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Sahara Desert General Info

Background Information:

Morocco is about 3 hours in flight time from London and is on the North Coast of Africa. It includes an Atlantic coastline, a flat, arid interior rising up to the massive mountain range of the High Atlas (of which Mt Toubkal is the highest peak) and another smaller mountain range - the Anti Atlas - before the country’s southern borders in the Sahara desert.

The people of Morocco are of Berber and Arabic origin, speaking different languages. The official language is the Moroccan dialect of Arabic and Arabic itself. The Berbers speak Tachelhit. The country is Islamic and is ruled by Mohamed VI.

The south of Morocco is the land of the Sahara and life is only possible in oases and kasbahs. At Ouarzazate, scarcely 200km from Marrakesh but in a different world, you stand on the threshold of the mighty Sahara.

Standing on the edge of a vast desert plateau, with snow-covered peaks visible in the distance, this ancient garrison town retains an almost tangible connection with a distant past.

Flights and travel:

Easyjet, Ryanair, Atlas-Blue, Royal Air Maroc, Thompson Fly and British Airways  amongst others, fly into Marrakesh from various major UK airports. EasyJet have the best baggage allowance (20kg).

Visa Information:

At time of writing, British, American, Canadian, Australian, and Irish nationals do not require a visa to travel to Morocco, just a valid passport. Be advised that if your date of exit from Morocco is less than six months before the expiry of your passport you may be refused entry into the country. Similar rules apply to most EC countries, but please check with the relevant Consulate well in advance of your holiday as it is your responsibility to ensure that you have the correct documentation to enter the country. On arrival in Morocco, you will have to submit a visitor’s card which you will have been given to fill in on the plane and this will entitle you to stay in Morocco for up to 90 days.

Money:

The currency in Morocco is the dirham (dh). There are about 14dh to the £ Pound (in 2013). It is impossible to get Dirham outside of Morocco - therefore take € Euros, £ Sterling or US$ and exchange on arrival. Alternatively or in addition, there are plenty of ATM’s in the airport and Marrakesh.

Do not depend on your credit card for purchases – cash is best.

Tipping (local leader and staff):

Our local staff are paid well and fairly for their work and tipping is entirely at your own discretion.

Tipping your guides is appropriate, customary and always appreciated. Your guides work in teams and evenly split all gratuities they receive. Your gratuity should reflect the quality of service you received and anything special your guides did to enhance your trip. We recommend around £25 from each person, but this does depend on your budget, and what you feel is appropriate.

Food on the trip:

The price includes all food on the trail. You will have to provide your own food in Marrakesh (there are countless good restaurants within walking distance of the hotel) and whilst driving to and from the desert.

A typical menu on this trip would be:

Breakfast: Fresh bread with cheese, jam, margarine, tea, coffee, hot chocolate and hot milk.
Lunch: A light lunch consisting of fresh mixed salad, tinned fish or meat, bread and cheese, followed by fresh local fruit.

Afternoon tea: Tea / coffee / hot chocolate with some dates, figs, nuts and biscuits.
Dinner: The evening meal is always a hot meal and is different every night - traditional Moroccan cuisine of Tajine or couscous with meat and vegetables or the occasional pasta meal.

It’s always a good idea to bring a few snacks of your own. Take nuts, chocolate, biltong etc It's also a good idea to take a couple of Wayfarer or similar packaged camping meals as a 'just in case'.

Please let us know if you have any particular dietary requirements.

Language:

The language is Arabic / Berber but French is also spoken widely. Little or no English spoken outside of the main tourist areas. Your mountain guide will speak good Englsh.

Alcohol in Morocco:

Alcohol is not widely available in Morocco although larger hotels and upmarket restaurants sell it. There are a few bars in Marrakesh but small towns usually have no bars and no off-licences.

Morocco isn't a great destination for drinkers, and it can be hard work looking for somewhere for a post climb celebration, my recommendations are (Marrakesh):

Gossip (220 Bd Mohammed V). Stays open until 1AM, good tunes/ DJ. There are loads of bars on this end of Mohammed V. There are numerous 'western' bars and resturants on Mohammed V.

Piano Bar Les Jardins de la Koutoubia (26 Rue de la Koutoubia) , in the hotel near to the main square. Plush. Shuts at 11PM.

Expect to pay DH50 for a bottle of Casablanca beer and DH140 for a bottle of local wine.

Best trekking seasons/ climate:

The best months to trek in the Sahara are December, January, February and March.

Expect typical daytime temperatures of 30 °C. It gets very cold at night, though. You'll need a good quality sleeping bag and warm clothing because the temperature usually falls to 0 - 5 °C after the sun goes down.

Vaccinations and medicine:

There are no compulsory vaccinations for Morocco, and it is is not considered to be a particularly high-risk destination, but the following diseases are prevalent.

Hep A - water-borne disease found in areas of poor sanitation. Visitors staying for long periods, or staying with local families / friends / wild camping in rural areas are considered high risk and are advised vaccination.

Hep B - prevalent in Morocco, but only transmitted through body-fluids. Healthcare professionals and military personnel are vaccinated but there is no need for tourist visitors.



Rabies - prevalent... avoid the dogs and you don't need a vaccine.



Tetanus - Make sure your boosters are up to date.

TB - This is still about in Morocco. Those who have not been vaccinated are advised not to visit Morocco for extended periods without a vaccine.

Typhoid - Another water-borne disease that many UK nationals will not be vaccinated against. A vaccine is advised only if you are staying for long periods in very remote areas or wild-camping.

Schistosomiasis - There is no vaccine for this, and you can catch it by swimming in pools and rivers in which it is present. Trekkers are advised not to cool down with a dip in a natural pool.

Moroccan Customs do not have a list of prohibited medication, but they do advise anyone travelling with prescription medication to ensure that they have a copy of the doctor’s prescription with them and that the quantity of medication carried is within the limits of the prescription.

Standards for travellers: 



European travellers should remember that taking photographs can cause great offence to Muslims. As a general rule, always ask people before taking a photograph of them, and never attempt to take photos of women, or any government buildings. 

All public displays of affection, including men and women holding hands should be avoided. In Arabic countries it is common to see men holding hands – this is an accepted sign of friendship, but affection between the sexes is not expected in public. 



Also, travellers should adhere to accepted standards of dress – remember that in the Berber culture people are simply not accustomed to many practices of Europeans, and inappropriate clothing can easily and innocently cause offence, particularly to the elderly. Knees should always be covered when out in public, so long trousers or long skirts should be worn rather than shorts. Likewise, shoulders should remain covered, so avoid wearing sleeveless T-shirts or strappy tops unless on high crags well away from shepherds, farmers, and villagers. 



Things to do in Marrakesh:

Most people on our Sahara treks have a spare day in Marrakesh. It isn't hard to find things to do in this exotic city. Here's a couple of pointers:

Start the day with a traditional Hammam (steam room, scrub and massage - take a pair of swimming trunks). You're best-off going to a traditional establishment rather that one of the more touristy places. My personal favourite is a small place off Rue de Bab Agnaou (just off Djemma el-Fna square) - it's down a small alley opposite the Riad Omar hotel/ restaurant which is at the top of Rue de Bad Agnaou where it meets with Ave el-Mouahidine. It has seperate male and female rooms.

Restaurant Cafe Berbere (Jamma El Fna Rue. Derb Dabachi No 38) is an excellent cheap place for lunch.

You can spend the rest of the day seeing the sights with a licensed tour guide or wandering around the souks/ running away from snake charmers on the main square.  D'Jamma el Fna is a great place to be at dusk.

Clothing:

It is respectful in Berber areas for long sleeves and trousers to be worn, by men as well as women, especially in the villages and places outside Marrakech – however, crop tops and thin straps will attract unwanted attention in the city as well!

The trek in the desert is away from villages, so it is ok to wear shorts, however the sun is strong so you may want to cover up.

Hazards:

Vipers, cobras and scorpions are residents of the desert, but please DO NOT BE ALARMED! It is very, very unlikely that we will come across them. Please do use your common sense and check your boots and shoes before putting them on and always zip your tent up at night.