THE WORLD'S BIGGEST SANDBOX: Camel Trek in the Sahara with a Baby
"Have you ever brought babies out to the desert?" We asked Aziz, our guide to the desert camp and camel whisperer extraordinaire.
"Umm (long pause) ... no" he responded.
Were we crazy for bringing our 10 month old on a camel trek to sleep in a desert camp in the Sahara overnight? Looking at forums, no one had talked about doing this trip with a baby. There were people who asked about doing it, but the responses were less than helpful.
You never want to be the first person to do something like this with your baby. Or maybe you do, but I don't. So if you're like me, here's our experience and you can decide for yourself if it's for you.
Merzouga, the small town that is the go-to spot for your Sahara adventures in Morocco is quite a distance from other areas of the country you may be visiting. The drive is 9+ hours from Marrakech, 7+ hours from Fez, and 11+ hours from Essaouira. So, in other words, yah gotta really want to see the desert to commit to this trip (with a babe, especially).
This is the route we took to get to Merzouga from Marrakech. We ended up renting a car because it was amazingly affordable in Morocco and gave us a lot of flexibility. Definitely worth it and recommended.
The drive may be long, but It. Is. Gorgeous. One minute I felt like I was driving through Land Before Time scenes with clear streams running through palm trees and desert rock, then the next minute I'm in snow capped mountains, cutting into curves like Mario Andretti.
Rest stop fun, somewhere in between Marrakech and Merzouga. We're very strategic with our driving, and time the long runs when Z is sleeping and stop for some food when he wakes, so he can get all his energy out.
It's a long drive, so take advantage of what's in between. We drove from Marrakech to Merzouga, and spent a night in Ait Benhaddou, a fortified village and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It's definitely worth a stop over for a night, but not much more.
Breakfast with a view in Ait Bennhadou.
Ait ... Let's get to the desert trek. (See what I did there).
Mounting the camel with Z on my back was the scariest part of the whole trip. Have you ever mounted a camel? It's a little frightening. They are tall animals, and they stand on their back legs first, making you think you are going to nosedive straight into the sand. But just before that happens, they stand their front legs up, and voila! You're on top of the world.
Hopping on our camel, Ilha. She was chosen because she was the calmest of all the camels, and there was precious cargo she was carrying.
The ride was a little bumpy, so we snapped the headrest of our Ergo up to prevent Z's head from jostling around too much. Aziz, our camel whisperer and guide into the desert, was also the Head of Pacifier Duty. Every time Z spit it out, Aziz was ON IT. It was helpful that he was so helpful. If you do go on a trek, make sure your guide is ok with accommodating a baby.
The ride to the camp was only about an hour, just in time before my ass bones bruised. There are many different tour companies that offer these camel treks into the desert and they vary in length. I wouldn't have wanted to be on that camel for too much longer. As nice as Ilha was, she hurt me oh so much.
We reached our destination, a simple camp with 4 tents, thin mattresses on the floor, and blankets for days. The blankets were crucial, because once the sun went down, it was cooooooold. I prefer that over extreme heat in the summer, so I would try to time a desert trek in the winter months (but dress and pack appropriately).
Our desert camp
Once we got to the camp, it was sunset. We played in the sand and rolled down the dunes until our tagine of couscous, vegetables, and chicken was finished. The three of us ate by the light of a small gas lamp, and went to bed on our thin mattresses on the floor of the camp.
Sparknotes for those that only looked at pictures, but still want the tips:
The desert is mad far from anything in Morocco, so prepare for long travel days
Ait Benhaddou is a sweet place to stop if you're driving Marrakech to Merzouga (the jumping off point to go on a desert trek)
When mounting a camel with a baby, wear your little one on the back. You have to hold on tight to the camel, and you don't want anything obstructing your grip.
If you go with a baby, I highly recommend going in the winter months. I would have been freaked out if we were in 100+ degree temperatures.
Bring warm clothing. It was surprisingly cold, especially at night.
Depending on how fancy you go with your desert camp (there are many glamping options), you're going to want to have a headlamp or flashlight. Our camp had no electricity or running water, so just be prepared.
Be prepared for a soar butt if you're not used to saddling up.