2-Day Desert Camp | Zagora, Aït Benhaddou, Ouarzazate

  • Sites: Place Jemaa el-Fna, Le Jardin Majorelle + Berber Museum, La Mamounia, Zeitoun Café, 2 day Desert Camp 2 trip to Ait Benhaddou, Ouarzazate and Zagora, Dar Si Said, Palace de la Bahiaa, Ben Youssef Madrasa, Tanneries
  • Food: NOMAD rooftop, Atay Café, PEPE NERO
There’s no going to Marrakech without visiting the Atlas Mountains, and crossing over to the entrance to the Sahara Desert. As usual, I am traveling on a fairly tight time frame, so I booked a 2-day-1-night trip with www.marrakech-desert-trips.com

The agenda was packed full of many things to experience, but also just convenient enough so you can still enjoy the camp out in the desert but not feel like you’re on the survivor show. You can choose the basic desert camp which is with shared tents and no shower facilities. But as it was summer and boiling hot, I decided to opt-in on the showers. This was what is included: 
  • Pick-up from Hotel & Riad, drop off at Jamaa Elfna Square 
  • Private tent with proper bedding, showers and toilet facilities, dinner and breakfast included at camp 
  • 1-hour camel trekking to and from the camp 
  • Sites we stopped at: Atlas Mountain, Ait Benhaddou, Ouarzazate 
  • Not included: 2 x lunches, bottled water, tips for guides x2, tip for camel guide, kitchen maid, driver, cash for head scarf… (they say it’s optional but, they get pretty upset if you don’t pay as expected. Tips expected is usually 50 MAD each, which is around $5 USD) 
I sent a whatsapp message to the number indicated on the confirmation e-mail the day before to arrange a time for pick up. The driver was outside my Riad at 7:20pm exact as promised, and we drove to another part of the city to change into a more comfortable and larger van which sat about 15 people. The rest were a couple from Lithuania, a couple from Spain, 3 ladies from Barcelona, 2 girls one from Australia and one from Canada, and a lady from Cape Town. I assumed I was the only solo-traveler so I hopped right into the front seat beside the driver. (Actually, I also wanted to get good footage for the vlog)

We waited about 20 minutes until we started our very long drive to Zagora desert. I had been having a bloody nose the whole time. I’m so used to the constant 80-90% humidity in Hong Kong that in Morocco I was having a bloody nose. This time it took at least an hour to stop which was very worrying in. But luckily it was the last bloody nose I had in Morocco. 

10:30am - N9 Al Haouz Moroco, First stop crossing into Atlas Mountain

After a 2.5hr drive up winding roads, we were just crossing into the Atlas Mountains. The Atlas Mountains is a 2,500km long mountain range that stretches through Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, separating the coast of the Mediterranean and Atlantic from the Sahara Desert. As it is over 4,000m tall, crossing it is fairly difficult, hence the long, winding roads. Thankfully, none of us in the car is prone to getting car sick. We took a 20-minute coffee & breakfast break at around 1,460m, and the view was pretty breathtaking already.

We continued on the road for about another 3hrs. We descended down the Atlas Mountains and ended up on very long flat roads with just sand on either side, occasionally running into some small Berber villages. (The Berber people inhabit most of the Atlas Mountains and the desert). I was starving by this point as I only had a little bite of bread and have been up since 6:30am in the morning.

1:20pm - Aït Benhaddou, UNESCO World Heritage Site, filming of The Mummy, Gladiator, Game of Thrones 

This is a fortified Berber village, with merchant houses (Kasbahs) and other individual dwellings. But most importantly, it is famous as the filming location for Game of Thrones. In Season 3 Episode 10 “Mhysa”, when Daenerys freed the unsullied, they surrounded her with their hands out and bowed down changing Mhysa, meaning “mother”. That exact scene was filmed near the large entrance gates of Ait Benhaddou. 

Our guide was dressed in traditional Berber clothing, with a vibrant blue gown and bright orange head wrap. It was a short 3km walk up the zig-zagged dirt roads up to the top. On the way you see some merchants selling handmade rugs, colourful dishes, and other crafts. And at the very top you get this amazing view of the rest of the fortress down below and just endless sand dunes. It actually started raining briefly as the cloud patch passed by. Still, it did not help cool us down from the 40C heat. 

We continued on foot for about another 15 min before reaching a small 2 story restaurant by the road. It seems like this is where all the tour groups stopped. This is where I had my first chicken Tajine, which is just as delicious as the ones in the city. Our group chatted for a bit, but the Spaniards didn’t speak any English so they mostly listened. It’s actually quite impressive that our guide spoke in both Spanish and English, so he’d switch back and forth to accommodate the crowd. There are also other guides that can speak French. 

We left at around 3pm, another 4hours drive to go before we get to Zagora desert. There was one last stop at a café around 1 hour out, and we finally arrived. At this point we’ve been on and off the road for almost 12 hours now. 

7:10pm – Zagora Desert

We are now almost at the boarder of Algeria, and also at the gate of Sahara desert – Zagora Desert. Yes I might’ve picked the worse time of year to visit in some people’s opinions. It is 7pm now but still near 40C outside. But honestly, you gradually get used to it. It is dry heat, so you aren’t soaking in sweat like 30C + 90% humidity in Hong Kong. We got onto our camels and rode out towards the camp. I wished I could say into the sunset, but it was a pretty muggy day with passing sandstorms, so we couldn’t see the sunset. The camels were just adorable, with long eye lashes, very chilled, and they swayed left to right as they backpacked us into the desert camp. Their squishy feet trotting on the dunes, gently picking up some sand as they took each step. 

Quoting animals.mom.me 

“The structure of the camel’s foot is well-adapted for the creature's environment. The wide, spreading toes keep the camel from sinking into loose and shifting sands, and the webbing between the toes unites them into a single surface to further resist sinking. The thick sole provides a barrier against the hot desert sands, protecting the camel from being burned as it walks”

I also learned that the Berber have a name for a camel, it’s the desert 4 x 4. The desert taxi is a donkey, because it can’t go on sand. 

An hour passed by and it was getting close to nightfall. My crotch was bruised by now, even with a seat cushion mounted on the camel back. No worries, it healed in no time. We made a few silly jump shots on the sand. “Hey mom, I’m in the Sahara Desert!” 

We parked our camels just outside of the camp. There were full showers and toilet facilities just outside the entrance of the camp. I could see about 5 dark brown tents on each side and a larger tent for the kitchen & dining. At the other end is a bond fire area. Walking into the camp was incredible, the whole camp ground was covered in bright red, orange, and yellow tapestry woven in elaborate patterns. We were soon welcomed by this delicious sweet tea of the desert, and some fun magic tricks by the guides. There was already another group there before us - 10 French masters students on their graduate trips.


A sandstorm passed by, followed by some rain to settle the sand down, and dinner was served. I can’t even remember how many dishes there were, something along the lines of a really large mixed salad, followed by a 5 people portion chicken tagine per table, and then a fruit platter with at least a whole water melon per table at the end. I was stuffed, but wow the food was heavenly. 

After dinner, we sat around the candle lit camp while our Berber guides drummed we all sang. It was difficult to actually find songs that everyone knew, so we ended up repeating “The lion sleeps tonight” a dozen times, Happy Birthday in all kinds of languages (though it wasn’t officially my birthday yet). I took a quick shower to cool off and soon retrieved into my tent to attempt to sleep, but it was boiling hot. I came back outside and one of the guides showed me the constellations. Nothing is better than chilling beside some camels, star gazing, in the middle of the desert on a summer night. I snoozed a bit right outside my tent and went back in to try to fall asleep. 

4:50am Sunrise
The sun rose really quickly in the early mornings in Marrakech. I hastily washed off my sweaty face to just climb up another big sand dune to have a sweaty face again. The entire group of us waited and waited, but the sun never came up… or it did, but behind the hazy sky. I was one of the last ones to come down to the sand dune, and decided to take a detour to go say good morning to our camel crew. They were awake already, actually they don’t sleep much. The camel care taker was checking on them and he was kind enough to take some photos for me. Even sitting down, they were tall for me. I walked into the middle of a group of them to pet them one by one, and the care taker was able to shoot some amazing photos for me. 

We huddled around the small tables in the camp one last time for breakfast. I’m will miss this place, it’s been enchanting and so relaxing to be in the desert. I imagine people living in the desert must be on average happier than those of us stuck in the concrete jungle life. 

7:30am departing from Zagora Desert
We were back on our camels again, another 1hour of crotch-bruising camel ride to get to the van on the paved roads. I was lucky and rode on the leading camel in the very front. The sun was peeking through the sand dunes now that the haze has cleared up and the shots were just absolutely incredible. What a way to say farewell to the Sahara. 

We started our drive back the same way, stopped at the same café, but the heat was unbearable. Sitting in front directly under the sun also doesn’t help. It was another 4 hours until we were at the city of Ourzazate. 


12:00pm - Ouarzazate 
We got to Ourzazate around lunch time, and just like day one, we were given a tour through this fortified village similar to Ait Benhaddou. They took us to a rug shop, and although it wasn’t a forced sell, we just had to spend some time to listen to them talk about how it was made and also the different fabrics, a hard sell in the middle of 40C summer heat. 

Through the village, we eventually made our way out of Taourirt Kasbah (fortified village). I realized that the entrance was from a picture I found on Pinterest! I wasn’t aiming to come see this exact site, so it was a pleasant surprise. 

Lunch was just across the street in a restaurant with a balcony as well, classic in Morocco. The Tajine was so delicious again. I also got a glass Coca-Cola, but with its logo written in Arabic! I’m also sad because this is my last lunch in the desert, and some of our group will be splitting because there’s also a longer tour which continues to another part of the desert. Until we meet again!

4:00pm – back in the Atlas mountains
Another long drive, and I basically napped most of the way. The heat made me really sleepy and plus I barely slept the day before, I was drifting in and out of sleep, occasionally catching the majestic scenery from the winding roads. We stopped at one last café about 1.5hr away from the city. The coffee machine said “Doge” on it. 


I was thoroughly exhausted by the time we got back to the city. I dragged my sweaty heavy body back to the hotel and immediately ran a bath. It was not until 8pm when I finally got myself up for dinner. I found a place with Lamb Tajine and Avocado shakes, a favorite whenever I’m on holiday. 

The following day, my actual Birthday day was already covered in the previous blog along with the other sites within the city of Marrakech. What an incredible journey though! This is probably one of the best tours I’ve taken. Some of my other favorites are:
I will have to say, this year has got to be the best birthday so far! But one day, I’ll make it to Antartica!

Continue to follow my journey, next stop after Marrakech, we’re heading to the icon of German culture – the state of Bavaria. I’ll be staying in Munich, making a trip down to Neuschwanstein Castle, and then north along the Romantic road to the little town of Rothenburg. Bier, Curry Wurst, here I come!

Follow my instagram @ariel.land for more photos from Morocco:


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