Sahara Desert Sand Dunes of Morocco for Photo Friday

Edge of Sahara Desert sand dunes at Merzouga, Morocco

Ever since I watched (and re-watched) the movie The English Patient, I’ve dreamed of seeing the Sahara Desert sand dunes in North Africa.

When I planned our family trip to Morocco in October, I was determined to include sand dunes in our itinerary. A task that proved challenging and ultimately, affected every stop we made on our trip. I quickly realized that no matter how you organize sightseeing stops in Morocco, a trip to the dunes involves 10+ hours of driving through remote parts of the country.

Moreover, the logistical challenge isn’t just about getting there, it’s also about what you do once you arrive. Staying in a hotel outside the dunes is possible, but will not immerse you in the experience. Staying in a tent in the dunes is the way to dig into this destination.

Together these trip requirements mean that a tour operator to handle the driving, touring, and camp selection is a must. Safety and security are top of mind. Moreover, you need a way to make an inherently tiring trip, fun for all.

I had an extensive search for an operator who would and could find a way to make this long journey kid-friendly. I had a few operators try and talk me out of going, while others quite simply couldn’t provide enough details or customization. The company we used, however, didn’t shy away from the challenge.

Little boy paradise

Erg Chebbi Sand Dunes

As I scoured the web for information, Erg Chebbi came up again and again as the hot spot for sand dune excursions.

Admittedly, I was in a dangerous trip planning place as I had a very specific vision (huge, reddish dunes that go on forever) for what I wanted to see which meant that anything “less” than that would leave me disappointed.

As a consequence, I ended up selecting Erg Chebbi as our dunes venue as it was the “safe” bet for meeting my vision. The trade-off is this area has more tourists than more remote desert spots like Erg Chegaga. In the end I weighed priorities and determined being solo in the desert wasn’t important to us.

That said, in the end, the number of groups we ran into were very small.  I go back to point one here. It takes time and effort to get to the Sahara Desert in Morocco and only determined travelers will keep it on their itinerary. There’s no “just passing through” these dunes.

First camel ride

Sunset Camel Trek

Getting to the dunes involves an hour of on- and off-road driving through a barren stretch of desert. Experienced “desert drivers” and well-equipped cars ensured this trip was stress-free. We arrived at the Erg Chebbi sand dunes just in time to hop on camels for a sunset ride.

Hello sand shadows

Was it worth it?


Every expectation was exceeded. Everything about these dunes is surreal and vivid — the color, the shadows, the sky. There’s nothing about this place that is familiar or usual — the very essence of experiential travel in my book.

Not as comfortable as it looks

Xaluca La Belle Etoile

La Belle Etoile private tented camp

As soon as the sun went down, we headed back to our accommodations for the night, a private tented camp run by the Xaluca group called La Belle Etoile.

Given the middle-of-nowhere inhospitable setting, these tented camps are decadent with beds, running water including an in-room toilet and shower, and electricity. The highlight is the campfire in the middle of the tents under the brightest stars I’ve ever seen, with enough pillows and carpets to keep you comfortable for hours.

Berber entertainment

A night at La Belle Etoile includes live Berber music and dancing, and a typical Moroccan feast. Electricity is turned off at 10p but lanterns and battery-charged night lights are available.

Dunes at sunrise

We woke up at 5:30a to watch the sun rise up over the dunes. A must-do desert activity as the morning light rising over the sand is magic.

Our local driver was born and raised in the desert

At the end of this journey you are left with nothing short of utter amazement that these hardy people have found ways to live in the midst of miles and miles of sand.

For more Photo Friday posts go to Delicious Baby.

Editor’s Note: Xaluca La Belle Etoile hosted us as part of our media tour. They did not ask us to express any particular point of view.

Relevant Links:

See all destinations and ideas for Morocco family travel on Ciao Bambino

Morocco with kids trip planning tips

Family-friendly sustainable tourism in the High Atlas Mountains

Family-friendly review of Four Seasons Marrakech

Start a Discussion

  • We were two female travelers and it was our first time in Morocco. We did a two day/one night excursion into Zagora from Marrakesh and back. Salem met us at our riad and was a wonderful guide and friendly to talk to as we drove from site to site. After a day of driving and sight seeing, we arrived to the desert in Zagora and rode camels into the camp. It was just the two of us (there was room for about 20) at the camp where dinner was served and a fire was made as we gathered around listening to Berber music and star gazing. The camp was amazing, the people were so kind, and I couldn’t recommend it more!

  • My friend and I did the 4 day Fes to Marrakesh trip via the Sahara and I have to say it was such an amazing experience with Morocco Excursions Company ( ). We could not have asked for more with the guides and trip. We initially booked with Sahara Desert Trips after doing some research around the internet and found this group to be the most inexpensive, getting the best bang for your buck. We definitely got more than our moneys worth. The Youseff’s picked us up from our hotel in Fez and were fantastic guides and drivers. We got to see all the highlights of the Sahara with numerous stops for wonderful photos. Youseff was very knowledgeable about all the sights and places we visited and was very amenable for taking stops along the way if you wanted to take a particular photo or stop at a certain place for lunch. The hotels were fantastic, all very clean, and camping out in the Sahara one night under the stars with a camel trek was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. You do cover a lot of ground through the 4 day tour so just be prepared to be on the go most of the time. It is a great way to get a glimpse of the valleys and gorges just outside of the atlas mountains as well. I would definitely like to go back and spend some more time in some of the places we stopped at. I cant recommend this group enough. Next time I am back in Morocco I will definitely book with this group again.

  • Is a small company based in MERZOUGA run by Mohamed, offering private tailored guided cultural tours for singles, couples, families and small groups all around Morocco highlighting the very best of it’s imperial cities, ancient Medinas, Atlas Mountains, Kasbahs and Sahara desert.
    Mohamed found his passion for culture and language amongst the most majestic sand dunes of Morocco called Erg Chebbi, located in Merzouga village. There he led a nomadic childhood with his parents, wandering through the desert with his family and camels possessing only a tent for shelter.

  • I have learned that planning a trip with kids can be very challenging, especially to remote places such as a dessert. But I agree with you when you say that it was worth the trouble. Traveling with your kids to such unique places is an amazing learning experience for the whole family.

  • The sand dune pictures are absolutely beautiful. It looks like a wonderful and unforgettable trip for your family. I don’t know if I can get through all the logistics of trying to get to the sand dunes but totally agree that it was worth every effort on your part.

  • What an amazing experience! I also think that I would have given up when tour operators were trying to dissuade me from traveling to the dunes. The pictures are stunning and I’m sure the experience was worth all the trouble that it took to organize it.

  • Fantastic experience, and equally great pictures. I kind of like the fact that there’s other people in the sand dune shots as it makes it look more like an excursion through the desert than a sterilized photo shoot.

  • That’s just incredible Amie…the pictures are beautiful and I’m sure they don’t even do it justice. My list of places that I’m copying from you keeps growing 🙂 Amy

  • I’m in awe. Awe of the landscape and in awe of your planning and determination to go there. I probably would have given up when even the locals tried to talk me out of going. What a fabulous, fabulous experience. I’m in shock at how unspoiled the landscape is in today’s commercial world. Thanks for sharing.

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