On our car trip through Morocco, we couldn’t stop visiting the Erg Chebbi desert. Although it is not a very big desert, we were attracted by the possibility of sleeping in the middle of the desert dunes in a tent and being able to enjoy the sunrise in such a magical place. Thus, when organizing the itinerary through Morocco, we left Erg Chebbi for 2 days. This area of Morocco is completely different from what we had visited until then, such as the white medina of Tetouan, the impressive medina of Fez or the blue medina of Chefchaouen.
Erg Chebbi desert
The Erg Chebbi desert is part of the great Sahara desert. Its size is small when compared to other desserts such as Namib in Namibia, Wadi Run in Jordan, or the Lut desert in Iran. The Erg Chebbi desert is 22 kilometers long by 5 kilometers wide and although it cannot be compared in size to other deserts, it can compete with them in beauty. The orange dunes of fine sand have something magical and attractive, regardless of their size.
The word Erg means a sandy area of a desert…. And you’ll think, but aren’t all deserts made of sand? No, not all deserts have the dunes that can be seen in Erg Chebbi. There are stony deserts like the Atacama in Chile, deserts with curious sandstone formations like the Kaluts in Iran, or sand deserts of different colors. In the great Sahara desert there are stony and other sandy areas that are called Erg, such as Erg Chebbi or Erg Chigaga. 3 days tour from Marrakech to Merzouga.
Which desert to choose: Erg Chebbi or Erg Chigaga?
Of the two dune deserts located in eastern Morocco, Erg Chebbi is the largest and has the highest dunes. According to the guide who took us through the desert, Erg Chebbi is more beautiful than Erg Chigaga since the latter is a somewhat rockier desert with darker sand.
As we have not been to Erg Chigaga we cannot corroborate his words. What is certain is that Erg Chebbi is much more touristy and more crowded. Now, the decision is yours…
Merzouga, the gateway to the desert
The most touristic population at the foot of the dunes of Erg Chebbi is Merzouga. There it is possible to find dozens of accommodations and agencies that organize all kinds of activities in the desert.
If you want to get away from the bustle of Merzouga, you can stay in some of the Riads that are on the road that borders Erg Chebbi. These hotels are right next to the dunes on both sides of Merzouga.
Another option is to stay in a town near Merzouga, Hassilabied. There the tranquility is absolute and the accommodations have better value for money. We stayed at the Dar Hassan riad and from the roof we could already see the sand dunes.
You can book a 3 días desde Marrakech a Fez.
What to do in the Erg Chebbi desert
All of us, or almost all of us, arrived in the desert with the idea of spending the night among the sand dunes. But, in reality, the camps are no longer in the middle of the desert as they were a few years ago. The Moroccan government wisely decided to move the camps to the edge of the desert.
Now all the camps are right where the sand dunes end. Despite this, we can tell you that the experience of spending the night in a camp is magical. Watching the sunset over the dunes or waking up and being able to walk on the sand with nothing but silence as a companion is an unforgettable experience.
But, in addition to sleeping in a tent in the desert, in Erg Chebbi you can do other activities. We talk about the ones we did in this post. Morocco Sahara Trips offer the best ones.
Erg Chebbi tour by 4×4 car
We had a day to go before riding the camel that would take us to the camp in the dunes. Therefore, we decided to take a 4×4 tour of Erg Chebbi.
We took the tour with Morocco Desert Tours and they offered us a 4×4 car.
Our route begins in an area where fossils abound, although in reality, the ones we find among the stones are very small and hardly visible. Possibly the fossil dealers that abound in the area have fleeced these places in recent years so that tourists can take a “souvenir” home.
We continue our journey and stop at a couple of panoramic points. The contrast between the dark stony area and the orange dunes in the background is incredible, although the pity is that the dunes are very far in the distance.
We make a stop at a Berber settlement. There are still many nomadic families in the area, who live in very precarious conditions. In the camp, we see several women and many children. They show us their humble shops, some of which are used as kitchens. They invite us to tea and Berber bread.
Our next stop is a place where, until a few years ago, the mineral used to make kohl, the black cosmetic used in many parts of Africa and the Middle East, was extracted. You can see the deep wells from which the mineral was extracted and good views from the upper part of the area.
The morning ends in Khamlia, one of the black towns where some groups attend a music show after paying a “tip”. We decided to skip this part and return to the Riad to eat. Before we deviated to see a lagoon near Merzouga, which seems unbelievable that it can be in such a desert place.
Our tour ends at the Riad, where we say goodbye to Mohamed, our guide and driver who has made a great effort to speak with us in Spanish. Although the tour has been interesting and our driver has gone out of his way for us.
Camel ride at sunset or sunrise
The camel ride to the camp seems to us the best of the desert. From Merzouga to the camp it takes almost 3 hours, stopping at a large dune to watch the sunset. Most of the time we don’t see anyone else, just a small group of camels and a group of noisy quad bikes leaving Merzouga. But, we are very lucky to travel most of the way alone. There are 5 kilometers of slow-walking of the camels, which go up and down the dunes with amazing ease.
The next day, most of the guests return to Merzouga by 4×4. We hesitated, but finally we decided to return by camel, we are not in a hurry. The return trip is even better, because this time we are completely alone, we don’t meet anyone along the way, the silence is absolute and we can enjoy the beauty of the dunes.
It is difficult to choose a camp among so many that appear in the search engines. If we had to give you some advice, it would be to choose the one furthest from Merzouga, just on the opposite side of the desert. In this way, the camel ride will be longer, and tranquility assured. In terms of prices, there is something for all tastes and pockets. From the most luxurious camps with large tents with bathrooms to the simplest Berber-style ones.
We spent the night at Desert heart luxury camp, and it was an unforgettable experience. We arrived at the camp at night since we had seen the sunset from one of the highest dunes. Until the next morning we could not verify that the camp was located among some wonderful orange sand dunes, through which we were able to walk alone at dawn. No one got up to see the sunrise… a pity for them, better for us who enjoyed the show alone and in silence.
After one of the best breakfasts of the trip, we start the return to Merzouga by camel and continue our tour of Morocco. Our next destination would be the Todra and Dades valleys, on the route of the 1000 kasbahs.