Merzouga desert travel guide will help any individual who is planning to explore the mighty desert. A visit to the serene yet capricious Sahara Desert of Africa should be on your travel bucket list because the experience is unmatched.
The Sahara Desert Safari was the core of my trip to Morocco. The best and the most convenient way to enjoy the Sahara Desert is to travel to a desert town called Merzouga. This Merzouga desert travel guide will take you through all the information needed to plan a trip to the land of sand dunes.
Merzouga is a small town in south-eastern Morocco, and very close to the Algerian border. Accessing the Sahara Desert is easy as the town is on the edge of the desert. This town only has hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and makeshift houses for people who work here. The only thriving trade in Merzouga is travel and hospitality.
Merzouga Desert Travel Guide: An Overview
Backpacking to Morocco was one of the best decisions that I took. Travelling to the region taught me a lot about different cultures and travelling as a whole.
A trip to Morocco is incomplete without a glimpse of the Saharan desert. What follows will answer a thousand questions popping up in your head at the moment – When do I visit? How do I get there? Where do I stay?
|Desert Safari location
The Erg Chebbi dunes, near the town of Merzouga
|Best time to visit
Spring, fall and winter
By bus, taxi, a rental car, or with a small group tour
|Time taken to reach Merzouga
5 – 12 hours, depends on where you are arriving from
|Closest touristy town
|Price for desert safari
700 MAD approximately (Roughly 70 USD or 5000 INR)
|Where to purchase the desert safari deal?
Best to negotiate in Merzouga itself
Arabic, French, and sometimes English
Now that you have a brief overview of this exotic land, let’s dwell a little deeper into the details. Being informed will not only help you be safe but will also help you optimize your trip to Merzouga.
Merzouga Morocco Weather: Most Preferred Time to Visit
As you might already know, deserts are lands of extreme temperatures. One moment you’re burning in the scorching heat, and the next, you’re struggling to keep warm.
Merzouga’s weather to varies drastically. While some seasons are relatively pleasant, the rest make it almost impossible to visit.
Here’s an outline of what seasons and temperatures in Merzouga are like:
|Spring: February to May
This is the best time to visit Merzouga for a desert safari
Average Minimum Temperature: 10°C, Average Maximum Temperature: 20°C
|Summer: May to October
These months are extremely hot, and it would be highly advisable for you to avoid them. Temperatures often hit 44°C in the day, especially in the months of July and August.
Average Minimum Temperature: 27°C, Average Maximum Temperature: 39°C
|Fall: September to November
This is a good time to visit Merzouga.
Average Minimum Temperature: 15°C, Average Maximum Temperature: 28°C
|Winter: December to February
Winters in Merzouga are cold, with January being the coldest month of the year.
Average Minimum Temperature: 6°C, Average Maximum Temperature: 12°C
While sunbathing in the day can be heart-warming, nights in Merzouga show their true colours. Temperatures drop to close to 0°C, and icy-cold winds dominate the scene. If, however, you want to visit at a time with fewer crowds, winters are perfect. Simply carry warm clothing, and you’ll be all set to brave the cold.
So as per my Merzouga desert travel guide, the only time of the year that must be absolutely avoided in summer.
Merzouga Desert Travel Guide: Getting There
Based on your itinerary in Morocco, you might want to visit Merzouga from Marrakech, Tinghir or Fes. Fortunately, there are multiple ways of getting to the mighty desert. All of them have their own pros and cons, and after reading through the next section of this Merzouga desert travel guide, you can make a choice for yourself.
Time is taken to Reach Merzouga:
|From Marrakesh to Merzouga: 12-13 hours|
|From Tinerhir/Tinghir to Merzouga: 5-6 hours|
|From Fes to Merzouga: 9-10 hours|
Although you can more or less rely on these figures, the time taken will largely depend on multiple factors like the route taken, traffic, etc.
There are a number of ways in which you can reach Merzouga. Depending on what suits you best, you can pick any of the following.
Your choice would majorly depend on:
- Your budget
- Time in hand
- Desire for independence
- The preferred style of travel
Here’s what each one of them would roughly cost you (one way):
|Bus (Supratours or CTM)
200-250 MAD (20-25 USD)
Safe and convenient
|Shared or Private cab
60-100 MAD (6-10 USD)
Unreliable and uncomfortable
250-300 MAD (25-30 USD) for a week. This figure excludes fuel, maintenance and repair (if any) charges.
Bus Ride to Merzouga
Two major bus companies – Supratour and CMT operate in Morocco. I personally used them throughout my stint in Morocco and had close to no complaints.
Boarding a bus is a great choice if:
- You wish to travel by yourself and do not want to stick to a guide or tour operator’s plans.
- You’d want to take halts and explore places (viz. Aït Benhaddou and Dades Gorge) on the way.
- Your budget doesn’t match that of a rental car or taxi.
The bus journey is safe, comfortable and reliable. The only downside to it is the inconvenient booking process. While schedules can be viewed online, booking them is a task. Note that there might be websites offering to help you book. DO NOT blindly go for it. Most of them will charge heavy service fees, and might just be unreliable. Furthermore, several websites require a Moroccan bank account and card for payment.
Tip: Book your bus tickets at the bus stations in these cities a day in advance.
I personally travelled from Tinghir to Merzouga. When I checked at the bus station, they asked me to wait for the seat matrix that Supratour had to release, in order to book a ticket. To my relief, the staff at the bus station was extremely helpful. Finally, I got my ticket and hopped on to the bus going to wonderland.
Tips for a seamless bus journey:
|Go for night travel if you’re faced by a time crunch and a tight budget. Otherwise, you can choose a day journey as the terrain is fantastic.
If you go for the latter, try to book the front row seats, next to the driver. This will treat you to better and clearer views.
|Always keep a jacket handy. I always carry one of my favourite jackets. It helps in times that the air conditioning feels a little too strong.|
|Drink enough water and keep hydrated, but also be conscious. The stops are far and few and unfortunately, they stop at small towns. This often makes it uncomfortable for girls to simply walk out and use the washrooms.
Bigger cities are liberal, but in these towns, the scene is slightly different.
I can narrate an incident. When I was returning from Merzouga to Fes, the bus journey was for 9 hours. The bus stopped mid-way for refreshments and the nearest cafe was full of men drinking Moroccan tea. This is a very common sight in Morocco. Unfortunately, there was no woman around for me to feel comfortable to walk into that cafe to use the restroom. I had no option but to wait until I reached the hotel to relieve myself.
As a side note, I must say that restrooms at bus stations are very clean and tidy. So, make use of them before hopping on to the bus.
Shared or Private Cab
Personally, I would not suggest cabs, since drivers might not be willing to cover long distances. If you’re visiting or coming from Tinghir, you could do some asking around about cabs.
Travelling by cabs generally comes with a lot of changing and hassles. Additionally, nobody can take responsibility for your safety if you’re left looking for a cab at an isolated stretch. And lastly, while cabs might seem reasonable, the costs tend to add up.
Sahara Tour from Marrakech
While packages and group tours are generally more expensive than independent travel, this might not always be the case in Morocco. Opting for one of these tours will take you from Marrakech to Merzouga hassle-free. You will also have the opportunity to stop by at beautiful locations on the way, and to meet fellow travellers.
Lastly, you will not have to worry about comparing, bargaining and finally settling for accommodation that you think is best.
A number of companies in Morocco offer tours of the kind, thus bringing down prices. Simply ask a local, or search on Google.
DIY Merzouga: Rental Cars
If you love driving, and especially love driving in different terrains, you wouldn’t even want to consider bus, cabs or tours. Fortunately, the roads that take you to Merzouga are absolutely stunning. They are free from potholes, traffic, and crowds.
In case this is an option you’re considering, keep in mind the following:
This would depend on the car, where you hire from, and which month you hire in. However, expect to pay roughly 250-300 MAD for a week or so. Fuel would be additional.
Carry a guidebook that contains a list of places to see, a map, and other recommendations.
Make sure you have an app for translations on your phone. This will come in handy in case you need to interact with people that don’t speak your language. Remember that you’re going to be by yourself – there won’t be a guide or a driver to help you with directions.
Always keep a basic tool kit in the car. Make sure you can look into basic repairs.
In case your car breaks down or has a flat tire, locals will be more than willing to help you out. Fortunately, they take pride in such acts. If it’s a remote location, someone or the other WILL eventually turn up. Yes, it’s almost magical. Simply be patient, and hopeful.
So, you could opt for car rental if your driving skills, patience, and budget allow it.
Merzouga Desert Travel Guide for Booking a Safari
Throughout your time in Morocco, you’re going to see thousands of tour guides, companies and hotels selling desert safaris in Merzouga. Whom do you approach? How do you know which one’s legitimate? What’s a fair price to pay for a safari? It can certainly get confusing. To help you here, I have offered my insights into how to book a desert safari for Merzouga.
NEVER buy deals from Marrakech or from any other city, in that case. There will be hardly any scope for bargaining. The best way to finalize on a deal is to do so in Merzouga itself.
First things first, check with your hotel at Merzouga as soon as you get there. Also, always check for reviews from previous travelers before booking. While I was there, I met a couple from Spain who had booked a Merzzouga safari package online. This included an overnight stay, trek and two meals. They seemed quite happy with it.
Here’s what I did:
I asked my hotel owner for the price and he quoted around 700 MAD (70 USD or 5000 INR) per head. As per the little research I had done, this seemed expensive. So, I excused myself and spoke to other desert safari organizers in town. Unfortunately, either their prices were higher or the timings did not match my schedule. Irrespective, always make sure you compare before settling.
Thus, I went back and tried my hand at negotiating with my hotel owner. Tip: Always bargain in Morocco. Eventually, we settled for 660 MAD (4780 INR).
Yes, the margin is very less but it’s still worth a try.
Note: Desert safaris differ in terms of the activities involved, accommodation, duration, etc. Make sure you keep all these factors in mind and analyse what exactly you want.
Merzouga Desert Travel Guide for a Comfortable Stay in Merzouga
Since Merzouga is visited by travellers from all across the world, hotels have flocked in abundance. Of course, they all vary in terms of luxury, services offered, and tariffs.
Following are a few recommended options for accommodation, as per my Merzouga desert travel guide:
In case you want to experience true local life, consider spending a night in one of the home-stays in Merzouga. You will definitely come in close contact with the local culture and local life during your desert safari tour, but staying at one of the Berbers’ homes would be different altogether.
One of the options you could check out is “Chez Les Habitants.”
Know Your Hosts Before Your Merzouga Desert Tour
Most people living in the eastern desert or mountainous regions of Morocco are Berbers, a nomadic tribe from North Africa. They speak Tamazight – a standard for all Berberian languages combined. Most of them, however, speak Arabic, French and sometimes, English. This is generally the case in tourist locations like Merzouga, where the Berbers need to cater to the incoming tourists.
In their community, hospitality is taken seriously. What’s most noteworthy is their humility and passion for service. I was so impressed, that I simply can’t mention them in this Merzouga desert travel guide.
Following are a few facts you’d want to know about the Berbers before you make it to their homes:
|Religion – Most Berbers belong to the Muslim Community.|
|Art – Art amongst the Berbers often includes utilitarian objects like carpets, pots, bowls, and jewellery.|
|Music – They take their music seriously. Hopefully, you’ll be treated to a session of Berberian music and dance while you’re camping in the Erg Chebbi.|
|Cuisine – Berberian food is characterized by tagine, couscous, pastille, and lots of bread.|
|Tea – The Berbers love serving you Moroccan mint tea. It’s a treat, especially when temperatures drop once the sun goes down.|
Morocco Desert Tour: Travel Essentials
Irrespective of what month of the year you travel in, the following items MUST be part of your backpacks when you visit Merzouga desert.
|Sunglasses and Cap
Clothes that can be worn in Layers
First Aid Kit
Merzouga Desert Travel Guide: Dressing Up
While you might want to pose for photographs and look all hep, remember that it is important to dress comfortably in Merzouga. Dress functionally. Do not underestimate the desert, and do everything in your capacity to ease the trip.
Wear loose-fitting, comfortable pants or trousers that ideally have lots of pockets. Next, always cover your face with a stole when you’re in the desert. No matter how calm the desert looks, the winds and the sun can take a toll on your skin. There is no harm in practising extra caution.
Women, DO NOT wear thongs if you have plans of riding on a camel.
Also, make sure you wear comfortable shoes or boots. Wearing sandals during the safari might not be a great idea, because the sand could either be too hot or too cold. Additionally, you do not want creepy insects crawling into your pants.
Lastly, do not underestimate the temperature drop in the desert post-sunset. It’s pretty cold, especially for those that aren’t used to these temperatures. While your host will give you a blanket, it is advised you carry sufficient warm clothes yourself.
If you really want to take your dressing to the next level, purchase some of the local accessories in the market. Dark blue or red cotton cloth turbans are widely sold in Merzouga. They cost barely 25-30 MAD. The Berbers will help you out with turbans, and it might be cool to get into their skins just for a day.
Merzouga Desert Travel Guide for Riding a Camel Like A Pro
For a lot of you, this will be your first time riding on a camel.
At first, you will be introduced to your guides. The first greeting to exchange is Marhaba, meaning hello in Arabic.
Generally, the journey begins around 4 pm when the sun is not too harsh. The perspective of the desert and the horizon from the camel’s hump is almost unreal. The sand dunes look invincible and shine bright orange under the sun. As the sun starts to set, there is a different glow to the desert altogether.
The trail of camels walking one behind the other is beautiful. You will finally be witnessing for real, what you have only seen photographs of on Instagram.
You will make it back to the camp before it gets dark. Watch the sun go down while enjoying a cup of hot mint tea.
Tips for a pain-free camel ride
|Stick to the dressing tips mentioned above – comfortable clothing, shoes, a cap, sunglasses, and for women, no thongs.
P.S: Wear colourful clothes if you want to stand out in the desert.
|Drink lots and lots of water.|
|While descending, hold on real tight. You might feel like you’re falling, but you won’t. Really. Simply make sure you have a good grip.|
|Carry a strip of paracetamol. Your body might just hurt a little after the ride. It’s nothing to worry about – we’re just not used to those kinds of postures.|
Follow these basic tips, and you won’t go through post-camel-ride-trauma.
Sahara Desert Tour: It Isn’t All About Camels
The desert safari is not just limited to a camel ride and a night spent at the campsite.
You could try your hand at sandboarding on the dunes of Sahara. This is a sport similar to snowboarding, except that it’s on the sand. I tried it, and I was thrilled.
Although your host might have a sand-board at the campsite, it is better to ask in advance. The Berbers are so hospitable that in case they don’t own one, they’ll get it arranged for you.
While in Merzouga
If you are interested in dune bashing, you can request for a 4×4 desert safari. You need to book this in Merzouga itself. There is also quad biking available. You can rent one for a specific time frame and conquer the sand dunes under supervision.
Merzouga Desert Camp: Knowing the Layout
Here’s a rough idea of what your campsite would look like and what to expect.
Your camp would be in a low-lying plain surface surrounded by sand dunes. At night, these very dunes act as barriers against strong winds.
There is a separate kitchen where your host will cook food. Restrooms at the campsite are clean, well-equipped and ‘modern’ enough. However, be conscious of the amount of water being used. Tip: Carry a hand sanitizer.
Back in the tents, beds are comfortable and are laid out on a metal cot. Thick blankets to keep you warm at night, are provided to sleep.
Tip: As mentioned before, I really cannot assure how frequently they are washed. So, as per my Merzouga desert travel guide, carry your own sleeping bag the way I did.
The commonplace in the campsite is decorated with the finest Berber rugs. The seating arrangement is such that there are a long table and cots around it. Tea and dinner are served on this low-height table, and it is here that you will get to mingle around with locals and other travellers.
Merzouga Desert Travel Guide for Eating in Merzouga
After washrooms, the next concern generally is the food. But don’t worry. At the Berbers’, you will eat well.
You will be dining on sumptuous meals of chicken and potato cooked in a tajine, an earthenware pot typically used to cook in North Africa. Generous amounts of rice and bread are served.
There are olives served on the table to pick and eat. Not to forget, streams of Moroccan mint tea always mark the table. It’s almost like a food festival in the middle of nowhere.
Lastly, the alcohol scene in Merzouga is dicey. You won’t find a single shop selling liquor and most locals look down upon it. So, my Merzouga desert travel guide would suggest you to avoid drinking for the time that you’re there.
Music and Dance in the Merzouga Desert
Make sure you opt for a desert safari tour that includes music and dance in it. Although most deals would come with it, do check in advance.
Everybody gathers around the campfire to experience traditional folk songs and dance. On request, the musicians also let you try your hand at their instruments.
It feels like a party – Moroccan style, in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
Furthermore, try to indulge in a conversation with the Berbers. It is certainly eye-opening to get to know about their lifestyle. I was pleased to know that a lot them are still unspoiled from technology, and completely depend on their cattle for survival. Income from the desert safari is often just an additional income.
The Star-Studded Night Sky
At around 12 am, they call it a day, after which you’re left by yourself. I was sure about what I wanted to do. I went about 10 meters away from the camp and scaled the nearest sand dune. The only source of light was the campfire which was almost dead by then.
You might want to lie on the sand dune and gaze at the starlit sky. The Milky Way and the constellations look unreal. Any exaggeration of this sight is totally justified. If you observe with keen eyes, you will spot shooting stars every now and then.
To be honest, this was one of the most surreal moments of my desert safari.
Do not go too far from your campsite. Getting lost here is very easy while tracking a person is not. The desert is untamed like a stormy sea. It is also difficult to stay warm, no matter what you’re dressed in. So, exercise caution and do not venture too far.
End of Your Morocco Desert Tour
Get a good night’s sleep in the camp. You will be woken up at 7 am, by the sound of a ringing bell – almost like in school. The sun rises above the horizon on the Algerian side, which is only 50 kilometres away from where you are.
The air feels fresh and cold. You are offered fresh Moroccan mint tea. Sip on this warm glass of tea and appreciate the final moments in the desert as it’s time to head back soon.
On reaching Merzouga, we thanked the Berbers profusely for a great time and said our goodbyes.
Depending on your itinerary and schedule, you can plan your next move. I took a cab to Rissani, a town 42 kilometres away from Merzouga. I bought a bus ticket on the spot to go to Fes, which was my next destination.
I hope this Merzouga Desert Travel guide gave you enough details to have a hassle-free visit and a great time in the Sahara Desert.
Happy wayfaring 🙂
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