Camel Trekking in the Sahara – Erg Chebbi Dunes,Morocco
Sahara’s Erg Chebbi is Morocco’s only genuine Saharan erg, or dunes.
I expected a sunset ride in the caravan of camels, starry clear skies of Sahara, and the out-of-this-planet feel. Check, check, double-check—especially the starry skies like nothing I’ve ever seen.
As we drove to Zagora, it was difficult to deny that the small commercial and tourist center of the Draa certainly made us feel as though we were at the edge of the world. The unbelievable melting pot of Africans, Arabs, Berbers, and dreamers looking to escape the grind – but then again, who can blame them when they found themselves at this remote part of the map?
Riding Camels in Morocco’s Erg Chebbi
The Sahara, the world’s second-largest desert (after Antarctica), covers 3.5 million square miles, almost the US’s size. Imagine that only a fourth of it is sand. The rest is mountains, infinite rocky plains. Oases take nearly 80,000 sq miles.
Mergouza is a small village in the southwest of Morocco that is famous for bordering the only authentic erg, aka dunes. This is Erg Chebbi.
Right after the mountains comes the desert—the most visited place in the country. And only by actually being there can you understand what the fuss is about. Once you reach the site where the asphalt turns into sand, you are transported to a different planet.
This is also the final destination for most tours.
Erg Chubby desert trip
We were slowly floating in a sea of pink sand on our camels. It was literally a caravan moving through the undulating hills of Sahara. I kept in mind that the landscape had not changed one bit from centuries ago when caravans with spices, gold, and silk were crossing the desert.
With my bright indigo turban on, I looked pretty much like a bedouin.
I did a tourist trap camel ride in Egypt, which included a 5 min walk from one side of the camp. I know what you are thinking. Not too adventurous. But I got great photos of me riding a camel at sunset, and it was pretty fun too.
Getting to our desert camp on a camel (approximately 2 hours) was tough. If you are not used to the saddle, the shaking, the whole experience can turn into a painful one. And who is used to riding a camel? As we were getting closer to the camp,the night was falling.
We made a brief stop right on sunset for photoshoots.
We ran across the dunes, dove into the ocean of sand, rolled in it. The sand was as fine as the sugar. The waves(dunes) went for miles into infinity. The experience, the view, and the feel were precisely what you imagine when you look at the majestic Sahara photos.
Right after dusk, the desert turned into a painfully cold planet. It also got pitch dark, we could barely see where we were going until we reached the camp walls. I think it’s called “the silence of the Sahara.” Like in the “Alchemist” book.
My legs and back were hurting.I felt pain with every heavy step my camel took. Even though I had 3 layers of clothes with me, I was freezing. But there was something so superb in the silence of Sahara, in the darkness around us,and in the crisp cold air. You could not hear a sound. There was a weird sense of timelessness, peace, and the desert Mars-like isolation.
Our Desert Camp in Erg Chebbi
Just as I imagined, there was a camp for our overnight stay in the middle of the Sahara desert. Build of tents, with carpets on tops of carpets on top of carpets covering the sand: firepit and a dining area with a long table to fit several tourist groups. I think there were about 50 people total that night in our camp.
A band played music and singing by the fire at night—Chinese tourists dancing at the tribal beats.
Van Gogh was here – one of the most unforgettable nights
Night had fallen. We took a walk to the desert, a little bit outside the camp, to look at the stars.
If there was one of my most memorable, powerful moments while traveling, that was it.
It was something from a van Gogh painting, but brighter, fresher, crispier.
I have never seen a sky so clear, with no pollution, in the middle of Majestic Sahara; I could see every single star that blazed above my head.
It was so cold at night that even wearing all of the warm layers I could put on, a hat and gloves, and with 3 wool blankets in the “hotel room,” I was freezing all night.
We left the camp before sunrise. It was still dark.,But the experience was even more beautiful than the sunset, or, let’s say, way different. Instead of playing like kids in the dunes and trying to take all you can take photos before the sun goes down, we hopped on our camels. We enjoyed a chilled(very chilly, too) walk back to Mendoza, watching the sun go up. This was incredible.
Everything about this trip – the camp – the Ait Beddhadu – the Ozazate is built to satisfy the tourist or wannabe nomad. The restaurants you will visit are built to host the groups. So are desert camps.
When you start enjoying the rigged vibe of the lost oases stop and its narrow streets, your guide invites you to have tea at his house in a family setting.Which happens to also be his uncle’s carpet shop. You know the rest.
The whole experience is staged as the additional layers of Ait Hadd built by Hollywood directors from plastic to substitute the rotten parts. But just as Ait Habbitou, the abandoned city,one of the world’s directors’ favorite backdrop,it has the ancient charm and energy.
Well, if you take the unbeaten path(there aren’t many), there are simply no conditions and restaurant options for you to enjoy as the area is not developed.
If you want to take it to the next level, there are some incredible sports options such as rock climbing – you would think that Dade Gorge was simply made for it.