Let me begin by confessing that a visit to Morocco has been on my bucket list for years and nothing short of riding camels into the mighty Sahara desert for an overnight in a Sahara camp would fulfill my dream of adventure. And it did. In spades.
A Frontier Town on the Sahara
Our Sahara adventure began as we drove from the High Atlas Mountains, southward toward the desert and the end of the road. The scenery became flat, arid, and monotoned with a backdrop of the orange Erg Chebbi sand dunes in the distance. Finally, we arrived in the small frontier village of Merzouga, a windswept settlement stubbornly clinging to the edges of the vast Sahara.
Merzouga is somewhat of a depot for travelers heading into the Sahara. There are a couple of hotels and guest houses, minor supply outfits, and plenty of camels. Our small group stored our main luggage at a hotel and took only what we needed for overnight in a backpack. Travel Maestro tip: The camps have solar powered lights, but no electricity, so you need to have any electronics charged or carry a portable charger.
Time to Saddle Up
Our group of 16 Intrepid adventurers crossed the dusty street and walked to our waiting caravan. 16 dromedaries (one-hump camels) were saddled and resting with their long legs folded underneath their bodies. They were linked in groups of five or six and the camel boys who would lead them across the sand assigned us each to our ride.
The last camel of each group was mounted first then brought to its feet, then the one in front of it was mounted next. You must do it in that order because when the front camel stands up, the next one will, too, and so on down the line. Travel Maestro tip:Â You canâ€™t mount a camel like a horse because the saddles have no stirrups and they are about seven feet in the air when the camel is standing!
Even when the camel was lying in the sand, the saddle was nearly my chest height, so with a big leg swing, I leaped into the saddle. You sit behind the hump and let your feet dangle. Travel Maestro tip: Lean far back as he stands up because his back legs come up first and you feel like youâ€™re going to pitch over his head.
Into the Sahara
An erg is a vast sea of ever-shifting sand that the wind blows into undulating hills, knife-edged dune ridges, and steep valleys. The Erg Chebbi dunes are the most stunning in Morocco. Surprisingly, tufts of stringy grass tenaciously take hold in the hollows of the valleys, making wispy green mounds in the fine orange sand. In one, I saw four or five tiny birds flitting around taking a sand bath.
At the beginning of the hour-long ride to the Sahara camp, we talked excitedly with our caravan-mates, but soon we each fell into a quiet reverie, taking in the enormity, color, and peace of the desert. Travel Maestro tip: Camels walk by moving both legs on one side, then the other, so let yourself sway in the saddle with the rhythm.
Our Sahara Camp
As we wound around another tall dune, a rectangle of dark flat-topped tents nestled into a protected sand valley came into view. The Sahara camp was a simple, yet comfortable affair, consisting of about eight sleeping tents with beds to accommodate two, three, or four people each. A dining tent and a three-sided salon tent opened to the communal space within the rectangle. Also accessible from inside the compound were two western-style flush toilets and a sink with running water outside (no shower). The kitchen tent was outside the grouping. The camp has a large refillable water tank positioned outside that supplies the kitchen and toilets.
Our group enjoyed a delicious meal of chicken and vegetable tagines by candlelight at a communal table in the beautifully swathed dining tent. After dinner, we moved to the open-sided salon tent and our camel boys treated us to traditional Berber music. We all took a turn at drumming â€“ some better than others!
The Desert Sky
Little did I know, the best (for me) was about to come. By twos and fours, our small band of nomads climbed a nearby dune to the peak, which was more strenuous than you might expect. As we gathered to watch the night sky, we lay on our backs on sand still warm from the dayâ€™s sun. Again, we happily chatted about the experiences of the day but fell into silence as we individually marveled at the enormity of the heavens above.
Without any light pollution, the sweeping splendor of the Milky Way was on full display. The scale of the sky was so gigantic and the number of stars so massive, I was deeply moved.
And then I saw the first shooting star. Then another. At that moment, I felt a spiritual connection to the earth and heavens and felt immensely privileged to be one tiny, tiny human in this vast universe.
I slept comfortably in my tent and arose before dawn to climb the tallest eastward-facing dune nearby and watch the sunrise. The desert was slowly lit by a soft, fuzzy light as the sunâ€™s rays reached over the horizon of dunes. Once again, I was emotionally moved by the wonder of the world we live in.
Return to Civilization
Alas, my Sahara adventure was coming to an end. The camel boys busily readied the caravan for the trip back to civilization. As I rode back through the rolling and rippling sands of the magnificent Erg Chebbi, I thought of the ancient Silk Road travelers who passed the same way centuries ago. Surely that was a hard journey, but I understand the attraction of the adventure.
My camel ride and Sahara camp experience was a highlight of my Morocco trip. Itâ€™s a bucket list-worthy adventure that Iâ€™ll never forget.
Morocco has many more special experiences in store for adventurous visitors. If you want to learn more about Moroccan experiences, you might also enjoy this Travel Maestro post: