We have received the question of what to choose between Zagora vs Merzouga really often. So in this article, we will try to help you choose the best destination for your desert trip.
The Sahara Desert is located in the north of Africa and partially covers the territory of more than ten North African countries. Morocco is one of the most comfortable and safe countries to travel to the Sahara Desert. Many people imagine the desert as numerous sand dunes, but this is not the case. Most of the desert is rock and dry land, but the beautiful sand dunes are not found everywhere.
In Morocco, you can see the dunes in several places, the most famous and accessible of them a place called Merzouga. Another place is the province of Zagora, more remote from tourist roads, with a small town village of Mhamid El Ghizlane, from where you can travel to more unspoiled areas of the Sahara.
It is unlikely that your trip in Morocco will include only the Sahara, so it is more convenient to visit the desert in Zagora (minimum 1 night) as part of a three-day or less trip, but if you have more than three days, 1-2-3 nights can be allocated for Merzouga desert.
The best time to visit the desert is spring or fall. In summer it is very hot, and in the winter months, it can be cold even during the day.
Sahara Desert in Merzouga – Erg Chebbi Dunes
The village of Merzouga is the most accessible place to see the dunes of the Sahara Desert in Morocco, but at the same time to get here, you will have to spend a fair amount of time exploring the area. Merzouga is far from the major, Moroccan cities (And so is Zagora)- 560 kilometers from Marrakech and 460 from Fes.
The highest dune of Erg Chebbi reach a height of about 150 meters.
Four basic ways to get to Merzouga and to visit Erg Chebbi Dunes
1. Private tour
The most comfortable and decent way to get to Merzouga and also Zagora is to book a private tour. In this case, you will have everything arranged and all you have to do is just watch, relax and enjoy. What makes this first option the best is that you will give all of your time to exploring. In other words, you will not worry about accommodation, what to eat or where to go, everything is planned. For this reason, we have customized different private tours, especially for desert lovers.
2. Group tours to Merzouga
If you have limited time, this is the best way to see the dunes of Erg Chebbi. Group tours to the desert can be found of different durations, from different cities in Morocco. The cost of such a tour will not necessarily be high, in some cases, it will even be cheaper than traveling on your own. The most common languages on the tour will be either French or English.
3. Rent a Car
The most comfortable and expensive way to get to Merzouga (also Zagora). The road from Fes and from Marrakech is long and will take all daylight. Both routes will go through the beautiful Atlas Mountains. On the route Marrakech – Merzouga, you can make stops at the fortress of Ait Ben Haddou and the gorge of Dades.
In Morocco, there are several specific features and rules to follow. First, the roads are full of police officers who love to make checks. So try not to break the speed limit, wear a seat belt, if you are stopped never admit your knowledge of foreign languages, especially French. This way the police will not want to waste time on you if you do not speak French mostly. The roads, for the most part, are good, heavy traffic occurs only in the big cities. If the above circumstances do not scare you, then look at the cost of car rental in Morocco.
4. How to get to Merzouga by bus?
Supratours operates direct flights to Merzouga from Marrakech and Fes. From Marrakech, it will take 12 hours, from Fes almost 10h. Tickets will cost around $20. So, if your budget is a priority, you can take intercity buses.
Where to stay in Merzouga?
You won’t be able to visit the desert in Merzouga without at least one night’s stay. The village of Merzouga stretches along the highway and the dunes of Erg-Chebbi for a considerable distance, hotels-riads are scattered throughout the village, so it is better to be concerned about the choice of accommodation in advance.
If you arrive in Merzouga and you are looking for the best place where to book an overnight in a desert camp with a camel ride, you might need to check our Morocco camel trekking page.
Things to do in Merzouga
There are both paid and free ways to admire the desert in Merzouga; the nearest dunes are within walking distance of the village, so walking is readily available. The main thing is to settle close to the place of interest. Read more information here, things to do in Merzouga!
If you come by car, do not expect to ride it in the desert, you can only do it off-road and preferably with a guide. But your car will help you to get closer to the interesting dunes, which are spread over a large space.
Other ways to explore the Sahara Desert (for both Zagora and Merzouga)
- Tour by 4×4 through the dunes and surroundings of Merzouga.
- Camel ride. You can drive to the dunes to meet the sunset or drive to the tent camp in the desert followed by an overnight stay.
- Sandboarding in Merzouga desert. Many hotels and camps can rent a board for the day.
The Sahara Desert in Zagora Province – Erg Chigaga and Erg Lehoudi Dunes
The Sahara Desert in the province of Zagora is much less visited by tourists than in Merzouga. The infrastructure is not as developed there, but at the same time, the desert landscapes are less touched by the presence of people. The biggest dunes of Zagora are located in the vicinity of M’Hamid El Ghizlane village. The village itself is located 460 kilometers from Marrakech and 760 from Fes. In its vicinity there are two places with beautiful sands – dunes.
- Erg Lehoudi dunes – located in the immediate vicinity of M’Hamid village, about 8 kilometers away.
- Erg Chigaga dunes, about 50 kilometers across the desert from M’Hamid village. This is the most interesting and deserted place to explore the Sahara.
How to get to the dunes of Erg-Chigaga – M’Hamid El Ghizlane village?
The four most affordable ways to get to the Sahara Desert in the province of Zagora:
1. Private tours
The private Morocco desert tours always come as the first and most beloved, safe, and easy way to discover the kingdom. The four mentioned major destinations are the best starting points to begin an unforgettable trip. Contact us and customize your trip to the Zagora desert.
2. Group Tours
One of the most convenient ways to get to the Sahara Desert is to join one of the many group tours (see the list of available tours to Erg Chigaga from Marrakech). Group tours start from different cities in Morocco, and the cost can be cheaper than organizing the trip on your own. Tours are conducted in major European languages.
3. By rental car
About the peculiarities of renting and driving a car in Morocco, I told a little above on this page, I will not repeat myself. I will focus on the specifics of the road from Marrakech and Fes to the village of M’Hamid El Ghizlane.
Whichever route you choose, from Marrakech or from Fes, it will go through mountain passes and serpentines. Therefore, I would recommend splitting the route into two parts. When traveling from Marrakech, I highly recommend an overnight stop at Ait Ben Haddou Fortress, which is listed by Unesco. On the way from Fes, you can stop in Merzouga or in the beautiful Gorges du Ziz on the pass between Fes and Merzouga.
On the way back from Erg Chigaga, keep in mind that it is about 50 kilometers from these dunes to the normal highway that starts at M’Hamid El Ghizlane and after the tour and an overnight stay in the desert, you will reach your car left in the parking lot from M’Hamid not before 11-12 am. The Erg Lehoudi dunes are a little easier, they are close to the village of M’Hamid, but they are not as interesting as Erg Chigaga. It is better to start your journey in the desert with them rather than end it.
4. Intercity Buses
Intercity buses can only take you to the town of Zagora, a hundred kilometers from the village of M’Hamid El Ghizlane. Supratours and CTM have trips to Zagora from Fes and Marrakech.
From Zagora to M’Hamid you have to take a cab. There are two types of cabs in Morocco – the ordinary cab, where you go without strangers, and the so-called Grand Taxi – a car that follows a specific route, where you will have another 2-3-4 fellow travelers, with whom you share costs. As you can easily guess, Grand Taxi is not a very comfortable way to travel long distances.
Where to stay in M’Hamid El Ghizlane?
If you reach M’Hamid in the afternoon but still in daylight, the best option is to spend the night in the dunes of Erg Lehoudi, which is close to the village. And the next day morning drive further to the dunes of Erg Chigaga, which is 50 kilometers from M’Hamid.
If you can’t get to M’Hamid in the daylight hours, don’t worry, there are several hotels in the village where you can stay overnight. Here are some of them: Dar M’hamid, Riad Activity Arg, Auberge Kasbah Dar Sahara Tours, Dar Yaya. You can arrange your further program of the trip in the desert with the hosts.
Some campsites in the dunes Erg Lehoudi, where you can go immediately upon arrival in M’Hamid, if you have time before sunset: Bivouac L’Erg, Nomade moon camp, Majorelle Desert Camp.
Campgrounds and tents in the dunes of Erg Chigaga: Atta Desert Camp, Nubia Luxury Camp Erg, Chegaga Desert Excursions, Camp Atlantic Chigaga, Chegaga Berber Camps, Luxury Camp By DAR AZAWAD.
How to organize a trip to the desert from M’Hamid El Ghizlane?
If you decide not to join an organized tour to the Sahara from Marrakech or Fes and get to the village of M’Hamid on your own, there are several options for organizing a trip through the dunes.
- Book campsites at Erg Lehoudi and Erg Chigaga and arrange transfers with the tent owners. The campsites have a full board, you will stay in them and walk around the area on your own.
- Multi-day hikes in the desert are quite popular in M’Hamid. You can book a program in your hotel or local travel agency to walk from M’Hamid to Erg Lehoudi and on to Erg Chigaga, accompanied by guides and some camels. You will be given equipment, food, and local guides, and you will walk and ride camels through the desert for several days. One way is about 60 kilometers. The way back can be done in an off-road 4×4.
- In a local travel agency, you can order a private tour for a few days in the dunes Erg Lehoudi and Erg Chigaga. The tour for two people for 3 days will cost about 300 euros. Including full board and transfers.
How Desert Camping Works?
A desert camp in both Merzouga and Zagora deserts consists of several two-man tents with wooden locking doors. They stand in the lowlands between the dunes, which protect them from the wind. Sometimes the walls of the tents are made of clay, with a tent only on the roof. The tent usually contains only beds, mattresses, bedding, and warm and thick blankets. It is cold at night in the desert, even in the summer. If you are afraid of cold, then thermal underwear or your own sleeping bag will not be superfluous. Between the tents, there is a place for a campfire and outdoor gatherings.
There’s also a large tent with a dining area. The campsites have showers and toilets, and they’re set up in permanent clay buildings; the water is heated by the sun. In the evening for a few hours, they turn on the generator, from which you can charge the equipment. After dinner, the staff holds a small concert around the campfire with live music and folk songs.