September in the Sahara

Story by Matthew St. Amand

There are certain places in the world whose very names evoke images of romance and adventure. Two such places are Morocco and the Sahara Desert. These locations have been the backdrops for countless movies and innumerable personal adventures.

A pair of Windsor adventurers recently visited both locales in a thrilling whirlwind tour that left them feeling like they would go back in a minute if the opportunity arose.

“We arrived in Morocco on September seventh and stayed there until September thirteenth,” one of the adventurers says. “We landed in Marrakesh, stayed there one night and then went off on a five-day pre-booked tour through Desert Luxury Camp Morocco.”

What inspired them to travel to such an exotic destination?

“We love to travel and we’ve always wanted to go to the Sahara Desert,” the adventurers say. “It’s at the top of our bucket list to spend time with camels in the desert! Going to Morocco made that easier. The Sahara Desert is accessible from other destinations, but all the rest of them were too far for us. We had always heard great things about Morocco, and we wanted to enjoy it while it still feels authentic.”

When the travelers landed in Marrakesh, they didn’t find a sleepy, quaint old-world city.

Lobby and poolside inside the Riad Paradis Blanc in Marrakesh.

“It is such a hustle and bustle!” they say. “It’s a very different culture. The traffic is crazy! As our driver took us into Old Town, we passed through intersections that had no traffic lights. There were so many people on scooters weaving through traffic, and people in cars putting their arms out their windows, indicating where they wanted to go!”

Old Town is surrounded by a wall. The roads within those walls are little more than lane ways. Its marketplaces and bazaars are known as souks: the souks of the Marrakesh Medina. The adventurers had booked a room at a Riad, a little hotel. Their driver could only get them so close to it—automobiles cannot fit through the narrow laneways. So, the travelers were dropped off. They were met by the manager of their Riad, who walked them through the winding lanes to their accommodation. 

Day One of their tour involved a six-hour drive through the Atlas Mountains and the Tizi n‘Tichka pass, which is the direct route to Ouarzazate, which is known as “the door of the desert.” The road snakes through majestic scenery offering views of snow-topped peaks and many Berber villages. The travelers arrived at the cultural heritage site of Morocco: the Ksour of Ait BenHaddou. The itinerary stated: “It was once an important stop along the caravan routes that carried salt from the Sahara and on return, gold and ivory.” 

Lookout over the city of Tinghir.

Not only is it a historical site, but a place where many famous movies, such as Lawrence of Arabia, Jewel of the Nile, and more recently Gladiator, were filmed. Then the travelers passed through the town of Ouarzazate—thirty kilometres from Ait BenHaddou—which is called the Hollywood of Morocco. Many movies have been filmed there. A castle used in the popular show Game of Thrones was built there.

During their night in the Atlas Mountains, the travelers experienced something not mentioned on their itinerary: at 11:11 p.m., September eighth, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Marrakesh, devastating the area. Marrakesh and the Atlas Mountains were its epicenter.

“We felt it, but there was no damage where we were,” the adventurers say.

“On Day Two of our tour, we walked through Todra Gorge,” they continue. “There were large rock faces on either side with people climbing them. A stream cuts through the area and there is lush greenery, palm trees, as well as small towns.”

From there they continued driving toward the Sahara Desert, ending up in Merzouga, a town just outside of the desert. At that point, the travelers went off-roading until they came to the apricot-coloured Erg Chebbi sand dunes. 

Camel ride throughout the Sahara Desert.

“The dunes are extremely vibrant,” they recall. “We off-roaded to Desert Luxury Camp. Everywhere we traveled, we were greeted by people offering tea and nuts. We stayed the night in glamping tents, complete with a queen-sized bed plus a double bed, en suite and even air-conditioning that switched on after dark each night and ran until morning.”

The entire front of the glamping tent was glass affording the travelers a spectacular view of the sand dunes. 

“Throughout our trip, the meals were magnificent,” the travelers say. “They were usually three course meals, so much food, the variety! There was one, Tajine, a dish that has chicken and beef—it’s like a stew in a skillet with olives and vegetables in it. There were all kinds of healthy options. And the homemade bread!” 

Following dinner, we gathered with other travelers in the fire pit area where we enjoyed entertainment provided by members of the staff playing different instruments and singing songs. 

On their third day, the travelers had breakfast and then went off with a separate tour guide who owned the camels, which they rode into the Sahara Desert.

Travelling through the Atlas Mountains through the Tizi n‘Tichka pass.

“Riding the camels was amazing,” the adventurers recall. “They are very gentle creatures. They are very tall!”

Into the vastness of the dunes, they traveled on the camels, led by Berber guides, and there the travelers finally beheld the awesome spectacle of the desert in all its silent solitude.

Conditions in the desert, however, are about as harsh as one might guess.

“It’s always windy in the desert,” the travelers say. “It’s very hot. We wore light clothes, linen, covering up as much as possible, wearing sunglasses and sunscreen. We wore scarves over our heads and mouths because sand is constantly being thrown in your face.” 

For as unrelenting as the conditions can be, the experience is beyond words. 

“It was amazing,” the adventurers say.

Lobby and poolside of the tranquil Riad Rafaele & Spa in Marrakesh.

When they returned to camp in the afternoon, they enjoyed sand surfing on the dunes, and then hanging out by the pool, which—like everything else in the camp—was enclosed in a tent. Once more, the adventurers enjoyed a superb meal and entertainment provided by staff.

“The next day we started our trek out of the area, heading back to Marrakesh,” they say. “We traveled through different landscapes and gorges. There was more driving than stopping on the return trip. We came to the city Nakob, which was very lush in terms of palm trees, fruit orchards, rose farms, vegetable farms. We ended up that night at Draa Valley, in a hotel there with a nice infinity pool looking over a forest.”

As they neared Marrakesh, the adventurers encountered terrain and landmarks they recognized from their first day on the tour and arrived back in the city in the afternoon. Once again, they were met by the manager of the Riad where they were staying. 

“We spent the afternoon there in the souk and markets and had dinner at the Riad,” they say.

Treasures and keepsakes for sale in the souks of the medina in Marrakesh.

Regarding the overall experience, the travelers say: “Everything went smoothly. Everything was what we wanted. The people are incredibly resilient as well as welcoming, even in the face of a devastating earthquake! Everything continued. Everyone was so hospitable to us. The trip was not super expensive. It was comparable to going to Europe. This year they broke records for tourism. We would go again!”

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