Here we are in M’hamid, at the gates of the Sahara desert. If you hadn’t read the first part of our roadtrip in Morocco, I invite you to read it first
Part 1: Travel Diary
Well, let me explain the why and how of this trip in the desert. When I learned that Aurélien was going to join us in Morocco for the end of the year celebrations, I had to do the program in express mode (for him to buy his plane tickets) from my couch in Marrakech. JB and I wanted to go to the desert at the base, and with Aurélien’s arrival, we thought it was better to go with 3 people than with 2. It will be even more fun.
We have therefore chosen an agency listed in the Lonely Planet. In addition to its attractive prices, it has an office in Marrakech where we can go to ask questions and pay on the spot. Wechose the tour “La vie des nomades”, 2.5 days, 2 nights full board for 139€/person.
When we contacted them, they asked us the question each time “do you also sleep in our hotel the night before leaving for the desert?”. At the beginning, we did not want to, but we saw later that there was not necessarily a hot shower in the desert, and that it would be cooler to ask to squatter their shower after the desert – especially if we were customers BEFORE.
So we said yes.
Day 5 (continued): Bus Ouarzazate => M’hamid
As indicated in the previous travel diary, we rented a car, then we came back to Ouarzazate to take a bus to M’hamid, at the gates of the desert. This trip takes 6 hours.
The hotel of Sahara Services is located at the gates of the city, so we simply passed the phone to the driver so that the hotel explains where to drop us off. When the bus stops, an employee of the hotel is already waiting for us and unloads the suitcases.
Indeed, the agency in Marrakech had given us the WhatsApp number of the hotel manager, we could easily communicate with him thanks to that.
Hotel Sahara Services in M’hamid
In spite of the late arrival (22h), we are immediately taken care of and brought to the restaurant where we are served a starter-dish-dessert dinner. The room is also top, the shower super hot, for 30€/person (night + dinner). Aurélien was entitled to a private room (whereas a triple room was planned). In short, I recommend it.
Day 6 : 100% camel riding day
Note: The agency told us at the time of booking that we were on a private tour, but that if there were too many people, especially at Christmas, we might have to share the guide with other tourists. Finally, it was not the case.
We have breakfast at 9:00 am and leave at 9:30 am. We don’t remember too much the program of the day and the explanations in French are a little confused, so we are in #inchalla mode.
The three camels are already waiting for us in front of the hotel. One of them is particularly larger than the others and it is the only one carrying two baskets in which we put all our luggage. Luckily the hotel offered to keep the suitcase for us and we thought of taking backpacks, because I can’t see myself packing the suitcases inside.
We have to bring with us right away the 6 bottles of water necessary for our survival, as well as the goats (near the desert, the price climbs to 70dh/each one vs. the usual 35dh). The person in charge told us that it was important to have a goat. I think that it is indeed indispensable in summer. In December, a cap or a hat does very well (+ sun cream). But it’s cooler with a chèche 🙂
We are helped to tie the goat on the head. I read on the Internet that it shouldn’t be too tight or it’s a headache. Very good advice because, as a result, we were able to ask the goat to hold it tight, without hurting ourselves. The goat allows to protect itself from the sun, but also from sand storms, cold, rain, … As it is made of cotton, we can breathe through it without any problem.
Frankly, I didn’t know that camel feet could be so cute! They look like springs. They walk on the sand with such ease, it looks like the soles of their feet are made of rubber.
There are three of us, so we have two people accompanying us. A dromedary is attached to the big dromedary and both are pulled by a guide. The other guide pulls the 3rd dromedary. If nobody guides them, they will prefer to eat, eat and eat (there are many small plants, which they seem to like very much). The camels aren’t hit at any time, and regularly, our two guides check the animal’s well-being, making sure that the wires aren’t pulling them too much, that the load is balanced. It’s very nice to see them taking care of the camels like this, it wasn’t frankly the case in Egypt.
We alternate between spaces full of rocks and some dunes here and there. We are at the door of the desert so there aren’t many dunes yet. Good for us because when the dromedary goes down a dune, all our body is shaken. We are sitting on a kind of big woolen blanket so it rubs a little. The landscapes aren’t so varied as that, we have 2h30 quiet to think about life, to enjoy an absolute calm (we only hear the wind)…
There are more and more dunes (aie aie), we are proposed to go down walking with them. And it is there that we realize the true speed of the walk since this morning. We struggle to follow the dromedaries and our two guides so much they trace. Whereas when we were on camel, we thought we were super slow.
We finally arrive at a bivouac, for the lunch break. We are happy to make a small camel break. After 2h30, it becomes a little hard, the body isn’t yet used to it, the buttocks and the legs shout for help.
We explore the dunes next door while waiting to be served. It’s not that easy to climb the dunes. Of course, our shoes are filled with sand. There is a small wind but fortunately that does not bother us too much.
The tents of the bivouac can be seen from afar.
After lunch (another chicken tagine + Moroccan salad), we are full. We take a nap on a sofa put there on the dunes, before going back up on the camels. It left for 1h of road still until our bivouac
I show you what our bivouac looks like. The tent is very very large. Aurélien has a private tent (with two twin beds) and we have another private tent with a double bed. We expected to have to sleep on the ground on an uncomfortable carpet so it is with great surprise and relief that we discover a real bed with a good mattress inside. There are already 3 blankets on the bed.
The toilets and showers are shared and are outside. We even have hot water. Everything is super clean.
Small inspection of the sheets. They are clean too. We took a meat bag each, just in case… but we aren’t going to use them after all.
Note: apparently there are options where we can sleep in bivouacs with private toilets and showers. But it is so expensive that we didn’t want it.
Around 6pm, we climb to the highest dune to watch the sunset. Thanks to the clouds, the shades of pink, purple, red… did not go unnoticed.
On the camp, there is only one other Italian couple with us. Three people are at our service, for 5 tourists. The ultimate luxury!
The meal is very simple (I have the impression that with this agency, we always eat the same thing): soup, mixed tagine (a little lamb and lots of vegetables) and clementines. Fortunately they give us a lot of bread so we wedge ourselves especially with bread.
After dinner indoors (where we take the opportunity to recharge our phone batteries because our tents, apart from the light bulb, have no plugs. It is only to take photos because we don’t receive internet from here anymore), we are proposed to go out and to sit down near the fire. There is a mini show of tam tam and Berber songs.
It’s very cold and the smoke bothers me a bit so I prefer to hide behind the dunes to look at the stars. I think this is the first time that I see the Milky Way clearly. The moon is hiding somewhere, you can see the stars very, very well. Not to the point of seeing the shooting stars every 15 seconds either, but good enough to enjoy the show I find. We go to bed super early, and when the person in charge of the bivouac hears JB talking about “cold”, he gave us 2 extra blankets.
Just as I’m leaving for bed, the rest of the group sees a shooting star, too bad for me (finally I’ll have the chance to see one the next day).
Day 7: Erg Chigaga
Well, it was a difficult night for everyone. Despite our attempts to delay the fateful moment, the three of us had to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet. Arrrggghhh the torture of having to get out of bed, to cover ourselves to go out in the cold! It is only 20 meters away, but I remind you that it is 4°C outside and we have no heating.
In addition, wool blankets are less warm than down blankets. JB finds out why and how he had to wake up 3 times and discovers that the colder it gets, the more you want to go to the toilet. He thus understands why he woke up every night when we slept in our van in New Zealand.
All of this has called into question my plan for Iceland. We plan to go there in April. At the beginning, because of the overpriced hotels in Iceland, I intended to sleep inside the car one night out of two to save money, but after this night in the desert, I think that this option isn’t even possible.
One hour camel ride
After the breakfast which did us a lot of good (mint tea at will + a couple of cool things), here we are again on camel back.
Two hours drive
After one hour, a 4×4 comes to pick us up and we leave for 2 hours of road. We stop at a field of rockets, which grow all alone. It is there where the dromedaries (belonging to the nomads) eat and grow all alone. When they will be bigger, they will be sold and used as means of transport. We also tasted the rockets, it tastes much stronger than the rocket we eat in France.
The 4×4 that we take is super high, with huge wheels. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to cross the desert like that. We feel that with each passage on the sand, the wheels deviate a little from their trajectory, the driving should not be easy. Nevertheless, there are tourists who rent big 4×4 and venture there with a good GPS. If this is your case, opt for a big 4×4, take plenty of water and warm clothes!
In any case, even if the terrain has nothing to do with Iceland, this roadtrip helped me a lot in planning our next trip to Iceland. I realized the difficulty, already, to drive a 4×4, the type of car we want and some aspects that I underestimated.
We first stop at real nomads’ homes (who move every month bringing their animals and tents… ). It has nothing to do with our luxury tents. They offer us mint tea and quickly show us where they live. We admire them even more because we spent a rather hard night in our luxury tents while they have no bed and almost sleep on the floor.
We then visit the sacred well. I don’t know if you see some kind of small river in the picture, the spring has been laid bare like that for the animals to drink. There is a well with a bucket a little further on, that’s where the nomads come to get water. It is thanks to springs like this that the surroundings are rather green and that there is plenty of rocket fire for the camels.
We finally arrive at our bivouac, hallelujah! All our bags at the back of the car are covered with a layer of disgusting dust. I don’t know how the dust settled there while we are spared on the front.
Usual chicken tagine, this time, we have rice! Aurélien and JB are thinking that we should not be vegan here. At no time, they did not ask us if we had a particular diet.
The dunes of Chigaga
Erg Chigaga designates the 30km of dunes as far as the eye can see, where we are, 2 hours drive from M’hamid. As we are at the gates of the desert, there are no dunes like this everywhere, but it is concentrated on certain places. It is the most impressive place in the surroundings thus inevitably, there are much more tourists than the day before.
A small nap later and we left to climb the biggest dune of the corner, which is about 30m high. On the way, we meet a German couple with their 4×4 motorhome with which they have criss-crossed North Africa from Germany. Since 20 years! I don’t know if the boys have misunderstood or not, but 20 years is still a bit long for just Africa, isn’t it? They say they preferred Libya !
I’ll let you look at the pictures that speak for themselves. It’s just like in my imagination (even if I underestimated the effort required to get to the top). Some explore the dunes on camels, others on quad bikes, some come with snowboards… In spite of the sun that beats all day long, the sand is warm! There are some footprints of sparrows and lizards. Fascinating!
We are all waiting for the sunset at the top of the dunes. As soon as the sun disappears, it is suddenly very cold. We see the mountains from afar. Behind these mountains is Algeria.
In the evening, it is the same dinner, fire, music… we go to bed early. Contrary to the day before, we slip into the meat bag that we brought and it is much better like that! That avoids the loss of heat and as the fabric is synthetic, we could slip into it without problem, it is less cold than cotton. In addition, there is a place for the pillow, which finally serves to protect us from the draught. Thanks to that, we had a very good night.
Day 8 : Return to Marrakech
I have the impression that everyone has opted for the all inclusive tour Marrakech => M’Hamid => Marrakech. They all leave at 8am, while we have breakfast, eyes half closed.
We have to come back to Marrakech too but by our own means. We leave only at 9 am. Around 10:30 am, we arrive at the hotel of the agency and ask to squatter a room to take a hot shower. Around 12h, at our request, they find us a cab.
At the beginning, we just wanted to go to Zagora and then manage for the rest (210 dirhams), but as we are very, very eager to be in Essaouira, we accept the price announced by the man to push to Ouarzazate (800 dh). I think that the trip M’hamid => Ouarzazate by cab should only cost 500 dh, but hey … we must advance as much as possible, we are so tired that we do not want to be ch*er to find another bus, or another cab. During all the trip, who slept very well?
I think it’s the deal of the year for the driver because the gentleman keeps thanking us at the time of payment. Up to now we aren’t bad in negotiation but this time we were fooled ^^
At the bus station in Ouarzazate, the tourist buses have already left, there is a comfortable local bus that leaves at 6 pm for Marrakech and arrives there at 10 pm. In the bus, as it is local, there is more noise (several people speak loudly on the phone), 0 pee break, and a lady opens her traditional yoghurt which smells so strong that I thought she had vomited.
But it’s not a big deal, we’re very, very happy to have been able to move forward so quickly in one day.
JB has a lot of difficulty to find a good hotel in Marrakech, all the French seem to have migrated to Morocco for the new year 🙂 In the end, we find an apart-hotel with two rooms at the right price. We dine quickly and then dodo.
Tomorrow, we’ll have the opportunity to sleep in before returning to Essaouira, our little corner of paradise.
In conclusion, it is a unique experience and you have to have lived it at least once in your life. The desert fascinates, the dunes are beautiful!
We are amazed but also struck by the harshness of living conditions in the desert. This only reinforces our admiration for the nomads and peoples living here. It also opens our eyes to the scarcity and importance of water.
After 1 week of roadtrip, our two nights in bivouac completely finished us. I think that if we had opted for a tent with private toilets or if we had chosen a less cold period, we would have been less tired.
I think that if you are super cold or “precious” and plan to go there at the end of the year like us, it is better to opt for a day from M’hamid to Erg Chigaga, without sleeping in a bivouac (or a bivouac with private toilets). After 2 hours in 4×4 to reach Erg Chigaga, ask for a small camel ride on the dunes (1 hour). Then return to M’hamid and sleep in the warmth.
The continuation and end of our roadtrip in Morocco is here. Good reading
Part 2: Practical Tips
- Tour 2, 5 days, 2 nights in bivouac: 139€/person full board, all included. We recommend the Sahara Services agency. Our tour is called “La Vie des Nomades”. The food isn’t their strong point, but the service was excellent and the tents very comfortable.
- Meat bag (recommended in winter): https: //amzn.to/2C04U9e 17€ for the “single” bag, 23€ for the “double” bag
- Tip: count about 5€/day/guide for the whole group. So we gave about 400dirhams of tip in total
- Transport :
- Bus CTM Ouarzazate => M’hamid: 90dirhams/person
- M’hamid => Zagora: 210dirhams for a private cab, or 35dirhams / person in a collective cab
- M’hamid => Ouarzazate: about 500 dirhams for a private cab. We paid 800dirhams, it was too much. The trick would be to take a private cab to Zagora, and in Zagora, negotiate another private cab to Ouarzazate, it will cost less I think
- Bus Ouarzazate => Marrakech: 70 dirhams/person
- Hotel :
- Hotel Kasbah Sahara Services (belonging to our travel agency) in M’hamid: 30€/person, dinner included
- Hotel in Marrakech: 80€ the apartment-hotel with two rooms.
To take with you
If you go to the desert in winter like us, here are the essential things you need:
- Meat bag to sleep even warmer (ours: https://amzn.to/2C04U9e)
- Bottles of water: the hotel sells some before departure, we left with 1,5L/person/day. It is necessary to buy some before leaving. You can brush your teeth at the toilet sink (the water is clean) but if you are super super careful, take an extra bottle to brush your teeth.
- Sunscreen (highly recommended)
- Moisturizing cream (highly recommended, I suffered a lot with my dehydrated hands)
- Closed shoes that can be filled with sand without you crying your eyes out
- Intimate wipes (because you aren’t going to take a shower in the desert)
- Cash for tips
- The PQ is provided, but you never know…
- A chèche or a hat
- A small backpack for your things during these few days. Leave your suitcase at the hotel because camels cannot carry suitcases.
- A comforter and scarf for the evening