Shooting stars. Sandstorms. Desert sunrises. Camel rides. A trip to the Sahara Desert is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure; here’s a quick recap from the weekend I went camping in the Sahara Desert.
If I could only choose one travel memory to hold onto for the rest of my life, I’d probably choose my night camping in the Sahara Desert.
Caught in a sandstorm.
Dancing under the stars.
Riding camelback into the sunrise.
Cliche as it sounds, the Wanderlost life doesn’t get any better than that.
I went camping in the Sahara Desert while volunteering for a month in Rabat, Morocco. A group of us took a guided weekend trip into the Sahara by way of Merzouga, a village right at the edge of the desert. In total, it’s about an eight-hour drive one way (most drivers make stops along the way including a place to feed monkeys and an overnight in a teeny tiny town en route to Merzouga).
The trip included an afternoon camel ride deep into the desert, dinner and music after sunset, a campground for sleeping under the stars and an exhilarating camel ride back to Merzouga during sunrise.
The Sahara Desert Camping itinerary was perfect, and everything we needed for the quintessential Moroccan experience. But, like all good Wanderlost travel, the best adventures aren’t part of the itinerary. They happen in the moment, and are entirely unplanned.
That means our Wanderlost Sahara itinerary looked a little something like this:
Sitting outside during the fierce Sahara sandstorm, getting pelted by thousands of miniscule sand daggers instead of sitting inside the protected tents. I mean, I sit on my balcony during blizzards, so I guess this is just a given.
Saying “yes” to an impromptu midnight ATV ride through the sand dunes with two Moroccan strangers who stopped by our campsite. Looking back on it, this was pretty stupid, but fortunately my friend Jordan and I lived to tell the tale – and what a tale it was.
Sleeping under the stars instead of, again, in our protected camping tents, despite the risk of beetles and God knows what else crawling across our faces. Given we saw 14 shooting stars and about every glittering constellation you could imagine, I’d say it was worth the risk. And, despite said risks I can still say undoubtedly it was a cozy night. I’ve read some people don’t enjoy the experience – and I’ll be honest, it’s not glamping – but if you have a little grunge and a love for adventure, you’ll never want to not be camping in the Sahara Desert.
And how could I forget my beautiful camel who had one too many spicy tajine meals the night prior. I was the first in our line of camels, and step by step, my little guy left a major trail of something much less pleasant – and much smellier – than bread crumbs the whole way. Oops.
Do you need a guide to go camping in the Sahara Desert? Um, yes. Stranded in the desert isn’t The Wanderlost Way. But, as we discovered, a guided tour doesn’t mean goodbye adventure. The Wanderlost adventures depend on the decisions you make and how you choose to experience your surroundings.
Sahara Desert Must-Dos:
Nothing screams “I’m in Morocco!” more than a camel ride into the Sahara. Not only is it a fabulous photo opp, riding camelback into the desert is one of the best ways to fully and completely take in your sandy, surreal surroundings.
Our ride out into the Sahara was about one hour on camel back. The typical Sahara camping trip, like ours, will have you leaving Merzouga in the late afternoon and arriving at your campsite right before sunset. That means the sun’s still out when you’re riding. And when you’re in the Sahara Desert, that means it’s hot.
Your guide should give you a headwrap of some sort to keep your head cool, and make sure to wear lighter colors and lots of sunscreen to stay cool(ish) and comfortable.
If you were hoping to look graceful and elegant riding into the horizon, then camel back is not for you. It’s an awkward challenge from the second you put your foot in the stirrup to the moment you de-mount. Given the camel anatomy, expect a bumpy ride, but trust me – the upcoming backaches are well worth the 360-degree colorful sand-dune oasis.
Sleep Under the Stars
You can experience the Sahara Desert one of two ways: a quick day trip in and out to check the desert off your list, or you can ride out, roll in the sand, jam out with locals, sleep under the stars and ride back as the sun rises in the morning.
As you can probably tell, option two is my preferred Sahara adventure, and it’s definitely The Wanderlost Way. If you choose the sleeping-under-the-stars Wanderlost Way, too, pack extra warm clothes (sweatshirt, sweatpants, hat) because once the sun goes down, the desert can get surprisingly chilly.
Know before you go:
The Sahara Desert is a photographer’s dream. The dunes change colors at all hours of the day depending on the sun’s location, and the way the light reflects during sunrise and sunset … well that’s beyond majestic.
But that beautiful, photogenic Sahara Desert can also be a nightmare — especially during a sandstorm. Those thousands of teeny sand daggers are not only painful on your skin; they can be deadly for your lens.
So what’s a desert-loving photographer supposed to do? Have a backup plan. Bring along the “big guns” (your big, beautiful Canons or Nikons), but have your mini, less expensive camera on hand to capture those sandstorms. While it may scratch up a lens, a Sahara Desert sandstorm is the type of memory you’ll want to treasure for a lifetime.
Have you been to the Sahara Desert? What must-knows would you add to this list?