Desert tours and Excursions to the Sahara

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.

desert excursion morocco

(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.

Prices for organised tours from Marrakesh to Erg Chegaga or Erg Chebbi differ immensely according to the travel agency you choose and what extras they offer. A two-day-trip may be around € 70-200 per person, a longer trip will be more expensive.

erg chegaga desert morocco

Sanddunes of Erg Chegaga (photo: Globatlas adventures, Wikimedia)

Desert tours and Excursions to Erg Chegaga

Erg Chegaga near M’hamid, about 150 km² large, is less frequented by tourists than Erg Chebbi. The impressive sand dunes rise up to 100m. From June to August, however, you should better not go, since temperatures can be very high. Desert tours are offered by numerous travel agencies in Marrakech, Ouarzazate, Zagora and M’hamid. On Getyourguide you will also find organised tours.

2-day desert tour from Marrakech

A tight schedule: Leaving Marrakech early in the morning to get to UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site Ait Benhaddou by car, from which, after lunch break, you head on via Ouarzazate and Draa Valley to Zagora. After a camel trek of about 1.5 hours you will sleep in a traditional Berber tent in the desert. In the morning you ride back to Zagora on your camel and go by car to Ouarzazate. After visiting Kasbah Taourirt the tour finally ends in Marrakech. This tour goes in the direction of Erg Chegaga, but not directly to the big sand dunes.

deserttour zagora

Near Zagora (photo: Riads Marrakesch, 2004)

Marrakech to Zagora: 2-day desert safari

This two-day trip is almost identical: Leaving early from Marrakech, you will take a minibus to Ouarzazate for lunch. You head on to Zagora, ride your camel for an hour, camp in the desert and return the next day. On your way back to Marrakech you will stop at Ait Benhaddou. This schedule is tighter and lacks a bit of love for details. It does not take you to the big sand dunes and that is why it is a bit cheaper than other tours.

Erg Chegaga and the South of Morocco: 3-day desert safari

This 3-day tour is not only more relaxed than the two short trips mentioned above, it also leads you much deeper into the desert to the real big dunes. You will leave Marrakech in the morning and a Toyota Landcruiser takes you first to Ait Benhaddou and Kasbah Tamnougalte for short stops until you reach Erg Lihoudi near M’hamid. After a dinner under the starry sky and a night in a Berber tent, you continue your trip with a camel ride the next day. It will take you about 3 hours to go to M’hamid. From there, the Toyota takes you to the high dunes of Erg Chegaga, where you will stay a second night in a Berber tent. Your third day starts with an off-road tour through the sand dunes. After lunch in Taznakht, your trip ends in Marrakech in the late afternoon.

Maroc ExpeditionAndo TravelYour Morocco Tour
Duration 2 days 2 days 3 days
Places of Interest Ait Benhaddou, Kasbah Taourirt, Zagora Ait Benhaddou, Ouarzazate, Zagora Ait Benhaddou, Kasbah Tamnougalte, M'Hamid, Erg Chegaga, Taznakht
General information desert camp, camel trekking, 50% discount for children (<10) desert camp, cameltrekking, guided grouptour desert camp (2x), cameltrekking, offroad tour
Price 1 person $526 $97 -
Price 2 persons $526 $194 $684
Price 4 persons $778 $388 $980
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Desert tours and excursions to Erg Chebbi

The dunes of Erg Chebbi extend to an area of 110 km² and are located near the settlement of Merzouga. The dunes here are even higher than the ones of Erg Chegaga and reach heights of up to 150m. Infrastructure is more developed here and you will find different accommodation close to the dunes. Accordingly, visitors are much more frequent and many come with their own 4WDs. You better not go in summer (June to August) for temperatures can be very high. Desert tours and camel treks to Erg Chebbi are offered by numerous travel agencies in Marrakech, Erfoud, Rissani and Merzouga or online on Getyourguide.

Marrakech to Merzouga: 3-day desert safari

If you want to really enjoy your trip, you should better not choose one of the 2-day-tours to Erg Chebbi offered from Marrakesh – this is simply not manageable. This 3-day tour starts in Marrakech in the morning, and, after a short stop at Ait Benhaddou, takes you via Ouarzazate through the Valley of the Roses to Boumalne Dades. After a night in a hotel, you continue to the Todra-Gorge and Tinghir until you finally reach Erg Chebbi. There, you spend the night in a Berber tent, and after breakfast, ride on camels or dromedaries to the main road from which you go back to Marrakech by car with a stopover in Ouarzazate.

erg chebbi sahara

Dunes of Erg Chebbi (Foto: Raphaela C. Näger / pixelio.de)

4-Day 4WD Sahara Desert Discovery Tour

Within 4 days you are able to see quite a bit more of Morocco’s south: This organised tour takes you by car from Marrakech via Ait Benhaddou to Ouarzazate, where you can visit Africa’s biggest film studio. After lunch at Kasbah Taourirt you continue through the Valley of the Roses to the kasbah of Amerhidil in Skoura. After a night in a hotel, your next stop is the gorge of Todra. You continue to Merzouga and from there, on camels or dromedaries, to the dunes of Erg Chebbi, where you stay overnight in a traditional Berber tent. The next day you return from the desert and visit Rissani. You finally go back to Ouarzazate through Draa Valley with a stopover at Kasbah Tamnougalte where you spend your last night in a riad and can visit Kasbah Taourirt before you return to Marrakech the next day.

  • Sights: Ait Benhaddou, Atlas Film-Studios, Kasbah Amerhidil, Dades Valley, Todra Gorge, Erg Chebbi, Draa Valley, Kasbah Taourirt
  • Highlights: Camel ride, overnight stay in Berber tent
  • More information and booking via Getyourguide
Ando TravelCamel Safaris MoroccoMarrakesh Travel Service
Duration 3 days 4 days 3 days
Places of Interest Ait Benhaddou, Dades- and Todra valley, Erg Chebbi Ait Benhaddou, Atlas-Filmstudios, Kasbah Amerhidil, Dades Valley, Todra Gorge, Erg Chebbi, Draa Valley, Kasbah Taourirt Ait Benhaddou, Dades Valley, Todra Gorge , Erg Chebbi
General information desert camp, camel trekking desert camp, cameltrekking, guided group tour desert camp, guided grouptour
Price 1 person $126 $0 $109
Price 2 persons $252 $960 $218
Price 4 persons $504 $1920 $436
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Excursions to the desert of Agafay

The desert plateau of Agafay is rather unknown although only 30 km from Marrakech. You may get a feeling of infinity here too, but you will look in vain for sand dunes rising over 100m. Tours to Agafay desert can easily be organised as daytrips. If you want to spend the night there, have a look at eco desert-camp Terre des étoile (Booking.com).

desert agafay morocco

Equipment for organised tours and excursions into the desert

On most tours, the time you really spend in the desert is rather limited. Yet there are a few things which may make your stay in the Sahara more convenient and which you should take with you.

Clothing

Wide, long trousers and cotton shirts are recommended for desert tours. While daytime is very hot and you should be careful about the sun, evening and night temperatures can fall to freezing temperature. So you should definitely bring a warm jumper or fleece jacket as well as your long johns. Concerning shoes, some sturdy shoes plus a pair of sandals for your time in the camp are a good choice. Trailrunning shoes with mesh lining should better be left at home, since the sand will enter the different layers.

Further equipment

  • Sleeping bag
  • Water bottle
  • Torch and spare batteries
  • Sunscreen with a high SPF, Lip balm
  • Sunglasses, headpiece
  • camera (packed in a way to protect it from sand)
  • personal toiletries, refreshing towels, medicines / first aid kit
  • Toilet paper
  • Plastic bag for your rubbish

Due to water shortage many tours do not offer shower facilities, of course. Refreshing towels or wet wipes can be a good alternative in emergencies.

Desert trips in a nutshell

A trip to the desert costs you several days due to the long distances. If you do not have much time but do not want to miss the spiritual experience of standing alone in infinite vastness either, you need to plan at least two full days and expect to spend most of the time in a car. Alternatively, you may consider a trip to Agafay desert near Marrakech. A 3-day desert tours take you to the big dunes and more sights. For a real desert adventure that stays in your mind, planning a longer trip is the best idea.

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