Visit the Sahara Desert
Would you like to visit the Sahara Desert? Cross the great Moroccan south and experience a camel trek.
The Sahara Desert covers more than 4 million km². In Berber, its name means “the great desert”. From west to east, the Sahara stretches over 5,000 kilometers. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Egypt, and Libya – it crosses ten countries! This makes the Sahara the largest hot desert on our planet.
If life is harsh here, many nomadic tribes depend on it. These people are known as Saharawis. Despite minimal rainfall, this desert has an ecosystem specific to arid zones. The density of flora and fauna is low but fully adapted.
So, to visit the Sahara Desert and discover spectacular scenery, consider a Sahara Desert Trek! The traditional way to explore this exceptional environment is by meharee.
Let’s find out more about this unique way of exploring the Sahara Desert.
The Méharée in a nutshell
A méharée is a unique type of trekking in the Sahara desert. The practice originated in the central Sahara. The use of dromedaries in this region dates back to the beginning of the first millennium B.C. This ancestral trek takes place on the back of the Mehari, a slender saddle dromedary.
Initially, the méharée was a way for Bedouins to get around in the desert. Note that the meharée is a journey carried out on a caravan model. Indeed, in this environment, nomadic peoples move essentially in groups. And in the desert, camels are the Saharawis’ esteemed allies of choice. Indeed, these humped mammals are particularly hardy and resilient. In fact, there are specialized markets for the sale of dromedaries. In Morocco, the Guelmim market is particularly well known.
Taking part in a camel trek is, therefore, a great adventure, experienced as part of a group. The meharists cross the sandy immensity together. This is a unique way to visit the Sahara desert: on the back of your mehari camel, you’ll enjoy an exceptional, authentic, and unforgettable adventure!
Our tips for a successful Mehari tour
A Mehari tour of the Sarah desert requires you to be in good physical shape.
The meharee route takes place in an unusual environment. High temperatures, prolonged exposure to the sun, and continuous physical exertion are all factors to be taken into account. In the weeks leading up to your hike in the Sahara desert, pay particular attention to your physical condition.
The best time to visit
You can visit the Sahara Desert all year round. However, the ideal period is between October and May.
For the more adventurous, it’s worth noting that December and January nights are particularly cold. During these two months, night-time temperatures approach 0°C. Note also that from May onwards, the days start to get really hot. For this reason, the organizers of your meharée will plan an early start and breaks in the shade during the hot hours.
What equipment do you need?
Generally speaking, the weather is sunny throughout the Sahara. However, rains can be violent and sandstorms can be surprising.
When preparing your crew for your hike in the Sahara desert, consider the temperature differences between day and night. You should also bring a sleeping bag and appropriate toiletries. But be careful not to overload yourself. The weight carried by mounts is controlled. Dromedaries have their own limits, and there’s no room for anything superfluous.
What to see and do on a hike in the Sahara desert?
M’Hamid el-Ghislane and its ergs
The Moroccan south is one of the most popular areas for camel trekking. In fact, there are many camel treks on offer.
To visit the Sahara desert, you can discover the Drâa Valley. In this region, the landscape gradually changes. The mountainous environment is first followed by pastures and then dried-up dayas (rainwater basins). The small shrubs appear on the scattered dunes. Finally, without having seen it coming, the immensity of the Sahara appears.
The meharée starts from the dunes of Kriaat Jmel and ends at M’Hamid el-Ghislane.
On this tour of the Sahara desert, you’ll cross several ergs, including Bourguerme and Zehar. These are vast stretches of sand dunes shaped by the wind. Along the way, you’ll also come across wadis lined with tamarisk trees, palm groves, and ancient forts typical of the region.
Erg Chegaga dunes
Your hike in the Sahara desert begins near Zagora. Erg Chegaga is one of Morocco’s two largest ergs.
To visit the Sahara Desert, you’ll be dropped off by a 4×4 vehicle. Then the trek into the High Atlas desert begins. As you head south, the aridity becomes more and more apparent. As the days go by, you’ll cross the dunes of Bouigaiwarne, Regabi, and Bouguerne.
You’ll be transported by this golden landscape with its poetic curves. Several wadis punctuate your progress through the Sahara. And to round off your desert trek, you’ll reach Lake Irriki. The surroundings are breathtaking. Then, on the back of your Mehari, you’ll cross the last silts and dunes.
Dunes of Erg Chebbi
This meharée starts south of Erfoud, in the vicinity of Merzouga. From here, you’ll be close to the Hamada de Guir. The Hamada de Guir is a natural frontier that precedes the oases of the Saoura.
On this tour of the Sahara desert, you’ll cross the highest sand dunes in the country. They rise to 170 meters. Throughout this magical experience, you’ll come across basic but vital wells. Accompanied by qualified guides, you’ll also cross natural obstacles.
After a desert plateau, you begin by crossing the Moulay Amar erg. Here, you’ll enjoy a magnificent view of the fossil-bearing mountains. Then you reach the immense Erg Chebbi. This vast expanse features rocky sections and impressive dune belts. You’ll appreciate the tawny colors as far as the eye can see. A visit to the Sahara desert is a wonderful change of scenery.
How much does it cost to take a Mehari into the Sahara?
To visit the Sahara desert, you’ll need to spend €50 per person per day. For each day of desert touring, the following are included:
Guide interpreter and camel drivers
Mehari camel ride
Meals and drinks
Bedouin tent, mattress, and blankets.
Then there’s the cost of your flight and transfer from the airport or your accommodation. Of course, these prices vary according to your departure and arrival points.
If you don’t have much time, you can choose to visit the Sahara Desert for just one day and one night. However, most méharées last between one and two weeks. The price varies according to the length of the trip. Expect to pay around €350 per person per week. Some organizations offer particularly comfortable or personalized services, so the price will be affected.
How do I book a ticket to the Sahara online?
To visit the Sahara desert, you can book your Sahara desert tour online from France. Visit the websites of Sahara Morocco Tours operators and compare their offers. You’ll find prices that include flights from France, as well as those that don’t.
How do I get to the Sahara Desert for a trek?
Meharees often start from small towns or villages on the edge of the Moroccan Sahara. Merzouga, M’Hamid, or Zagora are often among these departure points. Most of the time, the meharée provider will organize your transfer by 4×4. Vehicles will pick you up at the airport or in the town where you’re staying.
Where to stay near the Sahara Desert?
During your meharée, you’ll stay in tents or under the stars, surrounded by unique landscapes.
To enjoy Morocco before or after your Sahara Desert trek, there are several options. The village of Aït Ben Haddou, a Unesco World Heritage site, is an authentic stopover. Many Airbnbs are available here. Agdz, M’Hamid, and Zagora are also charming villages where it’s good to spend a few days.
A Berber odyssey: road-trip through Tradition
Explore the wilderness and discover the rich and fascinating Berber heritage. From their legendary stories to a journey to the heart of the Sahara, follow the path mapped out by our editor.
They are the “Imazighen,” or Free Men, and they have lived in North Africa since the beginning of time. You may know them as Berbers, as they were called by the Roman Empire, to which they belonged for several centuries. The Berbers have experienced several invasions, conflicts, and various forms of colonization. Yet this gigantic community and its mosaic of tribes have managed to preserve and celebrate their traditions, folklore, and cultures to this day.
Let’s delve into the history of the Berbers and their roots in the Sahara on a road trip through south-east Morocco. From Marrakech to the dunes of Chegaga, I’ll take you through the High Atlas, the ancestral land of the Moroccan Berbers, to unveil the rich but little-known Amazigh heritage.
In the footsteps of the Imazighen…
First occupants of North Africa
We frequently forget that North Africa was traditionally the homeland of the Berber peoples because of the waves of Arab and Western colonization, especially French colonization.. In fact, the Berbers were the first occupants of the Maghreb, and the first concrete traces of their presence can be traced back to primitive art and writing in the first half of the first millennium BC.
Archaeologists have also unearthed rock paintings identified as Berber on the walls of the Tassili n’Ajjer mountain range, between Libya and Algeria, where Tuareg tribes still live. These paintings highlight Berber beliefs in nature, the relationship with the sun and moon, and the sacred power of rocks.
As for the Berber language “Tamazight”, a combination of several dialects, it dates back to 2000 B.C. It was spoken in many parts of the Maghreb, all the way to the Nile Valley.
Great Berber civilizations and dynasties
The Berber peoples of North Africa lived to the rhythm of great empires and civilizations. This began with the Capsian civilization between 9000 and 7000 BC, followed by the Carthaginian civilization.
Berbers rubbed shoulders with Phoenicians and Spanish Iberians. The largest Berber monarchy first appeared in antiquity, in the third century BC, in Numidia, modern-day Algeria, with Cirta as its capital (today’s Constantine). Numidia became an ally of the Romans against Carthage, even extending its power into present-day Tunisia. Berber culture had a real influence on Roman art and lifestyle! Numidia was subsequently divided by a series of conflicts, and the Berbers adapted to the new rulers.
However, the Muslim Conquest of the Maghreb, which occurred around 647, marked a significant shift for the Berber populations of North Africa.
. Catholics, Jews, and pagans converted to the Muslim religion, while others tried to maintain their own cults.
It was not until several centuries later that several great Berber dynasties came to power, including the Zirids in Algeria, and the Almoravids, Marinids, and Almohads in Morocco. The latter are the originators of Rabat’s Hassan Tower!
The Berber peoples thus retained a certain power that also extended to Spain (Al-Andalus) and Sicily. But Arabization, Islamization, struggles between dynasties, internal uprisings and conflicts with the Turks crushed Berber influence. In the end, certain peoples continued to live in prosperity in the mountains of Algeria (Kabylia), for example, in the Moroccan Atlas or the Sahara.
And what about today?
Today, the former Berber countries, heirs to great dynasties, are all Arab: Morocco, Algeria, Libya… Nevertheless, Berber peoples and their heritage have survived in very specific places. They can be found in some areas of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Egypt, as well as in the Canary Islands. The Berber diaspora outside North Africa and the Mediterranean region is estimated at over 30 million people!
Many Berbers are currently fighting for greater recognition of their culture. In Morocco, learning the Amazigh language is slowly being integrated into school curricula. And in Algeria, the Berber New Year, celebrated in January, is officially a public holiday! Certain traditions are also deeply rooted, such as the Fantasia, or Gunpowder Game, an impressive show featuring Berber cavalry simulating military assaults.
Road trip to Morocco, discovering Amazigh culture
I had the opportunity to explore the Christian Kingdom for around ten months between 2018 and 2019, while working in the capital, Rabat. Became aware of the airport’s name being written in an alien alphabet as soon as I landed in Morocco as well as Arabic and French.
. I asked the cab driver, who told me about the existence of the “Berber alphabet”, Tifinagh. This script originated with the Tuareg tribes, before being standardized in the 20th century.
Tifinagh has been used in the institutions of the Kingdom, on the facades of schools, and on some road signs since the adoption of the new Moroccan Constitution in 2011. It was crucial to promote the language because 40% of the people speak Berber, which makes up 60% of the country. While some Berbers have settled in Casablanca and Rabat, particular Moroccan regions, such as the Rif in the north (referred to as “les Rifains”), the High Atlas (referred to as “les Tamazights”), and the Souss in the south (referred to as “les Chleuhs”), are where traditions are more prevalent.
First contacts in Marrakech
Our journey, which will eventually lead us to the Saharan sands, starts in the ochre city. I enter the Medina, the historic core of the city that dates back to the 11th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage site, through one of the gates (“Bab”) of Marrakech’s old town. The Maghreb’s Medina in Marrakech has the highest population density!
Souks, riads, cafés, an old Jewish neighborhood (the “Mellah”), and most importantly Berber handicrafts may be found in this labyrinth. Before my eyes, traders set out their wares: dozens of rugs, hundreds of ceramics, and dozens of jewelry boxes. Nearly all of them contain signs and symbols that I’m still not familiar with. I ask one of the shopkeepers, who is originally from Taroudant, a fortified town in the southwest, in my halting Arabic for some clarifications.
Visit the Sahara Desert: Marrakech
He explains that sheep’s wool is used to make things like carpets. The symbols on the carpets have a clear significance and resemble those on cave paintings. The “X” represents the feminine body, the rhombus represents the womb and uterus, and the spirals represent harmony, for instance. Generally speaking, male-female relationships, fertility, the natural world, and mortality are all represented in Berber artisan designs. The predominant colors of Berber artifacts are red and yellow.
I continue my quick tour of Marrakech by seeing the Bahia and El Badi Palaces, the palm grove, the Agdal Gardens, and the renowned Majorelle Garden by Yves Saint-Laurent. As dusk comes, Jamaâ-el-Fna square and its enormous market resound as Marrakech’s historic Medina quiets down. The chef directs me to a vendor where I can have tanjia, a classic Marrakchi dish composed of seasoned lamb cooked for around eight hours in a wood-fired oven “like those in hammams” over embers. Happy eating!
From the High Atlas to At-ben-Haddou’s Ksar
The following morning, still intending to reach the desert in a few days, I left for the High Atlas, often known as the roof of Morocco, holding a cup of mint tea and a Moroccan crepe (or “msemen”) in my hands. In this steep region, numerous semi-nomadic Berber populations continue to live in a highly rural and traditional environment.
Visit the Sahara Desert: Two hours separate Marrakech from my first stop, the Tizi n’Tichka pass (translated as “pass of the pastures” in Tamazight). It has a fantastic road that is occasionally very dry and other times very fertile. Despite the 800-plus curves and twists, I must navigate to get to the pass, the untamed, ochre-colored countryside emerges before my eyes. Once there, the scenery is spectacular in both literal and figurative senses because we are nearly 2,300 meters above sea level!