When you think of the Sahara Desert, what immediately springs to mind? Endless sandy dunes? Berber nomads travelling by camel? An entirely arid landscape? While all these assumptions are correct, they do not come close to capturing the magic of this enchanting environment.
Just 30% of the Sahara is sandy, with the rest composed of hamadas (rocky plateaus), salt flats, snaking valleys, rivers, mountains and oases. This makes the Sahara one of the most captivating, enriching and underappreciated trekking destinations in the world. Don’t believe us? Here are nine reasons a Sahara Desert trek should be on your wishlist.
The Sahara is on another scale
Unless we experience them for ourselves, we often struggle to envision and comprehend other environments. Most people would assume that the Sahara Desert is big, but few would guess it covers 9.2 million km², comprises 8% of the earth’s total landmass and is almost as big as China.
In other words, the Sahara is on a whole other scale. It is enormous, stretching from the Red Sea in the east to the Atlantic in the west, covering much of Northern Africa and crossing the borders of at least 11 nation-states. There is only one way to fully understand the size and scale of the Sahara – see it with your own eyes and walk it with your own two feet.
Experience the hypnotic magic of hiking in the desert
Hiking is often a rhythmic activity that lulls you into a particular frame of mind and speed of thought. Walking for hours at a regular and relatively slow pace gives you plenty of opportunity to absorb the details around you and for your mind to tick over and your thoughts to develop in ways they wouldn’t usually otherwise.
Hiking in the desert takes that to the next level. The shimmering heat, the sand beneath your feet, the warm colour palette, the cloudless skies and the horizon stretched out before you all conspire to make hiking a wonderfully hypnotic and mesmerising experience.
The landscapes and scenery are always changing
Many people assume that the Sahara is nothing but endless sand dunes. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it is home to a remarkably diverse array of ecosystems and landscapes, ranging from lush palm gorges and rocky moonscapes to mountain plateaus and winding wadis.
It is an environment that is every bit as complex and rich as other popular hiking regions. Though biodiversity is lower than in cooler climates, the Sahara is still home to a surprising number of plant and animal species. Geologically, the desert is a fascinating place to explore and there is a great deal we are yet to learn about its history. For instance, experts are still unsure exactly how old the desert is.
Explore an environment very few hikers will ever see
Even many of the most experienced hikers have not witnessed the beauty of the Sahara first-hand. Not always the first destination people think of when considering a hiking holiday, the Sahara remains a hidden gem. A destination that few others will ever visit and that represents a truly unique experience.
Sleep under the stars
Few places can match the Sahara when it comes to breathtaking sunsets and sunrises. At times, sundown appears almost kaleidoscopic, a slow shifting of warm colours that drape themselves across the desert and cool the air. At dawn, the sun’s drifting ascent illuminates the vast emptiness. But the real magic happens at night, when the sky explodes, becoming a glistening, star-studded canvas.
With no light pollution to tarnish the view, the night sky in the Sahara is truly unforgettable. The warmer temperatures mean you can often sleep out, ensuring you can drift off while stargazing and constellation-spotting.
Learn about local nomadic cultures
Most hiking experiences in the Sahara employ local Berber guides to accompany the group. No one understands the desert environment like the Berbers and they are completely at home in an environment that often feels entirely alien to others.
As well as hiking with Berber guides, you will often come across other Berbers and soon learn that they are some of the most friendly and hospitable people on the planet. Their generosity of spirit and welcoming culture means that crossing paths in the usually empty expanse of the desert is always a pleasant experience.
Escape the everyday
If you are looking for an opportunity to disconnect from the trappings of the modern world, switch off that mobile phone and escape your emails, there are few better places to do it than the Sahara desert. You won’t find any WiFi out there in the dry expanse and you will struggle to get any mobile signal for most of your trip, making it a great opportunity to disconnect from the digital world and get back to basics.
Climb the biggest dunes in Africa
Some of the continent’s biggest sand dunes are located in the Western Sahara, among them the iconic Erg Chigaga and Erg Chibbi. The former spans 40 km and is more of a sand sea than a single dune. Relatively remote and difficult to access, it is an astounding sight, with the dunes’ crescent peaks rising approximately 150 metres above the surrounding desert. This makes it a fitting destination for a desert trek. At 360 Expeditions, we include Erg Chigaga towards the end of our own Sahara Desert Trek for this very reason.
Discover the souks and squares of Marrakech
On their way in and out of the Sahara, most people opt to transit through the Moroccan city of Marrakesh. This bustling, boisterous city is a delight to explore and is packed full of vibrant souks, fascinating museums, incredible architecture and some of the best food in North Africa. If you get an opportunity to experience this whirlwind city, make sure you grasp it with both hands. It is not to be missed.
Sahara Desert Trek with 360 Expeditions
If you have always wanted to explore the Sahara and have been waiting for the right opportunity, our 360 Expeditions Sahara Desert Trek is for you. Taking place across ten days (including travel), the trek incorporates some of the Sahara’s most notable natural features and lets you experience the nomadic lifestyle, sleeping in a Berber tent or out beneath the stars.