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 total tranquility and infinite beauty of the rose gold dunes is like nothing else on earth. Being in the Morocco deserts as the sun rises on the day or sinks into the horizon is one of life’s great privileges. Find out all you need to know about visiting Morocco’s desert here.
What You Need to Know About the Morocco Sahara Desert
The two largest erg (dune field) in Morocco are Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga. Both are near to the closed border with Algeria and sit amidst the surrounding hammada (flat, stony desert) that has its’ own beauty and fascination. Nevertheless, it is the huge golden sand dunes that people come east for when the Moroccan desert calls.
Erg Chebbi is the most accessible, with a paved road into Merzouga, the small town that sits at it’s 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 56km from M’Hamid. Erg Chigaga though is less untouched and more spectacular, standing 300m tall and spreading an awe-inspiring 600km square.
Ideally, book Sahara Morocco desert tours and trips 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.
Faux guides are rife across Morocco and the Erg’s are no different. Remember though that many have a wealth of knowledge and can often speak lots of different languages picked up over the years. Don’t dismiss faux guides out of hand, especially if they are recommended or suggested by your hotel. Follow our Morocco travel tips to have the best trip.
Expect to pay cash if you’re organising tours and guides yourself; there are ATM’s in Merzouga and M’Hamid.
When to Visit Morocco’s Sahara Desert
The best time to 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, night temperatures drop, sometimes below freezing and those taking a desert tour in Morocco will need to wrap up warm.
The Sahara desert Morocco weather is harsh in the summer months. June to September can be unbearably hot with July and August daytime highs often crossing 50°c. Many campsites close and desert tours in Morocco do not take place during these months.
Sahara Desert Morocco Map
How to Visit Erg Chebbi
If the mystery and stark beauty of the desert is calling when you’re in Morocco, then the Erg Chebbi dunes are your easiest option for a Sahara Desert tour. Believe it or not, it is possible to fly from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert!
If you are road tripping in Morocco, it would be a missed opportunity not to visit Erg Chebbi. From Marrakech it will take you around nine hours of solid driving to get to Merzouga, the most accessible of the desert erg towns.
Head across the notorious High Atlas mountains Tizi n’ Tickha pass (a road that has been under construction since the French left Morocco in 1956. Whether it’s 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) and through the lush oasis littered valleys of southern Morocco.
Learn about driving in Morocco before you embark on a long trip like this one.
Stop at Ait Ben Haddou en-route and spend a few hours in the UNESCO protected mud redbrick ksar which sits on the edge of the Oued Ounilla.
Lawrence of Arabia, amongst other famous films, was shot here. 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.
Arriving in Merzouga
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 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. Otherwise, check best prices and special offers for Merzouga desert hotels and places to stay with our partners, Booking.com.
Many, if not all of the hotels in Merzouga, can organise one night desert tours and desert safaris. Whether you want to spend a few hours or a day in the desert in a 4WD or a couple of hours camel trekking (technically dromedary trekking!), followed by a tajine, traditional music and stargazing deep in the desert before sleeping under a Berber rug, your perfect Sahara tour can easily be tailored by the entrepreneurial guides of Erg Chebbi.
You can also hunt for fossils, take lunch with a Berber family and try your hand at sand-boarding in the Sahara…who knew?
When you arrive, if you haven’t already booked a tour, your hotel reception will alert their favoured guide, who will undoubtedly pay you a visit. Be clear about what you are looking for and haggle on the price.
Some guides will pick you up from the hotel and take you around in circles on a 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 desert.
The basic overnight desert camp offer is pretty well….basic, with no hot water and shared toilets. 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 sort of Tajine and locally made bread.
A luxury camp in the desert of Morocco will have an improved dinner offer, private shower, heating and hot water. When organising 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 in to Morocco and want a desert trip from your base, Marrakech or Fes are the only viable places to do this from. There are no day trips or day tours to the ergs; you’ll need at least a few days spare, due to the large distances involved.
Accept that you will have little control over who’s in your group (unless you take a private tour) and 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!
This Marrakech to Merzouga 3 Day Sahara Desert Safari is one of the best Marrakech tours and has received over 1800 reviews on Get Your Guide and scores 4.3 out of 5. It is our choice of budget tour from a reputable tour company and covers all the key attractions and activities for your desert trip.
There are lots of other options depending on your location, budget and timeframe, we have chosen a selection of our favourite Moroccan Sahara Desert tours below.
Visiting Erg Chigaga
More spectacular, more remote and more breathtaking than Erg Chebbi, Erg Chigaga (sometimes spelt Chegega) is the largest sand sea in Morocco.
If you’re not travelling in a 4WD or overland vehicle, Erg Chigaga will remain unreachable unless you hire a specialist vehicle or hop on a camel…for five days! Get yourself to the frontier town of M’Hamid (where you’ll find lots of smaller dunes) and plan your Morocco desert tour to the big boys, some 56km west of town.
Expect to pay around 600MAD a day for a camel trek to Erg Chigaga and around 1300MAD per day including insurance to hire a 4WD. Semi-permanent camps are scattered amongst the golden peaks of sand, you can stay here for around 400MAD for a night. The camps are pretty basic but you’ll find some of the world’s best night skies and views of the Milky Way here – zero pollution, no clouds and absolute peace.
If you do decide to organise the long trek by dromedary to Erg Chigaga, make sure of the following;
- Do you like and trust your guide? This can make or break such a trip.
- How long do you want to spend on a camel? If you’re not used to riding one, you’ll get seriously sore after just a few hours.
- Don’t plan to spend too long in the desert, once you’ve done the soul-searching meditation thing, it can get a little boring!
- Make sure the arrangements are clear and you understand what you’re getting for your money before you hand over any cash.
Your hotel may well be able to organise all of this for you, but you will pay a premium for their services.
Take an Organised Tour to Erg Chigaga
If you can’t get to Erg Chigaga yourself, then organised 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, although the reward is the ultra-tranquility and peace you will experience.