Desert Glamping – Morocco

Where better to experience glamping than in the desert? Clearly it’s not really the best idea to suddenly turn nomad, mount a camel, find a dune and pitch your tent, but if you fancy an authentic experience then this is one of the most impressive places to do it.

The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world and covers an area of 9.4 million square kilometres (3.6 million square miles), comparable to the area of the United States. It covers about 30 per cent of Africa in total and engulfs much of North Africa.

In Morocco the Sahara is located in the south east of the country and is well worth the journey with breathtaking sights from gorges to stony deserts to rolling sand dunes.

There are plenty of packaged trips available, most offering excursions which will often include transport to the desert whether you are looking for a day trip or a few days glamping.

Marrakech is a great starting point. Known as the Red City, Marrakech is a rudimental discovery of Morocco’s more authentic elements.

Marrakech sees around 30 per cent of its GDP from tourism and is ranked second (after Cancun) as a favourite destination for Americans. Last year over 2.4 million tourists arrived via Menara Airport and more than six million overnight stays were registered.

The medina (old city) is a delightful onslaught of all the senses from the vivid rainbow colours of dyed wool, to the sound of the 50,000 plus mopeds vibrating around the city streets to the aroma of the spices overflowing in sacks outside market shops and stalls. The best way to explore is to get lost in the tangle of narrow streets of the souks with each section specialising in a particular craft.

THE LURE OF THE DESERT

One such company to run glamping trips near Marrakech is Sarabeo Camp which provides two different options – the Stone Camp which offers 15 oriental inspired tents in the small rocky desert in Agafay, about 35 kilometres from Marrakech.

The camp is set against a stunning desert backdrop and are kitted out with African woven mats, Berber rugs and Moroccan lanterns. Each has an en-suite shower tent and toilet and they are authentic, charming and comfortable.

Activities on site include bowling and board games whilst there are also options to take a quad or bike tour, dune buggy ride, camel back rides, yoga classes or simply sit back and gaze at the stars.

The second option is the Mobile Camp, which enables visitors to pick their own spot in the desert with small furnished canvas tents which are great for small adventurous groups.

Meanwhile Terre Des Etoiles is an ecolodge also in the Agafay desert near Marrakech. This venture began as a crazy idea to develop an oasis in the middle of this desert area which stretches from the edge of the Wad N’Fiss river to the plains of Haouz. The area is home to a few natural springs and as such became the perfect location for a glamping venue. What began with a few tents extended over the years and now includes a permaculture garden which supplies the camp kitchen making the area mostly self sufficient with 18 tents combining tradition and comfort. The camp also has its own camels, horses and two plunge pools.

Headed by Pierre Yves Marais this camp offers a very unique and back-to-nature type experience in Berber style tents and South African lodges comfortably equipped. There are various activities offered from hiking to astronomy to meditation plus camel rides, quad and buggy rides, mountain biking and cookery classes.

Meanwhile for the more touristy type holiday, head to Agadir, south west of Marrakech (about three hours drive away) which is a popular coastal resort on the edge of the Atlantic.

Agadir was developed as a result of Morocco’s focus on mass tourism which began about 10 years ago in an attempt to mirror countries such as Tunisia.

The area was destroyed by an earthquake back in 1960 which saw 15,000 people lose their lives, a third of the population, and about 70 per cent of the town was destroyed. The town was evacuated and over the next few decades had to virtually rebuild itself with its port, maritime and tourist identity at the forefront. A new city centre was developed with wide avenues and modern hotel infrastructures which now dot the beachfront offering a more upscale type holiday aimed at families looking at the all inclusive type destination.

And it seems to be doing the trick. Agadir recorded over one million tourists last year, an increase of over 13 per cent. There are almost 40,000 beds registered in Agadir.

Today Agadir has a third of all Moroccan bed nights and is often a good base for tours to the Atlas Mountains. It was ranked as having the 37th best city beach by website Flightnetwork.com and its golden sands offer something for everyone from surfing to jet skis.

Tour company Agadir Journey comes recommended and offers a wide range of trips from city visits to camel rides, buggy safaris or quad biking. They also offer a two day glamping trip to the Sahara with bivouac camping on the edge of the desert.

If off-road desert camping is not for you then there are over 100 campsites listed in Morocco which are well equipped offering tent and park up zones or often bungalows and tents to rent.

Agadir

A HUGE GROWTH MARKET

With its affable hospitality, strong heritage and cultural offering, Morocco offers a unique fingerprint unlike any other in Africa. It is quickly becoming one of the most sought after holiday destinations with a vibrant and diverse landscape.

Tourism is a huge economic boost to Morocco and is well developed with over 11.3 million tourists last year.  In fact tourism is the second largest foreign exchange earner after the phosphate industry.

A new agreement with China two years ago saw the number of Chinese visitors to Morocco rise by a whopping 300 per cent to 200,000 visitors recorded last year.

There’s a wide range of accommodation from hotels to riads to camping with a cost that ranges from €20 per night up to €1,000 per night at a luxury level.

There are some 251,200 beds in the country whilst three to five star hotels and club hotels account for almost 50 per cent of this number.

Marrakech has a 30 per cent share of these beds whilst Agadir has 16 per cent followed by Casablanca with eight per cent. Of this around eight per cent (18,000) are classed as other accommodation – primarily camping, motels, cottages and guesthouses.

Scarabeo Camp
©Sophia Van den Hoek

Meanwhile Morocco is keen to boost its tourism offer further. Vision 2020 was launched by the Moroccan government back in 2010 with the aim of making the country one of the top 20 tourist destinations in the world whilst doubling the number of visitors.

Released by the Department of Tourism the project aims to create unique, safe and affordable tourist experiences including reforms of the existing hotel ranking systems whilst increasing the number of tourism establishments. It also looks at developing eco resorts, green resorts and desert and luxury bivouac resorts and plans to boost infrastructure in business cities such as Casablanca offering exhibition and conference facilities and restoring medinas and green spaces.

Current contribution to GDP from tourism is around 11 per cent which the government hopes will increase to 20 per cent. The sector provides employment for about 532,000 people directly (five per cent of employment in the economy) whilst expenses paid out by tourists, not including air fares, runs up to around €7bn.

Published: Glamping Business Jan 2019

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