How to Visit the Merzouga Desert from Marrakech

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Valery Aloyants
@valeryaloyants
SOURCES CONSULTED:

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Author and references

Merzouga desert: here's how to get there from Marrakech by car, bus or tour. Find out what to see, info and costs of tours from Marrakech, what to see and do and other useful information.

Who has never dreamed of sleeping in the Sahara comfortably hidden among the sand dunes under a starlit sky?

I think the desert fascinates everyone: who has never dreamed of the ancient caravans with camels, camping on multi-colored carpets, sipping tea around a bonfire?



Merzouga, in the southern region of Morocco, it was one of the places where I was able to experience all of this. The name comes from a small Moroccan town in the Sahara desert, not too far from the Algerian border. It is known as the door of Erg Chebbi, a huge stretch of sand dunes south of the city.

I wrote this guide to help you plan your trip to this beautiful desert village starting from Marrakech: 2 days are the minimum, 3 or 4 the ideal. In one day from Marrakech it is impossible to see the desert. They are located quite far.

I wrote this guide hoping to help you and give you useful information to plan yours visit to the Merzouga desert.

Are you in a hurry?

⇒ SEE ALL THE TOURS IN MERZOUGA HERE

  • 1 - When to go to Merzouga
  • 2 - Where it is and how to get there by bus, car and tour
  • 3 - Best route between Marrakech and Merzouga
  • 4 - What to do and see in Merzouga
  • 5 - What to wear in the desert
  • 6 - Where to stay: Hostels, Hotels and Camps in the desert

1 - When to go

Merzouga can be visited all year round. Ok in the summer it's really hot and I wouldn't recommend it, even if with the right precautions you could enjoy it to the fullest.



The best time of year to visit Merzouga is in spring between the months of March and May or in autumn between the months of September and November. During these times, the weather is not too hot and you will be able to enjoy the time in the desert much more.

La temperature in summer it reaches even 40 ° C and rarely drops below 26,7 ° C at night.

Regardless of what time of year you visit Merzouga, always cover your head to avoid sunstroke. Sunscreen is vital.

And you sweat a lot: to avoid breaking down too much, try to wear light-colored long-sleeved shirts and trousers. No short stuff. Aside from being in a predominantly Muslim country and you should respect their culture, you could also get really bad sunburn.

Also, be sure to always drink plenty of water while visiting the desert. The general rule is to drink at least one liter a day, and you should double that if you take long walks.

2 - Where is the Merzouga Desert and how to reach it from Marrakech

I told you that it is impossible to visit the Merzouga desert from Marrakech in just one day. I'll show you below where it is, how to get there and how long it takes.

Where is the Merzouga Desert

The Merzouga Desert is located in the south-east of the country a short distance (20 km) from the border with Algeria and a 562 km from Marrakech. This means that, by car the fastest of the means it takes about 9 hours to get there!


In fact, you have to cross a part of the mountains of the High Atlas and therefore the road is not really very direct.


If, instead of a rental car, or a tour with a driver, we think of going there by bus, the time gets longer.

Also note one thing: go from Marrakech to Merzouga it really is a fantastic journey, with tons of beautiful places to stop along the way that it would be a real shame to miss. Stops along the way in fascinating places like Aït-Ben-Haddou, Ouarzazate and Dades gorges they should be on the itinerary of anyone visiting Morocco.

How to get from Marrakech to Merzouga

How to get there by bus

Travel from Marrakech to Merzouga by bus it is quite a long journey (about 12 hours), so my best advice would be to break the trip in two.

Personally I recommend you stop at Ouarzazate for one day: you will visit the ancient mud Kasbah called Ait Ben Haddou or the city called Tinghir.

Taking a bus from Marrakech is really easy. You can find a bus Supratour o CTM to Ouarzazate or Tinghir at the main bus station in Marrakech. This bus station is located almost adjacent to the train station in Marrakech.

The ticket prices for these 2 bus companies are almost the same and the timetables and ticket prices can be found online.


The journey from Marrakech to Ouarzazate takes 4 to 5 hours and this usually involves a break somewhere along the way while the journey to Tinghir takes just over 6 hours.

the next day you can take another bus to Merzouga.

The Supratours bus from Ouarzazate to Merzouga costs 200 Moroccan Dirhams, while the bus from Tinghir to Merzouga should cost a lot less.


Getting to Merzouga from Marrakech by car

If you are traveling to Morocco with your own car or if you decide to rent one, it means that you can plan your route, take breaks where and when you want and get to know the country in a much more intimate way.

To go from Marrakech to Merzouga you will have to take the N9 motorway and the N10 motorway. This itinerary will take you to the cities of Ouarzazate and Tinghir, and again I would recommend that you make a stop to visit them.

If you decide to rent a car, stipulate insurance which protects you more because it is not easy to drive in Morocco, especially in built-up areas.

Also watch out for the police. I traveled both by hired car and by bus and nothing ever happened to me, but my brother was not as lucky.

How to visit Merzouga with a tour

One of the best choices, if you are short on time, don't want to drive but still want to visit Merzouga is to book a tour from Marrakech. These tours are all operated by reputable local agencies.

On the internet you can find plenty of them. I have searched for you the ones that seem to me the best in terms of reviews and price, also taking into account the quality of what they offer.

These below are the ones I would choose as they also include things along the way. The final decision is obviously yours depending on your needs.

  • 3 DAY EXCURSION to MERZOUGA from € 150: this tour of Civitatis is in my opinion the best ever because it includes everything you can see on the way from Marrakech to Merzouga (see next chapter of this post). They are also included 2 camel rides, at dusk and dawn and you can choose between different types of campsites from the cheapest to the most luxurious. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Merzouga: 3-DAY Desert SAFARI from Marrakech from € 110 (GetYourGuide): This tour also includes Ait-Ben-Haddou, Dades Valley and camel rides. However, I believe that it does not include a visit to the Todra gorges (too bad)
  • 4 DAY EXCURSION (starting from € 790 per group): if you are a group of friends and have more time, this tour is great. You can also choose to return to Fez instead of Marrakech.

3 - Best Itinerary from Marrakech to Merzouga

If you are planning to visit the Merzouga desert from Marrakech, whether you go alone by car, bus or tour, along the way there are things that you absolutely must not miss.

To help you I have created this map below:

Ait-Ben-Haddou

On the opposite side of the Atlas Mountains from Marrakech and about 4 hours away, and after a 4 hour drive, you leave the main road to take a gravel path that leads to the Ksar Aït-Ben-Haddou.

This ancient Berber village, which was once an important stop along the trade route from the Sahara to Sudan, is a group of adobe dwellings protected by defensive walls and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Most of the population has left the Ksar for the new town across the river, but the village is not completely abandoned. Some families still live in their "Kasbahs", and the narrow streets have mainly been transformed into souvenir shops.

The village is gorgeous and it's easy to see why so many films like Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia and more recently Game of Thrones have chosen Ait-Ben-Haddou as their location.

Ait-Ben-Haddou is undoubtedly also one of them best excursions from Marrakech to do in 1 day.

Ouarzazate

A short distance from Ait-Ben-Haddou (about 30 minutes by car) is located Ouarzazate, where you don't have to miss the Kasbah of Taourirt, the best preserved kasbah in all of Morocco.

It is an impressive monument made of adobe that looks like a sand castle. Here you will be able to see the typical Moroccan geometric ornaments on the walls of the main building.

If you want to visit this 17th century house, keep in mind that the rooms are all more or less empty and there is not much to expect from a visit. You can, however, take a stroll in the nearby Berber village.

Ouarzazate is also famous for numerous film studios in its surroundings: you will find the sets of the "Prince of Persia", "Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra", "the Mummy" and others.

Gorges of Dades (Route of a Thousand Kasbahs)

La Dades valley and Data throat they are certainly another of the unmissable places in Morocco. Beautiful ancient Kasbahs and spectacular red canyons formed by the Dades River are waiting for you!

From Marrakech to the Dades gorge it is about 320 km by car. From Ouarzazate to the Dades gorge are about 110 km, and to get there you just need to follow the N10 in the direction Tinghir.

Will go to El-Kelaa M'Gouna, the entrance to the Valley of the Roses. Arriving in Boumalne Dadès, it is best to follow the R407 road inside the Dades gorge.

There are many things to see within the Dades Valley: including the spectacular Dades Gorge, the spectacular winding road and the "Monkey fingers", an unusual rock formation shaped by water and wind.

I recommend you stop and sleep here and continue the next day. If you want a suggestion the Hotel Babylon Dadès is a good hotel.

Todra Gorges

Le goal of Togra are a series of river canyons in the eastern part of the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco. They are located near Tinghir, a city full of abandoned mud castles and are only a couple of hours away from Merzouga.

If you have time you can participate in a lot of activities found in the todra gorges and Tinghir, such as climbing, visiting Berber villages, visiting the palm grove or the mosque. Ikalalne.

However, try not to arrive in Merzouga too late if you have planned to stay here only one night, you may miss the beautiful sunset that only the desert can offer.

3 DAYS TOUR RECOMMENDED

  • 3 DAY EXCURSION to MERZOUGA from € 150
  • Merzouga: 3-DAY Desert SAFARI from Marrakech from € 110
  • 4 DAY EXCURSION (starting from € 790 per group)

4 - What to do in Merzouga

Merzouga it is a calm and peaceful city in the Sahara, and while small it offers a surprising amount of fun activities to do.

Here is a list of super recommended activities you can do in Merzouga: whether you are a budget traveler like me or you prefer to travel a little more luxuriously you will surely find the activity that suits you best!

1 - Pitch your tent in the Sahara dunes

This is, in my opinion, one of the best things to do in Merzouga for free. For many people, camping means hiking in the heart of a lush forest, perhaps near a pristine alpine lake or on the banks of a fast-flowing river.

Many imagine the desert as a vast and arid place where they would never pitch a tent. For me the desert is simply one of the most magical places to camp!

You can read here too my experience of camping in the Iranian desert!

In the desert I witnessed some of the most beautiful sunsets of my life. Seeing the sun gradually disappear in the dunes as the landscape is painted in warm shades of color is truly a spectacle. Sunrise in the desert is also a time you won't forget so easily.

Camping in the desert is a unique experience, but requires some planning.

Make sure you have a good tent, a comfortable and thick enough mattress (desert sand gets cold as concrete) and a warm sleeping bag.

The temperature in the desert drops very quickly at night, so if you want to sleep well it is important to have warm layers under and above your body.

2 - Walk to the top of the highest sand dune

The desert near Merzouga, a large area filled with sand dunes south of the city, is known as Erg Chebbi.

Of all the sand dunes that can be seen from the village, one in particular focuses attention on itself. Impossible not to notice this high mountain of sand that stands out above all the others.

It takes about an hour to reach the top of this dune from the city center.

Remember that climbing to the top, braving the sand (one step forward and two steps back) is not as easy as it may seem (aka: brings a lot of water)

The best time to go is right before sunset. Watching the sun slowly disappear from the horizon from the top of this dune will repay you for all the effort made to reach it.

3 - Look at the stars

Di Sergey Pesterev /

There is no better place for admire the stars if not from the desert. Since Merzouga is a small town, the surrounding sand dunes suffer hardly any light pollution, making it a prime spot for observing the night sky.

You will be surprised at how clear it will appear to you Milky Way and how bright and big the stars are.

If you want to see the stars through the optics of a powerful telescope, there is an agency that can help you. This company is called Morocco Desert Stargazing and plan amazing desert trips to gaze at the stars with one of their powerful telescopes.

4 - Lago salato Dayet Srji

Before leaving for Morocco and Merzouga, I don't remember who told me that even near the desert I could see flamingos in a salt lake, Dayet srji, which is west of Merzouga.

Flamingos in the desert !? It doesn't seem possible (it didn't seem possible to me either) that there was a lake so close to the desert, an oasis of rest where birds and camels go to drink and cool off.

But there is!

Dayet Srji is an easy walk from the village and takes about 45 minutes.

The lake is often dry in the summer but when full (usually during the winter), it attracts all kinds of migratory and desert birds, including flamingos. Find out what is the best time to spot them, they are not always there.

5 - Sunset camel ride in the desert

Di bo_w /

No trip to Morocco would be complete without a camel trekking in the desert.

In Merzouga, you can find various companies that offer camel rides at any time of day and are generally not too expensive. For travelers who are fascinated by ancient camel caravans, this is the perfect opportunity to feel like a nomad for a couple of hours.

Although these treks are possible throughout the day, the best time is at sunset.

Most hotels in Merzouga can arrange a camel ride with a guide for you.

6 - Sandboarding on the dune

If you want to discover the desert in a more "alternative" way and find grains of sand everywhere, you should try the sandboarding. While this activity seems at first glance something that could be dangerous, it's actually super safe and, trust me, a lot of fun (but what a struggle to get back on!).

The Erg Chebbi sand dunes in Merzouga are very soft, so even if you fall you don't get hurt. Also trust me, it has nothing to do with the skiing we are used to, it goes much slower (remember to put the wax under the board). This is also a great activity to do with children.

Imagine the thrill of sliding down a dune at full speed while standing on a board. I did, but it didn't stay up that long.

I finally sat down on the table because it's so much easier (and just as fun)

There are some tents near the desert entrance right next to theAuberge Kasbah Merzouga where you can rent boards. There is also a shop directly on the main street in town near the mosque where you can rent them.

Tip: Do this especially if you go with friends. You will have fun like crazy.

6 - Take a 4 × 4 ride in Erg Chebbi

Although this activity is not as romantic as riding a camel in the dunes,  travel the desert in 4 × 4 it's another hilarious experience.

The guides operating in Merzouga are all quite young but don't be fooled by their looks. These guys are all experienced guides and know the desert like the back of their hands.

It is possible to take a short 2-hour trip in 4 × 4 or take a full day trip with a private guide to some nearby Berber villages and then to the dunes.

This day trip is a great choice because it gives you the chance to get in touch with Berber culture, stop to listen to their music and also learn to play one of their traditional instruments.

You will also be able to go to a Berber family's tent for lunch and see how they live with their goats, sheep and donkeys.

7 - Listen to traditional Gnawa music in Khamlia

Di Reimar /

I Gnawa they are an ethnic group living in Morocco and they play some of the most beautiful traditional music you will hear in Morocco.

The ancestors of the Gnawa people were brought from Central and West Africa as slaves through the Sahara Desert.

If you want to discover this culture I recommend that you visit the village of Khamlia. It is located just 7 km south of Merzouga, right next to the dunes.

The village is easily accessible by taxi or rental car. In Khamlia you will find two groups: i Bambara and Sand pigeon.

You can go whenever you want and in this case you can do it safely even without a tour or agency: you will be guided with mastery by the signs on the road (no one in the world knows where you want to go and how to take you like Moroccans)

Generally, tourists are not asked for money (at least it was like that for me), but if you like you can leave something or, even better, buy one of their music CDs: in addition to helping them you will have a nice memory and you will help them to make them known in the world.

5 - What to wear in the Sahara desert in Merzouga

Di Lizavetta /

Okay, definitely if you've decided to spend some time in the desert (especially if you've never done it before) and are wondering what to wear and bring.

First rule: when you are in Morocco do as the Moroccans do.

Then a what to pack?

Well, since the temperature varies a lot between day and night it is important to wear clothes that serve many purposes and that are above all very functional (leave your shoes with heels at home!).

Below you will find the essential things to bring.

  • Scarf - A scarf, a foulard, a sarong will be your best friends. Meanwhile, you will be comfortable to cover and protect your face from the sun and sand. If your scarf is long enough, it will also cover your shoulders. If you don't want to risk sunburn, remember to always cover your head well.
  • Wide and light trousers - With the kind of weather you will encounter in the desert, it is much better to wear large, loose-fitting, lightweight trousers, like the ones we use here in the summer of linen or cotton. These pants have a thousand advantages: they dry quickly, cover you and let the air pass (they are breathable) and allow you to move freely. Forget the jeans: if there is a bit of wind you will fill yourself with sand and the jeans are the worst pants you could wear (especially if you dress them tightly)
  • Sun glasses - If you want to protect your eyes from the intense light that will be present during the day, it is important to bring a good pair of sunglasses with UV protection. These will also protect your eyes from the small dust particles carried by the wind.
  • Warm merino wool socks - Carrying Merino wool socks into the desert may seem a bit silly, but believe me, the temperature drops at night and they might be comfortable for you!
  • Warm sweater - If you are planning to spend the night in the desert make sure you bring a warm sweater.
  • Dustproof camera - Something I absolutely have to warn you about: sand literally gets everywhere! So watch out for the electronics you bring into the desert, including your phone and camera.
  • Cleaning kit - A fundamental thing is that if there is wind not to change the optics. Better to bring a versatile enough lens that is good for both landscapes and portraits. A very important thing is to bring a cleaning kit for your camera and in the evening to remember to clean it carefully from the sand.
  • First aid kit

6 - Where to stay in Merzouga

Merzouga is a village that offers a wide range of accommodation, from simple hostels to gorgeous Kasbah hotels decorated with Berber artifacts to luxurious tented camps in the desert. Depending on your needs, you will find a place that is sure to suit your needs.

Below you will find what I think are the best choices (by budget) in the Merzouga desert

Best budget hostels in Merzouga

Staying in a cheap hostel it's a great idea if you want to meet other young travelers and exchange travel stories with them. While these budget hostels don't offer the luxury of larger hotels, they often include a kitchen where you can cook your own food and a common room where you'll make new friends.

Hostel Hassan: This hostel offers a kitchen where you can cook your own meals during the day and a delicious free breakfast every morning. This property is located approximately 3,4 km from Lake Dayet Srji, where pink flamingos can be observed.

The best hotels in Merzouga

These hotels are all a bit more luxurious. They are the ideal places to stay if you are traveling on a higher budget or if you are on your honeymoon.

Auberge Camping La Liberté has an excellent restaurant and offers a delicious breakfast. This hotel is located very close to the sand dunes and organizes desert tours.

Auberge Les Roches: Located right next to the Erg Chebbi desert, Auberge Les Roches has a beautiful interior courtyard where you will also find a swimming pool. The hotel offers barbecue facilities and free Wi-Fi in public areas.

The rooms are decorated with traditional Berber carpets and designs. They all offer great views of the sand dunes or the terrace. Each room has a private bathroom with shower and toilet.

Hotel Riad Ali: this Riad is probably one of the most luxurious places. It is located a little out of town and is close to Dayet Srij Lake. It has a beautiful rooftop terrace overlooking the sand dunes, a swimming pool and free Wi-Fi.

All rooms are air conditioned, have a traditional Moroccan style and are decorated with mosaic tiles. The private bathrooms have a hairdryer.

A rich breakfast buffet is served every morning. The restaurant offers traditional recipes such as tagine and couscous.

The best tented camps in the Merzouga desert

Spend the night in a luxury camp in the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi is a once in a lifetime experience.

Imagine relaxing and watching the ever-changing colors of the desert as the sun sets behind the dunes while listening to traditional Gnawa music.

Sleeping in these fields it is perfect for honeymooners, solo travelers and small groups of friends seeking uncompromising privacy and the calm of the desert.

Before booking keep one thing in mind: there is a huge difference between cheap and luxury desert camps, so make sure you know exactly what will be provided in your camp.

Pay attention to the "rooms". Will you sleep in a bed with blankets or would it be preferable to bring your own sleeping bag? It is also good to double check if the tent will be heated and if a camp dinner will be provided.

Almost all of them offer desert tours that you can arrange even at the last minute.

Berber & Camel Trek: This desert camp is one of the cheapest in Merzouga but still offers cozy beds with sheets and breakfast and dinner (on request). Each tent has a carpeted floor which makes them warm and welcoming. A shared bathroom is also available on site. It is also possible to shower and have breakfast in the main house, in Merzouga.

Sirocco Luxury CampThis stunning luxury camp is set up to reflect both the beauty of the desert and the region's traditional nomadic culture. It offers all the luxury of home while being completely away from the rest of the world.

It offers free WiFi, bathroom and shower and the rooms are absolutely gorgeous! A very extensive breakfast buffet is available every morning.

Golden Camp: This luxury camp will offer you an escape from the crowds of the cities and allow you to relax in a beautiful unspoiled environment.

The tents in this camp are beautifully decorated with traditional Berber rugs. There are a barbecue and a playground for children, so it's ideal for families.

USEFUL LINKS

  • Best tour3 Days Tour from Marrakesh to Merzouga
  • Bus company: Supratours 
  • Noleggio auto: I rentalcars.co (you can rent without a credit card)
  • Best camp to stay in MerzougaGolden Camp
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