The Erg Chebbi dunes on the Morocco-Algerian border echo everyone’s most romantic notion of the Sahara.
These ethereal dunes are orange, gold and bronze, with entire industries sprouting on their western cusp, allowing you to live like a nomad for a day or two.
On a desert safari, you will taste Berber food, learn about the desert way of life, and listen to the ancient and haunting music of the Gnawas.
Merzouga, close to the shores of seasonal Lac Dayet Srij, nourishes a kaleidoscope of birds in the desert.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Merzouga:
1. Ergo Cheby
People travel along Morocco’s border with Algeria to the magnificent sea of dunes nearly 30 kilometers east of Merzouga.
Sand dunes are always shaped by the wind and can rise as high as 150 meters above the surrounding desert, almost magical when they cast long shadows and the low sun brings out the reddish tint of the sand.
There are countless ways to encounter this otherworldly terrain by camel, ATV, hiking, overnight camping, or even on skis!
Available tours: Overnight in luxury tent at desert camp Erg Chebbi Merzouga
2. Camel trekking
What brings people hundreds of miles to this remote desert settlement is the opportunity to sample the nomadic lifestyle we know from the movies.
The hardest part will be choosing the tour company that is right for you.
You’ll usually pick up a headscarf in Merzouga, then get on a camel and stride into the desert.
Tent, food and water are usually included in the price, although you may need to determine this long before you leave, and with many companies, you’ll be expected to haggle.
Evening is a happy time, maybe listening to some live music while you’re tagine cooked over the fire, and just staring at more stars than you’ve ever seen in a lifetime.
If you’re out for many days, you’ll be sheltering from the midday heat in a tent.
Recommended Tour: From Merzouga: Overnight Camel Ride Through Erg Chebbi Dunes
3. Lac Dayet Srij
This saltwater seasonal lake, 4 kilometers west of Merzouga, dries up in summer but is replenished by autumn rains.
As a giant blue sheet of desert dunes, Lac Dayet Srij is photogenic in any situation, but even more incredible is its abundance of birds.
More than 30 different species are found on the shores of the lake, from pipit to duck, sandpiper, plover, wagtail and stork.
But the stars are the bigger flamingos, best seen around March and April.
Chances are you’ve eaten tagine before.
These traditional Moroccan stews, slow-cooked in a heavy earthenware pot and often contrasting sweet and savory, have traveled the world.
Tagines, as you’re probably well aware, there’s a conical lid that allows the steam to circulate, and after a few hours or more, it’s removed to reveal a spiced lamb, lamb, chicken or vegetable dish that melts in your mouth and comes with Couscous.
Now, many people can claim to have cooked tagines, but few can say that they went to a Berber family in the middle of the Sahara and learned the tricks of how to make tagines the right way.
You can do it at Merzouga and then finish it all the traditional way with a cup of mint tea.
Not far from Merzouga is the village of Khemliya, where there is a small group of people from the Gnawa ethnic group.
Gnawas originated in Central and West Africa and were brought as slaves to what is now Morocco and Algeria (the word Gnawa comes from the Berber word for “slave”). After the Berbers adopted Islam and abolished slavery, the Gnaw adopted Sufis, allowing them to practice certain pre-Islamic traditions.
These include healing and prayer rituals, which involve musicians playing bass, driving melodies on stringed instruments called sintirs, accompanied by clapping and singing in calls and responses.
Often independent of its ceremonial purpose, Gnawa music has been exported outside Morocco and celebrated at major events such as the Gnaoua World Music Festival in Essaouira.
In Merzouga, you can arrange a guided tour of Khemliya to experience this ancient art form first-hand.
After the show, you will be invited to play some notes on the sintir.
6. Morocco National 4×4 Automobile Museum
One of Merzouga’s most surreal attractions is the National Museum dedicated to off-road vehicles on the edge of the desert.
The attraction is free to enter and showcases a small fleet of 4×4 vehicles including Jeeps, Fords, Land Rovers, Range Rovers, Toyotas, Moroccan military vehicles, as well as some more outlandish exhibits such as single-seat off-road vehicles and amphibious vehicles car vehicle.
The oldest car on display is a Ford Model T, oddly equipped with off-road tires.
7. Sand bath
Another therapy that can give you a story to tell your friends home, a sand bath means soaking in the dunes in the middle of summer.
The sand will naturally heat up to over 40°C and will dig a hole for you to lie down, revealing only your face.
This treatment has been practiced for centuries and is said to provide relief from rheumatism, back pain, arthritis and skin problems.
You will be supervised and constantly hydrated to prevent dehydration and heat stroke, and after leaving the sand bath you will be given a blanket to prevent your body from cooling down too quickly.
8. Chez les Artistes (Lauen Gallery)
This lovely gallery in Khemliya is run by wife and husband Johanna and Lahcen, both artists.
Their work is on canvas and cedar boards, along with portraits of Berbers in traditional dress.
Also on display are painted ceramics, which are available for purchase.
There is a small cafe with extra seating in the courtyard, a quiet place to grab a mint tea, an espresso or a soda.
There’s a sintir in the cafe and if you’re lucky, you might see an improv.
9. Overnight in a luxury tent at a desert camp
If you’re someone who needs a lot of maintenance and wants your Erg Chebbi trip to be as comfortable as possible, GetYourGuide.com has a package for you.
Overnight tours in luxury tents at desert camp begin with an unforgettable sunset camel ride, after which your mount will reel and you’ll fix mint tea in a plush tent, followed by a satisfying meal and plenty of stargazing .
The next day, you can quad bike or try sandboarding, then take a much-needed shower.
This experience includes water, as well as transfers to and from your accommodation or the bus station in Merzouga.
10. Full-Day Small-Group 4×4 Dunes Tour
You might be in a hurry, so you can swap the camel for a 4×4 air conditioner and get enough activity for a few days in just 7 hours.
On this tour, you will leave the road behind, be breezy in the desert scenery, look around Khemliya, play a sintir and have lunch with a real Berber family.
You will learn about Berber customs and the ins and outs of desert life, living with sheep and goats, and working donkeys.
Your meal will be madfouna, a pie affectionately known as “Berber pizza.”
Book Online: Full-Day Small-Group 4×4 Dunes Tour
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Merzouga, Morocco
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