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I've been to the Sahara Desert three times now but after the first two times I was certain I'd never go again. It was Lahcen, the owner of ATTA Desert Camp who convinced me to change my mind and give it one more try. Now I am 100% convinced the only way to visit the Sahara is if you book a luxury camping experience. Period. Camping in the Sahara can be enjoyable if done the right way.
My first foray in the Sahara I was mostly delirious from food poisoning so my memories are few and far between. The second trip we took the whole family, including the kids. While it was memorable it was too fast and too touristy. We didn't really know what was going on and felt like we were being dragged from place to place. I wasn't optimistic about the third try and it took a LOT of convincing for MarocBaba to agree. In the end we were both glad he did. Our friends Jen and Tim of Luxe Adventure Traveler were in Marrakech and came with us and proved it's always more fun with friends.
Camping in the Sahara: The Details
- a 4 day and 3 night experience departing from Marrakech
- one overnight in Skoura at a bed and breakfast
- two nights in the Sahara
- stops along the way in small towns and villages
This was a private tour so we were mostly in charge of deciding when and where we stopped – with Lahcens' recommendations of course. We were able to get away from where the tourists were, in fact we saw very few of them during our trip, which to me is a great sign.
It's Usually Private
Private is always better in my book. I don't want to share a bus or car with people I don't know. Call me crazy but when you've got 10+ hours of driving each way there's nothing worse than being in a car with people you don't know and possibly don't like.
You'll Ride More Comfortably
We took a 4×4 to the desert and compared to the previous times it was much better. The first time we went we spent the entire time in an old Mercedes taxi with a driver who spoke no English while he played old Arabic tapes mixed with the radio here and there. It was memorable but not in a good way. The second time was a mini bus with a mixed group of people we didn't know. The conversation was fine and friendly but it certainly was tourist experience and the bigger car = carsickness for me. The 4×4 navigated better and meant we were able to go off road into the desert where bigger vehicles could never go. A plus because I didn't care to ride a camel into the camp (you can if you want!)
You'll Sleep More Comfortably
The bed we had in our tent was more comfortable than my bed at home – seriously. Not only that but it also had a cute sitting area with a table and a bathroom with a shower. Completely private. While we had a great time outside there was something really extra special about being able to sit or lay down to read and chat in privacy. For me it also meant I was able to take off my scarf and be comfortable. Let's just say the two previous times we spent the night on mats, on the ground in the sand with blankets that may or may not (probably not) been clean.
The Bathrooms are Better
See above but let me elaborate here even though it may be TMI. There's something extra nice about having your own toilet in your tent. ATTA has facilities that are eco-friendly and while sure it's a bit like a porta-potty it's a toilet. The other two camps? Find a spot over the sand dune and let it go au naturel. This was 100% better. The shower was also a very welcome addition especially after sandboarding and crashing. Sand everywhere!
The Food is Excellent!
When people tell me they're going to the Sahara the first thing I say is, “well make sure you pack lots of snacks,” and then proceed to regale them with the tales of my two previous times. No more. I was so skeptical about what we would eat but this was put to rest almost immediately. Not only did we eat amazingly well we also had one of the best meals I've ever had in Morocco. Our meals were delicious and this alone is a major reason I would never suggest someone do the low budget Sahara trip.
You Can Have a Unique Experience
Do you really want to take the same trip to the Sahara that every tourist and their mother takes? I think not. Everyday hundreds of people drive into the Sahara and stop at the same places and see the same things. It's a well oiled machine. But what if you want to do something different? What if you want to see something that few people see? Booking a luxury trip let's you have more control and the operator will go out of their way to give you a top notch experience. The experience at the camp will also be different. On our trip we spent one evening sandboarding and another making bread in the sand – watch for that post soon! The other camps I'd been to? Nothing special.
Experience a More Authentic Morocco
Not all luxury operators will offer you this but our experience with ATTA Desert Camp and Amazing Journeys Morocco was much more like traveling with a friend than playing the tourist. I see the huge tour buses everyday and we passes many minibuses (and full size buses) en-route to the Sahara. Those trips have pre-planned stops, all the way down to the restaurants stopped at. That was not our experience at all and it's a big reason why going the private route is better. We ate lunch one day with a local family, we stopped whenever we wanted and most of all we saw parts of Morocco I didn't know existed – with no coach buses in sight!
Not all tour operators are created equal and just because someone says it's a “luxury” camp doesn't mean it will be. Take your time to find the right tour (hint: booking a last minute excursion isn't a great idea). We were hosted by ATTA Desert Camp, a company I highly recommend if you decide to go too! Prices vary depending on the number in your party and how long you want to spend on your journey. If you're going to splurge a little on one thing and the Sahara is on your list, make it this.
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