Planning a trip to the Merzouga Desert: 9 Fun Things to Do in Morocco’s Erg Chebbi
This article tells you everything you need to know about Merzouga and the Sahara desert in Morocco if you want to go there. You’ll find information on how to get to the desert village of Merzouga and where to stay, as well as free things to do and cheap things to do, like a trip to the desert and staying in a luxury camp in Erg Chebbi, Morocco.
Who hasn’t dreamed of sleeping between two sand dunes in the Sahara and looking up at the stars?
I’ve always been fascinated by deserts, and when I was young, I used to imagine myself riding camels through the sand dunes of some faraway country. I had a dream of sleeping in the desert under the stars and drinking tea by a campfire.
Merzouga, in the south of Morocco, was the best place for me to make all of these dreams come true. It is a small town in Morocco’s Sahara desert, not too far from the border with Algeria. It is called the entrance to Erg Chebbi, a large area of sand dunes south of town.
Merzouga is such a famous place to visit in Morocco that it is thought to be one of the best places to go.
Erg Chebbi, Merzouga
I went there five years ago, and this year I couldn’t help but go back to this cute little village. I set up my tent in the desert, got lost in the sand dunes, drank a lot of tea, and saw more camels than I could have imagined.
The best part is that it was easy to get there and I didn’t have to spend a lot of money to do all of these things. This is the place to go if you want to see the beauty of the Sahara desert without spending a lot of money.
I wrote this guide to help you plan your trip to Merzouga desert village. It tells you everything you need to know to make the most of your time in the Sahara desert.
The best time to go to Merzouga is in the spring, between March and May, or in the fall, between September and November.
During these times, it’s not too hot, so you can enjoy your time in the desert much more. In the summer, the highest temperature is 40°C (104°F), and at night, it rarely drops below 26.7°C (80°F).
No matter when you go to Merzouga, you should always cover your head to keep from getting sunstroke. Sunscreen is very important.
Putting on a wide-brimmed hat or a bandana could be a good idea. Light-colored long-sleeved shirts and pants are good to wear in the desert so that you don’t lose a lot of water through sweat.
Make sure to drink a lot of water every time you go to the desert. As a general rule, you should drink at least a gallon of water every day, and you should drink twice as much if you are going on long walks.
No matter what time of year you go to this village (though I wouldn’t suggest summer because it’s too hot), you’ll always find fun things to do.
Here’s a short list of some really fun things you can do in Merzouga, whether you’re on a tight budget like us or you like to travel in style. Merzouga is a great place to do many free things, so I really think you should start with these.
Things to do in ERG CHEBBI and MERZOUGA that are free
1. Go camping in the Merzouga Desert for the night.
From my point of view, this is one of the best free things to do in Merzouga. A lot of people think of camping as hiking through a lush forest, maybe to a clear alpine lake or to the edge of a fast-moving river.
People often think of the desert as a big, dry place where they would never set up a tent. Even though it’s true that the desert can be very unfriendly, that’s not the whole story.
From the side of my tent in the desert of Merzouga, I saw some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. It was quite a sight to watch the sun slowly go down behind the dunes as it painted warm colors on the dry landscape.
Dawn in the desert is also a beautiful sight, as the first rays of the sun start to warm up the air and take away the chill of the night.
Camping in this Moroccan desert is a lot of fun, but you do need to plan ahead. Make sure you have a good tent, a thick floor mattress (desert sand gets as cold as ice at night), and a warm sleeping bag.
The temperature drops quickly at night in the desert, so if you want to sleep well, it’s important to wear layers that keep you warm.
2. Walk to the top of ERG CHEBBI’s tallest dune.
Erg Chebbi is the name of the desert near Merzouga. South of Merzouga, there is a big area full of sand dunes.
One sand dune stands out among the others that can be seen from the village. It is much taller than the rest of the desert, and it looks like a huge sand mountain.
From the middle of town, it takes about an hour to get to the top of this dune. Be aware that it’s not easy to climb in the sand, so bring a lot of water and don’t go there at noon.
Right before sunset is the best time to go. From the top of this dune, you can see the sun slowly set over the horizon. It’s a beautiful sight that makes the long, hard climb worth it.
If you go at that time, you should bring a blanket with you because the temperature will drop quickly as soon as the sun goes down.
3. STOP IN THE SAHARA DESERT AND LOOK AT THE STARS
There is no better place than the desert to look up at the stars.
Merzouga is a small town, so the sand dunes around it don’t get much light pollution. This makes it a great place to look at the stars.
I couldn’t believe how clear the milky way was above us and how bright and big the stars looked. It was a really soothing experience to see millions of lights above us in all directions and the best part is that it was completely free.
If you want to look at the stars through the lens and optics of a powerful telescope in Merzouga, there is a company that can help you do that!!
Morocco Desert Stargazing is a company that plans awesome trips to the desert where you can use their telescopes to look at the stars.
4. SEE CAMELS AND FLAMINGOS AT MERZOUGA’S SALT LAKE
As we were hitchhiking to Merzouga, a few Moroccan drivers told us that we could see flamingos near this southern village. Where are the flamingos? I didn’t think what I was hearing was true.
I thought it would be impossible for such a dry place to have a lake and birds. But we found the lake, which was surrounded by groups of camels that were cooling off in the water.
Dayet Srji is the name of the lake, and it is west of Merzouga. It’s easy to get to on foot, and it takes about 45 minutes to walk from the village to get there.
During the summer, the lake is often dry, but when it’s full (usually in the winter), it attracts all kinds of migratory and desert birds, including flamingos (which we didn’t see).
Dayet Srji is also a great place to watch the sun go down, and many Moroccan families have picnics with their loved ones on the lake’s shores in the winter.
Cheap Things to Do in Merzouga
Merzouga has a lot of cheap things to do, in addition to the free things you can do on your own. Most budget travelers will love these activities.
We promise you won’t run out of fun things to do in this desert village. You can sandboard between the dunes or take a 4×4 ride through the desert.
5. Take a camel ride at sunset in the Sahara Desert
In Merzouga, there are many places that offer camel rides all day long, and they are usually not too expensive.
This is a great chance for travelers who are interested in the ancient African camel caravans to live like nomads for a few hours.
These hikes can be done any time of day, but the best time is at sunset. Costs aren’t too high for short camel rides to the desert that don’t include spending the night in a luxury camp.
They start at about 17 USD per person for two hours with a private guide.
Most of these local businesses have websites where you can compare prices and read customer reviews:
These short camel rides can also be very romantic, so they are a great thing to do if you are traveling with your significant other.
6. GO SANDBOARDING IN THE DESERT
Try sandboarding if you want to see the desert in a more “alternative” way that will get you covered in sand. At first glance, this seems like something that could be dangerous, but it’s actually very safe.
Erg Chebbi in Merzouga has very soft sand dunes, so you don’t have to worry about falling down. This is also a fun thing to do with kids, but make sure to wear goggles so you don’t get sand in your eyes.
Imagine the thrill of sliding down a dune at full speed while standing on a board. This is what we did with other travelers staying at our hostel in Merzouga, and it was such a great day.
Near the entrance to the desert, there are some tents where you can rent boards for the day for 100 MAD. You can also rent sandboards for 50 MAD per day from a store on the main street in town, right next to the mosque.
Tip: Ask other travelers at your hostel if they want to join. This is a great thing to do with friends.
Another recommendation is to go “sand balling” in the desert:
7. HAVE A FUN 4×4 RIDE IN ERG CHEBBI
Although this activity is not as traditional as riding a camel through the dunes, nothing beats the feeling of zooming up and down through the desert in an off-road vehicle.
The guides in Merzouga are all pretty young, but don’t be fooled by how young they look. All of these guys are very experienced guides who know the desert inside and out.
You can take a short 2-hour trip in a 4×4 or a full-day trip with a private guide to nearby Berber villages and then to the dunes.
This day trip is a great choice because you can learn about traditional Berber music and dance, try out some of their instruments, and learn how to play your own desert music!
You’ll also have lunch in the tent of a Berber family. You’ll learn how they live in their tents with their goats, sheep, and working donkeys, as well as how to make a Berber pizza over a fire.
8. HEAR CLASSIC GNAWA MUSIC IN KHAMLIA
The Gnawa are a group of people who live in Morocco. Their traditional music is some of the most beautiful you will hear there.
The ancestors of the Gnawa people were taken as slaves from Central and West Africa through the Sahara desert and into the southeastern part of Morocco.
Khamlia is a village where you can learn about this way of life. Just 7 km south of Merzouga, you can find it. The town itself is pretty small, with only 390 Gnawa and Berber people living there. The Erg Chebbi dunes are right next to the town of Khamlia.
You can take a shared taxi to the village or drive there if you have your own car. In Khamlia, there are two Gnawa musical groups that play music for tourists.
The Bambara are one of the two groups, and the Pigeon des Sables are the other. You can go whenever you want and don’t have to make a reservation ahead of time. They have signs advertising their business by the side of the road, and they will play for you even if you are by yourself.
Even though they don’t ask for money, it’s a nice gesture to give them some if you liked the music. You can also buy a CD to support them and help them keep sharing their culture with the world.
9. Reserve a trip to a luxury desert camp in Merzouga
You might want to go on a luxury desert tour instead, where you ride a camel to a beautiful camp in the desert and spend the night there. There are a lot of companies like Sahara Holiday Tours that offer these kinds of trips.
Here are some of the most popular luxury desert camp tours in Merzouga: