“Are there sand dunes in your country, too?”
A Berber man named Sair asking me this made me feel like the luckiest person on Earth.
All this man had ever seen was sand, sand and more sand. How could he possibly understand what the rest of the world looks like?
It was humbling getting asked this question. It reminded me how blessed I am to be born in a Northern European country. How blessed I am to have time, money and courage to explore different corners of the world.
We had slept for the night in our hostel after an interesting day in Marrakech. The following morning at 5.30 am, the call to prayer sounded around the city and woke us up.
After breakfast, Sair picked us up from our hostel for a tour to the Sahara! We had booked a tour with Morocco Excursions, who offer various day trips as well as longer tours. A three night Sahara tour starting in Marrakech and ending in Fez costs 290 € per person. The price includes a car with a private driver, all activities, accommodation, breakfasts and dinners. Only lunches and drinks are payed separately.
The tour includes thousands of kilometres of driving, but luckily there are many interesting stops along the way.
Argan trees grow in this part of the world, so we got to visit an argan oil factory, where nuts are still crushed mechanically by Berber women. Argan oil is mostly used in skin and hair care, but it can also be consumed as food.
Our journey continued towards Aït Benhaddou, a fortified clay city, where movies such as Gladiator and Babel were filmed.
Most locals live outside of the city, but there are still a couple of families living in the area, making a living mainly from tourism.
It seemed like a white sheet of paper at first, but over the flame, an image of the desert slowly started appearing before our eyes. The man had painted the artwork with saffron.
This woman was living in a humble clay hut with just goats and cats as her company.
We continued to Ouarzazate, a city famous for its film studios. CLA Studios has an expensive entry fee, so instead Sair took us to the Cinema Museum.
The Cinema Museum was quite small and completely random! There were things like this throne, an A4 print of Nicolas Cage, plastic horses and X-files music playing in the background. An interesting experience to say the least!
We slept the night in Ouarzazate, continuing our journey the next morning, stopping in a few of the local towns only to snap photos and to buy water.
After a pit stop to fuel the car, we continued further into the Sahara desert.
Our next stop was the Todgha Gorge in the Atlas Mountains. The tall cliff walls beautifully frame the stream running through the gorge. The path next to the stream is well paved, so it’s easy to walk around the area and admire the majestic gorge.
After stretching our legs around the gorge for a while, we sat back into the car to continue our journey towards a shop where a Berber family sold mats made out of camel hair.
We got served mint tea everywhere we went. Morocco being a Muslim country, alcohol is not consumed, but instead the locals enjoy mint tea, also known as Berber whiskey.
A Berber woman spinning thread on the shop floor.
The hospitality in Morocco was incredible. Our driver, Sair, even drove us to his house, where we got served mint tea again. The mint tea has to be poured from high above the cup to create “the turban” — a layer of foam on top of the drink. The mint tea is often sweetened with a massive block of sugar.
Sair’s wife drew a beautiful henna tattoo on my hand.
Once we reached Ouarzazate, we only had time to drop our bags at the hotel before getting on our camels! A Berber man waded through the fine sand in his sandals while leading our camels through the desert.
My backside was hurting from the coarse blanket placed on the camel, and sand was prickling my skin. But the tears in my eyes did not stem from this. It was the peaceful feeling, the swaying walk of the camel and only sand as far as the eye can see. After walking for a while, we stopped to watch the sun set over the Sahara. It was one of the most surreal, beautiful and overwhelming experiences of my life.
We continued a bit further in the darkness until we reached a Berber camp.
We had a chance to try sand boarding. For someone who has never even snowboarded, I found it surprisingly easy. And so much fun!
After settling down at the camp, we were served delicious tajine, a traditional Berber dish.
Then it was time for Berber disco! We learnt to drum, sing and do a pretty funky camel dance.
We slept outside under the stars. No light pollution in the Sahara, so you can just imagine the brightness of the starry sky. We could see the entire Milky Way from here.
No dangerous animals in the Sahara — just cute kittens everywhere!
The camel ride in the sunset and spending the night in the Sahara desert was definitely the highlight of the tour. The following morning we got up at 6 am and boarded our camels in the darkness.
The sun rose beautifully behind our back…
…before we returned back to the hotel where we descended our camels and picked up our things from our hotel room.
After riding in the sunrise back to the hotel, the day ahead consisted of a tour around the region with a four wheel drive.
Gates in the Sahara mark the borders between regions.
We stopped by a market square, where all the vendors were selling dates! There are over 100 varieties of dates growing in Morocco.
Views from the restaurant terrace, where we ate lunch.
Stopping by a small shop to buy water.
After visiting shops, restaurants and markets, we ventured towards an area with just sand. This was Sahara.
A small boy showing us a desert fox, native to the Sahara.
We visited nomads who had migrated from Eastern Africa all the way to Morocco.
The nomads played traditional music and also danced for us.
Sand literally everywhere.
At many of the pit stops, there were berbers selling handcrafts.
Nomadic dwellings. Nomads build dwellings in the desert, live there for a few years and keep going.
As a traveller, it was reassuring to see the nomadic dwellings. Some people are just not meant to stay in one place.
We also got the chance to visit a tiny hut in the Sahara, where we got served mint tea again.
This girl was living in the modest hut with her grandmother.
A berber cemetery. The position of the stones marks if there is a woman or a man buried underground.
There are water wells in the Sahara that nomads use during their travels.
Boys walk long distances to fetch water for their families.
Surrounded by nothing but sand. It’s in moments like these that I realize how people are like these sand particles: they are all needed to create this vast desert, but on their own, so tiny and insignificant.
For our final night in the Sahara, we ate delicious stuffed flatbread, also known as berber pizza. The restaurant was cozy but after dinner we hurried back to our hotel as the owner started negotiations about trading me for camels…
The next morning we started our long drive towards Fez, where the tour ended. Unfortunately, the very fine sand of Sahara made its way into my camera and broke it, which prompted me to buy a water-proof and shock-proof camera upon my return to Finland.
On the way to Fez, the sand shifted into a more forested area, where we stopped to say hello to wild monkeys.
I have to say, I’m usually not a big fan of organized tours. You run around everywhere, seeing lots of stuff, not really experiencing anything. But the pace with Morocco Excursions was just right! The itinerary was well thought out, with enough pit stops but also time to wind down. We didn’t rush from one sight to the next, but instead spent time with different people. This was great, as people really are the main reason we travel.