When we first thought of spending New Year’s Eve in Morocco’s Sahara Desert, the idea evoked romantic notions of a luxurious tent, starry skies, warm breezes and candlelight. Who wouldn’t want to spend a magical night in the folds of this mystical desert?

We began our journey in Merzouga, at the Erg Chebbi dunes, along the Algerian border. These giant hills of smooth sand are famous for their great height and size, and are one of the greatest sights of Morocco.  Historically, getting to the dunes was incredibly challenging, as travelers had to pass through some of the flattest and most barren areas imaginable as they followed the Saharan Caravan Route to carry salts, gold, slaves, and spices to Timbuktu.

Sahara - Merzouga, Marocco

After some off-roading and dry, dusty roads in our 4×4, we arrived at our hotel, changed into warmer clothes, and hopped on our new transportation. Our caravan of about 10 camels began its 90-minute trek to the campsite.

On the outskirts of the massive sand dunes, it seems barren and lifeless. But once we entered the desert, we forgot our discomfort and were in awe. All we could see was a sea of sand. These ever-changing shapes carved by centuries of relentless winds, and a spectrum of colours reflected the warmth and diversity of the light, constantly shifting and evolving.

Sahara - Merzouga, Marocco

Just as the sun was setting, our caravan arrived at our destination – a berber tent set in at the base of the dunes. We paused and enjoyed the warmth of the golden sun glimmering on the sculpted sands. However, as the sun went down, the temperature dropped like a rock. Clearly, our hoodies were not going to suffice.  As darkness descended, we scurried off to claim a room in the large tent complex.

Soon, we discovered an empty tent with a bed covered in two wool blankets, with a blanket as a door. By this time, the temperature was close to zero. It was clear that the only heat in the room would come from us. As I gazed at the contents of my backpack, I realized that this would not be a night for lingerie.

Sahara - Merzouga, Morocco

Seeking warmth, we headed for the campfire hoping to soothe our sore limbs, along with about 60 other explorers from multiple countries.  We were dressed warmly but there was no question that we were ill prepared without wool socks, gloves or hats. We were immensely grateful for our large Moroccan scarves.

Our celebration extended back to the campfire, where we were entertained by the Berber folk musicians. English was definitely the minority, as we shared tagine and stories with our fellow adventurers from Spain, France, South America, Portugal, Italy and Germany.

Sahara - Merzouga, Morocco

Just before sunrise, we were awakened by our guides to ride our camels across the frosty dunes to return to the hotel. As the warmth of the sun flooded into our faces, we were reminded of the power of human endeavour and grateful for the opportunity to connect with the earth in a way very few experience.  A magical experience indeed!

Cover photo: Sahara desert, near Merzouga, Morocco, by Guillén Pérez.