Ever pictured yourself sleeping under the bright twinkling stars in the warmth of the Saharan sands while Berbers play traditional music by the fire? Well at Caravanserai Luxury Desert Camp you can do just that, except with the added luxury of a comfortable double bed, running water and delicious food prepared for you. Welcome to your oasis in the Sahara.
The common practice for people visiting the Sahara is to join a tour leaving from either Marrakech of Fez. On my initial research this appeared to be the only two options, however, on doing some further digging I discovered it was possible to go independently. Most of the tours only seemed to stay one night in the desert and appeared to travel a huge distance in a short amount of time. I always prefer to do my own thing and save some money so I opted for an overnight bus from Fez and booked my own camp. ( I’ll let you know how to go solo at the end).
After a long and exhausting journey, I arrived in the village of Merzouga just after sunrise and descended the bus onto a sandy road in a town which looked completely deserted. I was a little bit anxious, not knowing at all what I was getting myself into when I was greeted by two weathered looking young men dressed in traditional Berber clothing and I couldn’t have felt further away from the world if I had tried. They greeted me with smiles, and I relaxed, then jumped into the back of a 4 by 4 before jetting off over the dunes. I had no idea where we were going or how the driver knew where to go as it was all just a pile sand, but then, over the dunes, like a mirage, a camp appeared nestled in the valley of the sands, and I had finally made it to my home for the next three nights.
I was shown to my tent which was equipped with a large double bed and ensuite, with a shower and flushing toilet. It was only 7 am and already I could feel the heat of the sun piercing through the tent.
By mid-day, I was regretting my decision to stay at the campsite for an entire three days. It felt as though I was being cooked alive. The air burned, sweat evaporated immediately and any cool water quickly turned hot. There was just no relief from the heat. I tried to follow the example of the Berbers and sleep during the heat of the day but I couldn’t. The staff brought me a cold bottle of coke and fresh watermelon which was my saviour. Eventually, the sun started to dip further towards the horizon and the heat became bearable enough for me to perk up and enjoy my surroundings again.
As the sun set a caravan of camels arrived carrying the night’s guests, and after they got settled we feasted on delicious traditional Moroccan food in the main tent. We were served a three-course meal, which far exceeded my expectations, and I was so pleased to have fresh melons available for dessert. After dinner, we were invited to go outside to sit by the fire and enjoy traditional music played by the staff.
After climbing the dunes for sunrise, and a delicious breakfast of Moroccan pancakes and fresh watermelon, my tour guide Hassan arrived and we set off to explore Merzouga for the day.
Our first stop was to a fascinating dried lake where we could find fossilized seashells in the rocks. The Sahara was once home to a large body of water some many-million years ago and some of its life has remained preserved in the middle of the desert. It was mind-boggling to think of this sandy barren land as a lush green oasis. From there we went to a place where there actually was a little water left and explored a date palm oasis.
On our way to the next destination, our guide took to the dunes and began driving up the steepest ones he could find. Though I was slightly fearful of my life, we made it to the top of the highest point where we got out to take some photos. After a couple of minutes, the guide looks at me and says “do you want a cold beer?” I looked at him with complete confusion, wondering why he would tease me so in the middle of the desert during Ramadan. He gets up and walks to his car, opens the boot and pulls out two ice cold beers. I think it was about this point he started laughing at the look of sheer joy and confusion on my face. We sat on the warm dunes overlooking the endless sandy waves of the Sahara and drank our cold beer. This was one of those “the universe is wonderful” moments.
From there we left to visit a local Berber family living as nomads in the desert. We drove away from the dunes and arrived on a big open plane with a hard, rocky floor, And there, in the middle of nowhere was a ramshackle mud hut, of which 6 children came running out to the car when they saw us arrive. They surrounded our guide who gave them sweets and the mother came out to say hello. We visited their small grounds and played with the kids a bit as the mother continued with her chores. The barrenness and intense heat bouncing off the ground reminded me of being on an uncovered tar sealed car park on a hot summers day, and I marvelled at how humans can make a living just about anywhere.
When it became too hot, we jumped back in the car and drove to one of the very few restaurants in the area. There we were ushered into an air condition roomed where we tried the traditional Berber pizza, which was totally delicious.
After stuffing our faces with the delicious pizza and mint tea our guide dropped us off at a hotel with a pool where we lazed for a couple of hours, and I decided this is the only way to survive the 40-degree heat.
Instead of getting our driver to pick us up and take us back to the camp, we then ever so casually just jumped onto some camels in the back of the hotel and began to ride our way home under the setting sun. After about 30 mins of rather uncomfortable riding, the call to prayer rang out from a nearby village, signalling the setting of the sun and the end of another day of fasting for Muslims practising Ramadan. My heart and tummy ached for our camel puller who hadn’t eaten or drank all day and was now walking three lazy tourists through the desert when I remembered I had food in my bag. I signalled him down and gave him my water bottle and a packet of nuts. He was very happy and we continued to weave between in the dunes in silence, guided by the moon. It was truly magical.
On my last night there after spending another day poolside I was all alone in the camp, with no other guests there AT ALL. I felt like a VIP princess in the middle of the desert and the staff really treated me like one. They set up my own little table outside under the stars and the full moon, lit a whole load of candles and lanterns and served me my three course meal while they played music in the back ground. I mean seriously…
Looking back, three nights was probably a bit much to stay in the middle of the desert at the beginning of summer, but I would totally go back again for another couple of nights and experience those second two days all over again. The staff at Caravanserai were exceptional and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a magical glamping experience. If I had more money, I probably would have taken a tour or hired a car, simply because I felt like there were a couple of things on the way into the Sahara I would have loved to stop and look around at.
Most of the tours there appeared to stay one night in a desert hotel, tour for the day, then ride a camel into a glamping site. If this sounds good to you here a few highly recommended on Tripadvisor.
Supratours also runs a night bus from Fes to Merzouga, stopping in most of the major towns along the way including Rissani and Errachidia. The Supratours station is opposite the Fes train station (Gare de Fes). From there you can buy a one-way ticket from Fes to Merzouga for 190DH. The bus departs at 1930hrs and arrives in Merzouga around 0530hrs.
The buses were comfortable and safe feeling. It did get freezing cold with the air-conditioning however so bring something warm to wrap up in.
More info can be found here
My tour guide.
If the idea of a cold beer in the Sahara sounds good to you, contact Hassan: firstname.lastname@example.org
He speaks Spanish, french, Arabic and English.
– A book. You’ll have some downtime in the evenings and poolside. I can highly recommend “The Alchemist” if you want to feel truly immersed in your surroundings.
– Be sure to check temperatures before you go. Bring warm clothes for shoulder seasons and winter (gets incredibly cold at night when it’s not summer) and comfortable, loose, covering, light coloured clothes for the summer/ daytime.
– A headscarf, more for practical reasons than for cultural, protect your head and face from sand and sun.
Eat well, travel well, live well.
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