Earlier this year, we led our first ever Sahara Desert trek. It was an amazing experience – a truly unforgettable mix of phenomenal landscapes, fascinating culture and good old fashioned adventure! Oh, and the camels were pretty entertaining, too!
After a busy couple of months of adventures, Keith has put together his first ever Sahara Desert trekking trip report. Keep reading to find out what our Bucketlisters got up to on their Sahara trek!
Friday 1st February
Well, this trip started a few hours before it should have done – due to the weather. The forecast for North Devon over Thursday night was looking pretty horrendous with snow, so we took the decision to drive up at 2.30 p.m. and get a room for the night.
It’s lucky we did, because the road from our office to the motorway was closed due to snow. With some good forward-planning, we ended up having no issues at all and reaching Stansted for 7 p.m.
After a meal in the hotel and a few drinks, it was time to turn in and get ready for our 3 a.m. alarm to meet the group at 4.
The group were all keen and eager, and everyone was on time. Bags checked in, security passed, and it was time for coffee.
One of the best things about a 6.10 a.m. flight is that you normally sleep for the majority of the journey, and I certainly did. I woke up with just an hour to go.
Landed with our landing cards filled out, passports stamped and bags collected, we took a 10 minute transfer to our riad in the centre of Marrakech.
After dumping our bags, it was time to visit the money exchange (Moroccan Dirhams are a closed currency) and have lunch. We sat on the rooftop restaurant at Riad Omar and admired the views over Marrakech and the High Atlas Mountains. After lunch, we split into smaller groups and we gave the group a quick orientation of the area so they could go and explore.
Friday night was the first Six Nations game, and a few if the group wanted to watch the rugby, so we managed to find a restaurant/bar showing the game. Luckily for our Welsh guest, Wales did manage to win!
After the game, it was certainly time for bed to get some rest ready for another day exploring Marrakech tomorrow.
Breakfast today was served on the rooftop terrace. Breakfast starts from 8, but after a day of travelling we made it for 8.45. Bread, yoghurts, cheese, eggs and pain au chocolate are always on the menu at Riad Assia.
At 10 a.m. it was time to meet our guide for our city tour. Mukhtar was our guide and we were first taken to the Jewish square before we reached Bahia Palace. After a tour of the palace and some time for photos it was time to head into the souks.
We walked through the different areas, from the leather to the metal work and the meat to the spices. Before we left, there was time to visit a traditional Berber pharmacy. All the benefits of the herbs and spices were explained to us, including the argan oil and Berber viagra!
With the tour over it was time to head back to the riad for our trip briefing for the next day.
The group had a free afternoon and we decided to check out The Compton Arms. When we were at the Adventure Travel Show two weeks prior, we met a couple who told us that their cousin had just opened an English gastro pub in Marrakech, so we decided to check it out. Our verdict: great landlord, great food and great if you fancy bangers and mash!
Today was going to be a day of driving. After an early breakfast, we loaded onto the minibus to head over the High Atlas Mountains towards Ouarzazate, our lunch stop.
After lunch we made our way to Zagora and then finally onto our finishing point of Faija. Here we met the rest of our guides, camels and their drivers. Everyone was excited to move into their tents and sort out their kit.
You could certainly feel the temperature dropping and it was time to head into the dining tent for our evening meal of soup to start, followed by tagine and fresh fruit for dessert (in the desert). After a cup of chamomile tea to help us sleep, it was time to retire to our tents for the night.
After a night under canvas, we woke up to a cold morning. We ate breakfast at 7:30 and were ready to start trekking by 8.30 a.m. Today we were heading for Hamada. The views of the Saghro mountains throughout the morning were just stunning.
After having our lunch and a nice break in an oasis, we then followed the riverbed to our camping spot that night. The group arrived, tired, at and were welcomed with mint tea, popcorn and biscuits!
The biggest dunes in Morocco are at Chegga, and this is where we were heading today.
What makes this day worse is that you can see the dunes from a long way away!
After a day of trekking, we reached the campsite at the bottom of the dunes. After a short break it was time for the calf-burning challenge of climbing the dune.
When the group made it to the top, the views were stunning. We stayed there until sunset, admiring the view and revelling in the fact we were the only ones there experiencing it!
This is what this trip is all about!
Today was my favourite day of the trip. It was a shorter day in comparison to those before, and we spent the morning trekking away from Chegga across some small dunes.
At lunch time we ate under the trees of Tamares. We had a lovely rest and then it was time to head for the Dunes of Bougarne.
The problem is, again, you can see these from miles away, so we spent the afternoon walking across a flat area that never seemed to end.
Eventually, we arrived at the campsite, with the dunes all around us. The reason this day was my favourite was because I climbed the dunes on my own and sat there for two hours, just watching. The views from the the highest dune were just incredible.
I could see the camp in the distance and it looked so small. There is a great clip in our video of me making my way to the top, whilst talking to the guys in the office on my mobile (yes, I had 4G in the middle of the Sahara!)
Today was long – but we already knew that. We made the decision that we were going to walk right to the end. The original plan was to leave us with 3 hours in the morning to finish the trek but instead we decided to make the day long and head for the finishing point of Mhamid.
The route was flat, and and on good terrain. There wasn’t much sand today and we were making good progress.
There was no shelter, though, and we had to keep going until 1 p.m. to get to a lunch stop where there was some shade.
Following another amazing lunch and a well deserved rest we topped up our water and made continued to Mhamid.
After a 32km day, we finally reached our camp and enjoyed a fantastic evening meal.
Today people spent more time swapping on the camel – some for the experience and some for the rest!
Everyone was tired this morning but happy to be travelling back for a shower. It was a long drive back to Marrakech, made worse by the roadworks. However, the bus was comfy, the scenery was amazing and it gave the group a chance to rest and recover.
Once back in Marrakech, it was time for a quick shower and change of clothes before heading out for a celebratory meal and drink!
There was no need to get up early this morning, but I only managed a lie in until 8:45. After coffee and breakfast on the roof terrace of the riad, Chudders and I were off for a walk to the Jardins Marjorelle. These gardens were saved from the bulldozers by Yves Saint Laurent and then left in trust. I have visited these on many occasions, but this time they had opened up more areas of the gardens than I had seen before.
Chudders and I had planned to do some work in the afternoon. We needed to back up all the photos and video footage we had taken on the trek so the video could be edited on our return. We decided to head back to The Compton Arms and use their WiFi for the afternoon.
In the early evening we walked back to the riad to pack our duffle bags and then head out to meet the group for a final drink before we departed the following morning.
It was an early start for us this morning to head back to the airport. We had a 7 a.m. flight so it was a 4.30 depart from the riad. The roads were obviously quiet so it was just 10 minutes to the airport. We grabbed a quick coffee and Danish pastry in Starbucks and were soon boarding. It wasn’t long before I was fast asleep in my seat, and it certainly didn’t seem long before the seat belt signs were back on and we were landing in Stansted.
Bags collected and goodbyes said, it was time for me to head back to North Devon and get ready for my next Bucket List trip.