How to Plan a Desert Trip in Morocco? — A Helpful Sahara Desert Trip Guide
The Sahara Desert is a huge draw when picking Morocco out of multiple travel destinations. It is peaceful and is home to boundless nature with fascinating and enchanting scenery that is perfect for relaxation. Below is a guide to help you to plan a desert trip in Morocco.
Where to Visit the Desert in Morocco
The Sahara is a vast desert that covers most of the southeast portion of Morocco, but not all sections of it are good for sightseeing. There are two Ergs of the Sahara that are highly recommended in Morocco — Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga.
1. Erg Chebbi
Located in southeast Morocco, close to the town of Merzouga and the Algerian border, Erg Chebbi covers an area of about 28 km (17 mi) from north to south and about 7 km (4 mi) from east to west. The highest dune is about 150 meters (500 feet) higher than the surrounding hammada (rocky desert).
Erg Chebbi is more popular than Erg Chigaga, as it's less harsh, more accessible, and more convenient to visit places nearby, such as Fez. The sand at Erg Chebbi is reddish and very soft, and it will be a wonderful experience to walk on the dunes with your bare feet and enjoy the sunrise or sunset.
During sunset, the sky turns salmon and apricot with hints of purple, and the many dunes glow beautifully. This sight has been always one of the best moments for tourists. Counting stars at night near a campfire is also a wonderful experience.
2. Erg Chigaga
Erg Chigaga (or Erg Chegaga), located in the southeast of Morocco near the towns of M'Hamid and Zagora, is a 5 hour drive from Erg Chebbi. It covers an area of about 35 km x 15 km (22 x 9 mi), and its highest dunes are about 50 meters (160 feet) above the surrounding landscape.
This Erg is basically untouched, and the number of visitors is lower than that of Erg Chebbi every year, mainly due to the difficulty of access. The quality of sand is similar to Erg Chebbi. The dunes in Erg Chigaga are smaller than those in Erg Chebbi, but it's more wild and loved by artists, painters, and photographers.
How to Visit the Desert
The desert is along the east border of Morocco where it's quite remote. It's best to travel to a nearby town as a transfer stop, as it's recommended to rest well before heading into the desolate land as it's too difficult to bathe.
Normally, a 1-day trip to the desert is not recommended, as it's worth more than a few hours visit. It's a must-do to witness the Milky Way at night and the sunrise above the seemingly endless sands the following morning. Spending one night at a camp in the desert is the best way to enjoy this natural miracle.
Attempting to go on a desert excursion by yourself can be dangerous. It's easy to get lost and a mistake when using a GPS can be made, which will put a lot of unnecessary pressure on the trip. It's best to book a private tour or join a group tour with a professional guide.
1. The Way to Erg Chebbi
The town of Merzouga is the best gate to enter Erg Chebbi as it's only a 3–5 minute drive from Merzouga to the surrounding hammada of Erg Chebbi. There are decent accommodations (riads or guesthouses) in the town that are comfortable for recovering from the long drive.
It takes about 7 hours to drive from Fez to Merzouga, and about 9 hours to drive from Marrakesh to Merzouga. The scenery along both journeys is worth seeing. We recommend stopping at the cities on the way for a more in-depth trip.
On the way from Fez to Merzouga, after stretching your legs at the scenic cedar forest near Azrou, you can stop at Midelt for 1 night. At 1,521 meters (4,990 feet), it is home to breathtaking views of the eastern High Atlas Mountains.
On the way from Marrakesh to Merzouga, a visit to Ait Ben Haddou near Ouarzazate is a must to see where many movies and shows have been filmed, including Game of Thrones. Then stop at Erfoud to enjoy delicious wood-fired madfouna (Berber 'pizza') and to see the ancient Ksar M'Aadid before a 35-minute drive to Merzouga.
It takes between 45 minutes to 1 hour on a camel or 4x4 off-road vehicle to reach the camp. Normally it's double occupancy for each tent, and the tents stand in rows. A campfire will be started after the sun goes down. This is an opportunity not to be missed.
2. The Way to Erg Chigaga
Erg Chigaga is more southern than Erg Chebbi, so normally it's not recommended for a trip from northern cities, such as Fez. Marrakesh is the most popular city near Erg Chigaga. It takes about 7½ hours to drive between the two. We recommend spending some time on the way at Ait Ben Haddou near Ouarzazate.
If you prefer a more off the beaten track trip and would like to save time by skipping stops, it's about a 4½ hour drive to reach Erg Chebbi. It's also workable to visit Erg Chigaga from Agadir beach, as it's only about a 7½ hour drive between them.
The sand dunes are most superb around M'Hamid, so after arriving in Zagora, it's best to take a jeep and enjoy the breathtaking views until you reach M'Hamid. Then stay at a tent camp nearby surrounded by dunes. A camel ride is available to bring you from M'Hamid to the campsite.
Tips for a Desert Trip
1. What Are the Fun Things to Do?
- Watching the marvelous sunset or sunrise definitely ranks on the top of every to-do list. The dream-like scene will forever be a treasured memory.
- Ride a camel and climb the dunes like they do in the movies. Climbing sand dunes may be more difficult than you think, so we suggest riding a camel to save energy.
- Join the campfire group and meet new friends. Normally local music will be played while you can dance with fellow travelers.
- Walk randomly around, take photos, try sandboarding, take some sand and put it in small glass bottles that can be bought from souvenir stalls.
- Gaze at the beautiful Milky Way from the sand dunes, and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.
2. Preparations Needed
- Wind in the desert is strong and can carry sand everywhere. The sun is very strong. Sunglasses, a scarf, a hat, and long sleeves shirts are recommended.
- Nights in the desert can be cold. Bringing extra layers of clothes is necessary.
- There is a limited water supply, so showers are not commonplace. Bringing wet-wipes and mouth wash will be very helpful.
- Sandals and flip-flops are the best choices for footwear as sand will get everywhere.
- Sunscreen is a must.
- Comfy trousers (breathable, light, loose or stretchy — especially at the groin) are necessary for camel rides.
- A flashlight will be helpful for you if you walk on the sand dunes at night.
Discover the Desert with Global Highlights
Global Highlights provides professional planning and guides for desert trips. You will enjoy one of the harshest but spectacular natural environments in the world. You will have no worries if you take a private tour with Global Highlights. Contact us to start your wonderful journey!