The Sahara, Marrakech, the Zoco, the Haimas, El Erg Chebbi, the snake charmers and the Moroccan fabrics all this and so on and so forth comprise a series of words that we will have heard sometime and that transport us to a distant world, but Morocco is much more than that and two things can happen when you travel there for the first time, the first one : “Been there, done that” as they say in English referring simply to crossing off a list of things you have to do before you die, or secondly, coming back every year because one trip has not been enough to quench your thirst for adventure in the Sahara. If you are passionate about 4×4 and adventure, there are a few things to keep in mind if you want the latter to happen for you.
Is your final destination the Erg Chebbi Desert Dunes in Merzouga?
If your adventure starts in Spain as I told you in Part 1 in your own off-road vehicle with final destination the Erg Chebbi Sand Dunes, there are different types of routes. Those who love to feel the adrenaline of dune driving in the Erg Chebbi, will probably take a direct route through tarmac roads to Merzouga and spend most of the days of the trip there, as the most famous sand dunes of Morocco are there.
However, as in my case, covering the 650/700 kms from Melilla to Merzouga was not a direct journey and If you want to cover as much territory as possible to try to see the most emblematic sites in Morocco, you won’t go from point A to point B but you will have to cover more points in between. A day’s travel can average 250/300 kms.
Going “down” to Merzouga can take you an average of 4/5 days depending on the Itinerary, 2/3 days in Merzouga and then 2 days to get back to the Spanish border and the Ferry back to the mainland.
In the end the trip doesn’t take long if you have your camera at hand because as soon as you cross the border you won’t want to miss anything.
Luggage and/or equipment – how much and how?
In terms of clothing, it all depends on the time of year you are travelling and if you are going up to the Atlas villages as I mentioned in the previous blog, it is best to avoid the hot summer months if you are travelling to the Desert Zones and want to enjoy the desert. Our group always organizes trips for Easter in the early spring, although many of them also did a double-header and booked a trip in December/January.
These are months where it can get cold at night and you need to pull on jackets and jumpers. The rest of your outfit can be fairly simple and consist of long or knee-length Safari trousers, always comfortable clothing that also respects the culture which is a little more restrictive. Field boots will be appreciated on some terrain and especially flat sandals are ideal.
Words cannot explain the sensation of putting your feet in the sand of the Dunes for the first time. If your excursion includes enjoying a “circuit” of the Erg Chebbi dunes, you will probably even prefer to go barefoot and enjoy the sensation of sinking your feet into the sand.
If the organization gives you the itinerary of the trip, it is best to make small changes of clothes in small packages for each Hotel or Auberge where you are going to spend the night, this way of travelling is very comfortable especially if you don’t know the type of Auberge where you are going to stay that night, think that 4×4 trips are different from a traditional trip, because you are moving every day to a different place and it is very complicated to go down with a big suitcase, especially because in these “intermediate” hotels you will arrive to take a shower, have dinner and then go to bed because the next morning you have to get up early to cover the next stage. These are little tricks that you acquire as you refine your experience.
How much more equipment do you need? To bring food or not?
There are companies that include a complete travel package that also includes some or all meals. Morocco has become so popular in recent years for off-road travel that you can now have a variety of options. Our route included breakfast and dinner at the hotels, but lunch and dinner must be provided by you, so you need to come well organized from Spain. There will be a number of stops along the way, some unexpected and some for lunch, so your travel pack needs to be very practical.
Everyone has their own preferred items, although cold meats, cheeses and tinned food are the most popular. You should carry bottles of water and canned or tinned drinks, depending on what you are used to. It is very common for each vehicle to have a cool box plugged into the boot of the 4×4 to keep some beers and soft drinks cold. Camping cookers are also welcome and some utensils to prepare or heat up some food in the middle of the desert, nothing complicated of course, food to unpack and heat up, that for the more sybarites, a potato omelet or sandwiches are very practical.
Although this may scare you if you are not an off-road enthusiast, for off-road junkies this is very common. Carrying shovels, filters, tow straps or extra parts of your vehicle is quite normal. There can be a mishap in the middle of nowhere and you have to have a way to deal with it. In my first trip our Land Rover Defender broke the turbo arriving to Midelt and thanks to the help of my companions and some of them who were very foresighted we were able to continue the route losing only one morning.
Going with other fellow travelers both for these things and to share your culinary tastes and those of others is the most fun.
It doesn’t matter what happens in these places because you will always find someone to give you a hand and as you go on an adventure, things are taken with a different philosophy. The important thing is to have fun.
Can I bring gifts?
Many organizations are against bringing sweets to hand out to the children who you will find will come very close to you, they claim that most of the children there do not have access to dental care so it is better not to give them a chance to get cavities. If that is your idea, you can also replace the sweets with school supplies, shoes, T-shirts, footballs and various other things that are in short supply and which they will appreciate.
It is advisable to plan how you are going to distribute them in the different villages and towns where you are going to pass through, so that it is easy to access these items from your car. It is also not advisable to unpack your boot completely just anywhere because you left those slippers that no longer fit your little girl at the bottom of it and there is a beautiful little girl with big eyes next to your vehicle waiting for her present.
Anywhere, even if you think it’s the loneliest desert, you might find mothers and children out with their goats grazing or in the rivers washing clothes, this would be the perfect time to show your generosity. Footwear is hugely appreciated.
Suggested places to see on your 4×4 tour of Morocco
Morocco is a big country with lots to see. Outside the capital Marrakech there are countless exciting places that you will definitely not want to miss. All of these places are impossible to visit in a single trip, so if you haven’t had enough, you can plan to visit some more on your next expedition. Among the most classic places to visit:
- The Dades Gorges and the journey along the Boulmanes river.
- The kasbahs or fortresses made of adobe will amaze you with their great state of preservation.
- The walled city of Fez with its Medina and don’t forget to visit the leather tanners factory, admire the colorfulness of the different paints that are made for the leather.
- The Erg Chebbi in Merzouga, here it is essential to take a camel ride through the sand dunes or walk up to the Great Dune of Ali.
- The Erg Chegaga, with its desert of stones or its rivers of sand where more than one can demonstrate their skill or lack of it in driving on sand.
- The Draa Valley is an oasis of palm trees in the middle of the desert.
- Chefchaouen or the blue city, where you can admire the colorful typical Berber clothing of the area.
- Erfoud, if you like fossils, there is no better place in Morocco than this city, although as in other towns you will also find restaurants, shops selling a variety of articles and, of course, the prized Argan oil and spices
All these places and many more await you in the Sahara desert in Morocco.