Erg chigaga desert
We all have dreams. Sometimes they come true. One of mine came true – to see the sunrise in the Sahara.
Some people mistakenly believe that the Sahara Desert is a vast expanse covered with dunes. In fact, only a quarter of its area is covered with sands, and the Sahara is mostly a so-called “hamad,” a flat, clayey, rocky desert that is not attractive to the eye. For this, just look at the satellite image of the Sahara on Google Maps. The sandy areas are called “ergs” and are scattered all over the Sahara. The largest ergs are located in Libya and Algeria. For obvious reasons related to Islamic terrorism and fighting that periodically erupts in North Africa, the probability of legal entry into these two countries is close to zero. Even in the past, the process of obtaining visas involved a lot of formalities, and the trip itself was not at all budgetary because of the need to hire a guide, guards, etc.
The easiest option, in my opinion, to satisfy my desire to meet the sunrise in the Sahara is a trip to Morocco. Firstly, it is safe, secondly, it does not require visas (at least for Russian citizens), thirdly, you can do it yourself without involving local travel agencies and guides, and fourthly, the sand dunes themselves can be reached by literally any four-wheel drive.
So, here is a brief guide for those who would like to meet the sunrise in the Sahara.
Morocco has two sand dunes: Chebbi and Chigaga. They are located in the southeast of the country, almost on the border with Algeria.
Literally at the foot of the dunes of Shebbi is a village Merzouga, which paved road. Merzouga is located approximately equidistant from the two major tourist centers of Morocco – Fez and Marakech. The distance from Fez to Merzouga is about 500 km, from Marrakech about 570 km. The nearest large village Erfoud is located 60 km north of Merzouga.
Even at the entrance to Merzouga, on the left side of the road, you can see the dunes themselves, the largest in Morocco. There is a legend that the sand dunes were created by Allah, burying under them the village with its inhabitants, who denied shelter to a woman with a child.
It is not difficult to find lodging in the village. Billboards with the names of shelters, hostels, and hotels line up one by one even before entering Merzouga. In addition, on the outskirts you will certainly be stopped by the locals and will offer to stay in their wonderful hotel.
Living conditions and prices depend on the level of the institution, as well as the proximity to the dunes. There is accommodation quite at European level, and there are options for accommodation in Bedouin tents right in the desert. There are also several cafes in Merzuga, but most tourists eat where they live.
We rented a triple room with all amenities, but without breakfast, in the shelter “Little Prince” (Auberge le Petit Prince) for 150 dirhams. It’s quite a decent place, there’s even wi-fi, though not a confident reception everywhere. Before checking in is not forbidden to haggle, as, in fact, everywhere in the East.
Of the entertainment that can be found in Merzouga, we can mention boarding and skiing from the dunes. There are options for traveling in the desert on off-road vehicles. Naturally, those who wish can ride camels.
Tourists who choose to stay in Bedouin tents in the desert are put on camels in the early evening and taken to the desert a few kilometers away from the village. There they are accommodated for the night, fed, watered, entertained with songs and dances, and in the morning they are taken to the dunes to watch the sunrise. By about noon the caravan returns back to Merzouga.
Those who stay overnight in Merzuga for different reasons go to the desert to watch the sunrise on their own. Beforehand you should find out from locals the time of sunrise and make adjustments to reach the dunes. It is useful to have a flashlight. You should also remember that it is always hot in the desert during the day, even in late December, and it is always cold at night, even in July. Therefore, clothing must be appropriate. For example, in late December, it was 26 degrees in the daytime in Merzuga and about 5 at night. Also, you should remember that it is unwise to go any farther from the house without a bottle of water. Also, sunglasses and sunscreen don’t hurt.
If someone does not have the opportunity to rent a car, you can also get to Merzuga by shuttle bus, which runs from Erfoud.
Erg Shigaga is located about 50 km west of M’Hamid which is about 100 km south of Zagora.
M’Hamid is closer to Marrakech (about 470 km).
It is not possible to get to Shigaga on your own. Therefore, those who want to visit this erg should make arrangements with travel agencies either in Marrakech or Zagora, or already in M’hamid. You will be taken to the dunes by off-road vehicle or by camel. Thus, it takes more time and money to visit the dunes in Shigah. But the Shigaga dunes are more pristine and less trampled by tourists, although they are much lower than the dunes of Shebby Arch.