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Visiting the Sahara Desert in Morocco
If you are going to Morocco, visiting the Sahara Desert should be at the top of your bucket list. The tranquillity and infinite beauty of the rose gold Morocco sand dunes is like nothing else on earth.
We spend months in Morocco every year, dodging the UK winters. We love exploring southern Morocco and in this Morocco desert guide, we’ll share with you everything you need to know about visiting the Moroccan Sahara.
Whether you’re going on an organized tour, a Sahara Desert day trip, or you’re traveling in Morocco independently, let us share our Morocco desert experiences to help guide your Morocco trip planning.
Are you planning your trip to Morocco last minute?
Be sure to book your accommodation and tours in the Sahara Desert ahead of time to ensure availability! Here are our top picks!
Where is the Sahara Desert in Morocco?
The Sahara Desert, located in North Africa, is the world’s largest hot desert and the third largest desert behind Antarctica and the Arctic, which are unsurprisingly cold deserts.
The Sahara Desert stretches from the African country of Morocco to the Red Sea in Egypt and to the transitional Sahel in the south, covering an every changing area of around 3,320,000 square miles 8,600,000 square kilometers.
Most of this area is hamada, a type of flat and stony desert, which has its own beauty and fascination. In the case of the ergs, the surface is sand brought down from the Ziz and Rheris rivers, which creates the huge golden sand dunes in Morocco that people that people visit for a desert adventure.
Neither erg is technically in the Sahara desert, but they are regarded as the gateway to the Sahara, which lies a bit to the south. Historically, camel trains would leave from the ergs for the trans-Saharan trade route.
The former Spanish Sahara territory, now known as Western Sahara, is claimed by Morocco as part of its territory and referred to within Morocco as the ‘Southern Provinces’.
This area is most definitely part of the Sahara, but there’s not much in the way of big dunes and some countries may advise their citizens against traveling to the Western Sahara because of security risks. The majority of safety concerns are related to unexploded landmines and potential aggressive theft and harassment.
Erg Chebbi is the most accessible dune field, with a paved road into Merzouga, the small town at its foot. Erg Chebbi rises to 160m at its ever-changing highest point and is 110km square. That’s a lot of sand!
Erg Chigaga takes a little more effort to cover the unpaved track 56km from M’Hamid. Erg Chigaga though, is less untouched and more spectacular, standing 300m tall and spreading over an awe-inspiring 600 square kilometers.
Morocco Sahara Desert Map
How to use this map – Use your fingers (or computer mouse) to zoom in and out. Click or touch the icons to get more info about a place, and click the arrow in the box top left to open the index. To add to your own Google Maps account, click the star next to the title of the map.
Is this your first time visiting Morocco? Get all the information you need in our Morocco Travel Guide, including what to pack, the best time of year to go, getting there and practical tips to help you have the best trip!
When to Visit Morocco’s Sahara Desert
For a great experience, we recommend you book Sahara Morocco desert trips and tours in advance where possible. You will probably have no issue if you’re heading to the desert in the winter months, but spring and autumn can get busy, and the best guides will get booked early.
The best time for visiting the Sahara Desert in Morocco is between October and May. Daytime temperatures are mild and it will generally be dry with humidity as low as 10%, with sandstorms more frequent from January.
During the Moroccan winter, especially between December and early February, you can expect cold nights, sometimes below freezing. Those taking a desert tour in Morocco during the winter months will need to wrap up warm.
The Sahara Desert weather is harsh in the summer months. June to September can be unbearably hot with July and August daytime highs often crossing 50°c or 122°f. Many campsites close and desert tours in Morocco do not take place during these months.
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How to Visit Erg Chebbi
If the mystery and stark beauty of the desert is calling as you tour Morocco, then the Erg Chebbi dunes are your easiest option for a Morocco desert tour. Believe it or not, it is possible to fly from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert!
Travel to Erg Chebbi Independently
If you are road-tripping in Morocco, it would be a missed opportunity not to visit the popular Erg Chebbi sand dunes. From Marrakech, it will take you around nine hours of solid driving to get to Merzouga, the most accessible of the desert towns.
Getting to Merzouga
Head over the notorious Tizi n’ Tickha pass, a road that has been under construction since the French left Morocco in 1956. Whether it’s ever actually been finished and is now being upgraded is anyone’s guess, but the chances of you finding roadworks and un-sealed piste is highly likely.
Your scenic drive will take you across the snow-capped mountains of the High Atlas and through the lush green valleys and oasis of southern Morocco.
Break up the long drive and stop at Ait Ben Haddou (sometimes Ait Benhaddou) in the province of Ouarzazate en route and spend a few hours with a local guide in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has famously been a film set for Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and Game of Thrones amongst others.
The protected mud redbrick ksar sits on the edge of the Oued Ounilla and is a fascinating place to learn from Berber guides about their way of life and unique customs and culture, and the role of Ait Ben Haddou as a significant caravan stop on the trans-Saharan trade route, which linked sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean world.
Stay at the superb Maison d’hôtes Dar El Haja, an authentic guest house inside the ancient ksar, where you will experience traditional Moroccan hospitality and food.
Arriving in Merzouga
It’s a good idea to book your hotel before getting to Merzouga, or you will be pounced on when you arrive, and literally herded by the first hotelier to get to you. Accommodation is big business here and most hotels have look-outs strategically placed on the road into town.
We recommend you stay at Kasbah Kanz Erremal for stylish and spotlessly clean rooms with a fabulous pool overlooking the dunes. The hotel can also arrange desert excursions for you.
If you’re planning on camping or you’re traveling in an overland truck or motorhome, we think the best option is Haven Le Chance in Hassilabied just outside Merzouga, where you’ll have direct access to the dunes.
Booking Your Tour in Merzouga
Many, if not all of the hotels in Merzouga, can organize one night desert tours and desert safaris and your perfect Sahara tour can easily be tailored by the entrepreneurial guides of Erg Chebbi.
You can spend a few hours or a day in the desert in a 4WD or a couple of hours camel trekking (technically dromedary trekking and it’s really hard work!), followed by a tajine, traditional music, and stargazing deep in the desert before sleeping under a Berber rug in a Morocco desert camp.
If you have enough time, you can also take cultural tours, hunt for fossils, take mint tea and lunch with a Berber family, and try your hand at sandboarding in the Sahara, a fun way to experience the desert.
When you arrive, if you haven’t already booked your Morocco Sahara Desert tour, your hotel reception will call their favored guide, who will pay you a visit on your first day to share their tours and offers with you. Be clear about what you are looking for and haggle on the price.
Some guides will pick you up from the hotel and do the bare minimum, taking you around in circles on a sunset camel ride for an hour in the Erg Chebbi sand dunes (which all look the same!) before depositing you at a Berber desert camp 100m from the back gate of your lodgings. If truly getting away from it is important, then stress this and insist on a camp deep in the Merzouga desert.
Faux (fake) guides who are not registered are rife across northern Africa and the desert towns of Morocco are no different. But many of these guides have a wealth of knowledge and can often speak lots of different languages picked up over the years, even though they may not be certified in any way.
Don’t dismiss faux guides out of hand, especially if they are recommended or suggested by your hotel as they usually have lots of local knowledge and can offer good value.
Types of Camps in Erg Chebbi
The basic overnight desert camp offer is pretty well…. basic, with no hot water and shared toilets. You will have a private tent and the beds are comfy but it will be cold at night between December and early February, such is the Sahara Desert Morocco weather.
Other than an outside fire, there is no heating (or indeed other frills) in the Berber tents. There may not be much choice in terms of food, which is likely to be Morrocan salad, some type of tajine (a slow-cooked savory stew cooked in a distinctly shaped earthenware pot) and locally made bread.
There will be live music with singing and traditional instruments being played around the campfire after dinner, with your hosts ready to answer all your questions about Berber life in the desert.
A luxury camp in the desert of Morocco will have an improved dinner offer, a private bathroom, heating, and hot water. When organizing such a tour, haggle hard and aim to knock off 20-30% of the original asking price.
Take an Organised Tour to Erg Chebbi
If you’re flying into Morocco and want a desert trip from your base, the major cities of Marrakech or Fes are the only viable places from which to do this. There are no one day trips or day tours to the ergs – you’ll need at least a few days spare, due to the large distance and long journey involved.
When you’re searching for Sahara Desert trips, you may see day trips being offered. These are to the Agafay Desert, an hour away from Marrakech. This desert is made up of dry and arid hills and does not have the majesty (or dunes) of the Ergs.
However, this Agafay Desert full day desert and mountain tour with a camel safari makes a good alternative if you don’t have much time
When you’re searching for Morocco desert tours from Marrakech or Fez, accept that you will have little control over who’s in your group (unless you take a private luxury tour) or where you’ll be taken outside of the key visits.
Carpet shops and Argan oil co-operatives will feature somewhere, even if you’re clear that you’re not looking to buy. The Berber sales skills are such that they ignore protestations, in absolute confidence that you will make a purchase!
The Best Marrakech to Merzouga Sahara Desert Safari
This Marrakech to Merzouga 3 day Sahara Desert tour is one of the best Marrakech tours and has received over 4,000 reviews on Get Your Guide and scores 4.5 out of 5.
Having taken this group tour ourselves, it is our recommended choice of budget tour from a reputable tour company and covers all the key attractions and activities for your desert trip, as well as offering great value for money.
On this three-day tour, you’ll discover the gates of the Sahara Desert at Ouarzazate, ride in camel train across the Erg Chebbi dunes, spend two nights at different Bedouin camps, visit the famous Dadès Gorge, Todra Gorge, and the Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou as well as driving over the incredible Tizi n’Tichka pass across the High Atlas Mountains.
The Best Fes to Merzouga Desert Tour
This small group two day desert tour with a return to Fes or Marrakech is a great option from a highly rated and popular provider and is the best way of cutting the cost of traveling between Fes and Marrakech and seeing the Sahara Desert at the same time. What’s not to like?
On this 2-day tour, you’ll travel through the Middle Atlas Mountains and the gorgeous Ziz Valley on the route south, seeing monkeys, dramatic rock formations, and miles of palm groves. In Rissani, you’ll take an off-road drive to Merzouga and then a camel ride into the dunes of Erg Chebbi and your overnight desert shelter.
The Best Private Atlas Mountains & Desert Tour
If you’re looking for a private tour, this highly rated 4 day private Atlas Mountains and desert guided tour from Marrakech covers all the high points between the city and desert as described above, but you’ll be in a premium vehicle with just you and the other members of your party.
You’ll also get to visit the beautiful Valley of Roses at Skoura, the palm groves at Tinghr and Rissani for a fossil workshop. You will spend one night in a nomadic tent, one night in a local guest house, and one night in a hotel.
Your guide will be able to speak a number of languages including English, and he will drive you and your travel companions expertly and safely through Morocco, sharing history, tips, and information as you go.
Other Moroccan Sahara Desert Tours
There are lots of other options depending on your location, budget, and timeframe. We have chosen a selection of our favorite Sahara Desert tours below.
Visiting Erg Chigaga
More spectacular, more remote, and more breathtaking than Erg Chebbi, the Moroccan desert at Erg Chigaga (sometimes spelled Chegega) is the largest sand sea in Morocco, and it’s totally off the beaten track.
Travel to Erg Chigaga Independently
If you’re not traveling in a 4WD or overland vehicle, Erg Chigaga will remain unreachable unless you hire a specialist vehicle or hop on a camel from the nearest desert town… for five days!
Arriving in M’Hamid
But before you get on your camel, or hit the 4×4 trail, get yourself to the frontier town of M’Hamid and plan your desert tour to the heart of the Sahara in Morocco, some 56km west of town.
You won’t find any modern hotels in M’Hamid. Instead, stay at Dar M’Hamid, a charmingly traditional Moroccan guest house, where you will receive wonderful hospitality.
Booking Your Tour to Erg Chigaga
There are plenty of local tour operators in M’Hamid. Your hotel can recommend someone or you can stop by one of the agencies in the small town to make arrangements.
Expect to pay around 700-800MAD a day for a five day camel trek (not including food and drink for the journey) to Erg Chigaga and around 1500-1750MAD per day including insurance to hire a 4WD and guide.
Semi-permanent desert camps are scattered amongst the beautiful sand dunes at Erg Chigaga, you can stay here for around 400-500MAD for a night. These camps in the middle of the desert are pretty basic but you’ll find an incredible night sky with views of the Milky Way with zero light pollution and absolute peace.
If you do decide to organize the long trek by dromedary to the deep desert of Erg Chigaga, make sure of the following;
Take an Organised Tour to Erg Chigaga
If you can’t get to Erg Chigaga yourself, then organized Marrakech desert tours can get you there and provide all the activities and attractions you want in an easy-to-manage bundle.
These tours to Erg Chigaga are only available from Marrakech and the choice is limited. The programming is similar to the tours at Erg Chebbi but you will spend longer getting there, although the reward is the ultra-tranquillity and peace you will experience.
Sahara Desert Morocco FAQs
Is there Sahara Desert in Morocco?
Technically no, there is no Sahara Desert in Morocco. But both Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga are regarded as gateways to the Sahara, which lies a bit further south.
Is it worth going to the Sahara Desert in Morocco?
Absolutely. Every time we visit we are blown away by the majesty of the dunes, the raw nature, and the unforgiving environment.
What city is near the Sahara Desert in Morocco?
The nearest city to Erg Chebbi is Errachidia, about two hours north. In fact, Royal Air Maroc has five direct flights every week to Errachidia from Casablanca, and flying and hiring a car to drive to Merzouga is a great way to explore this region of Morocco.
The closest city to Erg Chigaga is the lively Zagora. It takes around 90 minutes to drive from Zagora to M’Hamid, across sandy roads and through small villages.
What to wear in the Sahara Desert Morocco?
Loose clothes that cover you up are a must. The sun can be fierce year round and protecting your skin makes sense. The sand gets everywhere, as sand does, and loose clothing allows it to find its way back to the desert, as well as keeping you cool.
You may also want closed-toe shoes, a sun hat and a lightweight scarf called a shemagh in Arabic, to protect your face from the sun and sand. You can ignore all our advice but this: wear long pants for camel riding. Not shorts or a dress as you’ll be rubbed raw. Don’t say we didn’t tell you!
Is the Sahara Desert in Morocco safe?
The good news is that the Sahara Desert in Morocco is very safe. Guides are kind and courteous and you’ll receive a warm welcome wherever you stay.