Sahara Desert horse riding safari in Morocco
Explore the edge of the Sahara Desert, riding your horse from oasis to oasis; this is an adventurous horse riding holiday suitable for intermediate/confident riders. The horses we use are Barbs and Arab-cross which are ideally suited to their dry environment in Morocco.
This ride takes place in the Draa Valley which used to be the terminus of the ancient trans-Sahara camel caravans. The snow-caped peaks of the High Atlas form a magnificent backdrop and provide an other-worldly feeling with the heat of the desert around you and the snow-capped mountains behind. This area has little or no rainfall and January temperatures of 35° are not unusual, making this the perfect winter escape from the UK.
The guides and wranglers are Berber who are the traditional residents of the Atlas Mountains and quite distinct from the Arabs who invaded Morocco in 683 AD, more than a thousand years ago.
Sahara Desert horse riding safari – Day-by-day Itinerary
Day 1: Across the High Atlas.
N.B. Flights to Marrakech, Morocco are not included but we can assist (We are ATOL bonded). You may also require an overnight hotel in Marrakech and a transfer from Marrakech to Ouzazate and onwards to the stables; you should allow 5 hrs Marrakech to Oarzazate and another 2 1/2 to reach the stable; we can happily arrange all this.
If you are self-driving to Ouzazate, we will collect you from the hotel in Ouzazate and drive you to Zagora in the Draa Valley where you meet the horses and guides. There should be time for a trial ride to make sure you are happy with your horse; if not, we can do a trial ride tomorrow morning
Overnight: in Gite; full board.
Day 2: Zagora to Djebel Bani
To start your holiday on horseback, we head southwest crossing the huge Feija Reg (‘Reg’ = stony desert) and a few small areas of erg (‘Erg’ = sandy desert) this mixed terrain heralds the beginning of the Sahara Desert which we’ll be entering soon. A small winding path leads up the northern side of Djbel Bani (‘Djebel’ = mountain) and from the top we look back on the plain and the Djebel Sarhro away to the north. Djebel Bani is the geographical division between the Sahara Desert and the Atlas Mountains. Descend via an oasis, often used by Nomads, to the overnight camp.
Overnight: camping, full board.
Day 3: Djebel Bani to Oued Naam.
This morning we ride up to a plateau that is flatter and even drier than yesterday’s. Only the tough and wizened parasol acacia grow here, offering a little shade to the infrequent travellers. We ride on into the first proper Ergs. Desert gazelles and ostriches are resident here (this area was recently made into a national park) and we may be lucky and see some, particularly as we’re camping at Oued Naam (“Oued” = river and “naam” = ostrich) which may be a dry river, but there is moisture beneath the surface allowing some vegetation to grow.
Overnight: Camping, full board.
Day 4: Oued Naam to Oued Driss
Today’s ride is from one dry river to another. This area is rich in Tamarisk, a native shrub of the Sahara which has slender branches and grey-green foliage. Later in the year it produces light purple flowers, but we are probably too early to see the blossom. This area is popular with nomad families who build their temporary villages out of tents made from camel and goat wool. Tonight we camp at Oued Driss in Tuareg tents. There is a good, though unsophisticated museum here and the first hot shower for two days!
Overnight: Permanent Camp, full board.
Day 5: Oued Driss to Nesrate
Today we ride the horses across the biggest ergs so far to reach a plateau that leads to Djebel Selmane. Then, by utter contrast, we enter the palm forest at the oasis Tagounit. Here we ride between lush, irrigated gardens of wheat, beans, dates and a host of other vegies. We leave the oasis behind and make camp in the dunes beyond: utter silence and absolutely zero light pollution; expect a star display like no other!
Overnight: Camping, full board.
Day 6: Nesrate to Oued Draa
Today we turn in a northerly direction towards the Draa Valley’s palm forests, enjoying the shade they offer. To the left lies Djebel Bani and on the right Djebel Tadrart. Overnight camp in the oasis.
Overnight: Camping, full board.
Day 7: Oued Draa to Zagora
Following ancient paths between cultivated fields and beneath palm gardens to Tinfou where a grand erg reaches right to the doorsteps, threatening to engulf the village. Return to Zagora and our starting point.
Overnight: in the gite; full board.
Day 8: Zagora the end of your horse riding holiday.
The itinerary ends after breakfast. Most riders will return to Marrakech which involves driving across the High Atlas to reach Marrakech. If you have time it’s well-worth spending a night or two in Marrakech which is a city that never disappoints. Try an Hammam (Hammam = Turkish steam bath) with gomage (exfoliation), full body massage and pedicure service! You will have earned it!
We can arrange the transfer direct to Marrakech airport; if you require an additional night or two in a hotel, please just ask, we have a list of brilliant places to stay.
Sahara Desert Horse Riding Safari – The holiday details
This is the edge of the Sahara: an area of peace, tranquillity and stark beauty. The horses for this riding holiday are Arabs, Arab cross and Barbs; superbly well-mannered, responsive, agile and sure-footed. They are fast and soft-mouthed, a perfect combination! The objective of the ride is to reach the first of the mighty Saharan sand-seas, or “erg” as they are known, which lie beyond the oasis town of Ouzazate. The trail follows the course of an underground river that emerges from time to time as an oasis – lush and green, in contrast to the surrounding areas. A lot of the ground is flat and open, ideal for some quicker paces.
Ridden distance: 160 Km.
Average time per day in saddle: 5 to 6 hours, with breaks.
Getting there: Fly London to Marrakech and drive to Ouzazate.
Temperature: Summer temperatures will top 50° but in January it’s a more manageable 30°. The air is still dry and the going can be dusty at times.
Terrain: The trail can be dusty but leads from oasis to oasis through starkly beautiful country. Have you ever wondered where your Christmas dates come from? Now’s your chance to find out!
Several dry rivers (“wadi”) to negotiate; we pass through small, remote villages and nomad camps; the ride is generally flat with sections suitable for a faster pace. Riders should be happy to get over natural obstacles such as gullies and dips and be comfortable at all paces (no jumping).
Horse Breed: Barb X Arab.
Tack: saddles are based on the French cavalry saddle, but with sections cut away to make it lighter and cooler for the horse. The bit is a snaffle, with no nose band.
Rider’s involvement: riders are asked to assist with grooming and tacking up their horse; untack during breaks. The guide will be available to advise and assist as necessary.
Rider’s weight: 95 Kg max
Best season for ride: Jan and Feb.
Accommodation (Based on twin share)
Bivouac camps x 4 nights
Large Tuareg tents x 1 night
Gite x 2 nights
Cross-cultural awareness: the majority of the population is Muslim, though the Berber occupy the relaxed-cum-moderate end of the spectrum. The Tuareg nomads are also moderate in their outlook, but care should be taken to dress conservatively. All accommodation is “dry” but alcohol is available in a couple of Marrakech supermarkets; byo is fine.
Guide: the English speaking professional guide who is the first point of contact on the ride is Mohammed. His first language is Berber, second Arabic, third French and fourth English; I was chatting to him in English and asked him where he learnt it and he replied “On the street” – it’s very good and he clearly has an ear for languages and an eye for horses. The rest of his team speak some English, but rather more French.
Included in the price: all meals from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on Day 8. Camping in two-man tent. Horse and tack, the trek guide and full back-up. We can also includ the flight and airport transfers frm Marrakech to the stable.
Not included: flights and airport transfers; sleeping bag.
Meals: will be prepared by our cook who will introduce the subtleties of Moroccan cuisine.
Baggage is transported by jeep which you will be able to access each evening but not at lunchtimes. Each rider is provoded with 2 saddlebags.
Formalities: No visa is required to travel to Morocco you only require a passport valid six months beyond the date of departure. No special vaccination is required.
Rider ability: you must be at ease at all paces and accustomed to riding outside a ménage/school.
The tack: each horse is equipped with a trekking-saddle and saddle-bags which enable you to carry your picnic, waterbottle, camera, sun-block etc.