How I heard about the tour
Morocco has been on my travel radar for a while, but I never got around to booking a trip, until my good friend and frequent travel companion Alicia told me about one of the highlights from her recent trip to Morocco. Alicia had crossed over into Morocco my boat from Spain and spent about 3 weeks travelling around the country, so when she told me about a three-day desert tour she took, and how it ended up being one of her highlights, I paid attention and began looking into booking a tour for myself.
Booking your tour
When searching online, I came across a whole host of tour operators offering two or three-day trips to the desert. Alicia had warned me there would be a lot to choose from, but had said not to worry too much about who I book with as all the tour operators seem to offer the same trip! Most 3-day tours were priced around the 80-90 Euro mark, and I would be wary of any standard desert tours priced more than this as you are unlikely to get anything substantially different from your tour, unless they are offering a luxury camping experience (and by luxury I mean Wi-Fi and showers!). Many of the 3-day tours also offered an onward travel option to Fes instead of returning to Marrakech. For anyone looking to do a longer trip, this would be a great way to combine sightseeing and travelling to your next destination.
Who I booked with
I ended up booking my tour with ‘Marrakech Desert Trips’ simply because they are a fully licenced tour company with an office in Marrakech and they had lots of information on their website that seemed genuine. I had to fill out a form online and pay a deposit of around 50 Euros to secure my booking. I received a confirmation email shortly after saying my deposit had been received and that the outstanding balance was to be paid in cash (Euros or Dirham) the first day of the trip before departing. At the time I hadn’t booked any accommodation in Marrakech so I contacted them via the website to confirm that I would give them my pick up location at a later date and also to ask a few questions, I got a reply within a few hours, which reassured me I had booked with a reliable tour company.
I could write so much here, but I’m going to try and keep it as concise as possible, sharing details of what we did each day, what was good, what was not so good, and advice from my experience.
- Picked up from my riad at 6.25. I got an email the day before telling me the pick-up time and location (sometimes cars can not access certain riads and you have to meet the driver at a nearby pick-up point).
- We were taken to a location in the centre of Marrakech where we were put onto another mini van with the group we would be travelling with (who it turned out all booked through different tour companies- so it proves that whoever you book with, you all end up on the same tour!). We sat in the mini van waiting to depart for quite a while, at the time it wasn’t clear why, but it turned out we were waiting on one person to arrive. The driver was friendly but didn’t speak English (only French and Arabic). This wasn’t a problem, just would have been useful to be able to communicate with him better. An English-speaking guy came on the mini bus before we departed to give us an overview of the plan for the day, but then we were just left with the driver.
Tip- The mini van was completely full, so we asked if we could sit up front with the driver and he didn’t mind at all. It made the long journeys so much more enjoyable as we had a great view and the aircon directly in front of us!
- 3-4 hour drive through the Tizi Ntichka Pass and high Atlas mountains to get to the area of Quarzazate where you will visit the famous UNESCO site of Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou which has been the location for many well known blockbuster films. The driver will make a couple of scheduled toilet stops along the way; best to make the most of them as the drivers are very reluctant to make unscheduled stops however desperate you may be!
- On arrival to Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou, a tour guide came onto our mini bus and told us the plan for the next couple of hours. The tour guide here is not included in the tour, however I had been told the guide would cost 20 Dirhams each (roughly 2 Euros). I liked the guide and I think it was worth the money. The guide also said there was a 20 Dirham fee for entering the UNESCO site- I didn’t know about this extra charge and was a bit dubious of it, but it was too hot to argue over 2 euros. My only negative comment would be that our tour guide took us to a shop before we went for lunch and tried to convince everyone that we should buy a head scarf for the desert and that this would be our last opportunity to buy one. Lots of people in our group did purchase a scarf but they were definitely very overpriced, and I was convinced there would be another opportunity to buy one cheaper (There was!).
- For lunch we were taken to a restaurant with set menus. We were forced to all sit together, which wasn’t a huge problem, but it would have been nice to just have the choice to sit in our own groups if we wanted. The set menus were between 80-100 Dirhams (8-10 Euros) which is definitely a tourist price and the food was ok (the traditional Moroccan dishes were definitely the best option, those that ordered pasta were very disappointed). Lunch wasn’t until 2.30 which I think was a bit late as everyone was very hungry, hot and tired by this point.
- After lunch we had about a 3-hour drive to get to the hotel for that night. Along the way we made a few stops to take photos at scenic spots, including Kasbah Taourirte. The drive takes you through the very scenic landscape of the Valley of the Roses which I really enjoyed- it was truly beautiful! The hotel was located in Dades Valley which turned out to be a stunning gorge. We arrived as the sun was beginning to set and the whole area looked very impressive in the evening light.
- I had paid 10 euros extra for a private room with air-con at the hotel. I was very impressed with the hotel and my room- it actually exceeded my expectations. Some of the group were dropped off at a different hotel, so I’m unsure whether or not it was just luck that we ended up in such a nice hotel, or because I had paid the extra free.
- Dinner is included in the price of the tour, and we had a set menu at the hotel which was really nice!
- Breakfast was included in the tour- it was basic but nice.
- The driver collected us at around 8.30am and we drove for about 40 minutes to the Oasis of Tinghir- a very beautiful area. Here, another guide joined us (this time it was included in the tour price) and showed us around the agricultural fields and took us to visit a women’s carpet making cooperative. Inside the cooperative we were given mint tea and a carpet making demonstration. It was a surprisingly nice experience and they didn’t pressure us to buy anything.
- Afterwards we drove 5 minutes down the road to visit the Todgha Canyons. The area was really impressive with very steep cliffs either side of a small fresh water spring. Everyone really enjoyed this part of the trip.
- Next, we were back on the mini bus and drove for about an hour before stopping for lunch at a roadside café. Again, lunch was not included in the tour, and was similar to the previous day in that we all had to sit together, order from a set menu and pay tourist prices for OK food.
Tip: The traditional Moroccan dishes are often big portions, and so if you’re travelling in a group two people you could probably share one set menu which would save a bit of money.
- Another 3-4 hour drive to get to the edge of the Erg Chebbi dunes in the Merzouga desert. Again, the group was split up with people being dropped off at different hotels at the edge of the desert. When we were dropped off, we were told we had a few minutes to pack an overnight bag for the desert and change clothes if we wanted. We were then led to a group of camels which we rode into the desert. The dunes were really impressive, and the sun was beginning to set so there was a lovely light. We were on the camels for over an hour in total, and we stopped half way to climb a dune and take photos of the sunset.
- On arrival at the camp, we were shown into an enclosed camp area with cushions to sit on and offered mint tea. There were lots of other people from other tours and after a while we were taken to a large tent to eat. Dinner was included in the tour and we were really impressed with the food. I had the option to pay 10 euros extra for a private tent, however I had read that it wasn’t worth it as often people end up sleeping outside the tent because of the heat. It was really hot in the tent, but I didn’t feel entirely comfortable sleeping outside as there were lots of people and some of the desert guides were a little creepy (a few women commented that they had tried to hold their hands and encourage them to sleep outside). After dinner, the guides play drums in the camp and you can walk out into the dunes to see the stars which were incredible! By the time I went to bed it was 1.30 in the morning and we had to be back on the camels at 5.30 so I did my best to sleep a couple of hours in the hot tent!
Tip: there are no showers at the camp, and the facilities are quite basic so don’t take too much with you- trust me, you will end up wearing the same clothes the next day for the camel ride back, and you should have time to shower and freshen up after breakfast at the hotel on the edge of the dunes.
- Early start riding camels back to the hotel where we were dropped off the previous day.
- Breakfast was at the hotel and it was included in the tour.
- The driver collected those of us that were going back to Marrakech and the whole day was spent driving, with a lunch stop (same as before at a roadside café and set menu that wasn’t included in the tour), and toilet stops.
- There was a bit of confusion regarding drop-off locations when we got to Marrakech. The driver thought he was taking us to the same location we were collected from, when in fact I had given them details of a different riad.
Tip: By the end of the day the driver was understandably tired and irritable, so to avoid any hassle I would have details of your drop off location to hand and would give it to the driver during the lunch break so he definitely knows in advance where to take you.
Overall, I really enjoyed the trip and think it was really great value for money. The only let down for me were the lunches. It would have been nice to have more choice as to where to eat. But overall, I would definitely recommend the tour as an easy, stress free way to experience Morocco.
Let me know if you are inspired to book a trip to Morocco and I would love to hear about your experience on the tour!