Last October I visited Morocco with my husband and had an incredibly remarkable and beautiful journey. One of the things I rarely do while traveling is take a tour; I am a budget traveler and prefer exploring sites and places on my own without tripping over a big crowd of other photographers and tourists.
So I went online and did some research. After reading some of the great reviews of tour guides on Trip Advisor and the rants of how nerve-wracking it can be to drive in Morocco, we opted for a guide. Booking a guide to the Sahara is a service most hotels or riads can provide or you can contact tour guides directly. If you are on a serious budget and don't get motion sickness easily, you can do the route from Marrakech or Fez to Merzouga by bus - however, you will miss some awesome little stops along the way that a guide could show you.
Adil Maliki from Moroccan Safaris picked us up promptly at the oh-so-painful hour of 7:00 AM, and waited patiently for us while we paid our hotel bill. We packed our bags into his big SUV and headed off south towards Merzouga (where he was originally from), a trip that would take about 12 - 13 hours over 2 days.
The first day we stopped at a cafe high in the mountains that served the wonderfully ubiquitous Moroccan mint tea along with a large selection of other beverages and snacks. There were roadside businesses and vendors at regular stops as we crossed over the High Atlas mountains. One of the great things about Adil was that he tailored the tour to suit your needs - if you want to stop to shop, or walk around, or photograph you can, and if you don't, he won't force you. If there is something in particular you want to see - I loved photographing the beautiful mosques - he will pull over on the side of the road so you can take a closer look.
We stopped at Arganouz, a collective of women working in the argan oil trade. We saw the argan nuts before, during, and after processing as one of the collective workers took us through the various steps. She showed us the products they produced from the argan nuts, both cosmetic and comestible. The argan nut butter with honey was amazing!
For our first night, Adil brought us to the Auberge Le Vieux Château du Dades inside the beautiful Dades Gorge. After checking us in, he was able to score some extra blankets for us because it was supposed to get cold that night. This image below was the view from outside our window - you could hear the river flowing past and walk down to it from a side access route outside the hotel. The rooms were very basic, but comfortable, and the hotel itself was quite pretty, but what really made it was the river view. The meal included for all the people who were taking tours was not that great, especially compared to some of the other places we ate at, but it was plentiful and edible.
Even though all the parts of Morocco we visited are part of a desert, most folks seem to refer to "the desert" as the area where the sand dunes begin. This Gate to the Desert above marks the entrance to the Sahara at Merzouga, where Erg Chebbi is located. We drove onwards to the hotel that was providing our camel ride out into the dunes for a night of sleeping under the stars at a Berber camp. Riding a camel is a bit harder than it looks and I guarantee you are going to be in horrible pain the next day, but it will be completely worth it. Especially if you get a camel as sweet as mine (she's the black one below).
The next morning after being woken up in complete darkness, scrambling to pack up, and tiredly trying to stay atop my camel friend during the trek back, Adil met us early at the hotel. He brought us to the next place we'd be staying at, Auberge Kasbah Merzouga, a beautiful and quiet hotel with a pool and direct access to the dunes which kindly let us check in early and take a nap. After that we headed out to listen to the Groupe des Bambaras in Dar Gnawa, Khamlia. These musicians are the descendants of slaves from Senegal, Sudan, and Mali and music and dance have a great psychological importance in their society.
As we headed back north, we made one last stop on the side of the road where I encountered this extremely friendly cat who loved treats and head scratches. It was hard to leave, but every good thing must come to an end. So we headed off for our next destination: Ait Benhaddou and said goodbye to the Sahara and Adil. But it wasn't the last we'd see from Adil, because he very kindly offered to taxi us around Marrakech a couple more times free of charge and then took us back to the airport on our last day.
Adil was a fantastic guide - frequently going above and beyond - and someone we'd consider a friend. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend him or his services and hope someday we can get back to Morocco to explore more of it with him.