Hotels, tents, camel treks or quad tours?

The future of tourism in the Moroccan Sahara Desert is in doubt.

For the most part, people visit the Erg Chebbi dunes near Merzouga to jump on a camel and be led out to tents in the dunes where their Berber guides will make the a tajine dinner, pots of sweet tea and a drum performance. The next morning they wake up early to be sure of using the toilet back in the village hotel rather than take a shit in the sand.

camel tour sahara desert

It’s a pretty limited and superficial experience of the desert but harmless enough.

Others prefer to see the sand dunes on a noisy quad that ruins the serenity of the desert as the vehicles can be heard from a kilometre away as they scrabble up and down the dunes like giant beetles on amphetamines.

Still, the two kinds of tourism managed to coexist.

Desert guides used to wait until travellers got off the bus and then fight over the potential customers while they were still retrieving their backpacks from the luggage compartment. Then the business shifted to bookings on the internet and touts in Marrakech who scooped up all the clients before they had even got to the desert. Still those in the villages on the edge of the dunes managed to make a living.

But now the authorities are turning their eyes towards the small-time operators who take tourists out to the dunes for a night. Claiming that conditions in the desert are unhygienic, unsafe and simply shabby, they’re now insisting that local operators remove their tents from the dunes altogether. Tourists should stay in classy hotels and venture out for day trips only to the dunes. The locals are fighting it but the future is unclear.

The rules and regulations of Europe had to drift across the Mediterranean in the end but the haphazard, traditional way of doing things is part of the charm of travelling in Morocco.