Sahara Desert of Merzouga, Morocco: Practical Guide

I am publishing this article with the idea of answering all the questions that may arise when preparing for a trip to the Merzouga desert, but first I would like to tell you something that I consider essential, especially if it is your first time in Morocco. You should know that if you want to enjoy Morocco, you should forget about the clock and be patient because the rhythms flow slowly there; but you should also be open-minded about the cultural contrast you will encounter.

Having said that, let's get started. Let's start at the beginning, where we have to start, with the flights.

Flights to Marrakech :

The main access routes to the dunes Erg Chebbi (desert of Merzouga) are from Marrakech and Fes. You can fly to Marrakech with Ryanair which I believe they have the best service.

Ryanair flies to Marrakech from Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, Seville, Santander and Valencia. You can look for your best flight options in Skyscanner.

Important: Even if you have checked in for your return flight online, don't forget that at Marrakech airport you have to go to the counter of your airline to validate (stamp) your ticket (I insist, even if you have done it online).

Ryanair

Rent a car and drive to Merzouga desert

The journey from Marrakech to Erg Chebbi is about 10 hours by car (550 km). You can choose between these two options:

  • Option A: cross the N9 to Ouarzazate, then the N10 to Tinejdad, and finally the R702 to Merzouga. 
  • Option B: also starting from the N9 but turning off first on the N12 and then on the N13 (from Rissani) which leads to Merzouga.

Tip: When you are driving, keep the speed limits because there are many police stations on the road with radars.

The best time to go to Merzouga

It is said not to be advisable to travel to the desert on summer dates (from June to September) because of the high temperatures. Traveling in spring or autumn, when the heat is not so suffocating and it's not too cold at night either, is perhaps the best option.

More and more people are deciding to go to the Sahara desert in winter, and even in summer, the latter season when temperatures can reach 52ºC. Going well protected from the sun (with clothes, not just sunscreen) is the key to endure it.

How many days is enough to discover the desert?

The trip usually takes 2 nights/3 days, sleeping the first night halfway between Marrakech and Merzouga and the second and last night in the desert. The return to Marrakech is usually done the day after the trip, which seems a bit of a blow because of the number of kilometres involved. Many visitors usually spend the first night in Dades, which is 6 hours from Marrakech if you don't stop. If you make stops at Tizi n'Tichka, Ait Ben Haddou, Ouarzazate and the Skoura Palm Grove on that first day, it may take you almost 8h to reach the canyons of Dades.

I recommend to make the trip in 3 nights/4 days, doing night when you return in Agdz (Draa Valley).

Travel with kids to Merzouga

Traveling to the desert with the little ones is an adventure. The experience of riding a dromedary (not a camel as many claim), getting lost in the endless dunes, or sleeping in a tent will delight them and... they will have a great time!

Many tourists take advantage of the silence and peace of Merzouga to do yoga or meditate

Many tourists take advantage of the silence and peace of Merzouga to do yoga or meditate.

However, not everything has to be a pink or "happy flower" with the little ones, because on a trip to Morocco with children you have to take precautions, especially with regard to food, sun protection, the suffocating heat, withstanding the long hours of travel by car, avoiding the "long-distance" or vomiting, to give a couple of examples.

Family in Merzouga

Free ride or guided tour in Merzouga

Access to the desert is free, so you don't have to hire an organized tour; you can sleep in a sack and even cross the dunes with your own vehicle (4×4 of course), although I suggest you don't do this to avoid destroying the beauty of the dunes by going off and breaking the harmony and eternal silence. This is something that should be regulated and only allowed, for example, to companies that need to take their clients or luggage (when they are riding a camel) to the tents.

Tourists in the Merzouga should certainly have covered their arms to protect themselves from the sun (advice from a local).

Tourists usually travel to the Merzouga desert in two ways:

  1. Guided tour from Merzouga to the dunes of Erg Chebbi This service usually includes a camel ride from Merzouga (located at the foot of the Erg Chebbi dunes) to the tents (located at the other end of the dunes on a journey that usually takes about an hour) for the night with dinner and breakfast included. The return trip to Merzouga is also included (you usually have the option of returning by camel or 4×4, all for the same price).
  2. Organised 3 days tour from Marrakech to Merzouga: transfers from the city, accommodation halfway between Marrakech and Erg Chebbi, camel ride through the dunes, night in a tent (including dinner and breakfast) and return to Marrakech.

Where to sleep in Merzouga desert?

There are two options:

  1. In the town of Merzouga. Due to the growing tourism, many hotels, riads, inns and hostels have been built in Merzouga and a good handful of cozy kasbahs have been built and even restored for accommodation; some have swimming pools for tourists' leisure at the hottest times of the day.
  2. Inside the dunes. For the same reason, several camps composed of several tents (usually 6-10) have been set up. Until 2019 these camps were established inside the dunes. Now, with the idea of generating environmentally responsible and sustainable tourism, the government has forced all of them to be located around the dunes, and not in the interior.

What is a tent:

The tents are a kind of bivoac built in the Berber style. They are usually concentrated in a group of 6 to 10 units around a central courtyard or corridor. Next to them is the living-dining room (also a tent, but much larger), and attached to it is the kitchen. Each tent usually has one or more beds inside and is therefore adapted for a couple or a group of people. Some of them have their own bathroom.

Sahara Desert of Merzouga, Morocco - Tent

Practical Tips

Required documents:

You must have a passport valid for more than 6 months at the date of your return from the country. For Spanish people, it is not necessary to apply for a visa. Remember that on arrival at the airport you must fill in a white form to hand it to the Moroccan authorities at the checkpoint. This form will include, among other information, your passport number, name, surname, and destination. On departure, you will have to repeat the operation. As I mentioned before, even if you have checked in online, don't forget to stamp your ticket at the counter of your airline in Marrakech.

Currency in Morocco:

The official currency in Morocco is the Dirham (Dh). The exchange rate is approximately 10 dh - 1 euro. You can do the exchange there in Morocco, there are banks like Wafacash, BMCE… 

Tourist buying rings at the Rissani market

Morocco is the country of bargaining. The price of an object I dare say is 1/3 of the value. Some reference prices of life in Morocco are these: a bottle of water costs between 5 and 10 Dh. A coffee or tea, 5-7 Dh.

What to wear to the desert:

Outside the summer period, the temperature variation from morning to night is very large (from -5ºC to +20ºC), so, however hot it is in the morning, do not hesitate to bring warm clothes for the night. In summer temperatures can range from +18ºC to +50ºC. Therefore, it is best to check the weather in Merzouga a few days before you travel to make sure you are wearing the right clothes.

Auxiliary rucksack:

Carry a small rucksack to carry the essentials during the crossing of the desert. If you are going on an organised trip, don't worry about your things as they will carry your main rucksack (they usually take it from Merzouga to the kennel in a 4×4). You can take your camera on the camel and phone, the camel leaders will take pictures for you.

Showers in the Desert:

In the dunes of Erg Chebbi, there are humble campsites with shared bathrooms and superior camps (luxury) with private bathrooms inside the tents. Hygiene is therefore not a problem in any case. However, you should be aware that the rainfall in the Merzouga desert is just right, so you should minimize the amount of water you use. Don't waste water and be a responsible traveler.

Conclusion

Merzouga is the highlight of Morocco attractions, you can do the camel ride, camp at the Berber tents and sandboard on the dunes of Erg Chebbi. I hope this guide will help to easily navigate in Merzouga.

Read also: 10 Best Places to Visit in Morocco You Shouldn't Miss

Author's bio:

  • Full Name: Youssef ACHABOU
  • Job: Travel guide and tour organizer in Morocco.
  • Website and BlogTouring In Morocco.
  • Education: English graduate.
  • Country and City: Morocco, Merzouga, the Sahara desert.
  • About me: I am an active traveler in Morocco, I work as a guide and tour organizer for tourists who like to visit my home town Merzouga.

Best Places to Visit in Morocco Video:

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