Last month, we embarked on an entirely new adventure – exploring the beautiful country of Morocco. As we began planning our trip we came across Azalai Desert Camp’s website and within five minutes of looking through their beautiful gallery and (which included the ‘Out of Africa’ soundtrack on repeat) we were hooked. We completely changed our entire trip itinerary to allow us to check off one of our biggest bucket list items – camping in the Sahara Desert. Scroll down to read the full story and to see why camping in the Sahara was one of the most beautiful and unforgettable experiences of my entire life.
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After a few days in Paris, we hopped on a plane and flew to Casablanca, sprinted through the airport and customs, and made it to our gate with literally seconds to spare. Our next flight over the Atlas Mountains on a tiny Air Maroc prop plane was a bumpy one, but two hours later we arrived at our final destination – the minuscule yet beautiful airport of Zagora (the ‘Gateway to the Sahara’) in Southeast Morocco.
Our first night was spent in Azalai’s beautiful desert lodge, located in an oasis just outside the city of Zagora. The moment we stepped foot into their tranquil gardens the stresses of our long and arduous travel day immediately melted away, and we spent the next few hours lounging by the pool eating dates and drinking fresh Moroccan mint tea. We watched the sunset from their rooftop terrace then headed down to eat dinner, just the two of us, by the pool.
The next day we were supposed to leave for the desert, but unfortunately, I woke up in the middle of the night with a bug that kept me in bed for the next 24 hours (thus, the reason why most of the above photos were taken on my iPhone). Lalie and the entire Azalai team could not have been more wonderful or hospitable, adjusting our entire schedule with no complaints and bringing bottled water and food to our room nearly every hour. Thankfully, after a good night’s rest, my health had greatly improved so we woke, packed our belongings, and headed out to our desert camp.
The ride through the desert was absolutely fascinating. Azalai organized a private driver and guide for us (an absolute must) and our first hour was spent driving through the arid Moroccan landscape and tiny villages. Then, the road ended and the next two hours were spent driving over rocks, sand, and dunes in the Sahara Desert. It was an absolutely surreal experience – there were no roads, no signs, no maps. Our driver simply had spent so much time in the desert that he knew exactly where to take us.
The further we drove the bigger the dunes became, and just as we began to feel tired we saw four Moroccan men dressed in traditional Berber attire waving to us on the top of the largest dune. We had arrived at the Azalai Desert Camp and couldn’t have been more excited! Their staff greeted us with fresh Moroccan tea and cool towels and the camp’s manager, Soufiane, walked us to our tent. What an incredible experience it was coming across our private camp site for the night! In a flat expanse of land surrounded by dunes, we found our gorgeous Safari tent, two private outdoor dining areas, a fire pit, and our own canopy bed from which we could lay and admire the beauty of the Sahara. We couldn’t believe it. As excited as we had been about Azalai, it was truly even more beautiful than the photos!
After Soufiane delivered our belongings he left to prepare our lunch and we spent the next hour getting settled into our tent and reading and napping in our rod iron canopy bed. The tent itself was absolutely stunning. Designed to resemble a vintage safari tent, it was incredibly spacious with wood plank floors, traditional Berber rugs, a desk, a private dining area, a queen-sized white rod iron bed covered in layers and layers of warm woolen blankets, and a gorgeous bathroom. Azalai was inspired by the time of the gentleman explorer, and thoughtful design details included a vintage leather steamer trunk, Safari hats, and lanterns – all to bring to mind the golden age of travel. It was truly everything we could have dreamt of.
As the sun began to wane we wrapped our heads in turbans, climbed on the back of two camels (before booking a camel ride in Morocco do your research and make sure that the animals are ethically treated), and took off over the dunes into the desert. We walked slowly over the crests of the dunes, absolutely in awe of the otherworldly beauty around us.
As the wind picked up we covered our mouths with our turbans and continued further onward into a world of blowing golden sands. The surreal landscapes coupled with the dreamy light and shifting sands gave us the feeling of having been transported to another planet. Everywhere we turned was sand, as far as the eye could see. It was truly one of the most incredible and awe-inspiring moments of my life.
We made it back to our tent just in time to hike to the tallest dune and watch the sunset over the Sahara Desert – what felt like an endless sea of sand. After, we headed back down for an apertif and bunded up to ward off the chilly desert air.
Soufiane and the Azalai team cooked us a delicious three-course meal which we ate at the base of the dunes, illuminated by candlelit lanterns and a glowing moon above. As the sky changed from an inky blue to black, we were treated with the most brilliantly starry night sky we had ever seen.
After our meal, we cuddled up by a bonfire and sipped champagne while we continued to marvel at the splendor surrounding us. Finally, we retired for the night in our tent – opting to leave the doors wide open to allow ourselves to fall asleep to the sight of the desert glowing against the night sky, the sound of the sand blowing off the dunes, and the feel of the breeze softly grazing our skin. It was heaven and I can’t remember a night where I have slept better.
The next morning I awoke to the first rays of light beginning to stream in through the tent. I climbed out of bed, grabbed my camera, and headed up to the dunes to watch the sun rise over the dunes. One of the things that amazed me the most about the Sahara was how the landscapes seemed to be constantly changing in front of our eyes. The textures of the sand, the way the light and shadows seemed to turn the dunes into a surrealist painting, the luminous Moroccan skies – it felt like the world was shifting around us, and in fact it was—the Erg Chigaga dunes are constantly moving and reshaping the landscape. As a Morocco wedding photographer, this concept of the ephemeral is so incredibly inspiring to me creatively. Knowing that what’s in front of my eyes will never be the same again is a deeply humbling experience.
I walked back to our tent to meet Ryan for our last meal in the desert – a beautiful, fresh breakfast at the base of the dunes. We found ourselves not wanting to look down at our food, not even wanting to blink—just wanting to take in every last moment we could in the desert, to let the beauty and majesty we were surrounded by burn into our memories forever. With a final walk and last look at our treasured desert tent, hugged the Azalai team goodbye and climbed back into our car to begin our next adventure – driving through the Atlas Mountains to our final destination—Marrakech.
It’s truly impossible for me to put into words (or capture with photos) the absolute magnificence that was the Sahara Desert. It was truly and completely one of the most memorable experiences of my entire life, and much of that is due to the hospitality and attention to detail by Azalai. Lalie, Souffaine, and their entire team went above and beyond to create a truly extraordinary travel experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!