Golden sand dunes stretching on to infinity beyond where the eyes can see, a camel caravan marching slowly in the glow of the setting sun…This scene has always been a part of my travel fantasy. I finally got to achieve the dream when I recently visited the Merzouga dunes in the Sahara Desert with G Adventures, my favourite small group tour company. The experience was everything I pictured and more. If Morocco camel trekking is on your bucket list, here are some things to know before you go.
*My trip was partially sponsored by G Adventures. All opinions expressed are my own. I only ever endorse things I truly love. This post may contain affiliate links, which means, at no extra cost to you, I may earn a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks for supporting!
Is camel trekking ethical?
Before we get into the logistics, let’s discuss whether camel trekking is actually ethical. Many as us are educated by now (at least I really wish that) about the cruelty involved in riding animals like elephants. Animal tourism has a dark side, and as travellers, we need to make smart and responsible decisions.
Camels have always been used as a mode of transport in Morocco. They are known as “ships of the desert”. For the desert-living nomadic people, these animals are integral to their livelihood and culture. Camels are tough creatures, but when treated and trained well, they can be loyal companions to their humans.
Today, with the demand from tourism, camel rides for tourists have also become a business. The truth is, there is no systemic monitoring of how the companies handle their camels. While reputable tour operators know to train the camels in gentle humane ways, there are shady businesses that overwork these animals.
The camels we hired during our G Adventure tour were all very healthy and looked to be well taken care of. I believe that camel trekking can be ethical. It is up to us to do the research.
When choosing your tour operator, read their reviews, be vigilant of red flags like one camel carrying two people and signs of fatigue. If in doubt, ask the business questions about how the camels are trained. Finally, you can support animal charities like SPANA, that provides care and support for working animals in Morocco.
Where to go for camel trekking in Morocco?
The two main sand dunes in the Sahara that are easy for tourists to visit are Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga.
Located near the town of Merzouga, approximately 600km from Marrakech, Erg Chebbi dunes is the more accessible and popular choice. This was where our group went. We had a fabulous time there and actually encountered very little other tourists (We went in mid-January).
Erg Chigaga in comparison is more off the beaten track. There are less facilities there. So if you are up for a bigger adventure, this may be the option for you. I definitely would like to check out Erg Chigaga if I return to Morocco again.
Best time to visit Sahara
The most comfortable time of year for camel trekking is September to February. It is best to avoid the summer months during which the sweltering heat can be unbearable. In July and August, it can be as hot as more than 40 C in the desert. If you do go during the summer, make sure to protect your skin and eyes whenever you are outside.
We went to the Merzouga Desert in January. While the nights were chilly at just above 0 degrees, the days were fairly comfortable at around 20 degrees.
Overnight camel treks, is it worth it?
There are different lengths for Sahara desert tours. You can find one-day trips from Marrakech, overnight treks with one night stay in the desert, 3 days 2 nights tours and so on.
I liked the way our trip was done, which was to stay in an auberge right by the sand dunes, and hire camels and nomad guides for a camel trek into the dunes. The riding portion was about 1 hour and a half, which may sound short, but trust me, riding a camel for any longer than that can be very uncomfortable. Hello sore butts! We got to experience camel riding at the most beautiful time-sunset-and then go back to the comfort of our inn at night. It was the best of both worlds and I personally recommend doing it this way.
On the other hand, the overnight treks mean you get to stay in a desert camp underneath the starry desert sky, which is no doubt epic. However, do keep in mind that it can be freezing cold at night in the desert so make sure to take enough warm clothes.
Where to stay in Merzouga
Merzouga has many accommodations from budget-friendly auberges to luxury camps. We stayed Auberge les Dunes D’or, the oldest hotel around in the area. I was blown away when we first showed up at the property. It is a beauty. The rooms have patios that go right out onto the sand dunes. There is a nice outdoor pool in the middle of the hotel. The brothers who run this place are really friendly and funny. They made sure that we were always comfortable. The downsides were that the wifi did not really work during the time that we were there. But overall, we enjoyed our stay very much.
If you want to feel like a queen/king in the desert, Merzouga is a great place to give glamping a go. Check out Sirocco Luxury Camp or Desert Heart Luxury Camp. I promise the photos will make your heart swoon.
Our Morocco camel trekking experience
We had a group of 14 travellers. G Adventures had arranged the camels and nomad guides to wait right by our auberge. Did I mention how much I love this company for making everything so stress-free? Anyways, we got to meet the camels. They were all sitting there, so calm and adorable. The nomad guides introduced each of us to our own camels. I asked my guide for the name of my camel, and he said it’s “Baby Camel”. So…either they were very lazy when they named the little guy or the guide just completely made the name up on the spot 😛
We were taught to mount our camels. The big jolt as Baby Camel stood up was slightly awkward and scary. I may or may not have screamed as I held on for dear life. After the camels have all stood up in a line tied with a rope, we were ready for the sand dunes. Off we go!
As I sat on top of Baby Camel, her soft belly brushing against my legs, I looked around and could not grasp with my mind the surreal landscape that surrounded us. I had never seen anything so magnificent. The color of the sand was a gorgeous golden yellow. The sun was slowly starting to set in the distance. Our caravan was moving along in formation slowly, casting long beautiful shadows on the dunes. It was full on Arabian vibes!
The guides led us on top of the Erg Chebbi sand dunes, the highest sand dunes in Morocco. We had a lot of fun here taking jumping pictures. I led a mini yoga class (My first time teaching yoga since getting my certification in India!), and finally, we all sat down in a row and appreciated the mysterious beauty of this earth as the sun faded away over the horizon…
Other things to do in Merzouga
While camel trekking is the most iconic thing to do in the Sahara desert, there is a lot of other cool activities to try while you are here.
If you like snowboarding, you got to give sand boarding a try. Even if you face plant, it’s ok because you fall on the soft sand. Our hotel had a sandboard for guests to borrow, so we took it out for a spin. Free fun for hours!
Get to know the nomadic lifestyle
The lifestyle of the desert living nomads in the Sahara Desert is fascinating. Depending on the season, the nomadic people move between the mountains and the desert. They live in caves and simple tents. They sell goats, sheep and let tourists ride their camels to make a living. Their lives are so basic yet so fulfilling and relaxing. Our tour offered the opportunity to visit a nomadic village and talk to Berber nomad families. I’m not sure if there are other tours available that offer similar experiences. But if you do get the chance, make sure to not pass it up.
Drum Circle around the Campfire
Nighttime in Sahara Desert is a whole other world of magic. Sit around a campfire and listen to the beat of the drums played by Berber guides. We had such a good time dancing and laughing for hours around the fire with our hotel staff who played and sang for us. They even taught some of us how to play the hand drums and a traditional instrument that resembles a hand cymbal called Qarqaba.
There is no better place to look up than in the darkness of desert nights. There seem to be as many stars in the sky as there are grains of sand on the earth. Away from the light pollution of civilization, the stars look extremely bright and dazzling. For some serious stargazing, you can download a constellation app like Star Chart.
Watch the Sunrise
Finally, wake up early to catch the first sunray that kisses the golden sand dunes. Witnessing the beginning of a new day in the desert will bring a therapeutic realization of how truly blessed we are to have mother earth and to be alive.
What to pack for the Sahara Desert
As mentioned previously, the Sahara can be crazy hot. It’s the desert duh. But it can also be freezing cold at night. So what in the world do you pack?
Here are the key things:
- Light short sleeve and long sleeve shirts that you can layer.
- Comfortable wide-leg pants. I got mine from Uniqlo and love them so much.
- A scarf that you can use as a shawl, a head covering, a turban…Seriously, scarves are so versatile. Never travel without one.
- A hat to block out the sun.
- A thick sweater/Jacket for cold nights.
- Lots of socks!
- And if you are extra like me, pack a colorful flowy dress for some cute photos 😛
Lastly, remember to apply and reapply sunscreen! That sun can be brutal.
More inspiration for your Morocco trip planning
Here are my other articles to help you prepare for your Morocco journey:
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Plan your trip in 4 easy steps
- Book flights: Find the cheapest flights on Skyscanner, my go-to search engine.
- Find hotels: Score affordable accommodation in Merzuga Desert on Booking.com.
- Buy insurance: You never know what may happen on the road. Protect your trip & gears with World Nomad, the best travel insurance company ever. Get a quote here.
- Read up on the best advice: Lonely Planet: Morocco Travel Guide