The journey to camping in the Sahara Desert is a long one, but well worth it. We started by flying into Marrakech, Morocco and renting a car, which was quite affordable, only about $24 USD per day.
The drive to the Moroccan desert in Merzouga is over 10 hours total and can be intense. After you get out of the Marrakech area, you’ll find yourself driving up winding hills and steep mountains. The roads are narrow, the guardrails are short, and the cliffs are steep. You’ll also encounter roads wet with red clay, lots of trucks hauling a load three times larger than they should be carrying, and men walking up to your car trying to sell sparkling minerals and fossils as you are in the midst of hairpin turns.
We are so glad that we decided to stop halfway through our Morocco road trip to the Sahara Desert to stay at the Temple des Arts in Ouarzazate. This city is known as the “Hollywood of Morocco” as many movies such as Thor, Gladiator, Cleopatra, and even some scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed there. Driving in, you’ll pass the production studio and start questioning whether everything you see is real or if it is part of a movie set.
The Temple des Arts models every room after a movie that was filmed in Ouarzazate. We stayed in the Alexander the Great room with lush gold and teal accents and a massive bathroom where the shower looked like an altar. We recouped from the stressful drive with an argan oil massage and a tasty meal of Moroccan pastilla and a chicken tagine with preserved lemon and olives. We really wish we had more time to enjoy this gorgeous, boutique hotel, but we had to hit the road once again.
The drive on day two was much less stressful for the most part. We planned on meeting a guide from our Desert Luxury Camp at a gas station just outside Merzouga. From there, we met up with a few tourists who were also staying at the camp, safely parked our car where they designated, and hopped into their 4×4 truck to tackle the dunes. Talk about off-roading! There was lots of shouting and laughing as we were jostled around the cab of the truck while our driver expertly drove straight through the desert: sideways, uphill, downhill, you name it. After about a 15 minute ride, he stopped at a pack of camels. This was our opportunity to ride the camels into the camp as they delivered our luggage.
Upon arriving at the camp, we were truly in awe. Moroccan carpets lined the walkways, metal lanterns glamorously hung in the bohemian sitting areas,and we were greeted with fresh Moroccan mint tea, nuts, and cookies.
Our guest tent was even more astounding. It was incredibly spacious with a king bed, living room sitting area, heater, small refrigerator, and vanity area. Stepping through to another attached tent, we entered our master bathroom, complete with a toilet, rain shower and bathtub. What?!? How they constructed both plumbing and water to the middle of the desert is just astonishing.
We settled into our posh dwelling and then gazed at the sunset dropping over the dunes. Next, we meandered to the community dining room tent for dinner. All meals were included at Desert Luxury Camp. For the first night, we enjoyed a traditional Moroccan soup, beef and prune tagine and an eggplant, tomato, onion, and cheese tagine. This was delish and we are definitely going to try to recreate it at home.
After dinner we were invited to the larger camp for entertainment. Taking the 4×4 down the dunes to the nearby camp, we listened to live music on unique Moroccan instruments and danced next to the campfire as we were surrounded by miles and miles of sand and stars.
We woke up at 6:30am to catch the sunrise. Stepping outside the tent, we were shocked by how brisk it was in the morning. We took a quick photo and headed back into the warm bed. Hours later, breakfast included fresh fruits, breads, yogurt, and Moroccan crepes with marmalade.
Mid-morning we were greeted with a fleet of camels to go on another ride. We traveled deeper into the desert. Karen named her camel “Humpty Dumpty” but later changed it to “Uno” as she realized she ended up on the camel with only one hump. Gavin led the group with “Horse, the Fox Hunter” trying to look for the adorable white foxes that also live in the Sahara. Halfway through, we found a tiny spot of shade next to a small bush and our guide built a fire in order to fix us some tea while the camels grazed to eat their lunch. 30 minutes later, we were on returning the ride back to the Luxury Camp.
Mid-afternoon was unbearably hot! We tried to keep cool under the shade of our tent, filled our bathtub with cold water to play in the “cold tub”, and attempted to nap. We passed the time by reading a novel out loud to each other, as there is no WiFi, no television, etc. Be sure to pack a good book!
As sunset approached, the temperature cooled back down and we enjoyed our time outside prior to dinner. Desert sandboarding is also available as an activity, but after Karen broke her foot in Italy last fall, we decided to play it safe and sit that one out.
The camp was the perfect way to truly appreciate the beautiful Sahara as well as to completely disconnect. We returned to our rental car the next morning and hit the road for a seven-hour drive to Fes to continue our journey through Morocco.