africa: sahara desert, morocco


Paris - Montpellier - Marrakech/Sahara - Barcelona - Amsterdam/Rotterdam


Morocco – the picturesque exotic land in the north of the Africa. The setting of the beloved story of the exploring Little Prince from Asteroid B612, the first book I really fell in love with when I was 12. It is in my bucket list for years now, and I’m glad that I finally got the chance to be where my fiction hero had once been, if only in the story.

I read lots on the basics of exploring Marrakech and I knew from the start that I will be out of my comfort zone. As a female solo traveler, also Asian, there’s a disparity between where I grew up and where I was going. Yes, I live in a third world country, and I’ve probably developed the courage and certain toughness one has to have when traveling alone, but expectation would always be different from reality. And so, here’s a short list of notes and tips that I did and learned.

Currency Exchange
Exchanged my Euros to Moroccan Dirhams (MAD) at Orly Airport and it was a bad move (1EUR = 8MAD). It’s better to exchange it at Marrakech Airport (1EUR = 10MAD Nov 2017).

Flights
Booked multiple destination flights via Skyscanner which led me to Kiwi.com for the cheapest fares. Flew from Montpellier to Orly Airport via Air France and from Orly in France to Marrakech via Transavia.

Airport Transfers

  • Pre-booked via Marrakech Airport Transfers. I think it’s an online booking consolidator and the people you will be talking to in case you call would not be necessarily from here.
  • Marrakech is a bit of a dodgy place and a woman with big bags who doesn’t know exactly where her accommodation is is definitely a magnet for potential danger, so the custom is, the driver will call your riad/hotel and someone from the accommodation will pick you up from the car. It is easy to get lost in the narrow streets and locals are yes (maybe), helpful, but will charge you a big amount for sure.

3 Days 2 Nights Marrakech – Sahara Desert Tours
The itinerary in short
Day 1 – Pick up from Marrakech hotel, Aït Benhaddou (famous shooting location – Game of Thrones, The Mummy, The Gladiator), overnight in Dades Valley
Day 2 – Dades Gorges going specifically to Todgha Gorge, Merzouga to Erg Chebbi dunes via camels, overnight camp in the desert
Day 3 – Erg Chebbi back to Marrakech

  • Pre-booked via Marrakech Airport Transfers. A coach picked me up from my riad and we met the others from near the square. We were 15 in total. No, don’t expect the A/C to be on – the windows were down all the time and it was okay since the air was cool.
  • Yes, very long drives!
  • Food – bring your own during the trip or else you’ll be in bread diet or the bland, overpriced tagine diet. The driver chooses which restaurant to stop so you don’t have much choice. Also, bread is handed to you – like literally handed to you with bare hands – so if you’re a neat-freak or if you have a weak stomach, it’s best to bring loads of food with you.
  • There is no entrance fee at the Kasbah of Aït Benhaddou but our “guide” asked us for it and he was forceful (as all the Berber men I met were unfortunately) so it was like we didn’t have a choice but to pay him MAD40 per person.
  • Please do not expect a “3-star” accommodation for the overnight stay in Dades Valley. Ours was simply not. There was no room heating and the water was cold as ice. Good thing our group was very jokey and positive, we just kept a pact of not showering for 2 days!
  • The camel (dromedary) trek looks fun but it definitely is a literal pain in the ass. It was. We were all figuring out a comfy way to ride but all we had after the trek were sore butts and crotches. Oh well, it’s the experience! 😁
  • Our group was divided into 2 – one stayed on a high dune to see the sunset, while the other group trekked to the camp. I was with the first group and we didn’t know that the second group didn’t have the chance to see the sunset like how we did. We also had a fun, rocky drive to the camp on top of the jeep. It was just unfair to the other group.
  • You’re free to pee in the desert 😁
  • A POSITIVE ATTITUDE WILL ALWAYS LEAD TO A BETTER EXPERIENCE!

Notes aside, I’ve really enjoyed my experience in the Moroccan Sahara largely because of the friends I found in my bus-mates. With long hours of driving and no wifi in the desert, it was all about sharing stories and connecting. It was about new friendships and unexpected kindness.

A big thanks to Carlos and Emi, my favorite Spanish-Polish couple who helped me and walked with me to my riad! Couldn’t have done it alone!

Photos can account for the magic of the Sahara Desert. So otherworldly.

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Travel video below!
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