Merzouga Village – A Must-Visit on Your trip in Sahara desert, Morocco.
Merzouga Village in Morocco is an essential part of any solo journey in Morocco. I will share our travel experience in the part of the Sahara located in Morocco.
Merzouga, Morocco, is known for being on the edge of the Sahara Desert, specifically at one of the two largest ergs (sand dunes) in the Sahara – Erg Chebbi. The second erg is called Erg Chigaga and is also located within Morocco’s territory.
Before diving into the details, let’s clarify some terminology, both for your understanding and as a reminder for myself. A desert isn’t just all sand; it can also have rocky terrain, for example. An “erg” refers to the part of the desert covered with sand and sand dunes.
So, the southern edge of Erg Chebbi is situated right next to Merzouga Village. Thanks to the desert, the village has gained fame, and local Berbers have the opportunity to earn a living by offering camel rides, jeep tours, and quad biking experiences to tourists.
The sand dunes here can reach a height of up to 180 meters, and witnessing the sunrise in the desert is considered one of the most breathtaking experiences during a trip to Morocco.
The sand in the Erg Chebbi area is in constant motion. Beyond the erg, the desert has a less appealing, semi-barren, rocky appearance.
By the way, the border with Algeria is nearby. On our way back from the desert, we made a slight detour and ended up at one of the checkpoints. It didn’t cause significant issues, but be attentive.
Merzouga – General Information
Let’s get back to Merzouga Village. It stretches along Erg Chebbi, with a small central area that includes a few cafes and restaurants. The population of the village is only around 500 people. Most of the houses were built in the 1980s. The village relies entirely on tourism. I can’t say the locals have become significantly wealthier, but there is some infrastructure and decent accommodation available.
Merzouga is the perfect place to explore the desert. Organizing activities is straightforward. Just ask your accommodation host about what they can offer in terms of experiences.
In most cases, you won’t even need to ask. As soon as you unpack your bags, you’ll likely be greeted with aromatic tea and a map of the area. The host of your riad, hotel, or any other lodging will speak fairly decent English and explain what they can arrange for you.
The typical program usually includes a sunrise desert encounter with a night at a Bedouin camp or an early morning departure for a Sahara jeep safari. We also took a trip with our hotel host to a flamingo-filled lake.
Getting to Merzouga
First, let’s figure out how to reach the gates of the Sahara Desert, specifically Merzouga Village.
We traveled by car from Marrakech, with stops in the Dadès Gorge and the city of Ouarzazate, famous for some “Game of Thrones” filming locations. You can replicate our route, as I detailed it day by day, including all locations and overnight stays.
We rented a car on Rentalcars – the price was reasonable, lower than in Europe, and the car handled well in both mountainous and urban areas. Moroccan roads have excellent asphalt, even the secondary ones. A regular passenger car was sufficient for our needs.
The distance from Marrakech to Merzouga is 560 km, and the travel time is about 10 hours. It’s advisable to plan an overnight stay in Ouarzazate.
If you don’t drive, and if there are no other reasons to avoid renting a car, I highly recommend it. Alternatively, you can book a transfer at an agency in Marrakech, or even better, purchase a tour in advance on GetYourGuide.
Traveling from Marrakech to Merzouga is an adventure in itself and offers an excellent experience. After the Atlas Mountains, which are lush with greenery, the landscape becomes increasingly dry and desert-like.
A must-do program in Merzouga includes camel riding, an evening by the campfire, and spending the night in a Berber tent, as well as a jeep safari in the desert.
In Merzouga, right on the edge of Erg Chebbi in the Sahara Desert, there are many hotels offering excellent accommodations. For instance, Kasbah Azalay is a hotel with a pool and a prime location right on the edge of the sand dunes.
Things to Do in Merzouga
I’ve already listed the main activities that are a must in Merzouga. Let me go into more detail about our experiences and share information about the weather and clothing you’ll need in the desert.
Camel Riding and Sunrise Watching
We had planned to spend two nights in Merzouga. We didn’t have a strict itinerary. All we knew was that evenings and sunrises in the Sahara are incredibly beautiful.
Since the drive to Merzouga was eventful, we arrived closer to evening, just a few minutes before sunset. All we managed to do was have tea with the host of our guesthouse and plan the next day.
Local activities are quite affordable, and after a 30-minute chat and a plan in our heads, we comfortably went to the rooftop to stargaze. I must tell you that the Sahara offers a night sky unlike any other, perhaps the best we’ve ever seen.
In the morning, a magnificent sunrise awaited us.
To catch the sunrise, you have two options. First, you can go to a camp with Berbers, spend the night there, and witness the sunrise. Second, you can rise early, around 5 AM, and take a camel ride to the most beautiful dune to watch the sunrise from its peak.
It’s crucial to note that in January and February, the early morning temperatures in the Sahara can drop to almost freezing. Besides your camera or a good smartphone, warm clothing is a must. A fleece jacket, windbreaker, and sneakers are essential, and it’s crucial that they are warm; otherwise, your memories of the sunrise will be completely different.
During the day, it gets warmer, and by noon, the temperature rises to a comfortable 20-25°C. These are the temperature swings you can expect in Africa.
About an hour later, we reached a tall dune, about a hundred meters high, or maybe even more. We let the camels rest and began the ascent.
The sand in the Sahara is reddish, and at sunrise, it changes color ten times from pale yellow to bright red. The same transformation happens at sunset, and you can add the play of shadows to the spectacle. There’s no one else around. After about an hour following sunrise, tourists start appearing on the dune’s crest, and that too is a breathtaking sight through a telephoto lens.
In general, the panorama of that sunrise adorns one of the walls at my cottage, and it’s the best thing we’ve ever seen in our lives.
We are avid road-trippers, and passing up the opportunity to explore the desert in a local, owner-operated jeep was out of the question. The jeep was local, authentic, and void of any tourists. We made arrangements with the owner, hopped in, and off we went.
I never imagined that you could travel through the desert so swiftly. It was an exhilarating experience and a stark contrast to camel rides.
When the jeep accelerates to a good speed and ascends to the top of a dune, then rushes down at an angle of 45-50 degrees, you recall everything and everyone, and a sense of pure delight overwhelms you.
If you find yourself in the Sahara, make sure to include this in your itinerary. It offers an incredible contrast to a camel ride, providing unforgettable sensations.
During the safari, we stopped by a Berber settlement, where we got a glimpse of their way of life, sipped tea, and bought some souvenirs to support the indigenous people of the desert.
Trip to See Flamingos
Not far from Merzouga, there’s a lake where flamingos spend the winter. We headed there with the owner of our hotel, who also recommended the visit. Unfortunately, we weren’t very lucky; the flamingos are wary of humans and clustered at the far end of the lake. Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile addition to your program if you have the time and want to diversify your experience. I can recommend it.
In Cyprus, at the salt lake in Larnaca, flamingos come much closer, and you can observe them from just a few meters away. But at least we’ve now seen flamingos on two continents.
Where to Stay in Merzouga
Along the edge of Erg Chebbi in Merzouga Village, there are over four hundred hotels, guesthouses, and camps. We initially planned for a two-night stay here because we’re not fans of rushing. I know people who opted for one night and then decided to stay an extra night because they enjoyed it so much. We spent almost a month in Morocco, and there was no need to hurry.
You can stay at Kasbah Azalay, a desert hotel with a pool and panoramic views of the Sahara. You’ll feel comfortable here for sure.
We chose the simpler Mari Desert Camp, which had an excellent location, a very reasonable price, and all the essentials for an overnight stay, including a wonderful breakfast.
Riad Chebbi is an excellent riad not far from the road and Erg Chebbi. We considered it as a backup option.
If you don’t like these three options, Merzouga and its surroundings offer plenty of fantastic places to stay to fit any budget, starting from $20 per night.
I recommend searching on Booking.com; Merzouga has a variety of accommodations to suit your preferences.
If you want to truly immerse yourself in the desert experience, I recommend staying in a Berber camp. They are budget-friendly, and you’ll get a genuine local experience.
An excellent camp is Erg Shebby, considered one of the best in Merzouga.
If you prefer luxury, choose Sahara Majestic Luxury Camp. They will pamper you like royalty. If we ever return to the Sahara, we’ll stay here.
You can’t even imagine the level of comfort you can find in a desert camp. Give it a try!
Cost of a Sahara Tour
Morocco, in general, and the Sahara, in particular, offer excellent value for money.
For example, for a night in a Berber tent, a delicious dinner and breakfast, and a camel ride, you’ll pay only $40-$45 per person.
The Sahara camps have all the amenities, including showers and toilets, clean bedding, and everything you’d expect from European hotels. So, there’s no need to worry about that.
Although there are also luxurious options. The choice is yours.
Excursions in Merzouga
If you don’t drive, don’t plan a road trip across the country, or have limited time in Morocco, you can reach Merzouga from Marrakech and Fes. To do this, you can purchase an excursion.
You can buy a tour with a night in the Sahara at street agencies, your hotel or riad, or order it online on the GetYourGuide website and not worry about the quality. The content of most excursions is quite similar; the difference may lie in the comfort of accommodation and transportation or the size of the group.