My partner and I's three week Moroccan road trip was filled with stops to Marrakech, Chefchaouen, Aït Benhaddou, Fes and several other small towns in between; taking on it's winding roads and ever changing landscapes. And while there were several highlights, I'd have to say that our stop in Merzouga was what I was most looking forward to. How could it not be, with a promise of spending the night in the desert under the stars? Spending a night in the Sahara desert is something I'm sure every traveller dreams about.
But like everything else in life, there are a few things you should be prepared for to make the most of the experience.
THINGS TO KNOW
Avoid going when the weather is extreme. This could be when it's super hot and unbearable around August or when the nights drop to below freezing around January. I went around early/mid July which wasn't too bad.
Bring enough water. And snacks. Especially if you have diet restrictions. While I thoroughly appreciated the delicious tagine and mint tea served for dinner at the camp, water was not provided. Don't underestimate how dehydrated you can get in the heat, especially after the camel ride, so make sure to pack a few bottles. I also don't eat meat and avoid dairy as much as I can, so have some alternatives to snack on. Our bottle of wine also came in super handy - just saying.
Pack appropriately. Which I know seems ironic coming from me, seeing as I wore a chiffon maxi wrap dress (which to be fair was mainly for photo taking purposes. Climbing up this monster dune in this super inappropriate dress at sunrise was everything BUT glamorous). But here's the thing about the desert, the temperature can drop quite low as soon as the sun sets; so if you plan on sleeping directly under stars, be sure to bring some extra layers and/or a blanket so you're prepared. Even if you'll be sleeping in a tent, I'd still recommend you bring one just in case.
But don't overpack. Before the night in the desert, we spent our first night in a cozy Merzouga hotel instead of heading immediately into the dunes - and I'm so glad we did. This gave us the opportunity to have a shower (you wont get one in the desert), get some rest, as well as the opportunity to have a safe place to store our excess luggage and park our car. You wont be able to take any bulky luggage into the desert (remember, you'll be riding in on a camel...where will it fit?), so you'll need to leave of of your things behind anyway. You'll want to wear closed-toe shoes (that wont fall off while riding the camel) and only bring the necessities like camera equipment, loose fitting clothes, sunglasses and/or a hat, a scarf, sunscreen, mints, baby wipes, and hand sanitizer. Trust me, you'll be particularly glad you packed the last two once you realize how "rustic" toilets in the desert can get. Don't forget to also charge up all of your electronics and ahead of time.
The camel ride can get brutal. The reality is, riding a camel is not all that glamorous (they typically stink, will likely poop while en route, or may have a tantrum if they're not in the mood to give rides). Your inner thighs will likely get a bit sore after a while and things can also get bumpy when they're trying to find their balance in the sand while walking up and down massive dunes. In spite of all this, I highly recommend you still go ahead and do it because the views are truly well worth it.
Wake up early. Take advantage of the indescribable silence, tranquility and the twinkling light show that the stars are sure to put on at night. But be sure to wake up in time to witness the sun rise over the Sahara Desert. It's an unforgettable experience.
The final verdict? My night in the desert camping under the stars was an unforgettable experience that definitely lived up to the fantasy I envisioned. We rode camels into the dunes to watch the most beautiful sunset, enjoyed a delicious dinner around a bonfire, joined in the drumming of some traditional Berber music, slept out under the stars, and woke up early enough to climb the most mountainous of sand dunes to catch the sunrise. If given the chance, I would do it all over again.