During our visit to Marrakech we received an invite from Ali, the owner of Camel Safaries, to check out their two-day camel safari tour. Ali’s business ranks #12 of 758 tours in Marrakech on Tripadvisor, and the Zagora, Sahara desert experience was just what we were hoping for!
Tizi n’Tichka Pass
Abdoul, our driver and guide, picked us up from our riad in Marrakech at 8:30am in a spacious and comfortable 4WD SUV.
We took the Tizi n’Tichka route. This road is Morocco’s highest mountain pass and reaches 2,260m at its peak, with snow-covered mountains topping 4,000m within view. On the other side, the road descends to the town of Ouarzazate (the name means ‘it’s ok’/’you’re welcome’), which is the gateway to the Sahara from Marrakech. The 350km journey took about 7 hours (pure driving time, not counting breaks).
The roads on our journey were much better than expected, in some cases top quality freshly built two-lane highways, but over vast stretches through the Atlas Mountains and when approaching Zagora and the desert, the roads were dusty unsurfaced tracks and sometimes tiny winding roads. On one occasion, an 8-ton rock had hit the middle of the road three days earlier and construction workers were still working on getting it removed when we passed. Overall road traffic is surprisingly safe in Morocco, with its safety record roughly world average, which makes it more than twice as safe as Thailand. The government invests very heavily in roads and other infrastructure, which shows.
We were very pleased that Abdoul was such a patient, careful, considerate, and experienced driver. We felt safe at all times, which from what we heard from other travellers, is not always the case on such tours.
We also appreciated that our guide was not constantly overwhelming us with unnecessary information about when the last village on our way was built or how many stones were used for the wall that protected it. Instead, he focused on the most important aspects of history, culture, nature, and geography, always open to questions and happy to be drawn into lengthy discussions about the Algerian independence war or the status of the disputed Sahara province to the south of Morocco. When there was nothing much to say, we often just quietly enjoyed the beauty of the mountains and the vast, changing landscape between the mountains and the desert.
Ait Ben Haddou
Along the Tizi n’Tichka route, we came across some amazing sights, including the kasbah of Ait (=’village’ or ’family’) Ben Haddou, an UNESCO World Heritage Site and enthralling in its size and beauty. The ancient medina rests on a hillside beside the Ouarzazate River. You can imagine the end of long journeys and camel caravans resting at this riverbank many hundreds of years ago. It would have been such a peaceful oasis in a relentless sea of rock and sand!
Ait Ben Haddou evokes such imagery, exploration and adventure… No wonder it is a familiar site from movies such as Indiana Jones, Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, and more than a dozen other ones.
Sunset camel ride in the Sahara
We arrived at the desert town of Zagora, which, since having been founded in the early 20th century, gradually grew to its current 35,000 residents.
Our camels were waiting for us at the outskirts of town… and they were so full of personality! MrB’s camel went by the name of Bob Marley, MsB’s by the name of Diane. Our Berber guide, Mubarak, led our camels to the desert camp.
The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world. Its area of 9,200,000 square kilometres is comparable to the area of the United States! The expanse, beauty and vast endless sand dunes – you can understand why it calls to people. We loved the desert!
MORE ABOUT THE ZAGORA, SAHARA DESERT EXPERIENCE HERE.
After our amazing 45-minute camelback ride, we were welcomed to the desert camp by our hosts with sweet warm mint tea.
We met other travellers at the desert camp and shared dinner in the largest tent. Dinner was a three course traditional Berber meal and delicious.
After dinner, we were treated to live music beside the open fire. The atmosphere was enchanting. We were later invited to join in with the music and drumming.
A few times we stepped away from the campfire to walk on the soft desert sand dunes into the darkness – we wanted to enjoy the mind-boggling myriad of super-bright stars and planets. One of the local guides spotted us venturing away and started to show us the stars. He explained how to find the North Star and what to be aware of, when navigating the desert without a compass.
The desert camp was modern and had Western-style bathroom facilities, including showers. Our tent was very large for double size, and there was ample space. It was a very comfortable stay – some would say we were glamping in the desert!
After breakfast at 7am, we met our camels and Mubarak again for our short camel ride back to the outskirts of the desert. Our car was waiting for us. It was sad to say goodbye to our friendly camels and guide!
On the drive back to Marrakesh, we made a few stops along the way, including the kasbah of Ouarzazate – a beautiful site – and Atlas Film Studios, the famous location where blockbusters such as Game of Thrones, The Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven were filmed.
We would recommend Camel Safaries’ two-day tour with the awesome Zagora, Sahara desert experience, to everyone who wants to make the most of their trip to Marrakesh, including a fascinating journey to the Sahara in the shortest possible time (even though most tours are two or more nights, more info here)! We are already thinking of our next trip to Morocco when we can enjoy another stay in the wondrous and expansive Sahara desert!