The Sahara, desert of seemingly endless vastness, ocean of sand, invites you to spend romantic nights under the most impressive starry sky, only a stone’s throw from Marrakech. But is this really what an excursion to the desert is like?
Most people believe so and put an excursion to the desert on their bucket list when travelling to Marrakesh. However, the truth looks a bit different, unfortunately, since getting from Marrakesh to the two big dune areas Erg Chebbi and Erg Chegaga will take you about 8-10 hours by car. Doing this non-stop is exhausting, even though the tour across the High Atlas and the fertile valleys of Draa and Dades which are lined with thousands of palm trees is definitely a visual feast with beautiful panoramic views.
(map: Google Maps, photos: Travelguide Marrakech, Wikimedia)
Sand dunes, dromedaries, Berber tents, starry skies and campfires
You will find uncountable travel agencies offering shorter and longer tours to the desert. If you have only little time and still want to go to the dunes, you may choose a short overnight (sleep in a Berber tent) trip in two days. This means leaving Marrakesh very early in the morning, a short break at Unesco World Cultural Heritage site Ait Benhaddou and reaching your camp in the dunes in the early evening. After a short night you will return to Marrakesh. It is more worthwile to go on a longer trip which also allows you to see some more sights on the way, like, for example, impressive Todra Gorge or Kasbah Taourirt near Ouarzazate.
In Morocco, there are two popular dune areas: “Erg Chebbi” near Merzouga in the southeast of Erfoud and “Erg Chegaga” near M’hamid south of Zagora. Yet before you reach these extensive seas of dunes you need to cross the similarily extensive hamada, a largely barren, rocky plateau, via an unpaved road. The question of which of the two dune areas is the most beautiful is a difficult one. Some love Erg Chegaga for its remoteness which may give you a more authentic Sahara-feeling, others prefer Erg Chebbi, especially, if you can stay overnight in a hotel close to the dunes in Merzouga. Driving to Erg Chegaga also gives you the opportunity to see the valleys of Dades and Draa River. For travellers with only very little time, there finally is a third option: Agafay desert, close to Marrakech. Read more
Backpackers will not be immune to Marrakech’s magic. Even though the city is relatively expensive in comparison to the rest of the country, you will be able to have a great time on a small budget there. How this works, you will find out with the following tips on low-budget holidays in Marrakech.
Marrakech can roughly be divided into three areas: the gardens, the ville nouvelle (new town) and the historic centre, the so-called medina. While the ville nouvelle is characterised by broad avenues lined with modern buildings with glass fronts, the atmosphere in the narrow, maze-like lanes around the central square Jamaa el Fna (“assembly of the dead“) is much more oriental and traditional. So if you want to come close to the orient, this is your place to be!
Most low-budget-accomodation can be found in the medina. Usually, it will be simple, small hotels in different conditions. The rooms in most budget hotels do not include private bathrooms — you will usually share the facilities with the other guests on the same floor. Showers may have to be paid extra. Many of those hotels are located in magnificent town houses or riads which are decorated in a much richer way than the outside may pretend. Often, you will find little paradises behind the red brickearth walls and almost all hotels have a roof terrace from which you can listen to the muezzins’ polyphonic calls to prayer.
Staying in hostels, you get to know people easily, go easy on your budget and can use kitchen facilities to cook for yourself. In Marrakech, some very nice backpacker places opened, which, calling themselves Waka Waka, Kif Kif or Young and Happy, partly cling to the legendary Hippie trail.
If you want to spend as little money as possible and are looking for social contacts, you will sooner or later end up in a lively hostel full of backpackers. There is hardly a better place to get to know people — no matter if you are travelling on your own or in a small group. In Marrakech’s medina there are by now eight of those hostels, providing different types of private rooms and dorms as well as lounges and roof terraces, each of them looking more comfy than the other.
(photo: Hostel Riad Dia)
Staying in a dorm of a hostel can, depending on its size, be a noisy experience. To be on the safe side, you should have ear plugs and headphones ready. A little padlock may be useful, too, especially if the hostel provides lockers. At night, a torch can be helpful. Most hostels provide a kitchen for guests to use. Free WiFi is a standard in all places and mostly, the hostels’ staff speaks or at least understands English. Read more
Marrakech is a perfect base for day trips beyond the suqs of the medina. Experience the various Moroccan landscapes in the lush and fertile Ourika-Valley, the Portuguese-style coastal town of Essaouira, the Toubkal National Park or at the Ouzoud Waterfalls — Morocco presents itself in many different shapes and breathtaking beauty.
Daytrips and longer excursions can be booked via the many travel agencies and tour operators that you’ll find in Marrakech’s medina. However, if you are not in need of supplies and an off-road vehicle or 4×4 to go to the Sahara, a lot of daytrips can be organised without renting a car by simply using public transport.
Not even an hour from Marrakech, you will find Ourika Valley. This fertile valley is supplied with water by a river fed by springs in the High Atlas. A popular day trip destination is the little village of Setti Fatma, the last settlement that can be reached by car on this side of the mountains. From here, you can start little hikes in the Atlas — the short walk to the waterfalls of Setti Fatma is a classic.
If you want the real authentic Marrakech experience, the accommodation of your choice should be a riad in the historic medina. There are by now more than 1200 guest houses, one more beautiful than the other. In this article, the most highly rated riads are presented.
Riads are generously-sized town houses, whose plain ochre outside walls hide a tastefully decorated interior. The heart of these often sumptuously renovated town houses is a splendid patio, which is usually decorated with complex ornamentation, water basins and a lot of plants. Around this roofless courtyard the guest rooms are arranged. On the roofs of most riads, you will also find a terrace with sitting areas. Some riads not only offer to cook for their guests, but have their own cooking courses on offer. Others even have their own on-site hammams.
The Marrakech Museum for Photography and Visual Arts announces a new exhibition. From January 30th you can see works of Mourir Fatmi at Badi Palace.
Darkening Process, by contemporary artist Mounir Fatmi is based upon the idea of the Other; towards literature, Art History, figures and scientific experiments. The first project The Journey into Shame includes the bodies of work The Darkening Process and As a Black Man honoring John Howard Griffin, the white American writer and journalist, born in 1920, known for his fight against racial discrimination and best known for his book Black like Me. In 1959, he moved to the southern United States to undergo medical treatment combined with ultraviolet rays in order to blacken his skin — effectively transforming him into a “black” man. Griffin has gone through the ultimate experience of the Other to change his own skin to understand the life of a whole community.