There is no place on earth more magical than the Sahara Desert. Visiting the Erg Chebbi, one of Morocco’s two sand dune paradises, was definitely one of the highlights of my 10 day trip to the North African country.
Getting to the Erg Chebbi is no small feat. Located in the remote eastern edge of Morocco with no airport nearby, the best way to get to the dunes is via bus or car that goes to Merzouga. I took a bus from Marrekech and spent one night in Tinghir to break up the 12 hour drive. On my way out, I took a 10 hour overnight bus to Fez. Let me tell you. Every minute spent on a cramped bus zigg-zagging its way through the Atlas Mountains was 110% worth it for the incredible experience of waking up in the Sahara Desert.
To read the other travel guides from my Morocco trip, click here.
The best way to do the Erg Chebbi is to spend the night in a desert camp. I spent two nights at Ali & Sara’s Desert Palace. I found it via Airbnb. I chose it out of many places that offer similar packages, but this one was definitely one of the best and most luxurious.
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We arrived in Merzouga via bus around 9pm. A member of Ali & Sara’s team met us at the bus stop and escorted us to the desert camp. It’s quite funny when you Google camp sites located in the dunes because there are literally no roads to get there. When you make your booking, you get picked up by the guides and you hop in some robust dune conquering land cruisers that fly over the unmarked desert trails to the camp sites. It’s exhilarating in the dark.
Arriving at the camp, we were greeted with a multi-course Moroccan dinner. Followed by drum circle performance around the camp fire. We then went to bed early in our tent and set our alarms to wake up for the sunrise.
The next morning, we greeted the dawn eagerly. We climbed the nearby sand dunes that overlooked the horizon and the camp and watched the sun climb the horizon. At dawn, the Berber staff took the camels (yes! camels!) out for a walk and their silhouettes crisscrossed the dunes. It was so peaceful and inspiring!
Mid-March the camp was fairly empty and we had the place to ourselves. We were assigned a tent that was outfitted with a bed, some benches, colorful Moroccan tapestries and pillows, and electricity. Nearby we had an assigned bathroom with running water–that occasionally would go out. Ali & Sara’s Desert Palace is definitely a luxury glamping experience.
Breakfast was a hearty serving of Berber omelets (eggs on a tomato sauce in a tajine) along with the Moroccan version of French toast, yogurt, fresh squeezes orange juice, and–of course–mint tea.
The staff was overly friendly and had a boatload of cheesy jokes to throw at the tourists. Each time a tajine was placed on a table, they’d make us guess what was inside teasing us with descriptions of rattlesnake or human. For lunch and dinner, the tajines turned out to be much tamer dishes with chicken and beef. Heading into this trip as a newly found vegan, the staff was incredibly accommodating and adjusted the meals accordingly. I ate a lot of good food in Morocco, but the multi-course meals at Ali & Sara’s Desert Palace were definitely some top notch bites!
When we weren’t indulging in fine dining, the rest of our day we spent climbing through the sand, drinking mint tea on the top of the dunes, reading in the hammocks and learning Berber music. We were in no rush to go anywhere or do anything, and the staff at Ali and Sara’s Desert Palace were super chill and basically let us do whatever we wanted. They taught us lots of Berber words and told us about their culture, which is different than the Arabs. Tenmirt is thank you and marharba is you’re welcome.
The only thing on our schedule was a sunset camel ride. Before heading out, the staff outfitted us with turbans. Measly in comparison to theirs which sometimes are up to 20 m of fabric, ours were about 2m long. Despite looking a tad dorky with my Western American clothing, the turbans came in quite handy to protect us from the sun, wind, and sand blowing into our eyes. When I wasn’t wearing a turban, I was wrapping my scarf around my head for protection.
Despite kinda feeling like a tourist, riding camels in the desert is effing legit, like something straight out of Arabian nights. It was so cool! (Also, when you ride camels from the camp it’s way cooler than if you ride them from Merzouga. For real, if you come this far you HAVE to camp in the desert.) We were in the middle of the dunes and couldn’t see any remnants of civilization. Watching the sun set over the Erg Chebbi, sand boarding down the side of the taller dunes, being mesmerized by the sand blowing over the desert was absolutely breath taking. I’ve never seen a place like that before. Magical barely begins to describe it.
Afterwards, we enjoyed another fabulous dinner in the open air tent and practiced our Berber drumming by the fireside. Spoiler–I’m not great at music, but my friend Joe and Sayid killed it and harmonized and made their own song about the desert. You can listen to it on the YouTube video.
The following day, we feasted at breakfast and then headed out on a trek to the nomads. The nomads were located about 2 km away from Ali & Sara’s Desert Palace and are very humble people who create makeshift homes out of brush, twigs, and wood. They move throughout Morocco with their families and animals. Visiting them was an interesting experience. When we arrived they welcomed us into their tents and served us mint tea and nuts to snack on. We’d stay for a few minutes as one of the staff from Ali & Sara’s translated between Berber and English.
Visiting their homes was a bizarre exchange of tourism. Our group of seven people was pretty small and respectful–our guide knew all the families personally and we’d give them some fruit and bottled water as we left each tent. One guy from our camp actually has a grandfather who is still a nomad! But while we were walking between tents, huge groups of tourists would roll up in SUVs, crowding the camps in cutoff shorts and crop tops snapping zillions of pictures. I found the dress and actions insensitive given the conservative culture. Plus, they’re people not zoo animals! I took very few photos during this excursion because it felt like I was entering someone’s home and it would have otherwise been an invasion of privacy. It was an odd clash of native people and commercialized tourism.
Afterwards, we walked back and explored some ruins dating back 100s of years. We enjoyed another fantastic lunch in the open air tent and took more pictures on the dunes. We relaxed and soaked up every moment of the crazy unique ambiance. Spending two nights in the desert was the perfect amount of time. Anything less would have been rushed. Describing what we did might seem so simple, but the views and the experience was so foreign and exotic, even the simplest thing–like walking barefoot to breakfast or watching massive beetles in the sand–was an adventure.
That afternoon, we had a driver buy us bus tickets (like I said, crazy accommodating) and take us back to Merzouga to catch our bus to Fez. Leaving the Erg Chebbi was so bittersweet as we truly connected and learned from the people there. I definitely think no trip to Morocco is complete without a stop there!
To read the other travel guides from my Morocco trip, click here.