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Zagora-Erg Chegaga

Zagora desert: Erg Chegaga and its magical dune field

Zagora is a hinge city between the Draa Valley and the Sahara: here the former ends and the latter begins. In addition, in its surroundings are located the dunes of Erg Chegaga, one of the areas that truly match the image that the traveler builds in the mind when thinking of this desert. If you are going to travel to this interesting and hidden place in southern Morocco, we recommend you to read all the information provided on this page.

Table of Contents

Where is the Zagora and its dunes of Erg Chegaga?

With the name of Zagora desert we refer to the portion of the Sahara desert that is located in the vicinity of this city of more than 50,000 inhabitants. It takes its name from the mountain under which it sits, the Jbel Zagora (947 meters above sea level) and is located in the Draa-Tafilalet region, in the southeastern corner of the country, near the border with Algeria.

The most important thing about the Zagora desert is that there is an important change in the landscape. On
the Draa Valley
(which you will travel through to get here) the environment is dominated by mountains and steep hills, rocky terrain in the form of hammada and oases that create more or less large and continuous green ‘spots’, with palm trees and other species that provide shade and humidity to the terrain.

But in the surroundings of Zagora we came across one of the three great ergs that Morocco has, that is, a vast expanse of fine golden sand dunes, which the wind shapes at will and prevents the existence of plant life. That erg is Erg Chegaga, a place that preserves all the ancestral magic and can be enjoyed with all the comforts of today.

However, you should know that it has the reputation (with good reason) of being the hottest place in Morocco: in the hottest months of the year, such as July and August, the average temperatures rarely drop below 45ºC. And if it also receives the ‘visit’ of the south winds, the thermometer can greatly exceed that figure, to which is added the feeling of boiler that brings the hot air.

How to get to Zagora and Erg Chegaga?

The most direct way to reach the Zagora desert is by landing at Zagora airport. However, this is an option that is not always possible, since this infrastructure built at the beginning of the 21st century has very limited passenger and aircraft traffic. Regular lines are scarce and national (Casablanca, Ouarzazate), and their main use is to host private or charter flights.

Therefore, most travelers arriving in Zagora do so by road and private vehicle, as the area has no railroad and regular bus lines are also limited and of short range (Ouarzazate). These are the distances you will have to travel if you come from other parts of Morocco by private vehicle:

  • Ouarzazate: 160 km
  • Tinghir: 210 km
  • Tizi n’Tichka port: 240 km
  • Marrakech: 350 km
  • Merzouga: 280 km
  • Essaouira: 540 km
  • Casablanca: 590 km
  • Agadir: 450 km
  • Rabat: 670 km
  • Asilah: 880 km
  • Fez: 630 km
  • Tangier: 920 m
  • Chaouen: 820 km
  • Al Hoceima: 870 km

As a curiosity, we can mention a famous sign in Zagora that marks the distance to another place of reference, but this time to the south: Timbuktu, on the other side of the Sahara, which is 51… days away by camel!

Zagora and Erg Chegaga: history and context

The aforementioned sign indicating the distance to Timbuktu (Mali) of 51 days on horseback is not an eccentricity, far from it: it was a distance that, centuries ago, the traders who traveled the famous caravan route between Marrakech and the aforementioned sub-Saharan city had to keep in mind.

This route was, to a large extent, the reason for the existence of this population in the past, since it was a place of passage and an obligatory stop for those who undertook such an arduous journey on the back of the ‘desert horses’ and that also led them to travel through the Draa Valley.

The Sahara has always been, therefore, a natural barrier, but that did not prevent the construction of military fortresses to protect the area, not only against external enemies but also against internal ones: the Kasbah of Zagora, whose origin dates back to the 11th century, was a bastion erected by the Almoravids to consolidate their possessions in the area.

In any case, the present city of Zagora was built more recently: at the beginning of the 20th century, under the French Protectorate, mainly for military purposes. It is distributed around a main road that crosses the entire town. Although some old buildings preserve a traditional adobe typology, most of the modern buildings are made of concrete.

Zagora’s growth in recent years has been very large. Although it still retains military installations, the increase in population is due to tourism: more and more travelers are daring to make such a long trip here because they know it is worthwhile. And that has led to the emergence of many hotels and establishments that serve tourists.

Why travel to the desert of Zagora and Erg Chegaga?

To travel to the Zagora desert you will need to spend many hours traveling and probably endure high temperatures. And not all travelers are up for it. But if you see yourself capable of overcoming these two conditions, the experience will be worth it, for reasons such as the ones described here:

  1. One of the few dune fields in Morocco: when evoking the Sahara desert in our minds, the image that comes to mind is probably that of a large dune field, with its undulating silhouette shaped by the wind. However, they are not very abundant in the Moroccan desert. There are practically only three environments of this type… and Erg Chegaga is one of them (the other two are
    Erg Chebbi in Merzouga
    Erg Ouzina in Ouzina
  2. A nomadic dromedary experience: to move through the dunes, you will have to use the most traditional means of transport among the Berber nomads, the dromedary. Getting in contact with these tame ‘desert horses’ is a rewarding experience, which you will have to do with expert monitors in their handling.
  3. A 4×4 motorized experience: an alternative or a complement to the dromedaries is the 4×4 off-road vehicle. In this case, it is a perfect way to cover desert tracks, some of them really famous because they used to be part of the Dakar stages. Although this mythical rally is no longer allowed to pass through here, it is still possible to travel by private vehicle. An example is the stretch of Lake Iriqi (now dry), where really high speeds can be reached.
  4. A place to meditate and find oneself: the desert of Zagora is chosen by many people for meditation exercises, as the silence and stillness of the environment are difficult to match, especially in the dunes of Erg Chegaga.
  5. A stargazing paradise: light pollution is a growing problem in most parts of the world, but it has no impact here. The clarity of the night sky is breathtaking, with predominantly cloudless and haze-free days, so stargazing here is a thrilling experience.
O que ver em Zagora - Erg Chegaga

What you can't miss in the Erg Chegaga desert

Zagora is a relatively small city (just over 50,000 inhabitants) and largely modern (buildings constructed during the French Protectorate). Therefore, the list of points of interest is not as extensive as in other destinations in the country. However, meeting them will be an unforgettable experience. Some are in or near the city of Zagora, but others are further away and will require an excursion to reach them:

  • Tinfou dunes
  • Erg Chegaga dunes
  • Kasbah
  • Jbel Zagora
  • Ksar of Tissergate
  • Tamegroute Library
  • Pottery workshops in the area

Zagora and Erg Chegaga for a premium traveler

Undoubtedly, not all travelers have the privilege of reaching such a wonderful place as Zagora and its desert, where the dunes of Erg Chegaga stand out. Therefore, it is also logical that here there are services and amenities aimed at the premium tourist, offering a good balance between tradition and modern comfort. Here are some successful ideas for the most quality-conscious customers:

In Zagora:

  • Riad Lamane: An oasis surrounded by palm trees, this riad offers bungalows and rooms in a quiet and authentic setting with a swimming pool and other amenities.

In Erg Chegaga:

  • Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp: This is one of the most luxurious camps in Erg Chegaga. It offers spacious and well-equipped tents in the middle of the dunes, guaranteeing a unique yet comfortable experience.

  • Aladdin’s Desert Camp: Located in Erg Chegaga, this camp provides an authentic desert experience with modern comforts. The tents are well equipped and the camp organizes traditional Saharan activities.

These camps offer the opportunity to experience the desert in its purest form without sacrificing comfort and luxury. It is important to remember that, given the remote nature of Erg Chegaga, even the most luxurious options may have some limitations compared to what one might expect in a five-star hotel in a large city. However, the experience of sleeping under the stars in one of the world’s most iconic deserts is certainly unforgettable.

If these are the services you are looking for, we recommend you to contact Chic Morocco: our agency works daily with suppliers of this type and we have a very professional staff that will know how to make your trip a unique experience. We can organize a personalized tour in this beautiful corner of the Sahara desert. And if you wish, we can also take care of other details of the Morocco tour, with services that will have the same quality standards.

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