Merzouga, Morocco: Our Merzouga Desert Trip And Honest Review
Merzouga is a small town located in the Sahara Desert in the south of Morocco. It’s known as the gateway to the Erg Chebbi sand dunes at the edge of town, consisting of soaring peaks of sand that change color with the shifting light of dawn and dusk. The most authentic way to experience the desert is on camelback, including an overnight stay at a desert camp. Many companies offer such trips, but they vary greatly in cost, comfort, and experience. In this article, we will highlight the thing you need to know before going to Merzouga and our 3-day safari experience so you know what to expect from a camel trek. We will also give an honest review and different desert activity options at the end.
Check out our video on Merzouga to see our desert experience through our camera!
Table Of Contents
Important Things To Know
Best time to travel to Merzouga
The best time to travel to Merzouga is from September to April. This time of the year the temperatures are more bearable although at night it can get chilly. In addition to soaring temperatures, there are often sand storms in the summer. These storms last from late spring to early fall, so we would not recommend going then.
Cost of a desert safari
A trip to the Merzouga desert can often become quite expensive if you don't do your research. We had a semi-private tour with excellent quality for $85 per person, including two nights of camping in the desert, all the meals, two local guides, and camel trekking. Some companies offered us $650 for two nights, offering the exact same itinerary! This is because some companies try to take advantage of tourists and they want to see what you're willing to pay. They will offer a ridiculously high price. We were repulsed by those companies and didn't even continue negotiating with them. So the prices can really be different from company to company and you shouldn’t rush to make a decision. You should weigh their options after some research.
Merzouga desert trip itinerary
Day 1: sunset & sleeping at the "wild camp" in the middle of the desert
Day 1 of our desert adventure started in the late afternoon near Merzouga. After parking our rental car in a secure lot and a welcome tea from our tour host, we were driven to meet our camels and desert guides. The camels seemed to be treated quite well when we arrived and were peacefully grazing on some food. The only difficult part of the camels was getting up onto them for the first time. It took a little time to get used to the way the camels moved with a wavy up and down motion. But after gliding along the desert sand for a while, we were feeling like pros thanks to Mohammed and Hassan who guided us.
After 1.5 hours on the camels, the sun was starting to go down. So we decided to hop off and sit in the sparkling sands or the Erg Chebbi desert.
One more short ride on the camels brought us to our "wild camp" for the night. Set underneath a large sand dune, the camp included a private tent with sleeping pads and blankets, a cooking tent for our guides, and a candlelight dinner table under the stars. This camp was considered "wild" as there were no facilities such as toilets or showers and there were no other tourists besides us and our guides.
Day 2: sandboarding, desert oasis, the highest sand dune, and sleeping at a standard camp
On day 2, we were set to enjoy sandboarding, an oasis, a special nomad-style lunch, and a new luxury camp. But first, we woke up early to catch the sunrise.
After sandboarding, it was time to hop back on the camels. During our 2 hour ride towards the oasis, we came across hundreds of dunes with various shapes and beauty. We also were surprised to see actual bushes and greenery in some parts of the dunes. The nicest part of this area was that we didn’t see any other people the entire time. Just us and the desert. It was pure bliss.
After about two hours, we arrived at one of the highlights for the day, the oasis. Here, we enjoyed a Berber pizza, which was cooked by Hassan in an authentic fashion by burying the dough in hot sand.
After enjoying a delicious pizza and watching our camels have their own feast nearby, it was time to climb to the tallest dune in Erg Chebbi. Located right behind the oasis, it’s a beast.
Next, it was off to our standard camp for the evening, which meant hopping back on the camels for another stretch of desert. But before getting to the camp, we were able to take in one more beautiful sunset from the dunes.
When we arrived at our camp for the evening, we were greeted with warm tea and some very tasty local food. This standard camp was more touristic and there were many other guests and guides. There were also toilets, showers, and tables to enjoy the dinner. The highlight of the night was definitely the Berber drums. The drum session was a beautiful display of tradition through music.
Day 3: 4x4 tour to a nomadic camp
On day 3, we decided to add a 4-hour 4x4 tour, which cost an additional 45€ per person. The 4x4 tour included various stops around the desert.
Our first stop on the 4x4 was the Hassi Labied oasis. Here, we were able to see how locals use canals to get water and do farming under the palm trees. Our guide Saaid explained how rain water is trapped by the sand dunes like a sponge which then is stored in a natural source underground and finally releases into the canals.
Next, we drove through the town center of Merzouga on our way to the Khamlia Village. This village is famous for the Gnawa people, who originated from sub-Saharan countries such as Sudan, Mali and Niger. For centuries, they moved from their land as a result of the worldwide slave trade. Their style of music was different from the Berber music we heard before, and was very rhythmic.
After a short visit to the fossil and mineral mines, it was time to visit the nomad families. These families live on the outskirts of the dunes with very minimal homes and equipment.
Honest review on our Merzouga desert trip
Overall, we really enjoyed our 3-day desert safari. Riding the camels for multiple days allowed us to go deeper into the sand dunes and gave us the real authentic experience that we were looking for.
What we liked about our trip in the Merzouga desert
The thing we liked most:
Learning about the nomadic traditions from our guides who used to be nomads themselves
Our trip had a great value for money. We were really satisfied with the price of the trip. Our guides were amazing, the camps were comfortable with actual mattresses, and the food was delicious.
Camels were well-treated, settled and calm which is very important for us because a lot of the time camels used for tourists are treated badly and malnourished.
What we didn't like about our trip in the Merzouga desert
The things we didn't like:
The sandard camp on day 2 was a bit noisy in the evening because many camps are close together there. We believe that if you only do one night in the desert like most people, your experience is limited as you don’t get to stay in the peaceful wild camp like we did and you will be surrounded by many other tourists.
I think we would skip the 4x4 tour if we would do it again. We were quite tired on our last day and the nomadic people at the camp didn't really talk to us. Our guide did a great job explaining about their life and camp, but it would have been nice to hear stories from the locals themselves.
Another thing to remember is that Merzouga is the most famous desert destination in Morocco so can get crowded during the high season. This also leads to a lot of noise from the quads and dune buggies, especially during sunset. We didn't have that issue as much as we visited at the end of November. But it's definitely something to consider.
Also, most desert camps are located at the edge of the sand dunes because of government regulations. You don’t feel like you’re fully in the desert dunes. That’s why we recommend a multi-day excursion that includes the "wild camp".
Options for Merzouga desert trips
The best option is a multi-day camel trek in our opinion. But if you aren’t interested in a multi-day trip or you don't have the time, there are also other options to enjoy the desert. We've included some links here to experiences: