Having crossed Morocco to stand at the edge of the Sahara, you can hardly leave without hopping onto a camel and heading off into the dunes. Rides range from a two-hour lollop over the crescents to catch the sunset (100dh) to a fifteen-night expedition deep into the desert (4500dh); most people opt for an overnight stay at a Berber camp (300–400dh), where you’ll enjoy the clearest of night skies and a memorable sunrise the following day. A cameleer, meals, tea and blankets are included in the price, but it’s advisable to bring extra clothes and a sleeping bag, as nights can get excruciatingly cold. If you’ve never been to the desert before, think about starting with a short trip before signing up for longer journeys – the feeling of pure isolation, surrounded by a seemingly never-ending sea of sand, is an incredible experience (described as a “baptism of solitude” by Paul Bowles), but it’s not to everyone’s taste.
Trips can be arranged through your hotel or at one of the other auberges around Merzouga; Kasbah Mohayut and Nomad Palace are particularly recommended, or you could contact Best of Merzouga (t 0661 144620, w bestofmerzouga.com), who specialize in longer trips and tours from Marrakesh and Fez. Each outfit works its own jealously guarded routes and camps – the smaller, more expensive setups (usually no more than six people) are more atmospheric but less comfortable than the permanent camps – but it can be a matter of luck whether you hit a crowded section of the dunes or not. Generally, the further from the main group of auberges you go, the more chance you have of avoiding other camel trains and (even more importantly) 4WD drivers and quad bikers, though their noisy antics have been more limited in recent years. Note, too, that the longer multi-day trips stop operating after February, after which time it just gets too hot.