The Sahara Desert is over 9 million square kilometres, which means that it is almost as big as China.
Although you may hear people talk about the Marrakech Desert, it doesn’t really exist. What we refer to when we talk of this desert is the Sahara, the largest hot desert in the world.
The countries which the Sahara Desert covers are Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan, and Tunisia.
Marrakech is the main door to the Sahara Desert in Morocco for millions of visitors each year. It is currently one of the favorite things to do in the country.
The two most popular areas of this arid region are called Zagora and Merzouga.
The Zagora Desert is drier and has fewer dunes than Merzouga. The main advantage of Zagora is that it's located closer to Marrakech, so it's the ideal place for a short stay in the Sahara, for example, for two days and one night.
There is a distance of 223 miles (360 km) between Marrakech and Zagora, which takes about seven hours by car. Even though it seems like a long journey, it passes by quickly because the bus stops at various attractions along the way.
The Merzouga Desert is the most impressive part of Morocco’s Sahara Desert and it's exactly like what you imagine when thinking of a desert, with beautiful reddish-yellow undulating dunes. Although the dunes of countries like Algeria and Libya are more renowned, the Erg Chebbi dunes, south of Merzouga, are extremely impressive standing 492 ft (150 km) high.
It takes 10 hours to get to Merzouga from Marrakech by car or by bus (341 miles – 550 km). Since the distance is so vast you’ll normally spend a night in a hotel halfway through the journey.
What Desert to visit?
If you have enough time and are not worried about the cost, we recommend booking a 4 or 5-day excursion to the Merzouga Desert. The dunes are breathtaking and despite the journey taking longer, it's more relaxing and more enjoyable thanks to the various stops. The changing landscape which you'll see during the tour is as worthwhile as the desert itself. Some of the highlights of the excursion are Aït Benhaddou, Valley of Roses, Dadès Gorges, Drâa Valley, and Todra Gorg. These are all extremely surprising and remarkable and very little visited.
If, on the other hand, you’d like to spend fewer days in the Sahara Desert, the best option is Zagora and also the only possible place to spend a night in an Amazigh tent in the desert so close to Marrakech. Since the road is the same for both excursions (until you get to Ouarzazate), you'll also get to visit stunning places along the way like Aït Benhaddou, making the journey extremely interesting.
How are the tours?
During these tours, the final objective is not only to visit the desert but as we mentioned earlier, one of the main advantages of these organized excursions is that you'll visit numerous remarkable places and see a variety of indescribable landscapes.
Once you get to the desert you'll go camel riding to the campsite. In the resting area, you'll spend the night in an Amazigh tent. At dusk, you'll normally have a traditional dinner and are sometimes accompanied by musicians that liven the soiree. Waking up at dawn to see the sunrise is one of the best parts of the trip.
Once the sun is up and you’ve had breakfast, it's time to go back, unless you’ve booked a 4-5 day tour, where you'll get to explore the desert.
Getting around the desert
Traveling around the desert by yourself can be dangerous. In this barren and extensive land, it's extremely easy to lose your bearings, not to mention that you'll need a 4x4 to get around. The best option is to book an organized tour from Marrakech or Ouarzazate.
At the following links you can get more information and book excursions to the desert from Marrakech: