You grip your saddle tightly, legs brushing lightly against the coarse hairs of your ride. And this isn’t any normal ride, mind you; you’re nestled snugly behind a hump, your body gently rising and dipping as you make your way across the dunes.
You’re on the back of a camel, which harrumphs every few minutes or so. You look out into the horizon, but all you can see are rolling hills of sand that stretch as far as the eye can see. The skies are clear, azure without a wisp of cloud. You take a deep breath; you feel minuscule; you’re in awe.
Why, welcome to the Sahara Desert.
A trip to the Sahara Desert may very well be the trip of a lifetime. Its name is derived from the Arabic word ‘sahra’, which translates to mean ‘desert’. Covering most of Northern Africa, the Sahara Desert sees sizzling temperatures that average between 38 to 46 degrees celsius. However, that’s just during the summer months; during the winter months, the temperature drops to a cool 20 degrees.
With an average area of 8, 600, 000 square kilometres, the Sahara Desert is a wide expanse of land that spans across a total of 11 countries. However, contrary to popular misconception, not all of the Sahara is sand! Only an approximate 25% comprises sand dunes and sheets; the rest of the area is home to gravel plains, plateaus, salt flats and even mountains.
Most people visit the Sahara from Marrakech in Morocco, embarking on a 2- or 3-day tour to reach the desert – where they’ll spend a night or two. The 2-day tour will bring you to the Zagora sand dunes whilst the 3-day tour will bring you to the Erg Chebbi dunes. If you have the time, I recommend the latter, as the Erg Chebbi dunes are larger and far more spectacular!
Accommodation is in the form of a desert camp, which you’ll reach on camel-back. As you’ll be spending the night in the desert, it’s recommended not to bring any bulky luggage with you. It’s best to just bring a small bag – that isn’t too heavy! – that you can easily carry on your back or hang from your saddle. The camels will be all ready for you when you arrive – simply choose your favourite one and you’ll be all set!
You’ll be lined up in a single file, with the camels connected to each other with a piece of rope. Riding on a camel might be quite an uncomfortable experience for some; however, just look at it as part of the package! However, if you prefer, you can choose to get to the camp via a 4WD and opt for a shorter camel ride later on.
The line of camels will be led by a knowledgeable Berber guide, who will be walking on foot the entire way.
Berbers are an ethnic group that’s indigenous to Africa. Although widely known as Berbers, our guides told us as many of them actually prefer to be called the ‘Amazigh’, which translates to mean ‘free people’. It’s amazing how they seem to know the desert like the back of their hand; in fact, many of the Berbers still live nomadic lifestyles!
Enjoy the experience – there’s really nothing quite like it.
Make your way across vast shifting expanses of sand, as well as trundle up and down rolling sand dunes.
Look at the shadows of the camels – isn’t it an amusing sight?
Get well acquainted with your camel and the one behind you – you’ll be spending lots of time together!
A little over an hour later, you’ll arrive at your desert camp, where the camels will also rest for the night. Take the opportunity to take lots of photos – this is a once in a lifetime experience!
The desert camp consists of a bunch of rustic tents, which actually offered real mattresses! We were also pleasantly surprised to find flush toilets, which were located just a short walk away from the tents.
Make your way up one of the dunes for a great sunset vantage point. Do be warned: climbing up the dunes looks much easier than it actually is! Every step up is accompanied by two steps down; however, persevere and you’ll be rewarded with a magnificent view at the top.
Feel free to roll or slide your way down – the desert is your playground.
Back at the desert camp, dig into a warm Tagine (a local dish comprising a slow-cooked savoury stew) and a glass of refreshing mint tea as you relax beside a crackling campfire. Join in a rousing chorus as the guides sing their hearts out to the beat of their drums. Relax under a twinkling blanket of stars and swap stories with fellow travellers, whose faces are illuminated by shadows cast by the dancing flames of the campfire. Around you, the desert is silent – the night belongs to you, and you alone.
You might feel warm after staying by the campfire, but don’t be too complacent once you return back to your tent! Desert temperatures dip drastically in the night; for example, it can be 38 degrees celsius in the day, but drop to -4 degrees at night. And that’s in the summer!
.It’s best to still bundle up in your winter jackets before going to sleep; it might feel hot at first but trust me, you’ll be grateful that you did so.
Rise up bright and early the next morning for a sunrise camel ride.
We made a pit-stop halfway through for a photo session. Getting off the camel is half the fun – where you’ll lurch forward once the camel puts down his front legs. Hang on tight!
Our guide offered to help us take plenty of photos, and even taught us how to tie a headscarf.
Did you know that camels often regurgitate food back up from their stomach to chew? This raises quite a stink too!
Before we knew it, it was time to get back up on the camel and head out of the Sahara Desert.
Would I recommend a trip out to the Sahara Desert? Absolutely. Just choose the right season and dress appropriately – and it’d be an experience like no other.