The World's Most Unusual Hotels: Glamping at Scarabeo Desert Camp in Morocco
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After a few days filming and exploring the the Marrakech souks (a UNESCO World Heritage site) with TPG Video Director Jessica Rovniak, we were ready to escape the frenetic energy of the city with a relaxing two-night "glamping" stay at the Scarabeo Desert Camp in rural Morocco.
If you're not already familiar, glamping is a trend that basically means "glamorous camping." A typical glamping vacation includes sleeping in a (luxurious) tent in the middle of nowhere, but with access to modern amenities that you wouldn't otherwise have at a normal campsite, such as flushing toilets, electricity and warm, comfy beds.
Booking the Scarabeo camp is somewhat of a hassle, but it's worth it. After visiting the website to get an idea of what I wanted to book, I spoke with a concierge at American Express who was able to get me a discount, as they receive special travel agent rates. The rates for a double suite tent were 2,755 MAD ($296) per night, but we booked for 2,380 MAD ($255) per night, including breakfast and dinner daily (normal room rates only include lodging).
I was able to pay by credit card, but in a somewhat unconventional manner. The camp emailed me a link which brought me to a specific webpage through which I could pay. Card payments, however, are subject to a small fee of about 2.5% and the camp did not accept American Express, so I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve card — which did, in fact, earn 3x points on the purchase.
In addition to the lodging, I added the following extras:
- Desert trek with guide and village lunch for two: 1,090 MAD ($117)
- Two camel rides: 800 MAD ($86)
- Two extra lunches: 492 MAD ($52)
- Transportation to the camp in a vintage side car: 1,300 MAD ($140) for two people and luggage
- Jeep transport to the airport: 550 MAD ($59) for up to four people and luggage
While these extras weren't cheap, the sidecar in particular was a blast. You can only bring a small amount of luggage on it with you, but it was no problem for us — a separate car came to take our larger suitcases from our hotel in Marrakech to the camp. (Really though, how good does that AWAY bag look in the sidecar?) Plus, it gave us peace of mind, because we wouldn't get lost trying to find the camp.
There were a variety of other activities to book including horseback riding or quad biking. Note, too, that if you choose to book activities such as these, bring some cash with you to the desert to tip your guides — there (obviously) aren't any ATMs in the desert!
While we were checking out, there was a bit of confusion about what exactly I'd pre-paid for, but luckily I had a printed copy of our confirmation (there's no Wi-Fi at the camp so I suggest you bring a printed copy of yours as well) so we were able to resolve the issue quickly, and I was only charged for a few glasses of wine at dinner, which cost 35 MAD ($3.75) each.
Other glamping spots that feature soft Saharan sand like Erg Chebbi and Merzouga are several hours away by car from Marrakech. Luckily, Scarabeo is just 45 minutes from the city. The rolling brown and green hills and dusty gravel may not be what you had in mind when you first thought of a desert camp, but it's certainly more convenient if you don't have a ton of time, and the property really is stunning. The breathtaking views of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains more than compensate for the lack of rolling sands that other camps have.
I was glad that I'd booked all of our meals at the camp, as well as the trek to a nearby village with lunch, because there's not much else around in terms of food. Or shopping. Or anything!
Arriving on the vintage sidecar was brilliant — and we were treated to a full overview of the camp by our driver before we got out to check-in. We were enthusiastically welcomed by the manager, who encouraged us to relax, have some tea, walk around and take pictures while the staff finished preparing our tents.
After about an hour of relaxing in the sun, we were shown to our tents. While I don't think there's a bad tent in the whole place, I was happy to see our tents were all the way on one of the edge of camp, far away from others. The staff helped us by carrying our rolling suitcases to the tents — deserts aren't exactly ideal for rolling suitcases.
The camp itself features eight double suite tents, two twin suites and five family suites, plus a reception tent and two dining and lounge tents scattered throughout the property. All the tents face out into the vast wilderness and provide incredible views.
At night when it's chilly, you can eat in the dining tents, but eating outside during daylight hours (breakfast and lunch) is definitely a highlight.
One of my favorite spots was the floor area near the dining tents. Small, low tables with candles were placed around pillows and rugs on the ground where you could enjoy tea or wine and take in the stunning surroundings. There were also a few fire pits — every evening the staff would light the fires as the sun went down. The space was peaceful and beautiful, and I could feel tension and stress melting away as I looked towards the Atlas Mountains.
There was no Wi-Fi at the camp, but I did purchase a Maroc Telecom SIM card at the airport, which gave me a (spotty) 3G connection. I chose to live in the moment and turned my phone off, but it was nice to know that, had I really needed something, I could place a call or (probably) use the internet.
The tents were absolutely gorgeous. While everything in the tents looked new, the overall vibe of the decor was antique and earthy.
Everything about tent seemed luxurious, but understated enough to make you feel like you were camping. My tent had a large, king-size bed with comforter, a safe, a battery-operated lamp, European charger and two USB chargers.
There was also a small sofa and table, a heating stove (staff lit the fire while I was at dinner to warm the tent during the colder nights), two robes and a small shelving unit. I was also given one large bottle of water and two glasses.
Old trunks, lanterns with candles and a leather stool gave the room a romantic, vintage feel.
Jessica's had a slightly different layout, with a large writing desk and chair instead of a couch.
After dinner, when I headed back to my tent at night, it was warm from the fire and all the candles were lit, creating a fairytale ambiance.
One other thing to note was that the tents have no real doors — meaning no locks. I suppose it's possible that anyone could have walked in and went through my stuff. Except no one did, and frankly I didn't even think about it — just make sure that you lock up valuables in your safe.
The bathrooms inside the tents are small but have everything you'd need for two nights: a toilet that flushed, a sink with running water and a vanity, shower gel, shampoo and a small shower with both hot and cold water.
The shower head had no wall to be fixed to, so it was a handheld operation — I had to hold it over my head while showering, which made things slightly more difficult — but it wasn't bad for a full bathroom in a tent. While I only used the shower for quick rinses, the hot water was actually hot, and the pressure was decent — this surpassed my expectations for a tent bathroom.
Each tent also came with an outdoor sofa — perfect for relaxing in solitude and enjoying the sweeping vistas. I spent quite a bit of time out on this sofa, especially when it was dark, gazing at the thousands of stars that dotted the night sky.
Food and Beverage
The food was fresh and delicious. Lunch consisted of a variety of small plates, including chicken skewers, veggies (both cooked and raw) grains and more. Eating in the sun on a breezy afternoon with unlimited views is quite the ideal situation. I could have that lunch over and over again.
Breakfast included eggs, Moroccan pancakes, yogurt, coffee and tea. Dinners started with soup, followed by steaming meat and vegetable tagines and cakes for dessert by candlelight. Wine was available by the glass or bottle at an additional cost.
This camp was made for relaxation, and I wouldn't have had any issues with spending lazy days lounging on my outdoor sofa with a good book the whole time. However, I ended up really enjoying the desert trek, which took us out toward the mountains.
The hike was average in terms of difficulty — anyone in reasonable shape could have easily completed the trek, which winded through hills, into the dried riverbeds and up hilltops for epic views of the camp and countryside.
After a few hours of walking, we took a break for lunch (tagine, of course) in the village, which was delicious and well-deserved after a long trek. Our guide, Mohammed, was excellent, and answered all my questions about Berber nomads, life in the village and writing in Arabic.
We returned to the camp around sunset, where we enjoyed relaxing by the fire, sipping a glass of wine and watching the pink sky and mountains in the distance.
We also enjoyed camel trekking. Guides led small groups of guests on a 40-minute walk into the hills — on camels, of course.
Keep in mind that reserving activities should be done as soon after booking as possible, as the camp works with third parties for these, and you may not get a chance to do something if you wait until the last minute.
If you want to experience something different but aren't in the mood to really rough it, Scarabeo camp is a wholly unique experience that allows you to have a serene stay in, well, the middle of nowhere. It's also a great value — Al Maha in Dubai's Arabian Desert can run you more than $1,200 per night, but Scarabeo will set you back only about $300 per night. Also, it feels like you're so far removed from civilization, but really you're only a 45-minute drive from Marrakech — and its airport. I'm not sure I'd want to stay a whole week, but spending a couple nights here was a perfect way to recharge over a weekend, especially after several hectic days touring busy Marrakech.