A mere hour drive from Marrakech, the Agafay Desert boasts dusty-but-luxurious desert lodgings.
It’s hard to believe the Agafay Desert is just a one-hour taxi ride away from the bustle of Marrakech’s medina. The moon-like landscape is made of small stones and hills the color of bone and parchment. The High Atlas Mountains shimmer in blue and purple hues on the horizon and are even capped with snow, depending on the season.
Admittedly, most people who dream of visiting the desert envision the Sahara and its dramatic sand dunes. But, reaching the Sahara is an ambitious journey from Marrakech, which can take eight hours of driving best spread over multiple days. As an alternative, the Agafay Desert has emerged in recent years as a popular option for Morocco-bound travelers who are short on time but still yearning to spend a night in an otherworldly environment. The gorgeous glamping experiences available to travelers—ranging from stylish tents to luxury lodges—are by no means a compromise.
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Terre des Étoiles
Terre des Étoiles (French for “Land of the Stars”) is a family-friendly ecolodge founded by Pierre-Yves Marais, a former social worker passionate about responsible tourism. All of the rooms are powered by solar energy, and the entire property is plastic-free. For the most magical of stays, keep in mind that Saturday is “Astro Night” at Terre des Étoiles. Supervised by local astronomer Mohamed Ali Hafili, guests can learn all about the constellations they’re sleeping under and use a telescope to examine them up close.
Terre des Étoiles' Garden in the Desert
Camels, donkeys, goats, horses, and peacocks are among the many animals that live at Terre des Étoiles. Compost is used to fertilize the garden that is abundant with fruits and vegetables, despite being in the desert. Even the almonds and olives served as snacks are picked from trees on site. They’re a delicious reminder that nature’s gifts are indeed the richest.
Vincent Jaquet spent four months living in a tent in the Agafay Desert to determine the best way to set up Inara Camp. His commitment paid off. This playful paradise has a pool that’s ideal for afternoon swims and pillow-filled swinging chairs that sway just the right amount in the desert wind. Each tent is bathed in a delicious golden glow as the sun rises, which is fitting since Inara means “ray of light” in Arabic.
What Makes Inara Camp Special
The staff, many of whom have worked together for years, go above and beyond to make everyone feel welcome. Even the dog that roamed the grounds before Inara Camp existed has remained a fixture of the camp (he’s affectionately been dubbed Mr. Rocco and has been taught to shake hands). If you want to take a piece of Inara home with you, Jaquet has a shop called Camel Souk that sells antiques and local artisan goods similar to those in his camp. It’s located in Sidi Ghanem, Marrakech’s trendy industrial district.
Florence Mottet’s favorite film is Out of Africa, and it’s evident as soon as you arrive at Scarabeo. She and her partner, Vincent T’Sas, are both from Belgium and have created an achingly beautiful camp that looks like a movie set worthy of Meryl Streep herself. Scarabeo (the Latin word for “beetle”) is a tribute to the couple’s love of adventure.
A Desert Camp Inspired by "Out of Africa"
The simple-yet-chic accommodations mirror Scarabeo’s Out of Africa inspiration. Expect white canvas tents containing standard-sized beds, wooden writing desks, and folding chairs. Meanwhile, the communal areas are adorned with treasures and trinkets from Mottett and T’Sas’ travels worldwide. For those consumed with wanderlust, Scarabeo is a must-visit.
Arguably the most unique of the glamping destinations in the Agafay Desert, La Pause was also the first to be established in the expanse back in 2003. It began when globetrotting hotelier, Frédéric Alaime, discovered a property in ruins amid dying olive trees and decided to transform the land into a lush oasis. Today, it’s a paradise that looks like it could be in Morocco, Italy, or even Indonesia.
La Pause's Javanese-Inspired Bungalow
At La Pause, rustic tents and lodges come with hammocks for watching sunrises and sunsets. A turquoise pool hidden among now-thriving olive trees is perfect for those who prefer to lounge in the shade. La Pause is unique because it does not use electricity and is instead illuminated entirely by candles and lanterns at night. For a true one-of-a-kind experience, consider booking the Javanese-style bungalow, a traditional wooden house with a private garden that Alaime was inspired to build after a trip to Indonesia.
The White Camel
The ultra-luxurious White Camel is more of a resort than a camp. Its name is fitting because, as Moroccan owner Abdelkhalek Benalila explains, the white camel was once a coveted rarity in M’Hamid El Ghizlane, the desert village in the Sahara from which he hails. Guests at The White Camel have access to air-conditioned suites and a spa that offers a wide range of services, including massages and manicures.
Dining and Luxury at The White Camel
Beyond its luxurious amenities, The White Camel also boasts three restaurants, a bar, and an infinity pool that’s simply stunning at sunset. Even the most high-maintenance traveler will be hard-pressed to find anything to complain about during their stay at this desert camp.