Merzouga Deser or Merzouga is a village in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, on the edge of Erg Chebbi, a 50km long and 5km wide set of sand dunes that reach up to 350m. Most people are here to take a camel safari into the dunes, and to get a taste of remote (tourism-influenced) Berber life.
The local population is mix of Arabs and Berber, and generally welcoming and friendly.
From Marrakech, drive East to Erfoud (2 days drive, stop for the night in or near Ouarzazate). From Fez, drive South to Erfoud (1 day).
From Erfoud, continue South 14 km (11 miles) to Rissani, carry on through the village and follow the road Southeast for 40 km (24 miles) to Merzouga. In recent years, the road to Merzouga has been asphalted and also to Taouz, a southern military border town (foreigners cannot cross here). The short access roads (1 or 2 km long) from the main road to the hotels alongside the sand dunes are normally not asphalted, but well maintained. There is now an asphalt road to Hassi Lybed, a smaller village about 4 km before Merzouga.
From Rissani to Merzouga, a grand taxi or van is 10/12dh. If you don’t want to wait for other people to fill your grand taxi, pay 60dh. If you arrive before sunrise (if you come in the 6=7am bus from Fez) you can pay up to 100dh for a grand taxi.
Beware of guides in Rissani or Erfoud who offer to take you to Merzouga for 5 dihram each, but instead strand you at their auberge 20 km north of the village. If you decline their offers of camel rides and lodging, it is often quite difficult (and expensive) to make your way back to town. For example, they might ask you if you want to go to Merzouga desert or Merzouga village, so most people say desert and then are driven to the middle of nowhere.
You can also fly to Ouarzazate from Casablanca, then continue to Erfoud, Rissani and Merzouga.
There are also weekly flights into Errachadia, about 2 hours north of Merzouga by car.
Supratours buses from Marrakech and also from Fez have daily trips that stop in Merzouga village.
If you’re continuing on to one of the small villages nearby, such as Hassi Labied, the usual tourist price is a fairly steep 50 dirhams (total, not per person) for the short 5 km drive. Beware that overnight busses may sometimes arrive more than an hour early, putting you in Merzouga before sunrise. If this happens, you may find yourself with no cabs available, so be prepared to wait for someone to arrive.
Tour operators can arrange 4x4s with driver/guides from Marrakech or Casablanca and back.
The only way to get around Merzouga is on foot. It’s fairly small and easily walkable, but you’ll likely want to avoid the midday heat.
Sunrise/sunset over the dunes. Folk dances and black G’naui music. Visits to villages near Merzouga inhabited by Senegalese musicians and dancers such as Khamliacan be arranged with some guides, ask at your hotel.
Animals – see the ducks, and in early spring, flamingos, on the Dayet Srji salt lake, just west of Merzouga. There are many other species of birds (ruddy sheldrack and Kittllitz’s plower during the spring migration, Tristram’s desert warbler, the Egyptian nightjar, the arabian buzzard and falcons), and the desert sparrows are unique to this region and can be seen all year round. There are also reptiles (Algerian sand lizards, Berber skinks and snakes), mammals such as gerbils, desert hedgehogs, field mice and desert foxes, and scarab beetles. In the morning, you can often see their tracks in the sand. Brown scorpions can occasionally be seen, but they come out at night and tend to avoid humans.
Almost certainly the reason you came here in the first place, and by far the best way to experience the dunes. After taking you into the village to buy a proper head scarf to protect you from the sun, you’ll be thrown on a camel and lead off into the desert. Meals, water, tents, etc should all be taken care of by your leader, but naturally you’d want to confirm this when you do your negotiations beforehand and make sure you’re very specific, and ask lots of questions. Speaking of negotiations, do your research before coming (ask other travelers in Marrakech, etc for recommendations and for what they paid), and be prepared to bargain very hard…. the industry here is smooth and deceivingly vicious.
On the first night, most groups end up at a pre-setup camp circle at the base of some large dunes, where the various tour operators have their Berber tents set up. Dinner will be cooked here, perhaps some music played, and you can frolic on the sand dunes under zillions of stars. If you’re only on a 1 day trip, then you’ll wake early, have some tea/breakfast, and head back before it gets hot. Others will hang out during the day, beating the heat in the tents all day, and either spend another night here or venture further out beyond the dunes and stay with a berber family, where you’ll then set out to return early on the third morning. A few operators have their own private camps that will offer a more remote experience, ask around if this is what you seek. This provides a more intimate setting with fewer people and noise where you can relax and enjoy the stars. Cost a little bit more but worth it. Also check to see if showers are included after the camel trek.
It is also possible to tour the dunes on ATVs, but this is highly discouraged…. You’re destroying the beauty of what you came to see in the first place, and severely ruining the remote experience that most people are here enjoying on a camel.
upra Tour Buses now travel from the center of Merzouga village north to Meknes, Fes and also over to Ouarzazate and then Marrakech. This is new and an affordable way to get to the desert- but there are no stops to visit the Todra Gorge, Dades valley or Ait Ben Haddaou. Or to take rest stops at your leisure! The bus for Fes leaves Merzouga at 7pm and arrives around 4-5 in the morning in front of the train station.