My first awesome Sahara adventure in Morocco
Author: Kathy Petite
Date of Trip: January 2017
Like most of travellers think towards the end of their trip, I wish I could spend more time in Morocco. But hey, for a first timer in this breathtaking land in North Africa, I got to see the desert, mountains and beach. Not bad.
One first piece of advice for you who are thinking of seeing this place: Morocco is a country of culture and contrast. It’s incredibly huge. And it takes time traveling from one place to another. So if you have less than almost 2 weeks like I did, don’t be ridiculously ambitious trying to cram in 127 things to see or do in your list. Either you make a good priority and come back another time, or make your stay longer.
Believe me, you want to suck it all in and have a nice lasting memory rather than end up having blurred glimpse of scattered things in your head.
We are a mixed Swiss couple. Of those 10 days we had, we chose to spend 3 nights/4 days exploring the desert. No, don’t even think of doing it shorter than that. Because you could end up having a sore ass sitting in the car for 7-10 hours from Marrakech to the desert and back for the same hell of torture.
So no, my husband and I decided to save our poor one and only butts for our camel rides. Also, we chose to sit and relax in the car instead of renting one and have a stress of concentrating reading the road signs, or asking people and getting lost (as well as fighting over me not being able to read the map). As much as him excelling in driving and directions, nothing beats than chilling, enjoying the views in the hand of someone you trust.
That’s why the next important advice is if you want to explore Morocco, choose the right guy that shows the country. We felt like we hit the jackpot with Mustapha of Enchanted Morocco. With 5 language skills in his hand, he is so easy, communicative, helpful and flexible in any ways. Growing up in the desert and experienced in driving around there, he made us feel safe and comfortable in his cozy 4WD car.
Embarking our journey from the “Ochre City” of Marrakech, Mustapha was taking us away from the hustle and bustle of the that city, driving over 600 kilometres towards the desert, spoiling our eyes with spectacular views of valleys, cliffs, roads of the Atlas range.
You know what fascinating thing is about the journey to the mountain in Morocco? How vast the changes in landscape as you make your way from the city to the desert. How the dusty, crowded city streets of Marrakech make way for flat, open highways; these gradually transform into red, clay-colored gorges and valleys as you approach and ascend the Atlas range; and finally to the grey, slate-like cliffs at the highest point of this journey — before starting your descent on the other side of the mountain range into the desert. Simply, amazing.
By the time we had our third or fourth stop at the Argan Oil shop, the temperature plunged so low I almost grinded my teeth. My Jackwolf skin jacket felt suddenly so thin like I was just wearing Victoria Secret babydoll.
We had interesting stops along the way before finally spending our first night in splendid hotel in Ourzazate. What a day. I can’t imagine if we didn’t split the trip into 3 nights.
After a lovely Mint Tea and a small Moroccan breakfast of those thin-layered pastries, hopped into the car to continue. After (freezing ourselves) in the windy yet breathtaking cliff of Todra Gorges, we headed to Erfoud.
¨Where are we heading now?’ I asked.
Mustapha, warmly wrapped in his Jelaba (Moroccan traditional dress), just grinned in his wicked mysterious way and calmly replied.
‘It won’t be a surprise anymore if I tell you.’ He flicked a tip of his 16 metre-long turban and turned on the engine. With such long hours of trips, having a driver who does not only speak your language but also a great sense of humor really makes a difference, I tell you.
Half and hour later we were blown by what he secretly planned for us. A truly local experience, a lovely afternoon that is carved in our memory forever.
Like a couple of hours to the sunset, we finally arrived in Merzouga and hopped slowly on our camels. Riding camels in the middle of this orange sand and dunes, in a tranquil serenity, where you could only hear the camel steps is something no words can describe. Simply, surreal.
We were heading close to our camp when the sun was sinking. We hopped off our camels quickly, just to soak into this glorious glow of ray of red-orange that hypnotized us for a few minutes before it finally disappeared.
Slowly, the night fell in Erg Chebbi, the magic took your breath even more like nobody else. The stars came out countlessly, like sparkling beads sprinkled on a black flawless satin sheet. Stunning but surreal.
Of all the camping nights I had in my life, this is absolutely the most amazing one. The next whole day was absolutely fun, where we explored the desert, village, the Berber family, had Berber pizza and a lot more.
We then had amazing time in our next destination in the busy Fez, quiet Oasis town of Chefchaoen and Tangier before finally flying home to Zurich. We can’t thank Mustapha enough for this wonderful experience.
So tips for you who want to explore Morocco, choose the right operator (having found Enchanted Morocco out of pure luck and couldn’t be happier) and don’t rush your trip days, and try to pack as light as possible as most of those riads/dars (Moroccan accomodations) don’t have elevators.
And of course, eat their delicious Tajine. Surely, it is a sin to miss.