Where are the big dunes and how long does it take to get there?
These are the questions we often ask ourselves.
Let’s start with some definitions:
*The desert is a geographical area where the rate of precipitation is lower than the rate of evaporation and where the population density is very low due to the very difficult climatic conditions.
*There are 3 types of the desert on the planet:
- the Reg is a stony desert, a rocky plain.
- The Hamada is a rocky desert plateau.
- the Erg is a vast region occupied by dunes.
In Morocco, you will find all three types of desert but in very specific regions.
Let’s talk about “Marrakech” for a start.
First of all, there are no dunes in Marrakech nor in the surrounding area! The region of Marrakech is arid and desert. It is a magnificent region and very contrasted between mountains, plateaus, and valleys. You will find a wealth of incredible landscapes of great beauty. However, if you are looking for sand dunes, you will have to drive for at least 8 hours to reach the first waves of sand. You will find dunes on the Atlantic coast (Essaouira is only 3 hours away), but here I am talking about “Desert” dunes with a capital D.
To find them, you will have to cross the High Atlas mountain range in the direction of Ouarzazate. You should be aware that there will be no dunes there either.But you will be closer!
We have 2 oceans of dunes in Morocco; 2 big Ergs, the Erg Chebbi and the Erg Chegaga.
The Erg Chebbi is the best known; it is made up of very large orange dunes, the highest of which are over 150 metres high. They are located in the region of the town of Rissani, in the heart of the Moroccan Sahara. They are easily accessible by the road that will lead you to the foot of the giants, near the village of Merzouga. It is a magnificent and rare place. Its beauty is undeniable. Unfortunately, the road makes it one of the most touristic sites in Morocco. So a word of advice, don’t stay on the road side but find one of the beautiful and comfortable bivouacs on the other side of the dunes, accessible only by track and 44. A perfect setting for adventurers who like comfort!
For those looking for even more authenticity and adventure, then without hesitation, you should head to Erg Chegaga.
The Erg Chegga is located south of the town of Zagora, about 12 hours drive from Marrakech. After the village of M’Hamid you will leave the road to take the track for a 2 hours journey through the real desert, where unreal landscapes follow one another such as dry rivers (Oueds), Regs, Hamada and finally the very wild and majestic Erg Chegaga. This region is still preserved from tourism and remains wild. A fragile pearl that must be taken care of.
Between Chebbi and Chegaga, it is difficult to choose! I would advise you to see both. But I have a slight preference for Chegaga and its wild side, the track to get there is a beautiful adventure Never venture into this place alone and without a guide: don’t forget that you are in the heart of the Sahara and that if the weather conditions change, you could get lost.
There are many other ergs in the Moroccan Sahara, but I have described the two most important ones. There are a multitude of smaller ergs that are often tourist attractions. Remember two: Erg Tinfou (at the gates of Zagora and on the roadside) and Erg ElYoudi. The second one is better, but it’s such a shame to have travelled so many kilometres to be so close to the goal and to be limited to these tourist fairs where bivouacs abound. Let’s not forget that a desert is, by definition, an area where the population density is very low.
Be careful!!! Some agencies offer you tours in 2 or 3 days. In my opinion, this is a mistake! I advise you to go and come back for a minimum of 4 days, the ideal being 5 days or more. There are so many things to see and visit. especially as part of the route is mountainous. It is also not recommended for families with young children; there is too much road for them and it is sometimes difficult.
I hope this article will help you organise your holidays and your trip. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you need some good addresses; we have plenty of good tips.
I wish you a great holiday in our fabulous country. Trek salama!