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Packing for Your Morocco Sahara Desert Tour

Posted on 18 June 2012 by David

Our Shadows - Morocco Sahara Desert Tour

People have been asking us what they should pack for their Morocco Sahara desert tour.

If you’re planning a trip out to the desert, you need to insure you pack as light as possible.  However since you’ll be miles away from civilization you need to make sure you’re prepared for any situation you may encounter.

So, to help you prepare for your trip, here’s our list plus some tips about the items you should take.  We had a great time seeing the sand dunes in the Sahara Desert, and with preparation, you can as well.

As a side note, we bought many of our items from REI (www.rei.com), mostly because if you are not satisfied with a product for any reason you can return it. (I returned a set of earmuffs that kept falling off my ears after three months and I got my refund for it.)   You may want to check them out as well.

Packing List – Morocco Sahara Desert Tour

 Erg Chebbi Sand Dunes - Sahara Desert Tour - Morocco Travel

Clothing

  • Windbreaker or light jacket
    • TIP: The sun can be unbearable during the day but at night it can get a bit chilly.  Take a windbreaker or light jacket just in case.
  • Comfortable jeans
    • TIP: Riding a camel will not be very enjoyable if you wear shorts!  The camel fur is rough and jeans will protect your legs.
  • Sneakers or hiking boots or sport sandals
    • TIP: Don’t take a new pair of shoes, you’ll get sand all on them and inside of them.
  • A hat, visor, or headscarf
    • TIP: A desert headscarf works wonders to block the sun and the dust.
  • Sunglasses
    • TIP: Don’t sit on them.

Electronics

  • Digital Camera
    • TIP: A strap will help make sure you don’t lose it while trying to take picture as you’re bouncing around on a camel.
  • Extra batteries
    • TIP: Fully charge all your batteries at your hotel before you embark.  There are no facilities to charge your batteries in the desert!
  • Lens and camera brush
    • TIP: Get one such as the Nikon 7072 Lens Pen Cleaning System for dusting off all the dust that will get on your camera.  Your camera will love you.  It worked wonders on ours!
  • Tripod
  • Alarm clock
    • TIP: You can use your phone, but take a little alarm clock just in case your phone runs out of battery!

Sunrise in the Sahara Sahara Morocco Travel

Supplies

  • Swiss army knife
  • Hand Sanitizer
    • TIP:  It’s true.  There is no running water inside the desert.
  • Face wipes
  • Napkins or tissue
  • Roll of toilet paper
  • Water bottle
    • TIP:  To save space in your luggage get a collapsible water bottle. We bought a Platypus PlusBottle, 1 Liter with Push-Pull Cap and loved how we could collapse it in our luggage when not needed.   In fact if you travel anywhere you need this bottle.
  • Flashlights
    • TIP: You’ll have candles but just try walking out with one in the middle of the night when you need to go.   A flashlight will at least stay on.
  • Non-salty snacks
    • TIP: Overly salty snacks will make you thirsty, stay away from those.

Medicines and Lotions

  • Pain medicine
    • TIP: Just remember, any medical facility is miles of camel rides away.  It will take a while to get there.
    • TIP:  For headaches use Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
    • TIP:  For bites, scratches, anything that’s swollen, use Ibuprofen (Advil)
  • Band-aids
    • TIP: No need for a big box, just a few strips is good.
  • Antibiotic cream
  • Anti-Diarrhea medicine
  • Antacids
  • Antibiotics
  • Allergy medicine

Another article you may be interested in is our interview with a local guiding company on planning a Morocco Sahara desert tour.  Hope you enjoy it.

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Top Sahara Travel Questions Answered

Posted on 13 January 2012 by Danica

Morocco Sahara Tavel - Desert Sunset - Around the World

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The Sahara desert is the world’s largest hot desert according to Wikipedia.  It covers most of Northern Africa stretching from Egypt to Morroco and we paid a visit. The Sahara Desert is such a remote place that it seems unfathomable that anyone would want to be there.

“Isn’t it dangerous?” “Is there anything to do there?” were some of the questions we got asked. Before visiting we were not sure how to answer but as we discovered, the fantastic gold colored sand dunes of Erg Chebbi in Morroco turned out to be one of the most peaceful and awe-inspiringing places on earth.

It was a long journey to visit the dunes but it was one that we’ll never forget. We laid on the sand dunes, listened to the wind, watched a distant lightning storm, and stared at countless number of stars.  It’s an experience we want to help you enjoy for yourself.

We hired the family owned Dunes Line  tours from the Sahara Desert to take us there. We enjoyed their service and asked Said Ait El Caid from Dunes Line  to help asnwer some of the most common Sahara travel questions.

Disclaimer:  We did not receive any compensation, discounts, or benefits for highlighting Dunes Line, nor will we receive commissions for this post from Dunes Line tours.  This is purely a post to help you get there as well. 

Morocco Sahara Tavel - Nomad Camp - Around the World

OnTheGroundTravel:  For people not familiar with Dunes Line, can you describe what you do?

Said: Dunes Line is a family-owned business.  Our grandparents used to transport goods such as salt, dates, and barley along the trading route in Morocco.  It was at a time when traveling by camels was the only way to get around.  We love the desert, and today, our family created a touring company to show our guests the true desert as we know it.  Many of our guests look for unique experiences such as living like a nomad in the Sahara Desert, or sleeping overnight in a traditional tent.  With Dunes Line, our guests can also discover the vast sand dunes, lush valleys, green oases, and meet the Berber people who are known for their honesty and warm hospitality.

OnTheGroundTravel:  Some people can only spend a short time in Morocco, what are the must-see sights in addition to a trip to the Sahara?

Said: The High Atlas region and its surrounding valleys, the old Kasbahs, and the traditional Berber villages are must-sees.  We also recommend starting your trip to the Sahara from Marrakech, the closest city from all the sights mentioned above.

OnTheGroundTravel: There’s a lot of debate on travel forums about whether it’s better to see the Erg Chebbi or Erg Chigaga sand dunes.  What’s your take on this?

Said: For a true desert experience, we deeply recommend  the Erg Chebbi dunes in the Merzouga region.  The dunes there are very spectacular, and are as high as 150m tall.  In addition, it’s relatively easy to reach there.

OnTheGroundTravel: I got asked this question all the time…is it safe for women to travel alone in Morocco.  Do they have to cover their hair?

Said: In Morocco, women traveling alone is generally safe, but there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Dress conservatively – cover your shoulders, stomach, knees and avoid fitted clothes
  2. No need to cover your head
  3. Avoid overdoing eye contact with unknown men.  Rather than lowering your eyes, it maybe easier to wear sunglasses

OnTheGroundTravel: There are many adventurous souls out there who are used to traveling on their own.  What are the benefits of hiring a driver or tour guide in Morocco?

Said: Morocco is a vast country, and hiring a driver can help reduce a lot of stress that may be associated with independent traveling, especially to the Sahara Desert.  An experienced driver can act as your local expert and can take you off-the-beaten path to see some of the less touristy places that you can’t reach on your own.

OnTheGroundTravel: Any other tips for our readers who are interested in going to the Sahara?

Said: When you are in the desert, try to protect your camera from the sand as much as you can.  It is generally safe to travel with expensive camera equipment in Marrakech, but it is not uncommon for tourists to bring along a camera bag where they can put their camera back when not using it to avoid attracting too much attention.

OnTheGroundTravel:  Thank you Said for the information.

Are you planning a visit to the sand dunes in Morocco?   Want to know what to pack for a desert tour to the Sahara?  We compiled a Sahara Desert Packing List for you.  Comment and let us know if you have any other questions.

Or… if you have been there already,  we want to know how it went!

Morocco Sahara Tavel - Desert Tour - Around the World

About Dunes Line: Dunes Line has been organizing tours across Morocco for a long time.  Said and his family enjoys meeting people from all over the world, and showing them around Morocco.  Dunes Line can be reached at info@dunesline.com, or +212-66723-8225 / +212-66198-8025.  Spirit of the Desert welcomes you!  Marhaba!

 

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The Endless Sand Dunes in the Sahara Desert

Posted on 11 October 2011 by Danica

 Sahara Sand Dunes - Erg Chebbi - Morocco Travel - Trips Around the World

Adventure Log

After Marrakech (see tips and adventure log here), we drove over the Atlas mountains and through the Dades Valley and Gorge before reaching Mazouga, the last town at the edge of the Sahara dunes of Erg Chebbi.  From Mazouga, we then trekked for an hour and a half on camel to reach the Berber camp deep in the desert.  Due to the extremely harsh climate, most of the original inhabitants of the Sahara, the Berber people, have long moved out.  Today, few Berber camps remain and their main source of income are either the tourists who are crazy enough to spend a few days in the desert or the dare-devils who go to surf the sand dunes on boards, ATV’s, or 4×4′s.

There are no words to describe the beauty of the Erg Chebbi dunes.  The golden sea of sand dunes has no beginning or end.  One after another, they line up before your eyes in seductive curves.  Their sands shifting ever so gently under the bright blue sky with few clouds.  At night, although the desert was pitch dark, we ventured out with our Berber guides, who navigated by stars, to another sand dune, and we laughed, joked and slept on the Sahara sands.  It’s so quiet and peaceful out there.   It was a huge contrast from Times Square in New York City with all it’s yellow cabs, big crowds, tall buildings with neon lights and electronic billboards that flash today’s stock price and latest world news before your eyes.  In New York, you can’t get away from the world, the world comes to you.  In Sahara, well, it’s just you and nature, coexisting at the same time and in the same space.

Before we arrived, we had thought the Sahara would be uncomfortable to stay.  While it’s true that you give up many modern conveniences by staying in the desert (such as electricity), the Berber have long figured out how to live in the desert comfortably.  Although our  accommodations were simple, the food was fantastic.  The Berber hospitality was unmatched.  We will miss the Sahara greatly, and it is definitely the highlight of our round-the-world trip.

Tips for Your Travel

1) Hire an experienced trekking company to take you into the Sahara.  It will greatly enhance your experience.  If you need recommendations, drop us a note.

2) Items to carry with you into the Sahara:

- Water: Being enough water to last you through your entire stay – You may be able to buy this if you start from a hotel in Mazouga

- Flashlight: If you want to go anywhere at night (even just to the next tent), you will need it

- Hand Sanitizer: There is no cleaning facility.   Soap and water will definitely not be waiting for you to clean your hands before or after your meal

- Wind breaker: While the desert is hot during the day, it can be quite cool early in the morning or at night

- Long Scarf: Comes in handy if you need to protect your nose and mouth from the sand

- Tripod: Critical if you want to take night pictures

- Sunscreen

- Sunglasses

- Hat

3) Only stay out in the sun early in the morning or late in the evening.  The sun and heat are unforgiving.

4) Be prepared to bring a new set of clothes after the desert tour.  Everything you have on will have sand on it.

 

Want to know everything you need to pack for a desert tour to the Sahara?  We compiled a Sahara Desert Packing List for you!

Another article you may be interested in is our interview with a local guiding company on planning a Morocco Sahara desert tour.  Hope you enjoy it.

 

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10 Tips to Survive Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech

Posted on 10 October 2011 by David


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Tips for your Travel:

1) Relax.  If it’s your first time to Marrakech, you will immediately notice that this town has some of the most aggressive touts in the world.  They will hold on to your arms/shoulders/other body parts to stop you in your tracks, follow you for blocks, and never take ‘No’ for an answer.  Our recommendation is take all this with a sense of humor.  If you are too uptight, you will never enjoy the experience.  It can be difficult to ignore them, but just remember you can’t change their behavior, but you can change your reaction to them, hold your ground and tell them firmly you’re not interested, and then just go about your own business.

2) Be street wise.  While scams happen everywhere in the world, some of the most common scams in Marrakech involve giving directions.  The old part of Marrakech, where most tourists visit, is composed of a number of small alleyways that seem to come together in no obvious pattern or logic.  Many alleyways have dead-ends.  Many shops look the same in the souk with no names or street numbers outside.  It’s very easy to get lost in the medina.

When you get lost (and sometimes, even before you do), someone will almost certainly approach you and try to offer you directions.  They may say they work for a riad nearby (or even the riad you are staying at…”don’t you remember me from breakfast this morning?”), and they may offer you directions for “free.”  Whatever you do, ignore them and do NOT show them the address you are trying to get to.  There are too many stories about tourists being purposely led down the wrong path, and before you know it, you are isolated in an unfamiliar territory and even more lost than before.  Then, all of a sudden, “free” is no longer free, and to get out of the situation you may have to pay an unreasonable amount (I have heard $50 Euro) just to get rid of the scam artist, and then you still have to find your way back.  We heard about this scam before we arrived, and on our first day, someone tried to use this scam on us (unsuccessfully of course!).

3) Don’t assume anything is free.  The bread given to you when you sit down to eat?  Not free.  Someone offers to take your picture?  It’ll cost you.  A snake charmer holds your hand and insists on taking a picture with you?  Take out some coins.  Getting directions?  Definitely not free.

We are not recommending ignoring everyone you meet, but if you are open to these activities, at least agree on a price beforehand.

4) Bargain, bargain, bargain in the medina.  And then bargain some more.

5) Arabic is the first language;  French second; Spanish third, and English fourth.  So if you speak Spanish and not Arabic or French, you’re in luck!  You will find more locals speak Spanish than English in Marrakech.

6) Pay attention to the size of the cab you are getting into.  There are two types of cabs in Marrakech: the petit taxi which a small hatchback and the grand taxi which is typically a really old beat up Mercedes.   Both are in the same color and unless you pay attention, they may look the same to you.  Keep in mind that the petit taxi   costs less than the grand taxi.  So if you take a grand taxi from the medina to the hotel one night, expect to pay more than if you hail a petit taxi back from the hotel to the medina the next morning.

7) Agree on a price before getting into the taxi, and don’t be afraid to haggle down the first price offered by the cab driver.  None of the cabs we rode used (or even had) a meter.  The official cabs from the Marrakech train station is at least 3x more expansive than the street cabs.  Walk a block away from the train station to hail a cab instead.

8) If you speak English to bargain the price, it’s much better to write down the price you intend to pay in numerics and show it to the local.  Again, English is the 4th language in Marrakech.  Fifteen to you will conveniently sound like fifty to them.

9) Google Maps does not give you accurate directions in the medina mostly because not all the alleys have been fully incorporated into their maps (yet!).  Same is true for Bing, Yahoo!, and MapQuest map services.

10) Absolutely try the orange juice from any of the vendors in medina.  It’s the best tasting orange juice we have ever had no matter which stall we tried.

Adventure Log:

After Peru (adventure log and tips here), we ventured into Marrakech in Morocco.  The highlight of our trip to Marrakech is no doubt Djemaa el Fna, the main square in the old town of Marrakech.  From snake charmers, monkey handlers, African drummers to food vendors that sell snails, spiced tea, lentil soups and kabobs, the square has something unique to offer everyone day and night.

We stayed at Riad Andalla which is within walking distance of the square.  This offered us many opportunities to walk past the medina at different times of the day.  The medina wakes up when the African drums start beating around 8am.  During the day, most activities occur in the souk (traditional market) where one can spend hours meandering the narrow alleyways of Marrakech looking for authentic Moroccan souvenirs.  In the main square, vendors selling orange juice and dried dates will wet your appetite as well.  Despite all this, above all, the most captivating moment at Djemaa el Fna is in the evening, when the square transforms from an open market with few food vendors to a full blown food extravaganza with a variety of live entertainment.

Want to ride a horse carriage?  Check.  Get a henna?  Check.  Take a picture with monkeys on your back in front of the snake charmers?  Check.  Belly dancing show?  No problem.  How about having a five-course dinner at different food stalls all in the medina for less than $6 USD each?  Of course!  May I offer you a street game with fellow tourists after dinner?  Whatever fancies you, Djemaa el Fna has it or something similar on the table.  We, in fact, were so mesmerized by the atmosphere in the medina that we went back almost every night for dinner or to people watch.

If you haven’t been to Djemaa el Fna, we highly recommend it.

Have you been to another medina that you love?  If so, drop us a note.  We would love to hear about it!

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An Unlikely Food Choice in Marrakech

Posted on 09 October 2011 by Danica

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Tagines in Morocco are like hamburgers in the U.S.  Every local restaurant offers them.  If you read our previous post on Djemaa el Fna, you might think that we never left the medina for food!  That was simply not true.  While both of us love tagines and had it almost every day in the week that we were in Marrakech, we wanted to break the monotony of the every day tangine by looking for some other cuisines as well.   We found that different cuisine in the most unexpected way.

During our quest to find a local laundromat that charges by kilo as opposed to by piece in town (if you need to do laundry in Marrakech, see our previous post here), we came across a laundromat that not only does laundry, but prepares and serves Japanese cuisine as well.    We know what you’re thinking.  Japanese food in Marrakech?  In a laundromat?!   Don’t worry.  We’ll explain.

Kin, the owner of Lost in Marrakech, has an even more interesting background to share.  She knows Japanese and actually lived in Hong Kong for a while before settling in Marrakech.  Without knowing a word of Arabic and with very limited French when she arrived, Kin, an Asian female, opened up a laundry business in the part of the world where you can certainly keep count of the number of Asians with your fingers.

Besides the laundry business, she keeps herself busy with developing a simple but delicious Japanese food menu.  When we dropped off our laundry, we decided to try her Japanese ramen noodles and fresh fruit smoothies.  Both tasted home-made, were delicious, satisfying, and very refreshing.  The dining area also offered a welcome respite from the unforgiving heat and sun in the medina.  In fact, we liked the food so much, we went back a second time!

Next time when you are in Marrakech and are ready to take a break from the tangines, stop by Lost in Marrakech for some smoothies and ramen noodles, no laundry required!   If you would like to order Sushi, you may need to give Kin a heads up as the ingredients may need to be specially ordered.

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