It is said that in legend that a wealthy family had once refused hospitality to a poor woman and her son. God was angered by this, and buried them under the sand of Erg Chebbi, thus creating the dunes rising out of the landscape.
Where Is It Located?
Merzouga lies about 50 k from the border with Algeria; about 50 k from Erfoud, and about 35 k southeast of Risanni. Merzouga is known for its friendly and welcoming Berbers who make up most of the population of the village.
Many visitors go to Merzouga because it is close to Erg Chebbi. Erg Chebbi is a large area of incredible sand dunes: this area stretches for 50 k and is about 5 k wide. An erg is a large broad area of flat desert with dunes and little or no vegetation. An erg is an Arabic word that means “dune field.”
What to Do
The biggest draw to Merzouga is the unmatched desert experience it offers. Since it is located on the edge of the Sahara, Merzouga is the perfect village to stay in while you enjoy the beauty and nature of the desert.
The most popular thing to do in Merzouga is visiting Erg Chebbi. The dunes rise dramatically out of the sand, up to 150 metres. The Grand Dune de Merzouga is the closest to the village and, aptly named, is one of the grandest spectacles. It is the highest dune and is well-recognized by the tamarisk tree landmark at its base. For many, these dunes are the quintessential desert experience. But, to see the pristine, wind-blown sand without a trace of footprints, you may have to book a camel tour and ride a bit further than the crowds.
The best time to visit Erg Chebbi is during sunrise or sunset. The golden dunes and the dancing colours of the sun along the sand is truly magical. Riding along the back of a camel, these dunes make you feel like you’ve been transported into a movie, or back in time to many years ago. It is certainly a surreal experience that is popular among travelers to Merzouga.
Another popular activity is visiting the Dayet Srji salt lake, just west of the village. In the spring the salt lake sees many species of birds flocking here—flamingos, desert warbler, Egyptian nightjar, falcons, and desert sparrows. Some can be seen year round, and there are always lizards, snakes, hedgehogs, and even desert foxes to be spotted.
Many adventurers like to camp out in desert settlements around Merzouga. A camel tour can be arranged where travelers ride in the day before spending the night in one of these settlements, listening to music, a crackling fire, and the sounds of the desert while enjoying traditional food.
Out in the expansive desert, there are companies where you can book tours or rent quads, 4×4’s, and ATVs for some seriously adrenaline-pumping off road driving.
Within the village of Merzouga, one can enjoy peaceful village life and traditional comforts. As most of the action takes place outside Merzouga, the village is a nice place to relax and immerse yourself in traditional Moroccan culture. Take in the art and music at the locally-owned Galerie Laoun, where you can break from the outdoors with tea and conversation. There are beautiful Berber and African art pieces to enjoy here.
There are a few small shops here, but nothing like what you’ll find in the souks at the big cities like Marrakech and Tangier. This means there is less pressure from shopkeepers, though, and traditional items special to this region may be sought out by the avid shopper.
Where to Stay
Merzouga is a growing hub for adventure travelers wishing to explore the surrounding deserts. As such, there are excellent budget accommodations for travelers that are looking to spend the bulk of their money elsewhere in Merzouga. Many hotels also offer their own tours and treks into the desert, making it a great place to inquire about what kind of excursions you want to do while in Merzouga.
For something a bit more off-the-wall, you can stay right in the Erg Chebbi dunes at Ali & Sara’s Desert Palace. Lavish, comfortable tents are elevated with great, friendly service, evening entertainment, fresh local cuisine, and Western-style washrooms.
What to Eat
Many visitors choose to eat their meals at their accommodations. Other people are interested in exploring life in Merzouge including eating a meal at one of the restaurants scattered around the village.
Most restaurants serve traditional Berber and other Moroccan food. Haven La Chance Desert Hotel serves local Berber dishes; Restaurant Cafe Nora is an authentic family restaurant with views of the dunes; Cafe Restaurant Touga Chez la Famille is known for its Berber pizza and local music; and Restaurant Cafe Azul offers a vegetarian-friendly menu.
The only way to get around the village is on foot. The hotels are all close together and the streets are easy to walk. If you want to see and do things outside of Merzouga, it does require a different mode of transportation. You can rent cars, bigger vehicles, motorbikes, and 4×4’s to get you around the desert landscape. If you’re not comfortable driving, tours and taxis can take you around.
Best Time to Visit
When should you go to Merzouga to experience the village, the camel tours, and local culture? The winter months from November to February are a good time to visit. The nights are cool, but the sky is beautifully clear. Temperatures rarely exceed 10° C at this time of the year.
The climate begins to warm up during the spring months starting in April. Temperatures during the spring range between 25° and 30° in the afternoons. Nights are still cool during this time of the year. The summer months are very hot, so it’s best to visit Merzouga during the winter months between November and February.
Merzouga is the ideal place to go for desert tourism, so book a trip now before it becomes too well-known. You’ll be rewarded with truly authentic experiences and charming desert villages amongst the expansive golden sand dunes.
Don’t forget to add Merzouga to your itinerary around Morocco: Merzouga is incredible and you will be amazed!