You may have seen these incredible Moroccan sand dunes filled with camels and luxury tents on Instagram. They can look dreamy.
So you go to Morocco (excellent choice by the way), and you imagine yourself a T. E. Lawrence in the making. After all, what could be more romantic than riding a camel in the desert at sunset? But how do you choose between the adventure in Merzouga, Erg Chigaga or Zagora desert? One is more popular and has higher dunes, while the other is harder to reach but just as photogenic.
Desert Tour in Morocco: distance and duration
One thing to understand about desert tours in Morocco is that there are two places in the desert, quite distant from each other: Merzouga and Zagora.
As most trips start in Marrakech, you have to keep in mind that it will take you a long time to get to any place in the Moroccan desert.
Different types of desert tours
One day tour
The one-day tour is for people who have little time to see the desert and want to see some sand dunes. Don’t expect to see incredible high dunes. We will take you to a desert area around the city and you may be able to take a camel ride. I generally advise against doing this tour, but it is your choice!
If you just want to take a camel ride and see the Atlas Mountains from above, you can also consider a hot air balloon ride at sunrise. This is a fantastic opportunity that is much better than a day tour in the desert.
2 day and 1-night desert tour
The one night/2 days tour will take you to the desert of Zagora, located 6.5 hours away. On the way, you will stop in Ouarzazate and see the village of Aït Benhaddou and on the way back, you will visit Atlas Film Studios. While you will sleep in the desert and ride a camel, you will not see any golden sand dunes.
Zagora Desert in Morocco
Zagora is a desert located in the south of Morocco. Although it is a desert, it is a dry stone desert, so don’t expect beautiful sand dunes. The camps in Zagora desert are generally of the economic type, like those in Oman, so luxury camps.
3 days and 2 nights tour
The 3 days / 2-night tour places you in a hotel for the first night to share a 10-hour drive, before continuing to the dunes of Erg Chigaga or Merzouga Erg Chebbi. You will see the same places as on a shorter trip, but you will have more time at each interesting place. both have many campsites of different levels,
Desert Tour in Morocco: Merzouga vs Erg Chigaga
The best known of the two dune areas is Erg Chebbi, near Merzouga. It is an 8-hour drive from Fez in the north, and also from Ouarzazate in the west. The bivouac is better established and receives more visitors than Erg Chigaga, mainly due to the easier access and the larger size of the dunes.
Due to disputes over the close border with Algeria, the Erg Chigaga is a much more recent tourist destination and as such has only been receiving visitors since the 1990s. It is located south of M’Hamid, about 9 hours drive from Marrakech. It’s a good idea to stop the trip halfway from Ait Ben Haddou, the Kasbah Ellouze, a Moroccan fortress guesthouse in Tamdaght. The last leg of the trip south of Ouarzazate through the Draa Valley is indeed a destination in itself.
So, which is better, Mzerzouga or Erg Chigaga? Let’s look at the most important question first…
#1 – Size
This one’s easy. Erg Chigaga is famous for its high dunes, some of which can reach 250 m, offering a spectacular view of this fleeing piece of the Sahara. Erg Chibbe in Merzouga, on the other hand, has comparatively low dunes, reaching only about 160 m. However, you have to keep in mind that dune climbing is incredibly hard work and that, despite all the good intentions, most sunrise-baggers only reach halfway up the immense dunes of Erg Chigaga (a view that is still as fanciful as ever), so in reality, you will probably end up no higher than in Merzouga
#2 – The expanse
While Erg Chebbi in Merzouga prevails on the vertical ladder, Chigaga has to take the lead for the immensity because it seems to drag on and on, giving a real feeling of being in nature. To reach the dunes here, you have to travel about 60 km from M’Hamid through the hamada, a flat rocky area that serves as a prelude to the sand. The landscape is breathtaking and there is a real feeling of anticipation every kilometer as the terrain becomes a little more sandy and the undulations increase steadily. In the Erg Chigaga, you feel the distance. The experience then seems much more “real”.
The other advantage of Chigaga is that you can drive a 4×4 circuit without having to retrace your steps in M’Hamid and Zagora desert. The off-road circuit follows the Algerian border, passes by the vast dry Lake Iriki (where there were crocodiles!) before joining the tarmac road a few hours later in Foum Zguid. This itinerary is part of the original route of the Paris – Dakar rally and allows you to discover incredible rocky desert landscapes reminiscent of those of the United States.
Merzouga vs Chigaga, how to choose the best Erg in Morocco
#3 – Access
This one is simple. Merzouga is relatively easy to get to – just get off at Merzouga, hop on a camel and go. However, this ease of access, unfortunately, leads to a higher number of visitors and the feeling of being less remote. The Erg Chigaga, on the other hand, requires more time, thought and expertise to be accessible, as the last 60 kilometers of M’Hamid’s off-piste route is only accessible by 4×4 with a competent driver. If it is this very inaccessibility that makes Chigaga feel like an adventure, in the interest of fairness, it should go to Merzouga because anyone who can drive a car can reach it without trauma.
#4 – The wilderness
Due to its relative remoteness, Erg Chigaga wins hands down if you are looking for a remote and wild place, although being able to drive 4×4 to the camp may bring you back to reality, just for a moment. Erg Chebbi in Merzouga can still boast of the majesty of the desert, and despite the proximity of all the other camps, you can hear as you approach, after a 2.5-hour camel ride, you certainly don’t want to be further away if it means more time on that damn beast.
#N°5 – Camp
Now, I’m just comparing the most basic camps here, because I don’t consider a luxury tent with a bathroom and all the accessories to be what a real desert experience is. The two bivouacs are a lot of fun, and it depends on what floats on your boat whether Erg Chebbi Merzouga or Chigaga is the best.
For us, we preferred Chigaga since we stayed in a small camp where we were the only visitors. Although there were other small camps in the area, each one was hidden behind other dunes, so we couldn’t see or hear anyone else all the time. We had a tent all to ourselves, and there was even a small toilet hut just behind the camp, which we didn’t expect. The guy who ran the camp and his assistant (who also showed up with camels so we could ride that evening) live there about 6 months of the year, rarely see their families and lead a somewhat lonely existence. They enjoy the company of visitors and, despite the language barrier, we spent a good evening chatting with our hosts.
In Merzouga Erg Chebbi, on the other hand, the camps are larger and closer together. Not only do you hear the drums of the other camps as you approach on your camel, but at nightfall, you realize that you are practically camping on the neighboring tents (see above, section 1). Each camp is large enough to accommodate several visitors. If you want to spend a convivial evening around a campfire, making a fool of yourself on musical instruments, this may be the best solution.
However, we chose peaceful solitude and the experience of stargazing and the landscape rather than partying, so being rather antisocial, we enjoyed Chigaga much more.
We found the music emanating from all the dune camps in Chebbi rather irritating, and although it was quite fun to watch the musicians from our camps play in the light of the flickering flames when they tried to force us to sing and dance against our will, I found the experience a bit spoilt for me. There were no toilets (which I expected), and the tents, although common, were separated by large carpets so that each couple had their own sleeping space.
The food was surprisingly tasty on both sides, with bread, tagines, fruit and mint tea, as in any restaurant where we had eaten during our trips to Morocco.
So in summary, if you are sociable and want to experience a Bedouin campfire, go to Erg Chigaga. If you want peace, contemplation, and solitude, go to Chigaga also
#N°6 – Sunrise
I have to give them both a point because we had the pleasure of seeing spectacular sunrises every time.
How to book a desert tour in Morocco
If you want things to be booked in advance: You can simply book a tour on Viator, TourRadar. This way you are guaranteed to be able to do so on certain dates. we are on Viator, TourRadar on most of the desert tours
If you want to save money: Book something in you with us through the contact form for or whatssup and we ask only for 100 euro to confirm the booking