This was our first visit to Morocco and Discover Morocco Tours made it such a memorable trip. We had only a few days and wanted to see as much as possible. Rachid put together an itinerary and made sure that every last detail was taken care of for us.
We flew into Marrakech and Rachid was at the airport waiting with transportation to our riad (primary form of accommodation: equivalent to a b&b or guest house). We stayed in the heart of the medina (which was amazing) but vehicles can only take you so far. When we reached the gates Rachid had arranged for someone to meet us with a hand-pulled cart for our luggage. We were very grateful for this as it was still a good 10 minute walk through the narrow busy streets/alleyways of the medina to reach our riad. He gave us a little time to settle into our accommodation then arranged for an orientation city tour of Marrakech with a local guide who specialized in Marrakech walking tours. This was a good way to start the trip. We were able to see the different areas of the city, visit the palace, learn some history, see some of the local handcrafts in progress and shop in the market. If we hadn't taken this tour we would most likely not have ventured outside the medina on our own so it was great to see a little more of the city.
Our time in Marrakech was amazing but the primary reason we chose Discover Morocco Tours was to see more of Morocco and visit the desert. Rachid met us at our riad early in the morning and off we went on our road trip! He had arranged a driver with a spacious van. We left Marrakech and began our adventure over the Atlas mountains into the desert.
ROAD TRIP ACROSS MOROCCO:
We chose the Merzouga desert trip because of the red sand. This was the Sahara we had always pictured. The Merzouga desert is almost twice the distance from Marrakech compared to the Zagora desert (the other option with white sand / smaller dunes). So the itinerary we were interested in is usually a long excursion. That said, we only had a few days in Morocco. Rachid was amazing and worked with us to put together an excursion that would allow us to visit Merzouga in our timeframe and budget. The downside would be a lot of traveling in a short time (hundreds of miles in a matter of days) but we were prepared to deal with that and Rachid did his best to break it up for us.
Considering how far we had to go we still saw so much! It's incredible how different the mountains, villages and deserts are from the Morocco we experienced in Marrakech. The stops that Rachid chose gave an incredible taste of the country. It was a really good balance of known attractions and "real Morocco". At most of the stops Rachid accompanied us as the guide but for some sites he arranged a local guide to take us around. These local guides rely on tour companies to bring visitors to see their villages so we were happy to learn from the locals.
It took two days to get to the red desert. Rachid arranged accommodation at a hotel just outside the Dades Gorges for us the first night (which was excellent). When we reached Merzouga the next day we established base at a desert hotel. The camels and desert camping excursions are all associated with hotels just outside the dunes so that there is a place for the drivers to stay while visitors are in the desert. This arrangement also permits visitors to lock up their belongings and allows use of the facilities (showers) when visitors return which we were very grateful for. Merzouga is actually the name of the town where these hotels that offer desert excursions are located. The dunes themselves are called Erg Chebbi.
The desert was worth every second spent on the road to get there. We were met at the hotel by one of the Berbers from the camp. He had a camel for each of us and led us over the dunes into the Sahara. About an hour into the camel trek we stopped to watch the sunset. We were already deep enough into the desert that nothing but dunes could be seen whichever direction you looked and the sun hitting the red sand is like nothing I could ever describe. I can't imagine anything in our lifetime will compare to the half hour spent on top of that dune. Ever.
When we were ready we continued our trek into the desert. It was another hour before we reached camp but when you are on a camel trek in the Sahara you take in every minute. The sky was so clear that the moon and the stars provided plenty of light. In fact when we reached camp we spent the first half hour laying in the dunes watching shooting stars.
Dinner was delicious. Typical Moroccan tagine: bread, meat, potatoes and vegetables with fruit for dessert. After dinner a campfire was built. There were five other groups from all over staying at the camp so we all tried to introduce ourselves. Then the berber men joined the campfire and performed traditional berber music for about an hour. They got us up dancing and even passed their instruments around for everyone to try. It was fantastic.
We did not know what to expect from the camping experience but it was very enjoyable. Sleeping tents were all together and faced inward to a communal area. We had our own tent complete with cots dressed in blankets and pillows. Dinner was served in a large tent at the front of camp decorated in beautiful moroccan textiles with tables and chairs. And there were outhouse-style toilets just outside the tents. It definitely exceeded our expectations.
On the morning we left our camels were waiting for us outside of camp. I will admit that this second camel ride was felt far more than our first. Despite the padding from the blankets on the harness, riding camels will leave it's mark on your inner thighs. But despite a little discomfort the views of the Sahara were no less spectacular on the way out.
Because of our limited timeframe we had to head directly back to Marrakech from Merzouga. It was a long drive (12+hrs) but the views along the way were incredible. When we arrived Rachid walked with us to our riad, making sure we found it in the dark. The following morning he met us for breakfast where we marked our travels on a map bought in the market and he arranged transport back to the airport in time for our flight. Rachid walked with us all the way to the check-in desk. By this time we were saying goodbye to a friend, not just our guide. You will not get an experience like this with any old tour company.
If we are fortunate enough to return to Morocco in the near future we wouldn't think twice before booking with Discover Morocco Tours again. We had such a fantastic experience. Thank you Rachid!!!