Morocco's Sahara Desert

Image by Thomas Buttery

There are very few places on Earth that compare to the incredible landscape of the Sahara Desert. Located on Morocco’s western border, the Sahara Desert is the world’s largest hot desert covering an area similar to that of the United States. Many travelers visit Morocco specifically with the intention of venturing off into the desert and spending a night under the stars. And we can’t blame them! A desert adventure is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we wouldn’t want you to miss out on it either.

Over the years, we’ve gotten many questions related to planning a trip to the desert. Below, find our most frequently asked questions and what we recommend to first-timers in the Sahara:

How far is the Sahara Desert from Marrakech? And from Fez?

Marrakech is roughly 600km (370 mi) from Merzouga, a town near the popular Erg Chebbi sand dunes and approximately 360km (225 mi) from Zagora, near the Er Chigaga dunes. Fez is located 470km (290 mi) from Merzouga and 670km (415 mi) from Zagora. Don’t let the mileage confuse you however, much of the driving is over mountain passes and then through basic highway roads. Traveling from Marrakech or Fez to either of these towns will take a full day of driving.

Can I do a day trip to the Sahara Desert?

Yes, but probably not how you think you can. If you’re short on time (or simply aren’t charmed by the idea of camping out under the stars), it is perfectly possible to explore the Sahara Desert during the day without having to spend the night in the desert. To do that, choose a hotel or riad in Merzouga as your base.

If however, you were thinking of doing a day trip to the Sahara Desert from Marrakech or Fez, think again. Both of these cities are located far from the desert and it would take almost a full day just to drive to the sand dunes.


Should I spend one or two nights in the Sahara Desert?

Spending a night under the stars in the Sahara Desert is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you’re unlikely to experience anywhere else in the world. That’s why, if you have the time, we recommend spending more than one night in the desert. With two nights, you will be able to explore the desert at a more relaxed pace and fully immerse yourself in the traditional ways of the local tribes. Spend your days sandboarding and camel trekking and your nights singing, dancing, and stargazing!

What do I need to pack for a trip to the Sahara Desert?

There are some essentials you can’t forget to pack when embarking on your desert adventure. These include:

  • A windbreaker or light jacket to survive the cooler nights;
  • Comfortable jeans or other pants to make sure your legs are protected from the camel’s rough fur;
  • Appropriate shoes (sneakers, hiking boots or sports sandals);
  • A headscarf or hat to block the sun and dust;
  • Chap stick and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun;
  • A camera to bring home your wonderful desert memories;
  • A lens and camera brush to protect your camera from the desert dust;
  • A flashlight to use at night at the campsite.

What is appropriate to wear in Morocco’s smaller villages and in the Sahara Desert?

Morocco is a conservative and religious country, which means you always need to be mindful of your clothing choices. This is especially true in the country’s more rural areas, which include the Sahara Desert and its surrounding villages. As a general rule of thumb, you should always attempt to cover body parts considered “private”. For women, this means covering the arms (or at least the shoulders) and the knees up. For men, it requires covering up the shoulders and above the knee.

I can’t choose!  Erg Chebbi or Erg Chigaga sand dunes?

The Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga are the two main sand dunes travelers visit to explore the Sahara Desert. Each offer a distinct experience, however. As the most sought-after destination, the Erg Chebbi sand dunes are more accessible, with modern hotels located a 30-minute camel ride away. The Erg Chigaga dunes offer a more rustic experience and are perfect for those looking to travel off the beaten path. Located some 60km from the nearest road, the journey into the desert will be longer and bumpier. Both sand dunes, however, offer opportunities to ride a camel, climb dunes, run the cinnamon-and-sugar sand grains through your fingers, admire picturesque views and sleep under the stars.

Still need help deciding? Read: Erg Chebbi vs Erg Chigaga 

When is the best time of year to visit the Sahara Desert?

The best time to travel to the Sahara Desert is between May and October as that is when daytime temperatures are milder. During the Saharan winter (and especially in December and January) nighttime temperatures drop below freezing. Sandstorms are more frequent between January and May. The summer months (June-September) are unbearably hot.

Is a trip to the Sahara Desert appropriate for kids?

Traveling as a family should by no means stop you from embarking on a desert adventure! If you’re traveling with children to the Sahara, there are simply some extra factors to consider in order to make the journey as smooth as possible:

  • Remember that you will be driving for extended periods of time. If your kids aren’t used to spending hours in the car, we recommend booking a private tour that allows you to make quick stops any time your kids need it.
  • A long car-ride followed by a one- or two-hour camel trek into a secluded campsite in the middle of nowhere might seem boring to your kids. Remember to pack some technology-free entertainment to keep them happy.
  • Once at the campsite, you will most likely be served a traditional Moroccan dinner comprised of tagine chicken and vegetables. If your kids’ taste buds aren’t as adventurous, make sure to pack extra snacks.

Should I book a group tour or private trip to the Sahara Desert?

The choice to travel independently or within an organized tour is often based on personal preference and travel style. In Morocco, if you are experienced in traveling independently and are familiar with French or Arabic, it is possible to travel independently. Travel books and public transportation can teach you the basics and take you pretty much anywhere within the country. It is worth noting you should never go into the actual desert unassisted. 

On a private tour, you will be able to dive deeper into Moroccan culture, get to interact with locals on a daily basis and learn about some of the country’s best hidden gems with knowledgeable guides. See below for some of the private tours we offer to the Sahara Desert.

Does Journey Beyond Travel organize trips to the Sahara Desert?

Yes, we do! We have two organized private tours that can take you into the Sahara Desert. Our 10-day Eclectic Morocco Tour will take you to some of Morocco’s Imperial Cities and includes a one-hour camel ride into the desert, a sunset over the Erg Chebbi dunes and a night in a traditional Bedouin-style tent in the Sahara. We also organize a 10-day Erg Chigaga Tour which starts in Marrakech and takes you to the Erg Chigaga sand dunes for two nights. All of our tours and fully customizable and you can also contact us to create your very own private tour. 

If you have more questions about visiting the Sahara with Journey Beyond Travel send us a message or give us a call today.

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