Merzouga is a village in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, on the edge of Erg Chebbi, a 50-km long and 5-km wide set of sand dunes that reach up to 350 m above the plain and 808 m above sea level.
Most visitors come here to take a camel safari into the dunes, and to get a taste of remote (but certainly tourism-influenced) Berber life.
The local population is mix of Arabs and Berber, which are generally welcoming and friendly. Although especially in and around Merzouga far more than usual people will display a touting behaviour and try you to sell a tour or a place to stay.
In general, it needs to be remembered that the dunes barely present an authentic Moroccan landscape. Many tourists come here, ride the camel and bring pictures back home, making people believe that this is what the desert looks like south. However, riding a camel through the dunes and staying in a tent there is nothing authentic about it—it is a touristy facade. Having said that the region is nevertheless beautiful and interesting, and even the regular stony desert is impressing in itself.
By grand taxi
From Rissani to Merzouga, a grand taxi or van is 12-15 dirham and goes about every 30 min. If you don't want to wait for other people to fill your grand taxi, pay 60 dirham. If you arrive before sunrise (if you come in the 06:00-07:00 bus from Fez) you might have to pay up to 100 dirham for a grand taxi.
From Erfoud to Merzouga, a grand taxi is 25 dirham, every 1-2 hr.
If you're continuing on to one of the small villages nearby, such as Hassi Labied, the usual tourist price is a fairly steep 50 dirham (total, not per person) for the 5-km drive. Beware that overnight buses may sometimes arrive more than an hour early, putting you in Merzouga before sunrise. If this happens, you may find yourself with no cabs available, so be prepared to wait for someone to arrive.
Beware of guides in Rissani or Erfoud who offer to take you to Merzouga for 5 dirham each, but instead strand you at their auberge 20 km north of the village. If you decline their offers of camel rides and lodging, it is often quite difficult (and expensive) to make your way back to town.
- 1 Supratours office & stop. Bus to Marrakech at 07:30. Bus to Fez at 22:30. 160 dirham.
From Erfoud, continue south 14 km to Rissani, carry on through the village and follow the road southeast for 40 km to Merzouga. The road has been asphalted to Merzouga, and also to Taouz, a southern military border town (foreigners cannot cross here). The short access roads (1- or 2-km long) from the main road to the hotels alongside the sand dunes are normally not asphalted, but well maintained. There is now an asphalt road to Hassi Lybed, a smaller village about 4 km before Merzouga.
You can also fly to Ouarzazate from Casablanca, then continue to Erfoud, Rissani and Merzouga.
There are also weekly flights into Errachadia, about 2 hours north of Merzouga by car.
Tour operators can arrange 4x4s with driver/guides from Marrakech or Casablanca and back.
The only way to get around Merzouga is on foot. It's fairly small and easily walkable, but you'll likely want to avoid the midday heat.
Sunrise/sunset over the dunes. Folk dances and black G'naui music. Visits to villages near Merzouga inhabited by Senegalese musicians and dancers such as Khamlia can be arranged with some guides, ask at your hotel.
- Animals – See the ducks, and in early spring, flamingos, on the Dayet Srji salt lake, just west of Merzouga (according to the visitor information office in Hassilabied, there has been no water for at least the past 2 years, as of May 2018). There are many other species of birds (ruddy sheldrack and Kittllitz's plower during the spring migration, Tristram's desert warbler, the Egyptian nightjar, the Arabian buzzard and falcons), and the desert sparrows are unique to this region and can be seen all year round. There are also reptiles (Algerian sand lizards, Berber skinks and snakes), mammals such as gerbils, desert hedgehogs, field mice and desert foxes, and scarab beetles. In the morning, you can often see their tracks in the sand. Brown scorpions can occasionally be seen, but they come out at night and tend to avoid humans.
- 1 Grand Dune. Hike the dune
- Sunset on the dune. Even though there is not a single liquor store around to buy a decent wine for such a great show and view, it is still worth sitting on the Grand Dune and watching the surrounding area and sun set.
- Camp on the dune. Instead of dropping hundreds of dirham for a remote camping experience with a all so fake looking headscarf, why not just stay on top of the dunes yourself after the sun has set? Bring a sleeping bag, the sand is quite soft. Also, bring water and leave nothing but footprint.
- Hike the desert. From where Merzouga ends in the south it is basically just 5 km straight across the dune from west to east to reach the other side of the dune. If you feel bored, simply hike over to the other side, north by the Grand Dune, visit the setup camps on the other side and head back afterwards. Bring enough water!
- Boarding the dunes. This does not seem to have become a trend yet. Nevertheless, some accommodations have skiers for rent, try Dar Gamra. Otherwise, maybe you are lucky and find a snowboard. Or, a relative strong and smooth plastic "slide" that you can properly hold fix with your hands does the trick while going down the dune. Head for the Grand Dune with the steepest and highest slopes.
Tour prices are highly negotiable, try 25% less than quoted and use the walking out trick. There is always more than enough companies. And always negotiate with the company directly, not through your accommodation or any arbitrary tout from the street.
- ATV & quad bikes. It is also possible to tour the dunes on ATVs. However, it is not as much fun as it might sound at first. You are basically following a guide and can not go bananas with your rented quad. If the latter is more of you taste, try to find a regular ATV rental and go on your own from there. On the way towards Merzouga there seem to be some regular rentals.
Many tourist that come here with their own or rented motorbikes or 4WD go right into the dunes for a little fun. Some discourage this touring, but touring the dunes on a camel is neither more authentic nor worth more protection. From 400 dirham pp for a tour incl. guide (negotiable).
- 4WD region tour. A 2 hour drive that includes a ride with a 4WD onto the dunes, visit to a local village (and probably shop of a cousin), and a visit of the Dayet Srij lake with the impressive dunes in the back. 800 dirham per 2 hr (negotiable).
Almost certainly the reason you came here in the first place. After taking you into the village to buy a proper head scarf (of course from their cousin for a special price) to protect you from the sun, you'll be thrown on a camel and lead off into the desert. (Good luck with your knees.) Meals, water, tents, etc should all be taken care of by your leader, but naturally you will have to confirm this when you do your negotiations beforehand and make sure you're very specific, and ask lots of questions. Speaking of negotiations, do your research before coming (ask other travelers in Marrakech, etc., for recommendations and for what they paid), and be prepared to bargain very hard(!)—the industry here is smooth and deceivingly vicious. On the first night, most groups end up at a pre-setup camp circle at the base of some large dunes, where the various tour operators have their "authentic" Berber tents set up. Dinner will be cooked here, often some music played, and you can frolic on the sand dunes under zillions of stars. If you're only on a 1-day trip, then you'll wake early, have some tea/breakfast, and head back before it gets hot. Others will hang out during the day, beating the heat in the tents all day, and either spend another night here or venture further out beyond the dunes and stay with a Berber family, where you'll then set out to return early on the third morning. A few operators have their own private camps that will offer a more remote experience, ask around if this is what you seek. This provides a more intimate setting with fewer people and noise where you can relax and enjoy the stars. Cost a little bit more but worth it. Also check to see if showers are included after the camel trek.
Most people eat meals at their lodge, but a few basic restaurants are scattered around the town if you are in need.
- Haven La Chance, Hassi Labaid, ☏ . Arrange lunches at Haven La Chance Desert Hotel, either at the hotel or in the desert itself. A popular item is pizza cooked in the sand as the nomads do.
For prepared food try to prefer places with enough customers. This is the desert and hygiene standards are lower than in the rest of Morocco.
Just head into the dunes and get a place on top of a dune or somewhere close to a tree to be safe from any vehicles. Even though at night probably no one is driving around, because it is too dangerous getting stuck. The desert here is relatively warm at night but a proper sleeping bag is necessary. Check the weather forecast for the temperatures.
Just near the village there a many small to larger estates made of mud which have decent rooms, running water, WiFi and breakfast available for prices starting from 170-300 dirham for a double.
- 1 Dar Gamra (Family Morrocon House). A decent house, rated pretty well. The owner is relaxed and not too pressuring about selling you anything and you could just stay around, use that WiFi and wait for the heat to vanish in the afternoon. They apparently also have their own camel tour. Double from 170 dirham.
- 2 [dead link] Les pyramides hotel, Ksar Merzouga (On the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. €20 per person, breakfast and dinner included.
There are about 50 small hotels of varying categories along the sand dunes, and most of them own camels or can at least arrange your trip into the dunes.
- Auberge Soleil Bleu, Merzouga-Hassilabied (Off the main road between the villages of Merzouga and Hassilabied), ☏ , , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A locally-owned and -operated traditional Kasbah hotel five minutes' walk from the Erg Chebbi sand dunes. The hotel has a roof terrace and provides food for their guests from their kitchen. They also organise a wide range of excursions in the area, including desert camping and camel treks. Free pickup for reserved guests from the local bus stop. English, French, and Spanish are spoken. Rooms starting at 90 dirham.
- Complexe touristique de Merzouga, centre taouz cercle rissani (500 m from the centre of merzouga), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. This is the nearest hotel to the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi, and offers 42 rooms, a restaurant, snack bar, bar, terrace, swimming pool, bivouac and provides excursions by 4x4 or camel. €30 per person, breakfast and dinner included.
- [dead link] Auberge Berberes, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Located right on the edge of the dunes, offering single, double and triple rooms. €20-30 per person, breakfast and dinner included.
- Auberge du Sud, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. On the edge of the dunes, all rooms come with private bathroom. Swimming pool, camel safaris. €15-40 per person, breakfast and dinner included.
- Auberge Les Dunes D'or, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 35 rooms. Children's activities, restaurant, room service, shuttle bus service, swimming pool, airport transportation
- [formerly dead link] Auberge Sahara Hotel, Ksar Hassi Labiad, ☏ , (Mobile), fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Clean hotel in a oasis at the edge of the Erg Chebbi sand dunes run by flexible staff. Swimming pool, restaurant, free parking, and a variety of accommodation options including camping under palm trees. Camel safaris and various trips around the area can be arranged.
- Chez Julia, ☏ , (Mobile). Spotless, very friendly French/English/German-speaking staff, great meals (tajines can be shared). From 130 dirham.
- Dar el Khamlia, Ksar Khamlia, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Dar el Khamlia is just outside of Merzouga, offering lodging for those who like to be more near the local people. Comfortable rooms, meals included. Camel trekking into dunes, excursions by 4x4, pick up at airports of Errachidia, Ouarzazate or Marrakech.
- Desert Fish, ☏ . Right next to the sand dunes. A bivouac with a space to eat and relax and very nice, comfortable Berber tents. The place is managed by some very friendly young boys. The Berber tents are nice and clean, there are three good showers, the food is good, they play live Gnaoua music after dinner.
- Auberge Haven La Chance Desert Hotel, Hassi Lybed, ☏ , , ✉ email@example.com. Modern, comfortable hotel right next to the sand dunes and palm trees in a private setting. A swimming pool (11 m by 6 m) has been added amongst the olive trees and roses. 15 rooms are en-suite with toilets and showers. 12 Berber tents next to the hotel for the more adventurous. Singles / doubles/triples/quads with en-suite toilet and shower. Home made local food for dinner as well as breakfast is included in the price. Brand new restaurant with unique arches has just been finished. The owners also run a tour company, www.bluemenofmorocco.com, that can organize custom private tours around Morocco for individuals, families and small groups. Caravan parking with showers also located by the hotel. Wifi connection available by the pool and around the hotel for clients. N31.08'031" W004.01'128" €17-30 per person with half board.
- Hotel Yasmina, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Yasmina is located right on the bottom of the dunes of Erg Chebbi, on a hill with great views of the dunes. Pool, on site restaurant and camel safaris. from €20-45 per person, breakfast and dinner included.
- 3 Ksar Bicha, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. A traditional, family-run kasbah with views of the dunes from the roof terrace. En suite rooms arranged around two plant-filled courtyards. English, French, Spanish, German and Italian are spoken.
- Les Portes du Desert, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A comfortable hotel decorated in a mix of Arabesque, Andalusian and European styles. Pool, on site restaurant, and camel safaris. €26-50 per person, breakfast and dinner included.
- Nasser Palace, Ksar Hassilabied, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Nasser Palace is a hotel with swimming pool and spa located on the dunes of Merzouga. 20 rooms with private toilets, bivouac and camel treks on Sahara dunes. €25-45 per person including breakfast and dinner.
- Hotel Nomad Palace, Ksar Merzouga 52202, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Hotel Nomad Palace is located outside Merzouga, on the way to Taouz, before Khamlia. Comfortable, quiet, with terraces, swimming pool, restaurant, all rooms with private bathrooms, suite with king size beds. Half board included. Camel treks, 4x4 tours and pick up form any airport. Other tours can be arranged.
- Riad Aicha Hotel, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Ksar Hassi Labiad
- Snack Hassi Labied, center of village Hassi Labied. (Hassi Labied 30 m near the school), ☏ . Snack Hassi Labied located in center of Hassi Labied. tagine, couscous, Kalia, jusice and sandwich. Snack Hassi Labied can arrange also camel trekking into desert, ski with sand boards, rent bike, quads, excursion with 4x4.
- 4 Hotel Kasbah Mohayut, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 12:30-23:00, check-out: noon-13:00. Beautiful hotel with a friendly and knowledgeable staff, fluent in English/French/Arabic/Berber and other languages. Many rooms include terraces overlooking the Erg Chebbi and air conditioning. Rooms are comfortable and clean, with private bathrooms (Western style). Hotel also features a swimming pool, free internet connection, and a restaurant. You can arrange for desert excursions by camel with guides and Berber tent accommodations.
- Hotel Kanz Erremal, Touz Haci El Bide (from Rissani 33 km, left at sign, then 2½ km on track), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Hotel Kanz Erremal is located at the base of the desert dunes Erg Chebbi, in the southeast of Morocco. Kanz Erremal has a haimas camp and also organizes a ridding a camel trip in order to spend a night in the desert. Furthermore, it organizes seven-road trips to explore the spectacular places that the landscape offers. The rooms have a traditional decoration, typical from the region. They have air conditioning, free wifi access, bathroom and great external views, most of them to the dunes. The pool is located in front of the dunes, so swimmers have the impression to swim in the middle of the desert. The hotel offers a good example of traditional Moroccan cuisine based on natural ingredients. €44.
- [dead link] Auberge Ksar Sania (through gate at Merzouga, right, immdiately left, follow signs for 800 m), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Camels 60 dirham/hour. Excursions available. single 300-400 half-board; double 200-300 dirham per person half-board; night in the desert 350 dirham per person half-board; camping 25 dirham.
- Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Spend an unforgettable night in a haima in the Merzouga desert
Basically everyone in Merzouga is a tout, trying to sell you a camel, ATV or 4WD tour, or anything else that can be had a commission from. Be sure not to fall for any guy that has nothing to do with the actual tour, operator or accommodation.
As with many places, be cautious with anyone who seems interested in romantic entanglements, as incidents of foreign women being charmed by locals and then discovering that the "romance" was merely a cover to obtain sex, money, or other services are not uncommon and increasing. This seems especially true for young foreign travellers. The cosy camp surroundings and maybe some wine does the rest.
Supratours buses travel from the center of Merzouga village north to Meknes, Fez and also over to Ouarzazate and then Marrakech. This is new and an affordable way to get in and out the desert. But there are no stops to visit the Todra Gorge, Dades valley or Ait Ben Haddaou or Ifrane. Or to take rest stops at your leisure! They travel overnight from Fez and during the day from Marrakech.