Travelling to the Sahara Desert in Morocco is often the highlight of every Morocco itinerary. Riding on a camel through rolling sand dunes, feeling complete isolation, and spending the night in the middle of the desert had been a dream of mine for a while, and where better than the Sahara Desert? Fortunately, it is also possible to do quite cheaply!
The below part of our Morocco itinerary took us 7 days. We travelled all the way from Marrakech, via the city of Ouarzazate, to the huge rolling dunes of the Sahara Desert in the far east, and then instead of returning to Marrakech, we took the long journey North to the city of Fes.
So if, like us, you choose to travel to and from the Sahara independently (and not on one of the many tours available from Marrakech or Fes) here’s how you can easily (and cheaply) do it yourself…
Please note: Many of the below prices are in Moroccan Dirham (DH). At the time of writing, 10 DH is equal to £0.80/ $1 USD.
1. Marrakech to Ouarzazate
This is the first part of the journey and will take you 5 hours. Tickets can be purchased from the Supratours bus station, which is also where the bus departs from. Supratours is a national bus company with a very good reputation, they are used all around the country where the railway tracks end. The Supratours office in Marrakech is located just a little further down the road from Marrakech Train Station. A ticket to Ouarzazate will cost you 80 DH per person and don’t forget to buy a luggage tag for 5 DH if you want your bag to go underneath in the luggage compartment!
Our bus left Marrakech at 3pm and arrived at Ouarzazate, a city otherwise known as ‘the gateway to the Sahara Desert’, at 8pm.
The bus stopped once on the way, in a lovely little village on the roadside, facilities at the stop were fairly basic, so don’t expect western toilets or any fancy restaurants, but we loved it and it definitely felt a lot more authentic than the expensive tourist restaurants that the tour groups seemed to stop at.
On arrival in Ouarzazate, you will be dropped off opposite the Supratours office. If you are looking for somewhere to sleep on arrival we definitely recommend Hotel Marmar. It is located just a 5-10 minute walk up the road from where the bus stops and it cost us 25 euros for a private double room including breakfast. They even ordered us a takeaway when we arrived when we were too tired to venture out for dunner!
You may want to spend 2 nights in Ouarzazate, to allow time for a day trip to visit the famous Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah. However we chose not to do this, to just spend 1 night In Ouarzazate and visit the Taourirt Kasbah in Ouarzazate in the morning, and then catch the 1pm Supratours bus from Ouarzazate.
The entrance to Taourirt Kasbah costs 20dh, however this part is very touristy. Next door to this entrance, you can actually enter the traditional part of the Kasbah for free, where people live. Just walk past the guys hanging around the entrance and be firm that you would not like a guide. It is more fun to explore the alleyways of the Kasbah alone.
2. Ouarzazate to Hassilabied/ Merzouga
You can purchase your ticket from Ouarzazate to Merzouga from the Supratours office in Ouarzazate. The ticket costs 140 DH plus the usual 5 DH luggage fee and takes a total of 8 hours. Our bus was due to leave at 1pm but it left about an hour late, so we arrived at Hassilabied (a village 5km before Merzouga where our hostel was located) at about 10pm. I loved this journey, watching the landscape change as we went further into the desert.
Another option if you have more time, is to make an additional stop at Tinghir, in between Ouarzazate and Merzouga, to visit the Todgha Gorge. Looking back, I wish we had done this, it looked an amazing area for trekking.
Otherwise, there is also an option to go direct all the way from Marrakech to Merzouga if you don’t wish to stop at all and fancy doing the 13 hours all in one go.
3. The Sahara Desert
We finally made it to Hassilabied! A village in the middle of the Sahara Desert. We stayed at a hostel called Auberge la Source where we had booked a really nice private room, including breakfast, for just £14. We got collected for free on arrival from the bus stop at 10PM, although the place is only a 5 minute walk around the corner. They also made us a big 3 course dinner on arrival for 8 Euros.
This place was a very good budget option for Desert excursions, at just $35 for a 1 night Sahara Desert tour, or $80 for a 2 day tour (although we were informed on departing that they may be stopping the 2 day tour soon).
One the first day, you leave the hostel at 4pm and ride your camel for about an hour into the desert. The journey is amazing, the sand dunes are so orange! We arrived at our camp and were shown to our tents, we climbed to the top of a big dune and went sand boarding (sitting down like wimps!) and watched the sunset, we had an amazing Tajine dinner with the group and then we all sat around the camp fire playing music for the rest of the evening.
The next morning, you head back to the hostel if you have chosen the 1 night option. However we chose to do the 2 day tour, which we loved and were definitely glad we made that decision. On the 1 night tour, it was still really amazing, but we didn’t get that feeling of complete isolation. Whereas on the second day, after breakfast at the camp we then travelled further into the desert, where the only thing you can see all around you is orange sand dunes as far as you can see. On our camels we travelled past some small nomadic Berber villages, we then stopped off for Morrocan tea at one of the larger villages, which was a really interesting experience.
Back in Hassilabied village, we then spent 1 full day relaxing by the pool at the hostel. (Yes, this amazing hostel even has a pool!). For lunch, and dinner, there are a few shops in the village and a lovely little cafe called ‘Snack Mustapha’ where we got a meal for just 15 DH. Highly recommend!
4. Hassilabied/ Merzouga to Fes
There is 1 daily night bus that goes direct from Merzouga (stopping at Hassilabied) all the way to Fes. This bus went through the mountains, so if you get motion sickness, make sure you pack some motion sickness tablets as the roads are very windy! This bus cost 180 DH per person and departed Hassilabied just after 7pm and arrived at Fes at 4.15am at the Supratours ticket office, opposite Fes train station. Not the most convenient time to arrive, but this is the only direct bus and the quickest option by far.
And that’s how you can travel to and from the Sahara Desert independently! Any questions? Ask away in the comments below!