Having grown up in wintry England, the mystical expanse of the desert was something that had always seemed out of reach to me. It was not until 2018, during my time studying in Spain, that these worlds collided, when the international student network advertised a four-day trip around Morocco. The trip would culminate in a priceless night sleeping in the depth of the Sahara Desert; a chance to unlock the secret cosmos which, until now, had only existed on postcards or the pages of Middle Eastern tales. There was no debate. I grabbed my friends and we signed up on the spot for camping in the Sahara.
And boy, were we happy we did. Camping in the Sahara, in Merzouga, the South-Eastern side of the Sahara Desert, was an inexplicably epic cultural experience. While words can’t quite express its magic, here’s an overview of what we did and why it was (with the risk of sounding dramatic) one of the best days ever.
Also Read: Top 12 most famous deserts around the world
A 4×4 Ride Over the Dunes
Having rested in a straw-hut hotel the previous night, we awoke to find lines of large silver cars awaiting our group outside. Donning fiery red headscarves, we set off over the dunes of the desert in high spirits, ready for a ride with views like no other. As the car ambled over sandy humps and rocky terrain, we watched as the cars in the distance set off trails of sand behind them. It was hard not to picture ourselves in a movie, complete with the soundtrack of traditional Moroccan music blasting from the radio.
Lunch With A View
Once in the depth of the desert, our vehicles came to a halt outside what looked like a crumbling concrete castle. Inside, we were treated to some traditional dancing, performed by lines of men known as Berbers: an unconquered pre-Arab culture indigenous to North Africa and parts of West Africa, who proudly call themselves the ‘free people’. Dressed in white suits and shaking their instruments, they encouraged us to join them, as the two cultures merged in a jubilant, if slightly clumsy, dance.
Next, we were led to a bright yellow table, laden with tagines and traditional sweet snacks. While some tried their hands at drumming, others explored the serenity of the sandy surrounding area. This was a scene which I would usually rush to share with my Instagram followers, yet I found comfort in our remoteness, undisturbed by the social media on which I so relied.
A Peculiar Kind Of Transport
If the rows of 4 x 4s had looked impressive, the lines of camels waiting outside the building were something else. Before we mounted the animals, we were told by our Berber guides that this was not a short camel ride, but our ‘transport’ to camp. And they were not wrong, as a two-hour journey awaited us! What you may not be able to tell from my glamorous pictures, is that camel riding can be clumsy and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, the journey was certainly worth it for the surreal views on offer. As we rode through the expanse of mountainous sand, the warm December sun painted a line of shadows beside the endless procession of animals in front of us. We even grew attached to our camels, each clomping through the stillness with their own distinct character.
Sunsets And Stargazing
Two hours later and we had finally arrived at our destination. Having dismounted the camels (not very elegantly in my case), we found our accommodation. A rectangle of quaint, yet surprisingly spacious, coloured fabric tents. We set to work climbing up the dunes to watch the sunset. As those who were more adventurous surfed down the dunes, I took a moment to contemplate the sheer beauty of the surroundings. With only a limitless horizon of sand ahead, it were as if life had come to a peculiar standstill, as we contemplated the earth’s vastness, whilst feeling like the only life on the planet.
After another delicious Berber meal, we settled around the campfire. Wrapped in blankets, we joined in with more traditional Berber dancing and music, having lost our inhibitions to the charm of the desert. And, oh…the stars! Away from the pollution of the city, a blanket of stars shone above us, glistening with a clarity that cannot be captured on camera. We sat side by side with our Berber guides, exchanging stories of our different backgrounds. Intrigued, I asked where they had learnt so many different languages with such a remote lifestyle. Laughing, they replied ‘the school of life’. Basking in the power of their simplicity, we went to bed with an overwhelming sense of peace and contentment.
An Early Start To Watch The Sunrise
My 6 AM alarm call reminded me of our final activity; climbing the dunes once more to watch the sunrise. Stumbling out of the tent at what felt like the middle of the night, I drowsily contemplated returning to the refuge of my warm bed. However, determination took hold of me and blurry-eyed, I climbed up the dunes with only the guidance of the shadows ahead. And it was all worth it. As the sun rose, the dark sky transformed into watercolour layers of pink, yellow and blue, and black silhouettes morphed into coloured dunes, doused in the colours of the morning.
So, What Did I Learn From The Experience?
It is safe to say that leaving the Sahara, we all felt slightly different to when we had arrived. Humbled by the simple lifestyle of the Berbers, I learnt that nature has a power much stronger than the material goods I rely on at home. Despite lacking most of the things I treasure in my daily life—technology, social media, and shops—the desert remains one of my favourite places on earth.
Would I Do Anything Differently?
Setting off for the Sahara, I was not aware of its changeable climate. While you can expect scorching temperatures during the day, the temperature drops considerably in the evening. To avoid shivering through the night, make sure you bring a range of clothes to prepare for this.
Camping In The Sahara: An Experience For Everyone
There are various travel organisations which organise similar itineraries such as our experience of camping in the Sahara, which is perfect for any traveller. Whether you are looking for an adventure, or want to experience another way of life, the experience of camping in the Sahara will not be a disappointment.