Road Trip to the Moroccan Desert

The majestic Moroccan desert has a certain old-school mystique. Visions of blue-turbaned nomads on camels journeying across the massive dunes were in my mind as I planned this excursion. The desert is both intimidating and enchanting in a weird way and I just had to experience it. The dunes of Erg Chebbi, near the town of Merzouga are the real desert. Positioned at the easternmost edge of Morocco bordering Algeria…this seems like the end of the earth. This crazy road trip to the Moroccan desert took place as part of a larger nine-day Moroccan adventure that started in Casablanca. The first few days we explored Fes and the fabled blue city of Chefchaouen.

Read More: Self Drive Tour of Morocco

Is Camel Riding Ethical? 

If I didn’t question the ethics of riding camels, I wouldn’t be me.  I admit that I rode camels in Egypt and India many years ago before I knew the things I know now about the cruelty inherent in the animal tourism industry. At those times, I personally witnessed no cruelty towards the animals, however, I know that this is not everything.

I think that riding camels is like riding horses. It can be ok sometimes as opposed to riding elephants which is never ok. It greatly depends on who is taking care of them and how they are treated. The organization I did my tour (Camel Trekking with Omar) with had healthy looking camels and I did not see them beaten or mistreated. I saw where they were kept when not carrying humans and it seemed nice enough. You also can choose to do a 4X4 desert trip as an alternative to camels.

I would NOT ride camels again in Egypt, India or Jordan based on what I know now. Morocco seems to be ok with certain operators. You have to research and ask the right questions first. I welcome more information on this topic so comment below!

A few basic things the animals should have in all cases according to animal welfare experts:

  • Food and Water
  • A suitable Living environment.
  • Good Health.
  • An opportunity to exhibit natural behaviors.
  • Protection from fear and distress.

As always, if you see abuse, speak out. Don’t ride any animal that looks sick or malnourished.

Read More:  How Tourists Can Help Camels in Morocco

Fez to Merzouga 

We woke up very early to make sure we would arrive in Merzouga by 3 pm for our camel trek. Karim, our wonderful host at Riad Laaroussa, made sure we had coffee, water, and breakfast for the road. 

We had a long drive ahead (465 km about 6.5 hours) but enjoyed the gorgeous scenery. Don’t speed in Morocco! We actually were stopped by police and got a ticket, despite being as charming as possible. Funny story.  It was about $15USD and had to be paid on the spot. I’m not positive that it was a real ticket. Anyhoo…

Here are some pics from the journey. We started in the north and went through snowy mountain areas and at times could see the Atlas mountains in the distance as we drove southeast.

Road Trip to the Moroccan Desert

Road Trip to the Moroccan Desert

Eventually, we reached the east of the country where the scenery becomes dry and desert-y. Was very cool…mountain gorges, kasbahs, oases, even wild camels.

Road trip to the Moroccan Desert
This was scary; the sides of some of the pull-off areas were crumbling!

Road trip to the moroccan desert

Road Trip to the Moroccan Desert
Hey there cutie!
Road trip to the Moroccan desert
Finally…the Dunes of Erg Chebby

The Desert

We came to the place we would be leaving our luggage, Riad Saturday Night. Cute huh?  We met with Omar who runs a camel trekking operation. He took us to a local place to have lunch, which was a local style of tagine and was amazing. Afterward,  we met our guide for the camel trek, a young Berber named Ibrahim. Since it was offseason, we were the only ones on the trek.

Road trip to the Moroccan desert

We were introduced to our adorable camels Bob and Joe and we were off.

Road Trip to the Moroccan Desert

Road Trip to the Moroccan Desert

Ibrahim led us on a beautiful relaxing journey through the endless red sand dunes that stretch all the way into Algeria. We rode for about 2 hours with a stop on the way for pictures and bonding with the camels (we’re both animal lovers) and then arrived at our camp. Ibrahim set up evening tea and prepared a scrumptious Berber soup and Berber style tagine. It was very cold but we were prepared with layers and the tents had very thick blankets on the little beds.

Read More:  How to Pack for a Desert Trek

We romped around for a bit and watched the sunset before dinner.


Road trip to the Moroccan Desert
our camp

Road trip to the Moroccan Desert

Looking for a Desert Excursion?


Merzouga to Marrakech

We slept fairly decently despite the rugged surroundings and the sounds of vicious desert winds smacking around the tents.  After watching the sunrise,  coffee, and light breakfast, we were back on the camels for the journey back to Riad Saturday Night.

Here we showered, changed and hit the road, once again a long journey ahead.  Merzouga to Marrakech is 562 km and according to Google,  takes slightly less than 8 hours. We found that Google greatly underestimates times for driving in Morocco. The roads are not always good,  most of it is twisty and mountainous with sheepherders,  bicycles,  donkey carts, and other things on the sides of narrow roads. It’s not easy nor fast! This entire segment of Fez-Merzouga-Marrakech is better done over 3 days, not 2 as we did. 

Todra Gorge

Luckily there is much to see along the way including the magnificent Todra Gorge, in the Dades Valley, carved by the Todra and Dades rivers. The gorge measures only 33 feet across in places but the cliffs are over 500 feet tall on both sides! The river is now dried up.

Road Trip to the Moroccan Desert
Todra Gorge

Road Trip to the Moroccan Desert

Road Trip to the Moroccan Desert
I love this sign

The Dades Valley desert area is known as the valley of 1000 kasbahs.  Would be fun to explore.

Road Trip to the Moroccan Desert

Finally, we arrived in Ouarzazate in the Draa Valley.  Ouarzazate is the capital of the booming Moroccan film industry with many famous movies filmed in this area including The Mummy, The Last Temptation of Christ, Lawrence of Arabia, Kingdom of Heaven and recently, episodes from Game of Thrones! Nearby is the fortified village of Ait Benhaddou which is a UNESCO world heritage site. 

Road Trip to the Moroccan Deset
Atlas Movie Studios
Road Trip to the Moroccan Deset
View from the terrace from Sabrina’s Restaurant

After lunch and a quick drive around the town (all the traffic circles had movie themed centerpieces like a camera or directors board…very cute). We were very concerned about being stuck the high atlas mountains after dark so we didn’t spend nearly enough time here. Once again….don’t do what we did!!

Ouarzazate to Marrakech

The drive from Ouarzazate to Marrakech is only 200 km which under normal conditions should be 3 hours, but as I said earlier, most driving in Morocco is anything but normal.  This drive took 5 hours and we reached Marrakech around 8:30 pm. We spent the last hour of driving in the high Atlas mountains after dark.

road trip to the moroccan desert
the scenery from the road
road trip morocco
One of many reasons you can’t speed!

Arrival in Marrakech

This drive was a bit stressful and hair-raising, so by the time we got to Marrakech we were frazzled and exhausted. So, of course, we once again got majorly lost. These cities are challenging to navigate! We were once again victims of our stupid GPS and ended up in a congested market area where cars shouldn’t go. The locals stopped us from going to far to the point of no return and helped us do a ten point turn to go back where we came from. We talked to 2 random teenage boys who tried to give us directions. Their French wasn’t great so we called the hotel to let the staff speak to the boys in Arabic. The lady at the hotel advised me to let the boys come in the car with us and guide us to the hotel and then to give them money for cab afterward. As an American, this was something I would NEVER do at home but somehow here it seemed ok…and we were desperado!

The teenage boys took us to Riad Idra, our hotel. We gave them a very generous tip and of course they demanded more but we were not to be trifled with at this point. A man from the hotel met us to take our luggage in a cart, directed us to parking and walked us through the medina to the riad. Whew!

road trip morocco
Gorgeous hallway lighting

We collapsed immediately and had a terrific sleep. The next day we woke up to a beautiful day in Marrakech!

 Read More: Tips for Visiting Marrakech


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Road Trip to the Moroccan Desert

About The Author

Cherene Saradar

Cherene is a travel expert with 30 years of experience in over 100 countries and 7 continents. She has traveled solo to over 50 countries. She is also a nurse anesthesiologist with over 20 years of healthcare experience. Her passions include wildlife travel and visiting wine regions of the world.


  1. Grand tour Morocco | 23rd Nov 21

    Amazing post! thank you for sharing with the world!

  2. Jana | 23rd Apr 21

    Isn’t Morocco so beautiful! I think that trip to Southern Morocco is one of the most memorable and exciting journeys of the world.

    • csaradar | 3rd Jun 21

      I will have to go there next time! I love Morocco!

  3. Andrea | 29th Sep 20

    Thanks a lot for sharing with us your amzing desert experience

  4. architecture d'intérieur tunisie | 18th Sep 18

    Bonjour,très bon article
    Merci pour tous ces articles très clairs

  5. Brenda | 17th Sep 18

    Cherene, You said this trip would be much better spaced over 3 days. I am wondering if you would be so kind to tell me how you would split it up, now knowing the areas better. How would you split the days and where would you overnight? I am trying to plan our own trip and this would be so helpful to me. Also, did you feel you missed any sites that looked quite appealing as you had to go so quickly from Fez to Merzouga? Thank you for any insight you can give!

    • csaradar | 21st Sep 18

      Hello! I would take at least a day on the drive between Merzouga and Marrakech to visit the Ourzazate area and Ait Benhaddou. Also there are various oasis and the Todra Gorge along the way. Between Fez to Merzouga I don’t remember as many sites but there were many Kasbahs along the way that looked really cool. You could stop in Midelt.

  6. How To Pack for a Desert Trek in Morocco - WanderingRedHead | 24th Jun 18

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  7. Lucy | 28th Mar 18

    Hi! Thanks for the very informative post! What are the roads like on this trip? Are they all paved, and is there a lot of driving on mountain passes? I am thinking of doing a road trip but am not the best with winding roads, so I’ll only be comfortable with the plan if winding mountainous roads comprise only a small part of the drive. Thank you!

    • csaradar | 4th Apr 18

      The roads were mostly paved in fact many are major highways. The drive through the Atlas mountains did have winding roads and they were definitely scary at night! If you do it make sure you give yourself plenty of time during DAYLIGHT! Those were only a small part. Between the desert and Marrakech.

  8. forum automobile | 9th Oct 17

    Cet article est très agréable. Merci beaucoup !

    • csaradar | 9th Oct 17

      De rien 🙂

  9. Ronald | 3rd Jun 17

    Sounds like a fascinating adventure. Thanks for sharing.

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  12. Morocco tours | 30th Jul 16

    Thanks a lot for making this blog to share the world your experience and thank you so much for sharing with us your great desert trip in our lovely country 🙂

    • csaradar | 30th Jul 16

      My pleasure! I can’t wait to return to Morocco!

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