The city of Marrakech is a study in contrasts. It has two identities. One is the historical portion – the Medina – unchanged for centuries with narrow alleyways and picturesque shops. The other is Gueliz (or Ville Nouvelle) modern, hip and packed with restaurants, brand stores and malls.
The landscape of the surrounding countryside is so dramatic that it has made Marrakech the foremost destination in Morocco. It also explains why the Berbers called it Marrakech, which translates to “Land of God.”
Marrakech is located very close to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains that dominate the horizon. It is also just a couple of hours away from the true Saharan Desert. This in turn is ideal for exploration on that most unique of creatures – the camel.
A camel ride away from the crowded and historic souks is a terrific change from the norm. The scenery you encounter and the experience will be something to you will treasure for a long, long time. You don’t have to go far out of the way to enjoy a camel ride. Nor do you need previous experience.
Just a few minutes out of Marrakech you can hire a well-trained and docile camel to take you through the picture perfect peaceful palm groves of the Palmeraie. It is reputed to have a 100,000 palm trees.
If you are up to it and can cope with a longer time on the camel’s back then there are two, three and even week long excursions that take you far into the desert. The longer camel rides will give you the opportunity to meet up with the nomadic peoples of the Moroccan Sahara. Or tour the traditional villages and get an idea of what their daily lives are like.
You cannot help but feel the romance of riding along ancient trade routes through the Draa Valley, the sea-wave like sand dunes of the Erg Chebbi desert and Merzouga. The names will conjure up magical, starry nights and camp fires. You will recall spending a night under the open sky in your cosy Berber tent camped in an oasis long after you have gone home.
A word of advice here. When you undertake any of the camel rides or safaris it would be a good idea to book them through your hotel or an established travel agency. That way you will get a better deal with a good tour company and not have the bitter experience of being cheated by the touts who seem to be everywhere.