This journey, is where the dreams of modern day bohemians come true. A chance to explore the road less travelled into the Sahara Desert. An opportunity to get yo’self into some high altitude road tripping, before landing in the vastness of the foothills of the Sahara.
Whilst swanning around the Souqs of Marrakech, feeling like we are finally mastering the maze and becoming comfortable in our new surroundings, the pull to experience another side of Morocco is evident. A few days in Essouria for Gnaoua Festival? Surfing in Taghazout? One way ticket to Chefchaouen to immerse ourself in some of the most aesthetically pleasing distressed blue alleyways this country has to offer? No. First. Before anything else. Desert.
There is nothing on this planet that will reconnect you to the earth, and to what it is you really want in life, like spending time in the vast conditions of the desert. Waking up to views of endless sand hills, the camels we rode in on basking in the sun that is slowly rising in the distance, taking solace under that group of palm trees our Berber tents are set up around, navigating our way around the endless scarab beetles to find that perfect spot for Sahara Sun Salutations.
Before YOU get your Namaste on, let’s discuss the journey required to experience the RAD-ness of a night or two in the desert. For the beginners, I recommend 1 or 2 nights. You may think you are Indiana Jones reincarnated (sorry, I actually am, in female form) but if you have limited time in Morocco, this is the best option albeit won’t offer you the TRUE experience.
Depending on your ‘level’ of Desert diving, you need to be somewhat prepared. For those of you booking your Sahara experience through your hostel, or through your friend Ahmed’s uncles’ cousin, your journey is going to look something along the lines of the below (worth noting that the Zagora experience is the most entry level desert experience. If you want to go the full traditional hog, then opt for the Merzouga tour).
8am start in JEMAA EL FNA > ATLAS MOUNTAIN CLIFFTOPS > AIT BEN HADDOU > ZAGORA > CAMEL TRECK > 7pm DESERT.
If you are short of time reading this, and just need the MUST REMEMBERS for this journey, scroll to the bottom. Otherwise, let’s bask in this journey.
HIGH ATLAS MOUNTAINS
Winding our way through the Atlas Mountains for hours on end, is not only incredibly breathtaking, it is fucking terrifying. The highest and narrowest of roads you have every seen. Alas, trust that your driver will take good care of you. It is their job to navigate these roads every single day. Worst case scenario, if your driver is falling asleep like mine was, offer him some peanuts and ask about his family. Get out of the car and take in some of the freshest air you will have breathed in a while, and take some incredible photos.
AIT BEN HADDOU
This Kasbah is one of the most insanely awesome places I have ever visited. It’s like you are presented with a sense of nostalgia when you arrive, without ever having visited before. You will feel as though you have stepped out of a scene from Gladiator, Game of Thrones or Prince of Persia. Basically because, you have! This is one of Morocco’s most highly used landmarks for movies and TV series set in yesteryear.
The entire village is made completely from clay and mud brick. It's age is unknown yet it has been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 . As we journeyed through the different areas of the Kasbah and talked to the locals, they took us into their homes and offered up an insight into their life in a few words of broken English. ‘Happy. Hot. Family’. Right, well that sums it up then. That’s what I love about these people. They are simple. Their needs are few and their expectations are minimal. The only other communication I managed to get out of them was some collected giggles about how I had to duck the entire way through their home and out on to the terrace. Yes, people, funnily enough the Kasbah was not built for 6ft tall women.
One of my favourite things about Ait Ben Haddou, is the artist studios and the way the local artisans have crafted their arts with what they have. Be sure to watch them create their masterpiece paintings using tea and flames. It is magic!
ZAGORA to SAHARA
Arriving in Zagora, we load up the camels and trek our way to the foothills of the Sahara. It is a 2 hour long and uncomfortable trek, but the excitement and wonder masks both of those. Making tracks in the sand at the foothills of the Sahara, as the sun sets over the desert dunes, we see our Berber tents in the distance. Set up in beautiful formation around an oasis of palm trees, adorned with the most stunning colours you have ever seen. 10 tents, endless carpets and cushions, open fire in the middle. This is bohemian bliss.
Apparent from the countless marriage proposals we received on the trek from our guide, he seemed to take a shining to us and we got a beautiful private tent to spend the night in. YES! That night we eat traditional tagine in the central tent, on cushions, with oranges for desert and mint tea throughout. We are then serenaded under the stars and by the fire, by the Berber men with their guitars and drums. Drunk in love with the desert, we spot about 60 shooting stars that night and set off for slumber amongst the stillness of the Sahara.
As we begin the camel trek back to Zagora after a sunrise breakfast in the sand, and more mint tea, it feels as though we arrived eons ago. Alas it was just one night in the desert, for my second time, but each time comes with it a sense of calm and connectedness. The Sahara brings with it a serenity similar to that of the ocean for me. Maybe it is the endless azure of the desert sands, maybe it is the stillness of the mornings, perhaps it is because that is where the stars are the brightest I have ever seen in my life. Whatever it is, my love affair with the desert will never quite reach that of the ocean, but it holds a special place in my heart.
NOW FOR A FEW TIPS ON TRAVELLING TO THE SAHARA :
The journey just to GET to the Sahara, is astronomically long. To this effect, you need to be prepared in the following ways;
- WATER. Take at LEAST 2L. There will be opportunities to buy more on the drive there, but trust me you will need this for the drive alone especially if you are travelling in the months of June / July / August (read 50 degree heat).
- SCARF IT. Again you will have the opportunity to buy a scarf when you get to Zagora, which will set you back about 200Dirham (Approx AUD$30), but if you are smart you will take one with you. They will teach you how to tie this into the most epic turban you have ever seen with a built in wind flap for when the Sahara winds get too strong during your camel ride (never in my life did I think that sentence would be written by my hands).
- PACK CAMERA. LEAVE SELFIE STICK AT HOME. You will find few places in the world as aesthetically vast and beautiful as this entire journey. Camera is necessary. Take your selfie stick if your primary use for it is to smack yourself in the head for owning it. These things take away from the magic of traveling, plus ruin everyone else’s photos. Get someone to take a photo of you, TALK TO THE OTHER PEOPLE ON YOUR TRIP!
- TRAVEL LIGHT. Whatever you pack, you’re carrying on your camel, friend! So put your hard case Louis Vuitton back in storage at the hotel, and take ONLY a tote or small weekender bag with something to sleep in and a light outfit for the next day.