Morocco – Sahara by yourself, review
The village of Merzouga is an obligatory part of an independent travel in Morocco. I will tell you about our experience of traveling to the part of the Sahara that is in Morocco.
The village of Merzouga in Morocco is known for being on the edge of the Sahara Desert. More specifically by one of the two largest ergs of the Sahara Desert, the Shebbi Erg. The second erg is called Shigaga and it, too, is located in Morocco.
A little literacy for starters, including for yourself, so that you do not forget. The desert is not only made up of sand, it can be a rocky surface, for example. An erg is that part of the desert that is covered with sand and sand dunes.
So the southern edge of Shebby’s Erg is just near the village of Merzuga. The village has become famous thanks to the desert, and the local Berbers were able to earn money by riding tourists on camels, jeeps and quad bikes.
The height of sand dunes here reaches 180 meters, and meeting the dawn in the desert is considered one of the coolest points of the tourist program of a trip to Morocco.
The sand in Shebbi Erg is in constant motion. And outside of the erg, the desert has an unattractive semi-naked stony appearance.
By the way, the border with Algeria is close by and we, coming back from the desert, went a little wrong way and ran into one of the checkpoints. This did not cause any problems, but be careful.
Merzuga – general information
Let’s return to Merzuga. It stretches along Shebby Erg, the center is small, there are a few cafes, restaurants, the population is only 500 people. Most of the houses were built in the 1980s. The village lives solely on tourism. I can not say that the locals are very rich, but there is some infrastructure and good quality accommodation.
Merzuga is an ideal place to explore the desert. It is very easy to organize everything. It’s enough to ask your host what he can offer you.
Although in most cases you do not need to ask anyone. You will not have time to unpack your backpack or suitcase and in front of you will be an aromatic tea and a map of the area. And the owner of the riad, a hotel or any other accommodation, where you stay in fairly tolerable and understandable English, will tell you what he can offer.
The program is usually standard: a sunrise in the desert with an overnight stay with the Bedouins or just an early departure, jeep safaris across the Sahara. We also went to the flamingo lake with our hotel owner.
How to get to Merzouga
First, let’s understand how to get to the gateway of the Sahara Desert, the village of Merzouga.
We traveled by car from Marrakech with a stop in the gorge of Dades and the town of Urzazate, which is famous for the filming of the TV series “Game of Thrones”. Our itinerary can be repeated, I have it detailed by days and all locations, including overnight stays.
Car rental site Rentalcars – reasonable price, lower than in Europe, the car was good to drive in the mountains and through cities. The roads in Morocco are paved with excellent asphalt, even secondary. An ordinary passenger car was enough for our tasks.
From Marrakech to Merzouga 560 km. The net travel time is 10 hours. And it is better to plan one overnight stay in the town of Ouarzazate.
If you don’t drive, and I don’t see any other reason not to rent a car, you can buy a transfer at an agency in Marrakech, or better yet buy a tour in advance on the GetyourGuide website.
Traveling from Marrakech to Merzouga is in itself a beautiful adventure and a great experience. After the Atlas Mountains, which are full of greenery, the landscape is increasingly dry and desolate.
A must-see program in Merzouga is camel rides, an evening by the fire and an overnight stay in a Berber tent, jeep rides in the desert.
In the village of Merzouga, on the very edge of the Sahara Desert Shebby Erg, there are many hotels with good facilities. For example, Kasbah Azalay with a swimming pool and location right at the edge of the sand dunes.
What to do in Merzug
Above I have already listed the main points of the obligatory program in Merzuga. I will dwell in more detail with our emotions. I will also tell you about the weather and the clothes you need in the desert
Riding camels and meeting the sunrise
We had two nights planned in Merzuga. There were no clear plans. All we knew was that the Sahara is incredibly beautiful in the evenings and at dawn.
Since the road to Merzouga was busy, we arrived closer to evening, just minutes before sunset. All we had time to do was have tea with the owner of our host house and plan the next day.
All local activities are inexpensive and after 30 minutes of conversation and plan in my head, we calmly went on the roof to look at the stars. I have to tell you, there is probably nowhere else with a starry sky like in the Sahara.
In the morning the sunrise was waiting for us.
To see the sunrise you have two options. The first is to go to the Berbers’ camp, stay overnight at their place, and watch the sunrise. The second is to get up early, about 5 am, ride a camel to the most beautiful dune and meet the sunrise on its top.
We lived literally on the edge of Shebby Erg and chose the second option.
I forgot to specify that the camel tour can be a group tour, or you can just rent two camels for yourself and a local guide – berber and go into the desert with him.
We don’t really like company, and we didn’t want to share such a sunrise with anyone. So Ahmet, a local Berber, came to pick us up, we got on camels and drove off. Or should I say, we went.
It’s important to say that in January and February in the Sahara, the temperature can drop to almost zero in the early morning hours. And all you need, besides a camera or a good smartphone, is warm clothes. Fleece jacket, windbreaker, sneakers – it is very important to have them, otherwise you will remember the dawn with a completely different emotion.
It gets warmer during the day and by the afternoon the air is heated up to a comfortable +20-25. These are the temperature swings in Africa.
After about 1 hour we reached a high dune, about a hundred meters or more, left the camels to rest and started climbing.
The sand in the Sahara is reddish, and with the beginning of dawn it changes color ten times from light yellow to bright red. The same thing happens at sunset, plus you have to add the play of shadows. There’s nobody around. In an hour after sunrise, caravans of tourists start to appear on the ridge of barchans, and it also looks very cool through the telephoto lens.
Anyway, now the panorama of that sunrise now adorns one of the walls at my dacha, and it’s the best thing we’ve ever seen. The sea forgive us!
We are avid car travelers and could not miss the opportunity to ride in the desert in a jeep. The jeep is local, the owner’s jeep. No tourists, we made a deal with the owner, got in and drove off.
I never thought you could drive so fast in the desert. It’s something beautiful and the opposite of a camel ride.
When the jeep rides at a good speed on top of the dune and then rushes down at an angle of 45-50 degrees, you remember everything and everyone, and the delight is overwhelming.
If you will be in the Sahara. Be sure to include in your program. In contrast to the walk on the camel is an incredible experience.
During the safari we stopped by the Berbers and saw how they live, drank tea, bought souvenirs just to support this indigenous people of the desert.
A trip to the flamingos
Not far from Merzuga there is a lake where flamingos winter. We went there with the owner of our hotel. He also advised us to go there. We were not very lucky, the flamingos are afraid of people and clustered at the opposite end of the lake. Nevertheless, it is good enough to saturate the program. I can recommend it if you have time and want to diversify the program.
In Cyprus, on the salt lake in Larnaca flamingos swim much closer and you can see them from a few meters. But at least now we have seen flamingos on two continents
Where to Stay in Merzuga
Along the edge of Shebby Erg, there are more than four hundred hotels, guesthouses and campgrounds in Merzuga Township. We planned two nights here right away – we don’t like to gallop. I know people who chose one night and then stayed for another – they loved it so much. We spent almost a month in Morocco and didn’t have to rush anywhere.
You can stay at Kasbah Azalay, a desert hotel with a pool and panoramic views of the Sahara. You will definitely feel comfortable here.
We chose the simpler Mari Desert Camp – great location, totally nice price, everything you need for the night was there, breakfast was excellent.
Riad Chebbi – great riad close to the road and erga Chebbi. We considered it as a backup.
If you don’t like these three options, there are plenty of great places in and around Merzouga for all budgets, from $20 a night.
I recommend digging around on Bookings – Merzuga and picking what you like.
If you want to experience the desert for real, I recommend staying at a Berber camp – they are inexpensive, but the immersion in the local environment is guaranteed.
A great camp – Erg Shebby is considered one of the best in Merzouga.
If you like luxury, choose Sahara Majestic Luxury Camp – here you will be pampered for real. If we go to the Sahara again, we’ll stay here.
You can hardly imagine what comfort you can get in a campsite in the Sahara. Try it!
How much does a tour of the Sahara cost
Morocco in general and the Sahara in particular is excellent value for money.
For example, for an overnight stay in a Berber tent, a delicious dinner and breakfast, and a camel ride, you will pay only $40-$45 per person.
Sahara campsites have all the amenities, including showers and toilets, clean bedding, and everything you’re used to in European hotels. So there’s no need to worry about that.
Although there are absolutely luxurious options. The choice is yours.
Excursions to Merzouga
If you do not drive a car, are not going on a road-trip around the country or are limited to a few locations in Morocco, you can go to Merzouga from Marrakech and Fez. You can buy a tour for that.
You can buy a tour with an overnight stay in the Sahara from street agencies, your hotel or riad, or order online at GetYourTrip and not worry about quality. All tours are about the same in content, the difference may be in the comfort of accommodation and travel or the number of people in the group.