After a ride up on the back of a camel, watching this horizon turn slowly from golden pink to midnight blue, I found myself sitting content as ever, under the wonder of millions of glowing diamonds, watching in awe.
They tell you about the wavy dunes, the beating sun, and the quiet night... but not about the feelings elicited as you ascend towards the sandy peaks and approach the night sky.
Sand slipped under my feet as I tilted my head up with fascination and made my way towards the diamonds that the sky dangled before me. I climbed against gravity with passionate determination to get as close as possible to these glittering gems. In the moment, it was hard to tell if my breath was leaving me because of the climb or because the beauty had literally taken it out of me.
The feeling of near-hyperventilation is sedated by the calm scene of the quiet night.
Then... I reach the top. Suddenly, the stars have become so close I could touch them. Fears dissolve, and I think to myself, if I could make it so close to the stars, all else that once seemed impossible, in that moment, became possible. This is the feeling they talk about in song lyrics.
The glimmering sky had never been so vast and unreal, yet close and palpable...at the same time.
If you've traveled and had moments of synchronicity with nature like this, you know what I am talking about: The sudden reminder of the world's greatness, and how small you are in comparison, while at the same time being a vital part of it all. A moment of pure clarity.
The Merzouga Desert, as you can tell, blew me away.
And I haven't even talked about the sunrise.
I stayed at Caravan Serai - which I highly recommend. It's a luxury camp, so the tents are well-equipped, but not overdone. We settled in after our ride, had dinner, then a fire, and then a beautiful night of enjoying our time with the nomadic Berber people, their music and their company.
-To be honest, I initially had looked into a certain other camp that's been all over Instagram recently, but when I reached out them about possibly working together, they turned me down due to 'high demand' and because they worked with "only travel bloggers.” This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, and I’ll explain why.
Afterwards, I'd read less-than-stellar reviews about this place on Tripadvisor, many regarding the poor service and dishonesty that people had experienced there. Later, I read another similar review by Betty of Betty On The Go, and then even spoke to someone I personally know about a bad experience. Thankfully we did heed the warnings, and the place I ended up at was not only perfect with the most wonderful hosts, but incredibly affordable as well.
I'd outline the whole process, but there's already plenty of info out there about it, and I also think that part of the adventure is the mystery of it all. Instead, I'd rather share some useful tips to have before embarking on this desert journey.
Tips for visiting the Sahara desert:
- Go to Merzouga. A desert is a desert, right? False. All deserts are not made equally. If you research properly, you will see that other desert areas in Morocco are rocky, and albeit beautiful, may not be what you expect if you are envisioning exactly what you see in my photos. The sand of Merzouga is plentiful, in the form of a smooth, brilliant orange that stretches for miles (& includes the famous dunes of Erg Chebbi).
- No need to bring a scarf. There are shops right outside of the desert where you can get one for cheap, with material light enough to keep you cool in the sun and woven finely enough to protect you from sand. Plus, it's another cool souvenir to bring home.
- They also have traditional dresses at the shops, like the purple one I am wearing here. My instinct as a traveler would tell me not to wait until I arrive to buy, but dresses were actually cheaper here than the ones I had seen in Chefchaouen.
- Have a lightly-packed bag ready to go. We were under the impression that we'd be taking a 4x4 to our camp site and would be able to bring our luggage with us. Well, we were wrong, and when we arrived to meet camel guide we were told to quickly take just what we "needed" in one small bag or backpack. No one had informed us, so imagine the mild (sheer) internal panic that ensued when I discovered this (I did not have outfits picked for photos! The horror). I was quite disappointed that I ended up having to leave my tripod behind because I had run out of room.
- Do the camel ride. Because really, how many other opportunities do you get?
- Seems kind of obvious, but bring water. Once we got to the pickup area there was no place to buy any, and it’s another 1-2 hours before you get to the site. Plus… it’s a desert, people.
- Bring an extra battery/external charger. Most luxury camps have electricity and outlets for charging, but I did not want to take this risk. There's nothing worse than your camera battery running out, leaving you unable to capture one of the most beautiful scenes you will ever experience!
- Check the weather, dress appropriately (layers are always great). Some people like to say that you need jeans to protect from the rough camel fur but I think that’s a little overkill. Some sort of pants that cover at least to the ankle would do. I was fine in leggings. Sneakers are often recommended too, but reality is that sandals with straps that are secure will do. Sunglasses- you want a clear view of the sunset while protecting your eyes. And layers, because once the sun goes down, the temperature can drop too, dramatically.
- Do your research! While part of the the excitement is the mystery, you want to be sure you are in a place that will accommodate to your comfort level and traveling style. There are good surprises and there are bad surprises. If my above description of my search for the right place didn’t make that clear, here is my warning.
I hope these tips were helpful, as they are all things I would have liked to have been aware of myself. If you have any further questions, and need any other details. feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer for you!