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Merzouga - Erg Chebbi

Merzouga and its desert, with the magical dunes of Erg Chebbi

For many people, the main goal of their trip to Morocco is to reach the far south, that is, the Sahara Desert. 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 town, famous for having the spectacular dunes of Erg Chebbi nearby.

Table of Contents

Where is Merzouga?

Merzouga is located in the heart of the Sahara Desert, in the southeastern tip of Morocco, almost 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 a large part of the population is transient, that is, tourists who come to discover the charm of this corner of the desert and professionals who have settled here more or less permanently to provide service in hospitality, transportation, etc.

The climate is typical of the desert, that is, extreme heat during the day in the warm season… but really low temperatures at night in winter. That is, you will find a huge thermal oscillation between day and night, so you should not forget to pack thermal clothing in your backpack, no matter what time of year you travel here. You should also not rule out a sandstorm, which can be an experience in itself. In any case, you should always remember to carry clothing and protective items against the sun, but also against this natural phenomenon.

How to get to Merzouga?

These are the distances you will have to cover to get to 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
  • Alhucemas: 700 km

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

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

What to see in Merzouga

Merzouga: history and context

Merzouga is a really small village and, as such, there is little historical data available about it. In fact, that is one of its great attractions: its existence has gone almost unnoticed over the centuries and, despite its lively tourist activity today, 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 emerged as a stopover and service village for merchants traveling between Marrakech and Timbuktu (Mali), one of the most important caravan routes in Africa, crossing the Sahara Desert and also passing through other places in present-day Morocco, such as Ait Ben Haddou.

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

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

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

Why travel to Merzouga

Despite its distance from other Moroccan destinations, thousands of travelers flock to Merzouga each year, motivated largely by one or more of the following reasons:

  • Pure Desert: The image that comes to mind when we think of a desert is a sea of fine, golden sand dunes covering the horizon. This is exactly what you find here in the dunes of Erg Chebbi, one of the few of its kind in Morocco, as the country’s desert landscape is predominantly hammada (arid but rocky plains).
  • Luxury Tents: Observing the desert is beautiful, but feeling its vastness and living (even for a few days) as the Berber nomadic tribes have for centuries is an experience in itself. Staying in a traditional tent is a unique experience and, surprisingly for many, a luxurious one, as some camps are exclusive for their services.
  • The Road Trip Itself is an Attraction: To reach Merzouga, one must travel many miles through desert valleys and oases. This road trip, done in comfortable vehicles, is an additional attraction of the circuit, offering charming routes filled with kasbahs and palm groves.
  • 4×4 or Camel, Spectacular Mobility Through the Dunes: Once at the Erg Chebbi dunes, the means of transport used are also unforgettable. It could be a 4×4 vehicle, turning the journey into a motor adventure akin to the Dakar Rally. Alternatively, a camel can be used for a much slower and traditional movement, as the Berber tribes have done.
  • A Shiny Starry Sky: Due to light pollution covering most of the land inhabited by humans, there are few places in the world where one can enjoy a pure view of the stars. The Sahara Desert in areas like Merzouga and Erg Chebbi is one of these places.
  • Unmatched Sunsets and Sunrises: The beauty of the sky and the environment is not just at night but at any time of the day. Especially at dawn and dusk, when an orange, pink, and magical light colors the dunes and our entire vision.
  • Feeling of Disconnection: The silence and stillness of the Sahara Desert here is deafening and intoxicating, reinforcing the sensation of being far away from civilization and its associated stress. Therefore, Merzouga and its dunes are suitable places for spiritual meditation experiences.
Merzouga-Erg Chebbi

What not to miss in Merzouga

Merzouga is a destination to enjoy sensorially: with hearing to admire its silence and the traditional rhythms of local folklore; with touch to feel the delicacy of the fine sand of the dunes; with smell to appreciate the scent of the desert and night bonfires; and with taste to try the traditional cuisine of the desert nomads. But, of course, there are also sights to be admired. Some of these places to see during your trip include:

  • Erg Chebbi Dunes
  • Traditional adobe architecture
  • Places of interest in the surroundings, to be explored on an excursion from the camp:
    • Khamlia, the black village
    • Kohl mines

Merzouga for a premium traveler

Can the desert, a symbol of simple and humble life, offer something to the premium tourist? The answer is “yes”. In the camps set up in the Erg Chebbi dunes, you will find luxury tents with exquisite services, but also in accommodations located in Merzouga and other villages, which often recreate kasbahs or are even situated in buildings with a rich history. To enjoy the desert without sacrificing any comfort, here are some services to note:

Luxury Hotels / Accommodations in Merzouga

  • Riad Serai: A recently built luxury establishment that combines traditional Moroccan architecture with modern comforts, ensuring a comfortable stay on the edge of the desert.
  • Caravanserai Luxury Desert Camp: Part of Riad Serai, it is one of the most luxurious tent camps in Merzouga. Here, guests can experience the true desert life with all the comforts, 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 pool to cool off in the Sahara heat.
  • Kasbah Hotel Tombouctou: This hotel blends tradition with modern luxury and is situated right at the foot of the dunes.
  • Riad Madu: A luxurious riad with stunning views of the dunes, a swimming pool, and comfortable rooms.

 

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

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