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Merzouga - Erg Chebbi

Merzouga and its desert with the magical dunes of Erg Chebbi

For many people, the main objective of their trip to Morocco is to reach the far south, i.e. the Sahara desert. And probably the place that best embodies the magic of the desert is Merzouga and its surroundings. On this page we tell you everything you need to know about this small village, famous for having the spectacular dunes of Erg Chebbi next to it.

Table of Contents

Where is Merzouga?

Merzouga is located in the middle of the Sahara desert, in the southeastern corner of Morocco, practically on the border with Algeria. The village of Merzouga is very small and has few inhabitants: about 300, although it is difficult to quantify how many, since much of the population is floating, ie tourists who come to discover the charm of this corner of the desert and professionals who have settled here more or less permanently to offer them service in the hospitality industry, transportation, etc..

The climate is typical of the desert, i.e. extreme heat during the day in the hot season… but really low temperatures at night in winter. That is, you will find a huge thermal oscillation between day and night, so do not forget to pack thermal clothing in your backpack, whatever time of the year you travel here. You should also not rule out a sandstorm, which can be interpreted as an experience in itself. In any case, you should not forget to always wear clothes and elements of protection against the sun, but also against this eventual phenomenon of nature.

How to get to Merzouga?

These are the distances you will have to travel to reach Merzouga if you come from any of these tourist destinations:

  • Ouarzazate: 370 km
  • Fez: 460 km
  • Casablanca: 660 km
  • Rabat: 600 km
  • Agadir: 650 km
  • Marrakech: 550 km
  • Asilah: 750 km
  • Essaouira: 750 km
  • Tangier: 790 km
  • Chaouen: 640 km
  • Al Hoceima: 700 km

As you can imagine, there is no international airport near Merzouga. The closest is Ouarzazate, but it has a really limited range of connections. In any case, you could use this formula to get here by making a stopover in Casablanca or Zagora, which are the only domestic destinations that usually have flights to/from Ouarzazate. And from the airport, travel the more than 350 km by road that separates it from the town of Merzouga.

There is also no railway connection with Merzouga and its surroundings, nor bus lines designed as a service for tourists. Therefore, the only option you will have to travel here is by private road transport.

Desierto de Merzouga lujo

Merzouga: history and context

Merzouga is a really small town and, as such, little historical data is available about it. In fact, that is one of its great attractions: its existence has gone almost unnoticed over the centuries and, despite its current lively tourist activity, the traveler can imagine how quiet (and hard) the life of its inhabitants has been in the past, largely dedicated to nomadic life.

Merzouga probably arose as a stopover and service village for the merchants who made the route between Marrakech and Timbuktu (Mali), one of the most important caravan routes in Africa, which crossed the Sahara desert and also passed through other places in present-day Morocco, such as Ait Ben Haddou.

However, oral and popular tradition suggests that this place, before being desert, was a tropical orchard until it met with divine wrath: legend has it that Merzouga was in full festive celebration and none of its inhabitants bothered to attend to a family with children who had come here exhausted. God, angered by the lack of hospitality, unleashed a sandstorm that buried the village and their families under the current dunes of Erg Chebbi.

Whichever theory is accepted, the fact remains that this area is closely linked to the very origins of the Alaouite dynasty, which occupies the throne today and began its expansion from this region (Tafilalet, Rissani).

In the 20th century it acquired a new role, as it was an area dominated by French troops during the period of the Protectorate, building checkpoints and defense posts in the villages of the area. After the independence of Morocco and Algeria in the middle of the century, the eastern elevations of the Ziz valley served as a reference to draw the border between the two countries at this latitude.

Why travel to Merzouga

Merzouga’s remoteness from other Moroccan destinations does not prevent thousands of travelers from coming here each year, largely for one or all of the following reasons:

  1. Desert in its purest state: when we conjure up an image of the desert in our mind, a sea of fine, golden sand dunes covering the entire horizon appears. And that is what can be found here, in the dunes of Erg Chebbi, one of the few of its kind that exist in Morocco, since the predominant landscape in the desert of the country is the hammada (arid but stony plain).
  2. Luxury tents: it is not only beautiful to contemplate the desert, but also to feel its immensity and live (even if only for a few days) as the nomadic Berber tribes have done since time immemorial. For this reason, staying in a traditional tent is an experience in itself. And to the surprise of many, a luxury experience, as some camps have this consideration due to the exclusivity of their services.
  3. The road trip is an attraction in itself: to get here you have to travel many, many kilometers of desert valleys and oases. And that
    is another attraction of the circuit, which is done in comfortable vehicles that travel along charming routes, full of kasbahs and palm groves.
  4. 4×4 or camel, spectacular mobility in the dunes: once in the dunes of Erg Chebbi, the means of transport used is also unforgettable. It can be a 4×4 vehicle, turning the journey into a Dakar Rally-style motoring adventure. But it can also be a camel to move at a much slower and more traditional pace, as the Berber tribes have done (and to some extent still do).
  5. A glittering starry sky: due to the light pollution that covers most of the land inhabited by man, there are few places in the world from which you can enjoy a pure view of the stars. And one of these few places is undoubtedly the Sahara desert in environments such as Merzouga and Erg Chebbi.
  6. Unparalleled sunsets and sunrises: the beauty of the sky and the environment is not only at night, but also at any other time of the day. Especially at dawn and dusk, when an orange, pink and magical light tinges the dunes and our entire vision.
  7. Feeling of disconnection: the silence and stillness of the Sahara desert becomes thunderous and intoxicating here, which will reinforce the feeling of being far away from civilization… and the stress associated with it. For this reason, Merzouga and its dunes are ideal places for spiritual meditation experiences.

What not to miss in Merzouga

Merzouga is a destination to enjoy sensorially: with the ear to admire its silence and the traditional rhythms of local folklore; with the touch to feel the delicacy of the fine sand of the dunes; with the sense of smell to appreciate the smell of the desert and the nightly bonfires; and also with the taste to taste the traditional cuisine of the nomads of the desert. But, logically, there are also places that you will admire with your eyes. These are some of the places you will have to see during your trip:

  • Erg Chebbi dunes
  • Traditional adobe architecture
  • Places of interest in the surrounding area, to visit on an excursion from the camp:
    • Khamlia, the black people
    • Kohl mines

Merzouga for a premium traveler

Can the desert, which is the symbol of the simple and humble life, offer something to the premium tourist? And the answer is: “yes”. In the camps that are set up in the dunes of Erg Chebbi you will find luxury tents with the most exquisite services, but also in the accommodations located in Merzouga and other villages, which often recreate kasbahs or even in buildings with a lot of history behind them. If you want to enjoy the desert without depriving yourself of any comfort, these are some services you can take note of:

Hotels / luxury accommodations in Merzouga

  • Riad Serai
    Riad Serai: This is a recently built luxury establishment that combines traditional Moroccan architecture with modern comforts, guaranteeing a comfortable stay on the edge of the desert.

  • Caravanserai Luxury Desert Camp: It belongs to Riad Serai and is one of the most luxurious tented camps in Merzouga. Here, guests can live the true desert experience with every comfort, from comfortable beds to en-suite bathrooms.

  • Riad Azawad: Located in the heart of the desert, this riad offers a combination of tradition and luxury, with elegantly decorated rooms and a swimming pool to cool off in the heat of the Sahara.
  • Kasbah Hotel Tombouctou: This hotel combines tradition with modern luxury and is located right at the foot of the dunes.

  • Riad Madu: A luxurious riad with breathtaking views of the dunes, swimming pool and comfortable rooms.

As you will understand, in order to book these services without fear of making a mistake, you will need the support of an agency that is an expert in this unique destination. Chic Morocco is the one you were looking for, since we can organize your entire trip from the moment you arrive in the country until you leave it, with special attention to the desert of Merzouga, a fundamental stop of your circuit that will remain forever in your memory.

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