Sohrab_I, Jan. 2023
Great trip overall. Would really recommend it. We had quite a god time and enjoyed the various visits and activities during the trip. We dot the deluxe version and recommend it if you have the budget. We went in late December 2022: the days are shorter with sunrise around 8am but it is not hot at all which is a plus (but it can get cold so take some jackets and warm socks).
Our driver/trip organizer Mohamed did a great job. He was helpful, polite, funny, and kept things organized and on time without making us hurry. He was the one who took us to all the locations and breaks and connected us to local guides at each location.
I will summarize the actual itinerary briefly but then focus on the experience. In brief, you leave Marrakesh on day #1 in the morning via pickup and get on the van with whoever else is going. You have various breaks (bathroom/stretch your lefts stops ), do a few short photo taking stops and had lunch at Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah and then had a local guide show us the Kasbah and explain things to us about the history and Berber culture and language. We then drove (with stops) to the hotel for the night and had dinner there (fixed-menu dinner already paid for, drinks extra) and slept. The next day #3 we had a new local guide: we drove to see the beautiful Toudra gorges (with explanation) and then drove a short distance for a second longer walk/tour to see the oasis, learn about what is planted and cared for, and then visited a Berber family that was into the rug-making business and got some tea plus explanations (with option to buy rugs but no hassling). We then drove (with stops) to the Erg Chebbi (desert) where we got on camels in the later afternoon (out luggage went separately with Mohamed to our tent camp) and rode them for about 40 minutes or so to the edge of the tent camp. We then had the option to head to camp or rove around the dunes on foot to see sunset --- it took a while but the wandering around was a lot of fun, and some people opted to use snowboards to slide down the dunes (usually with a comic fall at the end). Sunset was pretty, we then got to camp, checked into room, headed for dinner around 8pm. By 9pm some of the young camp workers set up a fire outside and played drums and sang songs: our group was kind of tired and not in a partying mood so nothing much happened, but a minority of folks who wanted to have more fun headed over to another group of tents and got to sing and dance around the fire. Day #3 was about heading back to Marrakech: we got up early, had breakfast, and those who wanted got on camels again to ride back across the Erg and see the sunrise on the dunes (nice!). Then we got to the car, and it is a long drive with lots of stops, but it is long. We got back to Marrakech around 8pm. The driving through the Atlas mountains is windy (like any mountain with switchbacks) so just keep that in mind if you get car sick and be prepared.
Above is a standard itinerary, so you can read about it elsewhere. Now about the experience. a) Mohamed was great: he was organized, communicative, kept us on track, and was a safe driver not taking risks. b) The guided visits were informative, educational, and well-paced but not hurried: there was plenty of time for Q&A, and guides spook very good English and would make great jokes. c) The rest stops and lunch places Mohamed picked out were all clean and very reasonable places for using the WC, buying snacks, coffee, etc. And the lunch places provided quite good food: some were very good, some were fine, but none were bad or just OK. Again, good choices made by Mohamed on where to make the stops. d) The drive back on day #3 is long (it is inevitable given the schedule) so prepare for many hours on a van (but with frequent enough breaks). e) The camel riding was fun for my family and I; we didn't feel hurried; we got a lot of time riding camels so we got our quota in if you will; and they stopped us long enough to enjoy the sunrise without feeling hurried or impatient. f) The deluxe tents, if you can afford, are REALLY worth it: private room with private bathroom and even hot water for a nice shower! That was a treat in a desert, and was really relaxing to have a hot shower after a long day before bed. g) The singing and dancing and fire after dinner at the tents is a relaxed and non-professional business: people having fun under the stars with a fire, so don't expect a professional musical entertainment activity but if you just take it relaxed it will be fun.
In short, a great trip. Highly recommended! And very family friendly. Our kids were 15 and 11 so it was easy, but plenty of younger kids were on this tour and they looked very happy as well (well, which young kind would not be happy sand riding in the dunes!??!)