I took a weekend trip to the Sahara desert mid-October last year, organised by ALIF (Arabic Language Institute in Fes) where I was studying. We drove from Fes to Erfoud which took about 7 hours (felt like a lot longer when steaming Steve had to keep making the bus stop for toilet runs) when we arrived at the Hotel Xaluca. We then had a buffet-style dinner and the rooms were large, clean and well decorated. By far, the best bit about this hotel is the indoor pool & jacuzzi! We all took a dip after dinner and it was a really lovely relaxed evening after a long day of travel.
Outside pool & seating area at Hotel Xaluca
We woke up early the next morning for breakfast before checking out the centre of Erfoud to buy scarves and water to travel into the desert. We then drove to the Kasbah Hotel Tombouktou in Merzouga where we had a buffet lunch and dropped off some of our belongings before embarking on our camel trek. A word of advice, if you go camel riding, try and choose one of the camels at the front as the leading camels are usually the best behaved! We rode the camels for two hours from 5pm, meaning we were lucky enough to watch the sunset across the desert. The scenery was breathtaking and the berbers leading our caravans of camels were really friendly and funny, making the experience even more memorable.
Leading us through the desert
Sunset camel trekking
If you’ve never ridden a camel before there’s a couple of things you should know, firstly the way the a camel stands up is really quite terrifying when you’re sat on it’s back! You’ll be thrown forwards and backwards as it stands but just hold on tight and you won’t fall off. Secondly, camel riding is nowhere near as comfortable as horse riding, and after the two hour trek most of us adapted a very strange way of walking as our legs became very sore!! This can be helped by changing your position and sitting on the camel sideways rather than one leg each side.
We arrived at our berber camp in the evening and had a traditional tagine dinner before music and instruments were played and we danced through the night. We slept in tents but the beds were really comfortable and they provided us with lots of thick blankets so we were nice and toasty. One of the berber men laughed at me for bringing so many jumpers, claiming that ‘its not the Antarctic’, but the desert does get really cold at night! There was a humongous sand dune next to our camp which had beautiful views from the top including the border of Algeria – if you could climb it. I tried and found it IMPOSSIBLE I couldn’t even get half way up! It’s incredibly steep and because of the sand, every step you take you’re just sliding backwards, which exhausts your energy. I ended up just collapsing in the sand and watching the stars whilst my friends laughed at me for giving in.
The next day we got up at 5am to do another 2 hour camel trek – really not that much fun when you’ve had about two hours sleep (we didn’t come off the sand dune until around 2am) and you are already aching from the trek the day before. It was great seeing the sun rise in the desert but frankly at this point, fully aware of the entire day of bus travel I had ahead of me, I just wanted to get home. We finally arrived back at the Tombouctou hotel, took showers and grabbed our belongings before embarking on our very long journey back to Fes.
I’m really glad that I got to go to the Sahara desert but, from my experience, it’s definitely not something you should try squeeze into one weekend. We spent the vast majority of our time over the weekend travelling on a bus and less than 12 hours in the actual desert. We were all shattered and this makes it a lot harder to embrace the amazing experience. It would have been far more enjoyable if we’d been able to spend at least two nights in the desert, meaning it wouldn’t have felt so rushed. Understandably, the trip had to be organised in this way so that none of us would miss school (even though most of us chose to sleep in on the Monday anyway), but I think it would be far more wholesome and enjoyable to spend longer in the actual desert and experience the traditional berber way of life.
In addition to this, I would strongly recommend checking the movements of the moon before you embark on your trip. There is no light pollution in the desert and hot and sunny days mean there usually isn’t much cloud about. Unfortunately, when we were visiting it was a full moon, which meant we couldn’t really see any of the stars! If you get your timings right, it’s guaranteed to be a spectacular view of the night sky.