’s partially made of carpet, like the campground. So do put some sandals into your overnight bag, because you don’t want to step on a wet portapotty carpet in the middle of the night.
The next morning, they serve you a light breakfast and tea and you trek back to the inn after the sun comes up.
How you can do it too
Though our excursion was built into a much bigger tour, it’s easily possible to do this on your own. There are a couple of places that are close enough to the desert that they have private camel trek tours. The largest city that’s nearby is Merzouga. Since that’s still a bit of a ways away from the Sahara, camel treks from there will be more expensive because you’ll also be paying for transportation. That being said, it still shouldn’t be more than $50.
A different option would be stay somewhere closer in a hotel like Auberge Les Dunes D’Or which is right on the edge of Erg Chebbi. This is one of the two large areas in Morocco where you’ll find vast stretches of desert dunes. The other is Erg Chigaga, but Erg Chebbi has larger dunes. You can get there from some of the larger nearby towns like Erfoud or Merzouga. But it’s possible to do it even from cities like Fes and Marrakesh.
The rooms at the Auberge face the desert and you can easily arrange all kinds of fun Sahara activities, like the overnight camping experience we did or driving 4x4s on the dunes.