Hopefully this helps anyone else considering doing the 3 day excursion from Marrakesh to the Mazouga dunes – dont get me wrong its worth doing but its important to manage your expectations between what the tour promises and what you get. obviously our experience could be completely different from the next person but im sure you can connect the dots.
time of year: august 2016
group size: 15
agency: dont know – we did check a few but we ended up going with our riad, who really just put you on any minibus with a free seat!
Now a lot of people said dont go on a camel trek in august, youll just instantaneously combust bc of the extreme heat. Pfft unless youre super sensitive to the heat then pay no regard – yeh sure its hot during the day but the overnight camel trek starts in the evening and youre back to base by 8am.
Departure – You will be picked up at 7am. It was actually 8 and then it was just a taxi to the departure area where all the vans leave from, where we were eventually allocated to a group and proceeded to wait around for about an hour (for who knows why)
Kasbah tour – This is about the only thing I can remember from day one as its mostly just driving. The valley of roses doesnt exist (except for in May i think). A guide turns up and walks you through the old town, which is fascinating – he asks for 40MAD each plus a tip and then you stop for lunch (at the usual overpriced tourist restaurant)
Desde gorge – This is where your hotel is for the first night (the word hotel is used loosely – it is very basic, no hot water, a dribbling shower, painful wifi and very simple food service). The small town is nice and the local scenery is pretty.
Tinhir – Old village and carpet seller. Interesting looking village where you end up at a rug salesroom. The guy was very friendly and gave us all berber whisky (green tea) and explained how they make the carpets. Then it was on to the carpet room for the hard sell. Despite our tour guide mohammad saying we only had 45 min for the tour, we were there for well over an hour. One of the group did actually buy a rug – we didnt even if they were persistent.
Todhra gorge – Worth seeing but normally busy. Was told thered be an opportunity to swim. Nope. There is absolutely nowhere to swim. Disappointing. Then its off to another overpriced restaurant for lunch. After lunch stop at a scarf place as apparently youll need a scarf for the camel trek – its just another tourist scam – if it really is windy during your trek then you can easily use something else to keep the sand out of your face.
Bazouga – Buy some from ice water (its only 5MAD for a 1.5liter) – get more than you think youll need bc once youre out in the desert youll just want to guzzle it all back! Finally reach the camel base, collect what you need for your overnight camp out in the desert, which is basically nothing except your camera and your water – dinner is provided. Jump on your camel and away you go.
Camping in the desert – You’ll get taken to a camp about a 2 hour camel ride into the sahara. While basic they are nice with rugs between the tents and a table in the middle where dinner is served. Im guessing in winter youll sleep in the tent but it was definitely nicer sleeping on a mattress outside in august! While when theyre selling the tour theyll talk about sleeping under the stars – well they also get a lot of cloudy nights (more in summer i think) so dont count on it. We did have a lovely full moon as well which put a dimmer on the stars. Dinner is served around 10pm so theres time to kill yourself by climbing a nearby massive dune – it is a serious workout and one I probably should have paced myself for – lesson learned.
So you might get to sleep around 1am – it probably wont be the most comfortable sleep youll have but its a once in a lifetime so who cares. Theyll come through the camp clapping and waking everyone up about 5.30am for the ride back to base. It was an absolutely incredible experience, riding our camels in the cool of the dark morning into a setting full moon – and fully worth the total price we paid for the tour.
Back at the “hotel” we were provided with a very basic breakfast and even though we were told there would be a shower, once again good luck with that. Then its back on the bus and back to Marrakech (or in our case Fes).
While our guide was mostly an ok guy one annoying thing was the pressure to take a private car to Fes instead of what was originally promised which was dropping us off in Rissani at the bus station. We got the ol hard sell – oh youll be in a bus for 11 hours without aircon, very tough compared to a nice private car with aircon, stop to take photos and 5/6 hours. From what I can tell there are night buses from Rissani to Fes for 180MAD, which wldnt have suited us as we had accomm booked in Fes but the buses do have AC unlike the “luxury” private car we were stuck with for 300MAD (per person – there were four of us). Cue: an uncomfortable 7 hour drive to Fes.
Hopefully this write up helps someone understand the difference between the advertised tour and what you actually end up getting.
PS if anyones wondering about exiting the airport in Marrakesh to avoid the airport taxis and get something cheaper, we did it. How much you save is debatable and whether it was worth the walk I’m not sure. And there werent as many available taxis hanging outside the airport parking lot as I’d hoped so you could be waiting a while.