Merzouga A town at the gateway to the desert:
Merzouga is the main gateway to the wonders of Erg Chebbi, an expanse of dunes in Morocco desert tours.
An expanse of dunes stretching as far as the eye can see, an unreachable horizon, and as the only sound the paw of a camel sinking into the sand.
Merzouga is the ideal starting point to live the dream called desert trekking. This city in the south of Morocco, not far from the border with Algeria, has no monuments or historical buildings of note, but it is one of the most visited in Morocco because it is from here that tours depart on foot, by camel, or off-road vehicle towards the great dunes of Erg Chebbi.
the thing to do in Merzouga
Whether it’s two hours or several days, a hike in the desert is a unique experience that will make you forget the stresses of modern society and all the problems of your daily life. Go back to following the rhythms of nature, with the beginning and end of a day marked by the rising and setting sun. Enjoy a convivial dinner, all together gathered under the stars eating from the same plate, as did the Bedouins of the desert.
Listen to the sometimes rhythmic, sometimes poignant melodies of the traditional music, after which you will enjoy a restful sleep. Before falling asleep, remember to look up at the sky and have several wishes ready to be granted: you will not fail to see one – and probably more – shooting stars.
Although with the explosion of requests for desert tours, the experience is less poetic than in the past, Merzouga remains a must for those who want to know the more traditional Morocco and for those who want to admire a natural landscape completely different from what we are used to.
What to see in Merzouga
The attraction of Merzouga is one but alone is worth a trip to Morocco: the desert, and to be precise Erg Chebbi. It is an expanse of dunes that stretches for almost 30 km from north to south and reaches a maximum height of 160 meters. The large dunes of Merzouga are the highest in all of Morocco: although smaller in size than those of the Algerian desert or Mauritanian, is a magnificent spectacle and has the advantage of being more easily accessible. The dunes rise in the black plain of the hammada, coloring it of suggestive pink-golden tonalities; they move in continuation and therefore represent a phenomenon in continuous evolution. During the winter months and until the beginning of spring (from November to May), Erg Chebbi is home to a lake known as Lac Tamezguida or Lake Merzouga, which attracts numerous species of desert birds. If you are a birdwatcher, plan your trip to Morocco during this period: you will have the opportunity to admire desert terns, Persian bee-eaters, and tawny garruli, sometimes even flamingos and other water birds.
Tourism in Merzouga has exploded and there are now plenty of operators offering desert tours to see Erg Chebbi. You can rent your tour online before leaving Italy, or in Morocco by choosing whether to buy a tour with a transfer from one of the main cities or to arrive in Merzouga on your own and contact a local agency. There are desert tours of all durations and for all budgets. Those with little time, or little money, can get a taste of the beauty of the desert, enough to fall in love with it, with a camel trek of about two hours at sunset.
The classic tour to Erg Chebbi includes one or two nights in a tent in the desert, but for those who want to completely immerse themselves in the magical atmosphere of these places there are also longer tours, even of 7 or 10 days. Tours can be done by camel, off-road vehicle, or quad. The first one is the most fascinating, but it is a bit uncomfortable (the camel is not exactly a comfortable vehicle!).
The off-road is definitely more comfortable and the only one with air conditioning; however, consider the environmental impact of these tours: the continuous passage of cars levels the dunes and raises a quantity of dust that can damage the delicate ecosystem of the area. They are also considerably more expensive than the camel tour. The quad bike is to be avoided as it has a major impact on the leveling of the dunes.
Camel or dromedary?
We always talk about camel tours, but in the case of Morocco, we should talk about dromedary tours. The animals that live in this area of the Saharan desert are in fact dromedaries, smaller than the camel and with only one hump.
The confusion is due to the English term with which the dromedary is called: “Arabian camel”, almost always abbreviated to the camel. The use of the term camel has now become established also in Italian tourist guides, even if not correct.
When to go to Merzouga
A desert trek is a physically demanding experience. The extremely high temperatures are difficult to endure; add to this the discomfort of sitting for so many hours on the camel (which can give a feeling of seasickness, and cramps or skin irritation in the legs). Even off-road it is possible to suffer from motion sickness. To minimize discomfort, it is preferable to visit Merzouga in the cooler seasons. The best periods are the end of November and the months of January and February. They are also those with fewer tourists, so you will avoid the long lines of minivans that in high season crowd the national road from the north to Merzouga.
Where to stay in Merzouga
The proximity to the desert has made Merzouga one of Morocco’s most popular destinations, resulting in an exponential increase in accommodations in the area. Within a radius of 5 km between Merzouga and the nearby village of Hassi Labied, you can find all sorts of accommodations, from spartan Berber-style guesthouses to luxurious Kasbah-style hotels overlooking the dunes.
For those who want to spend less, there are also campsites, while those who want cleanliness, comfort and charm without spending a fortune can choose from some nice riads and inns. Some are located along dirt roads that branch off the N13. The national road that leads to Merzouga as well as the main paved road in the area. After booking ask your hotel for precise directions to get there.
How to get to Merzouga
Merzouga is located in southeastern Morocco, about 600 km from Marrakech and 550 from Fes or Meknes. The nearest airport is Ouarzazate, but it is not connected by direct flights to Italy. Most tourists arrive in Merzouga with an organized tour departing from Marrakech, Fes or Meknès or with a rental car. It is possible to get to Merzouga by public transport, but the journey is slow and uncomfortable: for those who still want to try, there are buses departing from Marrakech and Fes. Renting a car to go to Merzouga is an excellent solution: car rental in Morocco is cheap and with a car at your disposal, you can break up the long journey with stops in traditional villages. The only warning: drive carefully because the road is winding and some drivers of private transfers and grand cabs have a reputation for being reckless. Calculate about 9-10 hours of travel time from Marrakech and Fes.