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.

Depending on what time of year, the desert may be extremely hot. Even though there hasn’t been a measurable rain in the Erg Chebbi area since 1995, there is still plenty of water for the oasis. Snow melt and runoff from the High Atlas Mountains in the spring causes lakes to form near Merzouga.

Dayet Srji salt lake glimmers on the horizon of the inhospitable landscape. Bird watching tours in the area become very popular. Many rare birds stop off to rest on their migrations to Europe and Asia. A bird not so rare, pink flamingoes are another well known springtime visitor. Even though the water dries up as summer temperatures climb, Erg Chebbi still has an impressive population of birds, desert reptiles and mammals year round.

Exploring the desert is one of the must-sees of a lifetime. Morocco camel tours and guides can be scheduled for a few hours to a multiple days. Camping in the dunes gives you a chance to see the night sky in the dark of the desert. Experiencing the stellar show, you’ll see shooting and falling starts, planets and passing satellites. Stars seemingly hang in 3 dimensional bowls without city light pollution to drown them out.

Spending the nights in tents gives you an up-close and personal experience with silence. Outfitters can be found that will provide camels and all the equipment to make a trek over the dunes one you will never forget. If camels are not your chosen mode of travel, try exploring by sand buggy or 4 x 4 vehicles. Hiring a guide will insure a good trip. You can best do this by using a Morocco tour operator for your desert Morocco holiday. It’s quite easy to get turned around when all you can see is sand and find yourself lost. Moreover, sand storms can last for days. Locals seemingly know how to predict when and how long such natural cataclysms occur.

One can find various ways in which to play in the sand. Climbing the dunes can be a fun challenge. Some consider it an art. Dunes are permanent structures made of soft, often blowing sand. It will seem as though you are taking two steps forward while taking one back. Even when you make it to the top, you are walking with your feet slipping down. You might even find yourself slipping backwards–All part of the fun.

Or, climb to the top of the dunes, strap on skis and come slushing down. Nope, no snow but sand skiing is just as much fun as dune boarding in Morocco. Climb back up and do it all again. You can find outfitters to provide all the equipment needed. Sand gets into everything fills your shoes, gets into your clothes and teeth. But that is part of the excitement of being in the Sahara Desert. You’ll remember it for weeks to come.

Merzouga and nearby Hassi Lybed have hotels, though room availability might be in question during the busy tourist season. Joining a Morocco customized tour will insure that all this is taken care of. If you are on your own, you may need to haggle over the prices. Restaurants are found in both places. You can even eat camel, if you find yourself wanting to repay the animal over sore under-parts.

Visits to local Berber homes can also be included. You can see how they live, watch homemade bread being baked and see how the local food is prepared. Some of them offer rooms and will serve meals with the family, often called gites. Drinking tea with the locals is a must.

by Carole Morris