Sahara Sacred Oases
This ride takes place south of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco on the fringes of the huge Sahara desert. The international airport is Marrakech and we can arrange international flights and the panoramic transfer across the Atlas Mountains and down the other side onto the Sahara plain (about 4 hrs).
A word about the horses: most horses have four gears, walk, trot, canter and gallop. We ride Barb stallions here on the edge of the Sahara and they have five! We need that raw power of a stallion to cope with the challenging conditions underfoot. There are 12 stallions in the herd and they form a tight ‘bond of brothers’. They know one another and are well-mannered and big-hearted. And they have that mysterious fifth gear: at the end of the day when you think they’re spent and ready for their hey-net, they come up with the goods and carry you into camp as if it’s just another day at the office. I would take one home! Except the export of Moroccan Barbs is now prohibited so that the in-country stud book can be strengthened.
Sahara Sacred Oases – 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 4 hrs Marrakech to Ouarzazate; we can happily arrange all this.
If you are self-driving to Ouarzazate we will collect you from the hotel inOuarzazate and drive you to Zagora in the Draa Valley where you meet the horses and guides.
Overnight: in Gite; full board.
Day 2: Through the Draa Valley to Zagora; meet the horses on the Faija Plateau.
The River Drâa is Morocco’s longest river, though it never gains much of a flow; after all, this is the northern margin of the Sahara. It does however have extensive subterranean aquafers which support a network of oases. We drive along the Drâa Valley, dotted with fortified villages (ksour), to the town of Zagora and ultimately Agdz, a classic Drâa Valley oasis.
Meet the horses and we’ll match you with a suitable mount based on the information you will have sent us earlier in the booking process. We set off in a westerly direction, through the Zagora Oasis, and then rising onto the stunning Faija Plateau. This high country is stark and barren at first glance, but conceals fertile pockets of green, linked by obscure trails and has that classic Saharan beauty, once experienced, never forgotten. Tonight’s destination is Foum Laachar, a tiny hamlet which doesn’t even feature on Google maps! This is beautiful, seldom-visited country, known best to the Bedouin nomads. We make our own camp which is fully independent.
Overnight: camping, full board.
Day 3: Across the Foum Laachar Pass to Oasis Mhasser
After breakfast mount up and head towards Jebel Bani (Mount Bani). The views just get better and better and when we reach the Col Foum Laachar, horses pumping hard for breath, we enter a large desert plateau containing a startlingly green oasis. Descent to the oasis which is popular with nomads and pastoralists for a picnic lunch. The afternoon is ‘short’ and we’ll reach Mhasser oasis early in the afternoon. Overnight camp. Having crossed such barren country you’ll appreciate why the oases are considered sacred places.
Day 4: Oued Mhasser to the Chegaga dunes
Broadly speaking the Sahara is divided into two sorts of terrain, ‘erg’ meaning stony desert and ‘reg’, sandy desert. There is of course a great deal more to the geology of the Sahara, but this is a good starting point. This morning we cross classic ‘reg’ along sheep and goat trails formed by the nomads. Picnic at the exit of this ‘mineral universe’. In the afternoon the pace picks up and you’ll have the chance to see what these Barb horses can do! By late afternoon we reach the big dunes of Chegaga which is a moving experience. The Berber people respect all their animals and value camels as beasts of burden, but ‘You trust your life to a good horse’ – and these are all good horses.
Bivouac near the dunes.
Day 5: Through the dunes to El Bour
This untouched expanse of sand is classic erg. It is so completely different from the reg desert we’ve crossed so far but strangely, equally beautiful. The horses work hard on the sand, but they are desert specialists and this is their back yard. If nothing else, you will head home with an abiding respect for the Barb and his amazing stamina. It’s not all sand of course, and the dunes are linked by stretches of reg, so today will test both horse and rider. By evening we reach camp which redefines “middle of nowhere”! The silence in the evening is positively tangible and the star-scape is simply stunning.
Overnight: Camping, full board.
Day 6: Reaching the Dunes of M’Hamid
The M’hamid erg is not as massive, or high, as the Chegaga, but what it sacrifices in size is more than compensated for by peace and tranquility: very few tourists make it here so the desert experience is more personal and peaceful. This is probably the best place for dawn / dusk pics when the light hits the sand just so; the colours are emphasized and there aren’t a bunch of bussed-in tourists polluting your shot.
Picnic in the dunes. Afternoon crossing the dunes of M’Hamid. Bivouac.
Day 7: Returning to Ouarzazate
Ride through the dunes to the Bounou oasis, and the first houses we’ve seen for a while. This is still the Drâa Valley, though it’s completely dry here. Bounou is a ksour and known as “The last village in Morocco”. If you ask the locals about village history and when the place was established you’re told, ‘It’s always been here’ or ‘It’s older than my father’. Good answers! Nothing has been documented.
A little further on is Ouled Driss where the ride ends. Bid farewell to your horse and the equine support team and transfer by vehicle back to Ouarzazate in the early afternoon. Dinner and overnight at the hotel – dining from table and chairs! What a novelty!
Overnight: in the gite; full board.
Day 8: Transfer to Ouarzazate airport and return flight.
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 and 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.