Planning a guided Sahara tour while in Morocco? You’re about to become overwhelmed with companies, routes, reviews and price comparisons. Hopefully this breakdown of our Merzouga tour experience will help ease the pain and have you on your way to a stress-free few days, safely in the passenger seat of an expert.
Two words never fail to elicit a shudder through my entire being while travelling: ‘guided tour’. Yuck. How someone chooses to experience a new place is entirely down to personal preference, and my preference is to experience through exploration; making effort to be as inconspicuous a tourist as possible. Looking at going from Fez down to the Sahara Desert in Merzouga, through Dades Valley and on to Marrakech, my first thought was to hire a car and book everything ourselves, just like we always do. However, in this instance, my first thought was oh so wrong.
I’m not going to list the various logistical challenges with this route, as it’s far too boring really, but I will say this: from my experience if you want a hassle free, relaxing Sahara experience; hire a tour guide. It can be done by yourself, but the stresses of Moroccan roads, language, scammers, crappy accommodation and heat made me thankful we chose a guided tour (shudder). What could have been a manic, stress-filled three days; turned out to be one of the best travel experiences of my life.
So look elsewhere for self-drive Morocco advice. This post is all about tours, baby.
Most people book a Sahara tour from Marrakech and that’s a great way to do it if you are flying in to, out of, or are based in Marrakech. We were in Fez and wanted to get to Marrakech, so we took the long way; working the tour into our existing travel itinerary.
Want to get from Fez to Marrakech? Spend three days on a guided tour, stopping at all the sights and sites, even better, spend five days getting there and see a part of Morroco few tourists ever do. Casablanca to Agadir? Take a bus direct or spend three days cruising the coastline, visiting cities and riads along the way. The point is; figure out your ideal route and ask around, most tour guides will cater to your needs and can design an itinerary to suit your schedule.
Hint – Be prepared for a lot of driving. There’s lots to look at but if you can’t handle being cooped up in a car for long stretches, consider adding an extra day to your itinerary.
This can be brutal. There are thousands of options for tour guides; from impersonal, expensive companies to rugged and risky individuals. The only real advice here is do your research.
Trip Advisor is a wealth of recommendations and reviews, however it’s up to you to determine which are honest and which are fake. Peer review really is the best method we have of thinning down the thousands, a good general rule is that anywhere with 30+ good reviews is worth checking out and anything with 1000+ might be a bit impersonal or overpriced. Great help, I know.
We settled on our guide after comparing their route, itinerary, price and reviews with 10 other companies we thought looked ok, and we struck gold. If you are on the fence, check out Authentic Berber Tours and ask for Abdul. If you are more the free spirited type and prefer to book in person the day before, ask at your accommodation for the best place to find a tour and go with your gut.
Impromptu guided desert tours work a little bit like Grand Taxis; you pay for your seat and the car leaves when the seats are full. You can pay for more than one seat for more space, or you can book the whole vehicle for a private tour. Seats for a three day tour start from around 2000MAD (£140) and will include transport, accommodation, breakfasts, dinners and water. Expect to pay for your lunches, entrance to attractions, and anything extra you might want. Our private tour for two cost 3300MAD (£232) each, in addition we paid around 71MAD (£5) for attractions and 85MAD (£6) for food the whole three days.
See here for the full detailed itinerary via the Authentic Berber Tours site.
We were collected from our Riad in Fez by our driver and guide, Abdul, and informed of our itinerary. A quick stop in Ifran for coffee and then our first real stop in Azrou to see the local barbary macaques; which gather in a common spot waiting for the tourist food. A break for lunch in Midelt provided us a place to buy beer and wine; a rarity in Morocco! Eventually we arrived in Arfoud and on to Merzouga. A wild 4WD journey across vast plains of sand and scree, and we arrived at a line of hotels on the edge of the desert after a very long and interesting day in the car. We were very quickly kitted with supplies and mounted on camels for our Sahara trek and camping experience, provided by Auberge du Sud.
About two hours trek into the dunes, far from civilisation, we discovered small clusters of tents which were our accommodation for the night. Some tagine, one of our bottles of wine and some evening jokes with our berber friend provided a comfortable night in the pitch black, windy Sahara desert. Waking up at 5am, our bodies screaming from the camel ride in, we reluctantly climbed aboard our dusty mounts to catch the most breathtaking sunrise either of us had experienced. There’s not much I’ve seen that can compare to that moment. Another 1.5 hours back to the hotel for a shower and breakfast, and it’s time for more driving!
The second day was a plethora of oases and gorges, roses, rivers and rock formations, and one of the highlights of our trip: our driver had kindly arranged for us to dine with his brother’s very welcoming family. We ate a traditional meal in a normal Moroccan family home, which was one of the best meals (if not the best) we had in Morocco. Late afternoon we arrived in Dades gorge to Chez Pierre, the hotel where we would spent the night. It’s a beautiful area, the hotel was awesome, everything was perfect and we dined in style; just what was needed after a night in the desert.
Our final day was more beautiful gorges, oases, mountains and lots and lots of driving. It was only by this point that we were truly ready to arrive in Marrakech so after a stop at the awesome Ait Ben Haddou, we motored on and were delivered to our riad in central Marrakech.
A quick note on our driver Abdul who went above and beyond on more than one occasion to make our trip as unique and comfortable as possible. He even collected us the following day and transferred us to the bus station free of charge. What an absolute legend.
Fez to Marrakech – two night/three day tour
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