For centuries deserts have been seen as inhospitable wastelands. While this maybe true, they’ve still commanded a certain awe. From Lawrence or Arabia infamous expedition to the Dakar rally people have always been drawn to the desert. While the arid sand is ill disposed towards life, there are still many pockets of civilisation nestled between the dunes. While traditionally desert life has required a nomadic existence, in recent times many of the settlements have realised there’s money to be made in opening up their desert existence to travellers and tourists. We’ve had a look at some if the best desert camps and best desert camping experiences so you too can experience the mysticism of the desert.
1. Sahara Desert Camping- Merzouga Morocco
The Sahara desert is the largest sand desert in the world. At 3.6 million square miles there’s a lot to explore. It’s also a very inhospitable place. Countless have died trying to cross it. If you fancy a taste of the Sahara Desert Camping, but without risking your life then you should head to the Moroccan town of Merzouga. It’s a 10-12 hour journey from Marrakech (Airport code RAK), which is the nearest international hub. Merzouga is the gateway between civilisation and the sahara.
The only way to get to Merzouga is either driving your self, of taking the daily 12 hour bus journey. If arriving by bus then you won’t get into Merzouga until 9 pm, so you’ll need to spend the night here before entering the desert. If you’re driving then you may arrive at slightly more respectable time. We recommend pre-booking one of the many Berber camps. From luxury desert camps such as the Asawad Luxury desert camp, to more budget friendly options such as the Desert Camel Camp, there’s a Sahara Desert camping experience for all budgets.
All the best desert camps will come and pick you up from Merzouga, and most give you the option of a 4×4 jeep transfer, or the more sedate option of a camel ride. Transfer times vary depending on the camp, so it’s always worth double checking this first.
Getting to the Camp
Food is always traditional Moroccan affair, lamb or chicken tajine, and it always tastes brilliant. Evenings always fun and usually include local music and Darbouka bagging. Rhythmically inclined guests are welcome to join in!
Which ever camp you choose there will be many activities to do. From Sand Boarding, Camel riding and Quad biking. Some of the more permanent camps even have swimming pools to shelter you from the heat. Which ever camp you choose you’ll be guaranteed traditional Berber hospitality, good local food, and stars like you’ve never seen before.
2. Bedouin Camping in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Wadi Rum is an area in south Jordan stooped in history. It consists of a deep valley cut into the surrounding sandstone and granite rock. It was formed 3 million years ago when a huge fault line opened up creating the valley. The area is now home to many smaller fault lines and the slow erosion of the sandstone formations caused by the wind and rain has created a truly magnificent spectacle.
Where as the area was historically home to Bedouin Arab tribes, these former nomadic breeders today welcome visitors. While it has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times, it is only since Lawrence of Arabia that tourists have started to visit.
First step in getting out into Wadi Rum is to get yourself to the South Jordanian city of Aqaba at the end of the desert Highway. There are any number of ways to do this depending on where you’re coming from. Most convenient is probably the 50 minute flight from Amman, however there are many busses and shuttles from all over that arrive into Aqaba.
Getting from Aqaba to Wadi Rum
Reaching Aqaba is the easy bit. Getting from Aqaba to Wadi Rum can be done in two ways. Getting a taxi is easy but expensive costing 20 JOD and taking about 40 minutes. You can also get from Aqaba to Wadi Rum by Minibus, although these busses are more geared for teachers going into Wadi Rum to teach than tourists.
Mini busses leave from near the Police Station at 6:30am, 11:00am, 1:00pm and 3:00pm, or when they are full, so it’s advisable to arrive early. Cost is 3 JOD and the journey takes just under an hour. You’ll need to pay 5 JOD entrance fee at the Wadi Rum Visitor centre, en-route to Wadi Rum Village.
Most desert camps which will pick you up from the Wadi Rum village rest house. Some of the camps are quite close to the village. However for a truly authentic experience we would recommend one of the camps further away such as the Wadi Rum Discovery.
3. Wahiba Sands, Oman
While Oman might not be the most accessible destination, that’s the idea right? What it lacks in accessibility it makes up for in beauty. Sharqiya, or Wahiba Sands as it is known is a locally, are a vast area of dunes located just off the road between Muscat and Sur. At approx 12500 square km the desert is half the size of Belgium. One of the favourite past times of the the Nomadic Bedu people, who inhabit the land, is camel racing. If you visit between the months or October to April you’ll likely see camels in training, and amateur camel races across the desert.
Mixing with the Bedu people is also a unique way to interact with Omani women. In Omani culture women traditionally do not mix with guests. However the Bedu flaunt this tradition, and women are key members of the community, playing a key role in welcoming guests.
The Wahiba Sands, like all deserts, is a very hostile environment. Despite this the area is actually teaming with wildlife. A Royal Geographical Society expedition uncovered over 150 different plant species, and over 200 species of animal living in these arid conditions.
There are a number of camps all of which are around a 4 hours drive from Muscat. None of them are cheap though. Oman is not a budget destination. The cheapest camps start at about around US$130 per night at the Wahiba Bedouin Rustic Camp or 1000nights camp. Although not one for the budget traveller, Oman is set to become a tourist destination in it’s own right. While that’s not great if you’re looking to escape the crowds, it does mean transport and infrastructure to get you out into the desert will be much easier.
You’ll need your own transport to get here, as most camps don’t offer transfers. Each camp has directions on their website which makes locating them easy. The area is host to many activities. From 4×4 dune bashing to sand boarding and camel riding. It would hard to spend 3 or 4 days here and get be bored.
4. Jaisalmer Desert Camping, Rajasthan, India
Jaisalmer is the gateway between Rajasthan and the mighty Thar Desert. At 320,000 km2, it’s a vast expanse of sand that covers around 10% of India. It is also the most densely populated desert in the world with 83 people for every km2 . Unlike the other destinations mentioned here, the area is teaming with a mix of cultures and religions. This makes for a diverse range of accommodation. What all people from the region share, though, is a love of music and singing. And you are sure to see plenty of both wherever you stay.
Nearly everyone exploring Rajasthan arrives into Delhi (Airport code DEL). Indian train travel is fantastically cheap, and also an experience in its self. The 18 hour journey from Delhi to Jaisalmer starts at 285 Rupees (approx USD 4.40) for a seat. If you fancy a bit more luxury you can get a bed for 460 Rupees (approx $7.30), not bad for such a long trip. Most people spend a night in Jaisalmer before heading into the desert, and there’s plenty of traveller friendly budget lodgings on offer in the town.
The camps vary hugely by cost. Many tour agencies in Jaisalmer can arrange a couple of camels, a guide and everything you need to sleep under stars. This is a really budget friendly and totally authentic way to see the Thar desert. Food will be simple but good. When we travelled we were given a lentil curry and roti breads that were made from scratch in front of us and cooked on a campfire! I’m not sure if it was the heat or the long day, but it was some of the best food I had in India.
Those with a bit more of a budget, and who don’t fancy taking their chances with the desert critters there are more luxury options. There are plenty of mid budget options such as the Desert Springs resort. Depending on your comfort tolerance, most of these can be reached by 4×4 or camel.
India offers some of the best desert camping for your money. If you’re in the in the area then heading out to Jaisalmer really should be on your to do list!
5. Camping in a Mongolian Yurt
One of the hardest desert camps to reach, but also arguably one of the best true wilderness experiences. Getting into Mongolia is tough in it’s own right. Most travellers use it a stop off while doing the trans Siberian railway from Moscow to Beijing. The only other way into the country is to fly into it’s capital Ulaanbaatar