10 Guide-Given Tips on Surviving & Thriving in the Moroccan Desert

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Behind the Sahara’s golden dunes and crystal skies is a ground ripe for dehydration, sun stroke, and even starvation. But while the desert’s harshness is a reality not to be taken lightly, swatting up on survival skills before venturing off nomad-style ensures a comfortable crossing.

To learn the tricks of surviving and thriving in Morocco’s desert, we contacted some of the most experienced individuals out there: local guides. Reared in the thick of it, these desert-goers share the most valuable tips for making it through the extreme conditions. Read on, and thank us later.

#1. For long journeys, travel at night

Said Amraoui, a guide “born into a poor Berber family in the desert of Morocco with sand in [his] eyes,” and who specializes in “True Morocco”  (the southern region of the Sahara and Atlas mountains that has not been westernized), learned his desert survival skills from his nomadic family, one of which was “not to do long journeys in the summer during the day, but at night.” Said’s mother also taught him, “If you get lost at night, you must light a fire somewhere higher so other nomads can see you and come to your rescue.”

Said thanks his ancestors for his ability to safely navigate the desert, saying, “They believe that the desert has everything we need, and we just need the skills to get it.” Said is grateful his grandfather taught him how to catch and eat sandfish and salamander, and how to dig for water in the sand. The bottom line: with Said by your side in the desert, you’ve got nothing to worry about!

#2. Ration sweat, not water

Covering up in a land so hot may seem counterintuitive, but shielding the body – in particular, the head – from the sun reduces the risk of dehydrating. Hats, or anything else hat-like, shade the body, in turn preventing it from losing water by working hard to keep cool.

#3. Wear layers

Believe it or not, the desert can dip below freezing in the winter. To avoid the irony of returning home with a cold after vacationing in the desert, pack layers; this way you can bundle up and strip off as you please.

#4. Drink like the Queen’s watching

Even if you followed the cardinal rule of packing ample water, don’t guzzle; sipping throughout the day ensures better hydration. That said, do gulp when need be: some people have been found dead in the desert with water still in their canteens, proving that rationing water can be counterproductive.

#5. Don’t eat buffet-style

By all means, keep well-fueled, but do know that the more you eat, the more you will want to drink, and the last thing you want to do is increase your thirst. The solution: nibble; after all, your body can survive much longer without food than it can without water.

#6. In case of emergency, zip it

If you’re in a pickle looking for shelter or water, try to conserve as much moisture as possible by limiting your speech. Another water-conservation solution: cover your mouth with a bandana.

#7. Kiss Terror goodbye

While fear blunts foolishness, it is also a paralyzing killer.

#8. Shake down before you lace up

With all the excitement of touring the Moroccan desert with a specialized guide, you may be quick to dress, but beware: scorpions often hunker down in shoes. To avoid a nasty surprise when putting on your footwear, be sure to shake it first.

#9. Stop, drop… and face the other way

If a sandstorm hits and you’re shelterless, lie belly-down on the ground with your head pointed in the opposite direction of the wind. No head covering? No worries: simply pull your shirt over your face (a little bit of facial protection is better than nothing).

#10. When possible, travel in luxury

As Ismail Amzilo who has been leading guided trips through the desert in Morocco for nearly a decade cunningly reminds us, when possible, it’s a good idea to travel in an air conditioned car. To boot, he says, “we choose the best restaurants to avoid any sickness, and we always use friendly camels and ask the Nomads to walk very slow on the sand dunes.” For added safety, Ismail’s company, Morocco Desrt Company, keeps a four wheel drive car in the camp for nighttime emergencies, and the guides stop every two hours for a 20 minute water-and-toilet break. The result: happy and healthy, surviving and thriving guests!

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