My two-week trip through Morocco did not disappoint. Every aspect of the landscapes, people, & culture left me in awe, wanting more. However, one particular experience during my Morocco Highlights tour stood out the most:
An unforgettable night in the Sahara Desert.
The journey to the Sahara was a long one, but I knew it’d be worth it. After stepping into the only non-muslim permitting mosque in Casablanca and shopping in the maze-like Medina in Fes, our tour group made our way south to Midelt. Situated in the high plains between the middle & high atlas mountains, this stop allowed us to witness the Berber way of life. It was the perfect way to break up our 2-day drive just before arriving in Merzouga, a small town that sits right at the edge of the Sahara.
We arrived to remote Merzouga midday after driving through massive gorges and lush green valleys. We dropped our bags off at a hotel overlooking the desert, packed small overnight bags, and set off for the experience we’d all been waiting for – a night camping the Sahara. I remember asking all 9 members of our group what they were looking forward to most and the majority admitted that they expected our desert trek to be the highlight of the trip. I couldn’t help but feel the same amount of excitement for what was to come.
Before jumping on our camels, we prepped ourselves for the elements by wrapping scarves around our heads in traditional Berber style and fueling up with some Moroccan mint tea. We walked out onto the sand to meet the camels who’d be carrying us through the dunes. Since this was my first time seeing a camel in real life, I was completely taken aback at just how tall these animals were. They seemed calm & confident, which helped ease some of the fear a few people in our group had. One by one, our Berber guides helped us get mounted on top of our camels. We were told to hold on tightly as the camels abruptly rose from the ground to an upright position. As I sat atop my camel’s hump, I could hardly believe that this was real life. Woah! I was seriously about to ride a camel!
Up then down, was the continuous motion as we set off into bright orange dunes are far as the eye could see. There was not a single soul or building in sight. Other than the squeals we’d occasionally release as the galloping camels jolted our bodies, you couldn’t hear a sound. The desert was completely silent. Despite the silence of the Sahara, I was overwhelmed by the power of the dunes that towered around us. We all expressed how surreal the experience was in the moment. I began to tear up as we rode into sunset and our shadows silently dance along the seas of sand.
We arrived at our desert camp at dusk and our guides helped us off of the camels. We quickly realized that the 2-hour camel ride would leave us sore for the next few days, but we all agreed it was worth it. The ride was unforgettable! Before getting settled in our tents, we ran to the top of a nearby dune to take in the views during the last bit of light. After only several days, it was like we forgot that we started this trip as strangers. We were cracking inside jokes, rolling in the sand, and snapping photos. I sunk my hands into the powder-like sand and thanked the universe for gifting me these new friends to share this experience with. We headed back down to the desert camp and the first order of business was Moroccan mint tea, of course. We looked at each other in the eye, clinked our glasses, and gushed about the fact that we were spending the night in the Sahara together. We sipped on our tea as the desert guide served us a traditional Tagine. This was the best Tagine of our trip, and I think the extraordinary setting had something to do with it.
After eating, we all gathered around a campfire for some traditional Berber music. It was just us, the warmth of the fire, and the sound of drums underneath the night sky. We danced, we sang, and we rejoiced under the starlight. Millions of tiny stars filled the pitch-black sky. It felt like we were in a dream. We all decided to scrap the tents and sleep outside right under the stars. If there was any place made for sleeping outdoors, this was it.
We awoke at a silent 6 am to prepare for our trek back into Merzouga. With sore bums, we jumped back onto our camels with the hopes of witnessing a miraculous sunrise. Unfortunately, the fog prevented us from doing so but that didn’t make our last moments in the Sahara any less magical. I sat on my camel, looking out into the sand, absorbing the calm, and trying to soak in the entire experience. In fact, I decided to demount my camel and stay in the dunes a bit longer as the rest of my group continued on. I stood completely alone surrounded by sand for nearly an hour, trying to process what exactly my eyes were seeing. Being out there in complete solitude was nearly too much to handle. It was both powerful and humbling.
My feet sank with each step as I finally made my way back to the hotel to meet up with the rest of my group. I took one last look around at the magnificent mountains of sand that surrounded me and I felt an immense amount of gratitude. This would be my last moment in the Sahara desert, but I knew that the experience would be imprinted in my mind forever.
Hey, I'm Ciara. I’m a global citizen and lover of travel. Want to know more?
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