Deserts seem an unlikely spot for recreation and plush accommodations: harsh and hot by day, frigid and forbidding at night, no water in sight. Despite all of that, areas of the Sahara Desert are tourist oases in the sand. Trekkers must be willing to travel vast distances, but once there, desert-only experiences are at hand. The Sahara is the largest arid desert in the world; it is the third largest on the planet after Antarctica and the Arctic, which are cold deserts.
Located over a vast swath of Africa, the Sahara covers some 3.5 million square miles, roughly equal in size to the United States or China. Its tremendous size and lack of roads make travel in some remote areas nearly impossible. An exception is the Moroccan Sahara, accessed from the north African country of Morocco to the west. That’s where several unexpected experiences can be found.
Sandboarding Sahara Dunes
Wipeouts might be a little gritty, but sandboarding in the Morocco desert is a thing. The board sport challenges riders to balance on a snowboard-like ‘sandboard’ while sliding and gliding down towering sand dunes. Outfitters will set you up for a day of hucking it down the dunes and carving fluid turns in the shifting sand. According to Saharaexperience.com, your dunes experience will include an overnight stay in a desert camp, or a hotel in M’hamid, a small oasis town in Zagora Province. For your sand-shredding session, you’ll be supplied with the proper safety equipment, instruction and -- of course -- a sandboard.
Desert Day Spa
Native inhabitants in the remote desert town of Merzouga, Morocco, profess the healing properties of Saharan sand. At sunrise, Berber men dig grave-sized holes in the sand outside of town, but they aren’t preparing for burial. Instead, they are getting ready to place paying tourists into the pits and cover them in sand. For up to 30 minutes, these souls will occupy healing ‘sand baths,’ said to remedy aching muscles, limbs, and joints, and even some skin conditions. The powers of the baths are thought to be strongest during the summer months, and the 30-minute sand-submersion sessions include plenty of water to drink.
A small Moroccan town in the Sahara Desert, Merzouga is near the Algerian border. It’s the gateway to Erg Chebbi, a huge swath of sand dunes north of town. West of the oasis town is Dayet Srji, a seasonal salt lake often dry in summer. When it is full, the lake brings a wide range of migratory and desert birds, including desert warblers, Egyptian nightjars and flamingos.
Of course, ‘luxury’ is relative to your surroundings. In this case, well-appointed, weather-proof tents in massive Saharan sand dunes qualify. Erg Chigaga is the largest of the untouched Saharan ergs of the Moroccan Sahara; the other is the Erg Chebbi, near Merzouga. An ‘erg’ is an area of shifting dunes in the Sahara, and the Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp has been keeping visitors comfortable and catered to in the dunes since 2011. Options allow for self-contained family units or couples to have privacy, or for individuals to mingle with others. The Main Camp has 12 tents that can sleep up to 24 trekkers. Private Camp’s collection of four tents is meant for small groups and families. The Private Nomadic Camp has just one tent, set in remote dunes for supreme seclusion. No matter which camp, each tent has its own private bathroom with toilet, dressing area and wash area. Refined toiletries and linens are part of the pampering.