If you ever find yourself in Merzouga, Morocco, I have one piece of advice for you: spend a night in the Sahara Desert. Last summer, I had the opportunity to do just that while studying abroad in Morocco, and it is an experience I will never forget.
The Sahara extends eastward from the outskirts of Merzouga to the other side of Africa, covering large parts of many countries. Vast numbers of sand dunes roll on for thousands of miles, making the Sahara the largest hot desert in the world. In the summertime, the orange-colored sand against the azure sky makes for a picture-perfect backdrop. Just seeing the Sahara Desert in person is worth a trip to Morocco. However, an even better option is to immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of the Sahara by spending a night there. Choose from several different tour companies or study abroad programs to make your stay as smooth as possible. Companies such as Sahara Desert Tour allow you to select from a variety of options so that your experience is exactly what you imagined.
Once you have decided to spend a night in the Sahara, you can choose from multiple modes of transportation in order to get to your final destination. My advice? Ride the camels. Even better, hire a camel tribe to ride camels out to a tent town, eat an authentic Moroccan dinner, sing and dance around the campfire, sleep in tents, and then wake up to ride camels back to civilization during the sunrise.
So you’ve decided to ride camels in the middle of the Sahara Desert—great! The first step is to mount the camel. If you’ve ever seen a camel up close, you’ll know firsthand that they are not small animals. The camel will lie down on the ground with bent legs, giving you the opportunity to climb onto its hump. Once you are situated on the hump, a guide will then motion the camel to stand. To stand up, camels first arch their back legs, which makes you feel like you are about to be pitched forward. After their back legs are fully arched, camels then stand all the way up. Now, you are on a camel several feet in the air and ready to start your adventure.
To travel on camels in the Sahara, guides will line all the camels up and connect them with a rope. One guide will then walk at the front of the camel train, holding onto the rope to lead the camels in the right direction. Usually, these guides dress in long flowing robes with headscarves and know only small amounts of English, but these characteristics will only add to the authenticity of your experience.
After riding the camels and admiring the real-life watercolor of the desert sun setting in the distance, you will eventually arrive at your home away from home for the night. To get off your ride, a guide will motion the camel to lie on the ground. You will then slip off the hump, one inch at a time, and finally plant your feet on the ground. A word of warning: before I rode a camel, no one told me how sore I would be once I got off. Let’s just say it took a while for my legs to stop feeling like Jell-O. But don’t worry, you will be able to walk normally again . . . eventually.
At this point in the adventure, the guides who led the camels into camp will now cook an authentic Moroccan dinner for all of the travelers. Ours consisted of perfectly seasoned tajine, which is a seasoned stew of spiced meat and vegetables. It is cooked in what is also called a tajine, which is essentially a shallow dish that is covered by a tall, conical lid.
After dinner, the locals who run the campground will start a campfire. Sitting around the campfire is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the fact that you are currently in the middle of the Sahara Desert . . . and you rode a camel to get here! Members of my group also took turns singing and dancing to traditional Moroccan tunes around the fire. Even the locals joined in. The hum of the music and the soft light from fire filled the desert night, making our night in the Sahara completely magical.
Sleeping arrangements will largely depend on the campground you stay at, but don’t expect to sleep like kings and queens. In my experience, we slept in three-person tents that had mattresses inside. The setup was much more comfortable than I imagined, but remember that your sleeping arrangement is not what makes your Sahara night magical. Instead, listening to the wind rustle the trees or looking up at the completely clear starry night is what brought the magic.
Most excursions to the Sahara Desert end with waking up early in the morning to ride camels back to civilization during the sunrise—the perfect ending to an unbelievable experience. As you sit atop the camel for the last time, make sure to admire the beauty that a Sahara morning brings. Focus on the painted colors of the sky against the burnt orange sand. Remember the pops of green bushes and trees throughout the scenery. Listen to the leveled breathing of the camels as they walk through the sand.
The sights and sounds of the desert will stay with you for the rest of your life. Spending a night in the vast expanse of the Sahara is truly an experience you will never forget.