Marrakech & Sahara Desert Tour, Morocco

Sahara 001Spending a night on the desert was one of many things I wanted to do before they put me in the coffin. Visiting south Morocco and Sahara Desert has been on my mind for at least 3 years but I was never sure whether it is a good idea to do such trip with kids… Now I know. The idea was great and it was fun for everybody including kids.
Normally we plan our holiday ourself but this time we decided to spend the first and second night in Marrakech and book Sahara Desert Tour from Marrakech. This saved us a lot of time, hustle and allowed us to enjoy the trip fully having more time for our kids and everything else.
Finding a good tour provider which also had reasonably prices was not easy. My main criteria was that it had to be a local Moroccan company so the money goes to local community rather then to some foreign fat cats…

We found Desert Passions in M’Hamid and we couldn’t have chosen better. Desert Passions is based in M’Hamid and this is where they have their office. They have their own desert camp, camels and very good knowledge of the area. Our guide Aziz and ninja-driver Ibrahim (that is how our boys called our driver) were very friendly and professional so it didn’t take long for us to feel like visiting some relatives in Morocco…

Our Ryanair flights from Frankfurt-Hahn landed at 6.30pm in Marrakech and at about 7:30pm we have arrived to Riad Maipa, the same Riad where we spent 2 nights in 2012. We were welcomed with “Berber whiskey” and then had delicious lamb tagine.

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Mint tea upon arrival also called “Berber whiskey”

After dinner we headed straight to Jemaa el Fna square which is located only about 5 minutes walking distance from our Riad. This was something we were looking forward to: How will the kids react after entering the Souks and Jemaa el Fna? It was obviously a shock for them and they were holding our hands tight… Especially the 6 years old one who told us later that he saw “a man without an eye”. He couldn’t get asleep later this evening. He was telling us that when he closes his eyes he still see that man… The square with it’s all magic made a great impression on them but they were still quite scared… Not until 4 days later, when we came back from our desert tour and we had more time in Marrakech they got use to the crowd and noise, they could really enjoy the atmosphere on the square and relax a bit.

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Food stalls at Jemaa el Fna square

The next day in the morning we were picked up by Aziz and Ibrahim and headed south. After passing the stunning High Atlas Mountains we stopped at Argan oil cooperative ARGAN TICHKA in Tizi n’Tichka. It is a cooperation of many families producing argan oil and various products made from it. Together they sell their products under the name of ARGAN TICHKA and the profits are shared between them. This makes them stronger on the market and let them sell their products at a better price.

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The production of argan oil in Tizi n’Tichka. Our son is squeezing the argan oil.

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Typical Moroccan village

The next stop was the famous Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. Several films have been shot here including Gladiator and Game of Thrones. We were really astonished about the beauty of this place. Crossing the Ounila River was like a going back in time to some unreal, secret place.
Before heading to Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou we had lunch at Hotel&Restaurant La Rose du Sable which is located just in front of the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou.

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Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou and Ounila River

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Inside the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou

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Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou

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A journey back in time. Crossing the Ounila River on the way to Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou

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View from Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou over Ounila River

After visiting Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou we drove to Tamnougalte where we booked a room at Auberge Chez Yacob. The hotel is located in a very old village and when we arrived there after passing endless palm groves we thought that the driver got lost and ended in a completely abandoned village. But somewhere inside these buildings was really our hotel 🙂
First after getting inside, visiting the terrace and climbing the old tower we have realized how wrong we were…
Auberge Chez Yacob is located just in front of the Draa Valley palm groves and has a beautiful terrace with astonishing view over the valley and mountains surrounding it. In the evening at the terrace we could hear all the birds singing in the palm groves and later on there was a traditional Moroccan music played.

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Auberge Chez Yacob in Tamnougalte

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Tagine at Auberge Chez Yacob

The next day we left Tamnougalte and drove direction south making a few stops in different villages to buy water and food for the desert.
We bought water melons in Zagora. Water melons from Zagora are the best in Morocco. From here they are transported to all major cities in Morocco.
After passing Zagora we made a short stop at Tamegroute’s ceramics cooperative where a local guide explained us the whole process of old-style pottery production.
It is again, similar as in Tizi n’Tichka, a cooperative and there are about one thousend people in the village living from the pottery production.
We also stopped in Tagounite to buy vegetables and fresh meat for tagine. When through M’Hamid we paid a short visit at the Desert Passions office and then headed to the desert.

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Inside the Tamagroute Pottery Cooperative

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A young cat at Tamagroute Pottery Cooperative

After M’Hamid there are no regular roads anymore and you can really say that from now on you drive through a desert.
The one hour drive to the Oasis MIHAT SALLAH was a really shaky drive and was quite unpleasant for some of us… It was fun for me and the kids but my wife was not looking good at the back seat…
The road, or rather “the trail”, lead through some rough terrain and sandy desert. We have seen a lot of camels on the way to the osasis.
We have seen camels alerady in Marrakech or in the ZOO but this was our first encounter with camels in the nature. They are not really free because the do belong to somebody but seeing them out there behind trees and dunes was extraordinary.

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Some camels on the way to the oasis

We didn’t really have any information about the oasis beforhand so we didn’t really know what to expect … but certainly we did not expect to see a swimming pool at the oasis!
Calling it a swimming pool or a pool is obviously exaggerating a bit .. It was a 2.5m x 2.5m concrete structure filled with cold water about 1.3m deep.
It was about 40 degrees outside so the bath in the “pool” was very refreshing and lot of fun. I was splashing in the pool with my kids and felt like a 6 years old kids (seeing it from a distance would probably confirm the estimated 6 years…)
While we were enjoying ourself in the pool our lunch was beeing prepared, but before we had lunch, “berber whiskey” was served with delicious cocoa nuts.

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Lunch at the oasis

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“Berber whiskey” at the oasis

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Refreshing bath at the oasis

After lunch and another bath in the pool we got again into the 4×4 Toyota and after 45 minutes another shaky drive we reached the desert camp located at Chegaga dunes.
The desert camp is located just in front of the Chegaga dunes so it takes only a few steps land your feet on the dunes.
The camp contains about 12 sleeping tents, 1 big tent for entertainment, a building with toilet & bath facilities and a small building for the employees.
There is a fire place located at the centre of the camp and the sandy surface is partially covered with colorful carpets.
The camp is a beautiful place, a piece of paradise for travelers, a dream for somebody like me. There are these beautiful, colorful tents and carpets with sandy dunes in the background.
There is silence and natural beauty. There are not that many tourist in this time of the year, and this year was particularly poor for the tourist industry in Morocco, so we were alone in the camp with our guides.
It was kind of a private paradise for us for one night. You don’t get this kind of experience everyday. It is luck and a gift from god.

Now it was time for the camel trekking. We change clothes, shoes and made ourself ready for the trip. It was a short trip but you didn’t really have to go far from the camp to fin yourself in the middle of the desert…
We sat on the camels and were guided by “ninja” to the dunes. We stopped after about 30 minutes trekking, got off the camels and went exploring the desert and climbing the dunes.
I am not able to describe the beauty of the desert with my own words. I will let the photos tell the story…

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Camel trekking

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Camel trekking

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Our boys with “Ninja”

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Erg Chegaga dunes

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Erg Chegaga dunes

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Erg Chegaga dunes

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Erg Chegaga dunes

We spent a unforgettable evening at the desert camp. There was delicious dinner under the clear sky, there was traditional Moroccan music played by Azis & co and there was clear sky above us with millions of stars.
We also had some time for ourself to watch the stars after we brought kids to bed. A short, romantic moment for parents 🙂
After a delicious breakfast in the morning it was time to say goodbye and continue our trip. Goodbye paradise!

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At the Desert Camp

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At the Desert Camp

Desert Camp

Our Desert Camp

When we left the camp and drove direction west, toward Iriki Lake, I had a feeling that we have already achieved the highlight of our trip and everything else from now on will be just “the way back home”. But the “way back home” was more interesting that I thought 🙂 We drove through a beautiful desert landscape, with stunning sand dunes around us. We passed several Nomad families on our way but we tried not to disturb them and stayed at a reasonable distance. Nevertheless one Nomad girl with a beautiful smile approached and came close to the car. This isn’t anything unusual because Aziz and Ibrahim bring them medicines and other useful things from time to time. We gave her some snack and continued our trip. It was a really strange encounter … You realize that first after you consider that this girl was most probably born at the desert and spend her whole live “out there”.
There was also couple of Iguanas on the way which, as soon as they saw our car tried to run away and hide in their holes. Aziz managed to caught one of them and brought it to the car to show the kids.

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Desert

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Nomad girl

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Our 4×4 with ninja-driver Ibrahim at the steering wheel

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Iguana

After passing Lake Iriki, which was fully dried out at this time of the year, we came out of the desert near and reached first tarmac road at Foum Zguid. We had a short break at Station Afriquia just after Lamhamid to eat some fruits and clean the car from all the sand which has gathered inside during last 2 days. Later on we stop in Taznakht where we supported the local community by buying a beautiful, hand-made carpet.
We were welcomed with the barber whiskey by the owner and an elderly lady who then showed us the traditional way of creating this piece of art. There was a bright smile on her face when we choose the carpet which we wanted to buy, because, coincidently it was a carpet made by her 🙂

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Draa Valley

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Carpet manufacturing in Tazenakht

We stop in small village Taddart Oufella for lunch and continued our trip. We arrived at Maison d’hôtes Irocha in Tisselday in the afternoon. First thing we did was a splash in the swimming pool. It was really refreshing after a long day spent mainly in the car seat… Later on we did some hiking around the hotel and the had very delicious dinner at the hotel restaurant. The dinner was served on a terrace which had a great view over the surrounding mountains. I had to kill three big cockroaches before going to bed but it didn’t really bothered me … You would really expect these kind of things in such old buildings.

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The pool at Maison d’hôtes Irocha

We returned to Marrakech at about 12:00 which left us more then 24 hours in the city before our flight the next day. We spent the night in the same Riad where we spent our first night in Marrakech: Riad Maipa
We didn’t have any plan and there was nothing particular that we wanted to see. No agenda. No pressure. First we invited our guides Aziz and Ibrahim for a dinner and a delicious tanjia at Restaurant Al Bahja. The restaurant doesn’t look impressive but they serve really delicious food for a reasonable price. It was recommended by our guides so it has to be good 🙂 Tanjia is a typical Moroccan dish, a specialty originating from Marrakech (I think you can only buy it in Marrakech).
We took the rest of our time in Marrakech really easy. The majority of our time was spent in the Souks and around Jemaa el Fna square. You can spend days here and you will still not have enough 🙂

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Cobras at Jemaa el Fna square

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Cameleon

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Souks of Marrakech

Map of the trip

Map of the trip

LINKS:
www.desert-passions.com – Morocco Tour Operator & Guide based in M’Hamid
www.lavalleedudraa.com – Auberge Chez Yacob in Tamnougalt
www.irocha.com – Maison d’hôtes Irocha in Tisselday
www.riadmaipa-marrakech.com – Riad Maipa in Marrakech
Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou – UNESCO World Heritage Centre
La Rose du Sable – Hotel & Restaurant near Ait Ben Haddou

One comment on “Marrakech & Sahara Desert Tour, Morocco”

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