For many travelers, this is it. The whole reason to explore northern Africa, and what they spend their whole trip waiting for. The mighty Sahara Desert—approximately the size of the lower 48 United States at 3.5 million square miles—where summer temperatures can hit 117 degrees.

Just before sunset, we dropped the bikes off at the village of Merzouga (on the edge of the desert and close to the highly patrolled border of Algeria) and took a 30-minute trip in a 4WD to a Berber camp among the 1,100-foot-high dunes. To negotiate the deep sand and inclines, our BMWs would have needed specialized paddle tires or riders with monumental skill in the sand.

deep sand
Negotiating deep sand is no picnic on a big bike, especially if you’re not familiar with it, and/or don’t have paddle tires.Oscar Kornyei

With dinner of Moroccan salad and chicken Tajine around a campfire shared with a group of semi-nomadic Touareg men, wearing their traditional indigo blue turbans and scarfs, it was a magical night. Later we climbed a large sand dune under a perfectly black sky brimming with stars.

broken wall
Riding through a broken wall near Gara Medouar in Morocco.Oscar Kornyei

We eventually returned to sleep in our Bedouin tents, deep in the desert, to the sound of silence, having taken the precaution of leaving our boots upside down to avoid unwanted visits by lizards, scorpions, or snakes. I learned desert foxes live here too, but fortunately don’t fit in a boot. We saw their tell-tale tracks in the morning when we climbed the dunes again to watch the sunrise—the rays turning the silent, grey landscape into a kaleidoscope of gold, bronze, pink, and orange. A distant camel train, atop the ridge of a distant sand dune, completed the Lawrence of Arabia scene.

campfire
Warming up in the chilly Moroccan desert night around a campfire.Oscar Kornyei

Another unforgettable destination is the extinct volcano Gara Medouar, near Erfoud. Home of 2,800-foot-tall crater walls, it was once used to hold African slaves being sold to Portugal—hence it's nickname: the 'Portuguese Prison'. The gravel access road is littered with ruts and dips, and I lost the front numerous times in patches of deep sand. But the sights are dramatic. It's not every day that a rock formation or crater makes you want film a movie there. Then again, you wouldn't be the first mind: it's also the location for The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and the most recent James Bond film, Spectre (used as the lair of the evil villain Blofeld).