Few places on earth compare to the Sahara Desert, a natural wonder of vast plains and sun-baked dunes that dominates the south and east of Morocco. The world’s largest hot desert, the Sahara stretches a staggering 5.6 million square miles (9 million square kilometers) over several countries. Hemmed in by the Atlas mountain range, the Saharan sands are one of Morocco’s many highlights.
Popular Sahara experiences include trekking along ancient trade routes on a camel, sleeping out under the desert stars, and rising at the break of dawn to watch the sunrise over a sea of orange dunes. Most tours visit one of the two most accessible areas: the dunes of Erg Chebbi, close to the town of Merzouga, or Erg Chigaga, near the town of Zagora.
Although day tours are possible from Merzouga, most travelers opt for an overnight camping excursion, trekking out into the desert by camel or 4x4, then spending a night at a traditional Bedouin encampment. From Marrakech or Fez, a 3-day tour often includes a visit to the desert town of Ouarzazate, the Draa Valley, or the Kasbah of Ait-Ben-Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famously used as a filming location for Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and Star Wars.
Things to Know Before You Go
It takes a full day to reach the Sahara Desert from Marrakech, so a multi-day trip is essential.
Wear light, long-sleeved clothing to protect against the desert sun and bring a scarf to wrap around your face (the sand can get in your eyes and mouth if there’s a breeze). Pack something warm for the evening—the desert can be cold at night even in summer.
For camel riding, comfortable trousers and closed-toed shoes are recommended.
Expect very basic facilities at the desert campsites and no electricity, so bring a flashlight and an extra battery pack for your camera.
A 4x4 is required for driving in the desert, mountains, and surrounding towns.
How to Get There
The easiest way to experience the Sahara Desert is on a guided tour from Marrakech, Fez, or Merzouga, with round-trip transportation included. Merzouga and Zagora are the gateway towns to the desert dunes. Both routes travel mountain and desert roads and take at least a full day. Buses run to Zagora and Merzouga from Marrakech, but you will still need to take a tour to explore the desert on arrival.
When to Get There
The most popular time for a trip into the Sahara Desert is May through October, but the summer months of June to August can get extremely hot during the day. Visiting in winter (December to February) means that daytime temperatures will be much more pleasant, but it can drop below freezing at night and sandstorms are more frequent.
Camping Out in the Sahara
Spending a night in the Sahara Desert is a cultural experience in itself. As well as watching the stunning desert sunset and sunrise, visitors stay at a traditional Bedouin camp and learn about Berber culture. Most campsites are accessible only by camel or on foot. Upon arrival, guests are treated to traditional Moroccan specialties such as tagine and sweet mint tea, with entertainment including traditional Berber music and dance. Additional activities may include sand boarding and quad-biking excursions.