Zagora is a common pitstop on the way to the Sahara Desert. It is the last big town you’ll hit on your way to Erg Chigaga, one of the two major dunes in the Moroccan desert.
Although most travellers won’t spend more than a night in the Zagora oasis, it’s a destination in its own right! With few signs of modernization, it’s a great place to experience traditional Moroccan life in outstanding scenery among some incredibly unique sites.
I’m on an early morning bus from Zagora to Tata and into the Sahara. My eyes are half open. The other-worldy landscape flashes by. The barren, rocky vistas between towns is fitting. After all, I’m in the heart of meteorite country, on my way to find out about meteorites in Morocco. (more…)
As the largest, and one of the driest, deserts on Earth, it’s safe to say there are very few places in the world like the Sahara Desert. The infinite sea of sandy dunes all in different shades of gold is the perfect setting to experience a once-in-a-lifetime getaway filled with adventure, fun, and unique experiences.
Image by Thomas Buttery
There are very few places on Earth that compare to the incredible landscape of the Sahara Desert. Located on Morocco’s western border, the Sahara Desert is the world’s largest hot desert covering an area similar to that of the United States. Many travelers visit Morocco specifically with the intention of venturing off into the desert and spending a night under the stars. And we can’t blame them! A desert adventure is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we wouldn’t want you to miss out on it either.
The expanse of the Sahara desert which stretches across Morocco is divided into two main regions; the Erg (dunes) Chebbi and the Erg Chigaga. Both provide the spectacle of rolling, velvet sand dunes for as far as the eye can see, with the mountains of Algeria as a backdrop when looking east. Whether you decide to visit the Chigaga or the Chebbi dunes, you will enjoy beautiful camel treks, serene sunsets treks and stunning star lit nights, but each region had it’s own unique charm.
It can also be guaranteed that your journey from the Imperial cities of Fez or Marrakesh will take you through significant changes in landscape before you hit the dunes themselves; over mountains, barren rocky plateaus and lush oasis valleys. The route from Fez to Merzouga will take you over the green and fertile Middle Atlas mountains and alongside the Ziz Valley palmeries, while Marrakesh to Chigaga will take you over the High Atlas and through the Draa Valley palmeries.
Morocco is an increasingly popular travel destination year-round. But as the seasons change throughout the year, so do the opportunities visitors have to experience Morocco’s culture and history. Whether you’re into water sports, mountain trekking, cultural experiences or historical sites – you’ll find that the optimal time for exploring all of these sides of Morocco can vary throughout the year. If you’re planning on visiting Morocco in summer there are a few things to keep in mind. (more…)
Do you have a dream to visit the Sahara? Or, maybe you’re one of those people who insists there’s nothing there to see or do. If the Moroccan Sahara is your “must see” list or if you want to stay as far away as possible we’ve put together ten of our favorite images to show you just how amazing and beautiful it truly is. Pack your bags because after this, you’ll want to go for sure.
Beneath the absolute black of the Sahara Desert sky, with our campsite nestled in the middle of the Erg Chebbi sand dunes, sprinkle after sprinkle slowly found its way into our Berber-style tents; we were gradually getting soaked. Little did we know that this night had an even greater challenge awaiting us. (more…)
Imagine riding atop a single-humped camel into a seemingly endless sea of rolling sand dunes. The evening sun to the west creates a dramatic contrast of boldly colored golden sands and dune-curved shadows. By night, after finishing a fresh tajine dinner by candlelight, you gaze up toward an enormous moon, surrounded by more stars than you’ve ever seen in the night’s sky.
Venturing into the Sahara Desert is one of Morocco’s iconic experiences, and overnight desert tours are especially popular with visitors. Those who shop around for desert excursions face a choice between two main destinations: Erg Chigaga or a Sahara Desert Tour in Erg Chebbi. (more…)
Considered one of the toughest ultra marathons on the planet, runners of the Marathon des Sables travel approximately 150 miles through the rugged and arid Sahara Desert. Participants run the equivalent of six regular marathons over the course of six days with each stage ranging anywhere from 21 to 91 kilometers in length.
Runners battle sand storms and incapacitating heat. They endure torturous chafing and blisters down to the bone. Not only does this race seriously challenge the body’s physical abilities and will, but the $4,000 entry fee challenges most people’s financial will as well. Surprisingly the race has a 2-year registration waitlist and once registration opens, all available spots are often filled within an hour.
Sunny Blende once said that “Ultras are just eating and drinking contests, with a little exercise and scenery thrown in,” and this is especially true of the Marathon of the Sands. Participants battle temperatures of up to 120°F so maintaining adequate hydration and electrolyte balance is not only crucial to finishing the race but to surviving it. Water is rationed out at each aid station and runners are responsible for carrying all their own food typically around 14,000 calories a person. (more…)
Among Morocco’s most iconic destinations, traveling to the Sahara Desert of Morocco is among Morocco’s iconic things to do. Most travelers who visit the Sahara opt for an experience among the Erg Chebbi dunes in eastern Morocco. Near Erfoud and Merzouga, travelers tend to start this excursion from Marrakech or Fes.
If you’re an adventurous traveler who wishes to see less traveled parts of the Sahara, consider wandering further south to the Erg Chigaga dunes, south of Zagora and Tagounite. In both areas, you can create a classic desert experience by hiking the dunes, riding a camel, eating local food, sand boarding, camping and star gazing. (more…)
South of the Anti Atlas Mountains is the disputed area of Western Sahara. Occupied by the Spanish until 1974, this mostly barren chunk of land has been claimed by both the Moroccan government and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front. Although the conflict technically ended with a UN-sponsored cease fire in 1991, the legal fate of Western Sahara has yet to be decided. Administratively it’s a de-facto part of Morocco.
Choose Transport Carefully
The road to Laayoune is paved and relatively good. You can travel by local bus, grand taxi (Mercedes) or private transport. CTM buses are air-conditioned and tend to leave on schedule. South of Laayoune, transport options are slimmer. You should be able to share rides with other tourists to Dakhla during kitesurfing season, or you can fly to Dakhla via Royal Air Maroc.
Going forth from Dakhla to the Mauritanian border public transport options are limited. It’s best to arrange a grand taxi or take your own vehicle. Armed robberies are not unheard of, and you don’t want to have an unreliable vehicle break down in the middle of the desert. Female travelers should avoid traveling alone with a male driver. Make sure you have your Mauritanian visa ahead of time as border authorities can be fickle and you may be forced to backtrack to Rabat. (more…)
The Agafay Desert is located just an hour’s drive from the lively souks and dizzying maze-like market streets of Marrakech. Literally untouched by development, the Agafay offers quite the contrast from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech.
Visiting the Agafay Desert is a good option if you would like to gaze at some sand dunes and desert, but don’t have the time to travel all the way south to where Morocco borders the Western Sahara. In the spring, the Agafay is alive with blooming wildflowers. The rest of the year, the Agafay is parched and thirsting for water giving you just a taste of the aridness of the Great Sahara.
There are currently no train lines south of Marrakech so if you want to travel to the desert you will need to rent a car, catch a bus or take an organized tour. Quite a few tour companies offer multi-day ATV tours of the Agafay hills complete with tent camping and traditional Moroccan meals. These off-the-beaten path type of tours take you across sand dunes, over rocky buttes and through hidden canyons all offering splendid views of the Atlas Mountains in the background. (more…)
Hollywood films have tried to encapsulate the immensity of the Sahara Desert in several genres from action/adventure to romantic tales, but it’s really one of those sites that you have to see to believe. Whether you are traveling for a vacation in Morocco or just want to know a bit more about one of the world’s most interesting deserts, here are just a few grains of information you might find interesting:
Sizing Up the Sahara Desert:
The Sahara Desert is 3.63 million square miles (9.4 million square kilometers). It runs from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean and into central and western Africa. The desert covers parts of Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Chad, Libya, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Western Sahara, Tunisia and Sudan. (more…)
Let’s say this up front: Riding a camel is one of the most uncomfortable experiences you can imagine.
Now that that’s out of the way, I should also tell you that riding a camel is fantastically fun and bound to be one of your favorite memories from your trip to Morocco. Not much can top watching the sun set over the Sahara as you make your way to a Berber tent astride a camel or listening to the waves crash against the rocks in Essaouira as you meander down the beach, swaying atop your steed. You’ll probably hum the theme to Lawrence of Arabia. It will be amazing.
It will also be uncomfortable. (more…)
Set on the edge of the Sahara Desert in Morocco, Erg Chebbi is one of two ergs (large areas of windblown sand dunes) in Morocco. Most of Morocco’s desert is made up of flat, rockier terrain known as hamada, but Erg Chebbi has sweeping dunes that reach 525 feet in height. Both the 1999 movie The Mummy and 2005’s Sahara were filmed at Erg Chebbi.
Since the dunes are located next to the village of Merzouga, they are often referred to in English as the Merzouga Dunes instead of Erg Chebbi. The most pleasant times to visit the dunes are in spring and autumn when days aren’t as hot as in summer and nights don’t get as cold as they do during winter. (more…)
In many ways, travels to Morocco are defined by a trip to the Sahara Desert, which makes up the southern half of the country. But Morocco is also defined by its impressive mountains and rich cultural heritage. To appreciate the beauty, vastness and diversity of the country, consider taking a guided tour that introduces you to some of Morocco’s greatest highlights; a five-day, four-night tour is ample time to satisfy your curiosity. (more…)
Even The Camel Thinks It’s Fun
When you hear about Morocco you probably hear about cities such as Casablanca, Fez, and Rabat; or, you’ve heard of camel treks in the sahara, trekking the High Atlas Mountains or even riding waves near Agadir or Essaouira. Such active-adventures available with Journey Beyond Travel are not solely limited to trekking, however. Read on to learn more this vibrant and verdant (and brown) country has to offer its guests. (more…)
An Ocean of Sand is one of those clichés used far too often to describe some of the more amazing deserts in the world, but when the desert is as large as the entire United States, does that old cliché suddenly become valid? The Sahara Desert is enormous, stretching from one end of northern Africa to the other, from the Atlantic to the Red Sea. Morocco is one of many nations that carve into the world’s most famous desert, and Morocco offers several of the best Sahara Desert tours in Morocco you can find.
Most Sahara Desert tours will take you by the villages of Merzouga and Erfoud via camel. The traditional way of travel through the historical Sahara trade routes is still the same today. If you chose to travel into the desert, you will be trekking known routes by riding camels with experienced guides. You will all travel before or after the sun reaches its midday height and the temperatures climb higher than you have probably ever felt before.
Do away with any images of wild horseman brandishing rifles—those days are only around in Hollywood movies. The Bedouin tribes in Morocco are very peaceful and friendly.
As you visit around Merzouga and Erfoud, notice the Bedouin tribes that you may pass by or visit with. Many of the Arabs and Berbers in the tribes live in exactly the same way as they have for centuries and still follow the traditions of their culture. Do away with any images of wild horseman brandishing rifles—those days are only around in Hollywood movies. The Bedouin tribes in Morocco are very peaceful and friendly, and have traditions of hospitality. If you fear being treated differently because you are an American, sweep it away! Hospitality in Morocco has been a long tradition, and here’s a piece of trivia for you: Morocco was the first nation to officially recognize the United States as an independent country.
The desert is often flat and appearing barren with many small rocks. The conventional image of rolling sand dunes does exist, but further out. Merzouga is the best destination to see actual giant sand dunes. It is here, in the area of a Morocco map, where the most towering walls of sand can be seen in all of Morocco. Here the Sahara exceeds every single hope and expectation. The sheer size of the sand dunes is a very humbling experience for many travelers. A full moon over the desert night is brilliant, as well as sunrises and sunsets, both of which are famous in the Sahara because of their magnificence.
Merzouga is best described as an oasis area. This is one of the few areas in the desert where water can be found via wells—making it an obvious choice for a settlement. If you want an “odd” sight, there is a lake further south called Dayet Sriji. While it is very low, and very salty (as most desert lakes are), many individuals are still surprised to see a lake that is in the Sahara, and the abundance of bird life there, including flamingos.
Erfoud may not be the typical tourist destination on a normal tour in Morocco, but that just makes it all the more attractive to those trekkers who like to go off the beaten path. The town of Erfoud inherits its appearance and rise in population from the time of French colonization. The French didn’t believe they could fully defeat the proud and independent Berber people, many of whom make up the remaining Bedouin nomads, but by having a strong military presence in the south, they believed the show of power would be enough to allow a “live and let live” philosophy that would allow them to govern the rest of the colony effectively Erfoud is used to the off-the-beaten path tourist in Morocco: the hikers, trekkers, and explorers. The town works as a good base camp for several popular explorations, from the local Ziz valley, to the Merzouga sand dunes that are a must see in any Morocco tour of the Sahara, to many other local itineraries.
Many travelers find the Sahara too beckoning to resist, and why not? There are few areas that can claim to be the biggest or best in the world. From Erfoud the greatest of the Saharan sand dunes in Merzouga are only a stone’s throw away.
Morocco is well known for many things: Incredible scenery, old mountains, deserts, and ancient but modern cities all top the list. But did you know that Morocco hosts one of the most demanding foot races in the world? The Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands) is held every spring in the southern Moroccan desert, part of the region where many tourists take a Sahara Desert tour in Morocco. Runners and walkers gather together in Ouarzazate to be taken to the start of what could be called an extreme foot race or ultra-marathon. (more…)
Most people do not realize that the Sahara Desert is not just sand and rolling dunes. Only about twenty-five percent of the Sahara, which is about the size of the United States, is sand. The rest of the Sahara is volcanic hills, gravel plains, rock formations, and some scraggly vegetation. It is the home, surprisingly enough, of over 300 bird species and animals including mongooses, snakes, jackals, deer, hares, foxes, and baboons. It is also wonderful to explore on camel and enjoy sleeping beneath the open sky. (more…)
MHamid brings a quieter pace of life to Morocco. It is nestled in the Zagora region just past the Draa Valley and is one of the starting points of the famed Sahara desert. Although travel to this small town is an adventure in itself, many tourists still make the trip. This is due in large part to the picturesque views that are afforded by the Sahara desert and surrounding High Atlas Mountains ranges. Vibrant Marrakech is approximately seven to eight hours of travel time from this small secluded area. (more…)
Any exploration of Morocco wouldn’t be complete without including a visit to one of the the fabulous ergs (a classic sand dune desert). Just the place to enjoy such a sight is near the town of Merzouga, a place called Erg Chebbi in the Sahara. This part of the Sahara is said to have some of the highest dunes in Morocco. Join a tour and see the 150 meter high mountains of sand. They are not the world’s highest hills, but they are the place to see some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets anywhere. Guides will take you to the best locations, fix traditional dinners and show you which dunes are best for viewing the sky. (more…)
An adventurous expedition to the majestic Sahara Desert begins with a trip back in time to ancient villages and towns that lie in the heart of Morocco. These villages and town contain authentic Berber castles and historic Foreign Legion outposts that now sit vacant. Roadways twist and turn, connecting each small village to the next. These roadways carry travelers from scenery of village life to the breathtaking Sahara Desert and back again. (more…)
Located on the Ziz River, it is different than most Moroccan villages. It does not have century-old buildings, but was instead built in the early 1900s by the French as an administrative headquarters. Buildings are made of red sand of the area mixed with lime. The settlement with its high walls and tightly packed houses were constructed as protection from the marauding nomadic tribes.
Erfoud has the usual winding streets and alleyways. Near Erfoud are large palm groves that have been used by travelers for respite. Not far away is the desert and sand dunes of Merzouga. Erfoud has a flourishing marble industry. Marble from this area is red, brown and black.
Written by: Carole Morris