IMPORTANT
Jo Fraser

A visit to the Sahara desert in Morocco is on every traveller’s must-do list. What people don’t account for is the sweeping red sand dunes, camel trains, and remote desert camps are only found in two small regions in the far South: Merzouga and M’Hamid. The sand dunes in Merzouga are called Erg Chebbi, and the ones in M’Hamid are called Erg Chigaga. It is widely contested as to which area is better, although most people agree that the sand dunes in Merzouga are bigger but more crowded, and M’Hamid a little smaller but without the hordes of tourists. It isn’t widely contested that both areas are a very, very long drive from Marrakesh.

Most travellers approach a trip out to the desert in one of three ways: the organised tour, the DIY adventure or by hiring a car. When you arrive in Marrakesh, you’ll be offered desert tours by everyone - from your taxi driver to the owner of your riad - and it can be hard to know which route to take.

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How long does it take?

Supratours, the tourist bus, leaves from Marrakesh every day and the trip to Merzouga takes 12-hours. There is no Supratours or CTM bus direct from Marrakesh to M’Hamid. You can, however, take a smaller, local bus to Zagora and then proceed to M’Hamid. Hiring a car and driving to Merzouga or M’Hamid will be quicker but still a somewhat painful 8-10 hours, with Merzouga being a hop and a skip further away. If you’re really dedicated (read: crazy), the trip to the desert can be made in four days: two days in transit and two days in the desert. As someone who has made the trip, I would suggest breaking it up and doing it over five or six days. If you’ve got a week in Morocco? Skip the desert, head to Essaouira or the mountains for your trip outside Marrakesh. If you have more than a week? Go for it.

The Organised Tour

Organised tours run from Marrakesh, and there is no shortage of them - from the ultra-budget where you’ll be squished in a bus with a bunch of twenty-year-olds, to the very fancy where you will pay top dollar for a driver and a four-wheel drive. Budget tours start at 700 Dirhams and will fetch you transport to Merzouga or M’Hamid, a night in a hostel, a short camel trek into the desert, camping in the desert and your trip back. These budget tours are generally the four-day express extravaganzas and will leave you never wanting to be on a bus ever again. Worth it? Maybe.

You can book both budget and luxury trips from your hostel or riad, and if they don’t offer to book it for you, they can at least point you in the direction of a reputable travel agency.

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The DIY adventure

If you’ve got the time - 10 days or more - it’s highly worth planning a nice, slow trip to Merzouga or M’Hamid and back. You can travel a few legs on Supratours or CTM, but taking the local bus or shared taxis is where the life really happens. If you’re feeling brave, you’ll find that hitchhiking is a good option; just be prepared to travel in some interesting vehicles. If you decide to catch local transport, make sure you bargain. Try and catch wind of what locals are paying for the trip.

If you do decide to opt for the DIY adventure, there are lots of great places to stop along the way.

At a minimum, stop at Ouarzazate and head out to Ait Benhaddou. The ancient city has been used as a set for a tonne of films (including Game of Thrones) and is well worth a look. Another good stop is in the Todra Gorge where you can visit the gorgeous gorge or just sit Palmerie and sip mint tea in an actual oasis. If you have all the time in the world, stop wherever takes your fancy! There are so many little towns along the way that really buzz with authentic Moroccan life.

When you arrive in Merzouga or M’Hamid, find a place to stay and they will help you arrange everything you need to spend a night in the desert.

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Hiring a car

Hiring a car is fairly cheap in Morocco, generally starting at 15 euros a day. Having your own transport gives you the ultimate freedom and is a good choice for tripping out to see the dunes. Like taking the DIY way, stopping a lot is a great way to break up the long journey. If you need to offset the cost of hiring a car, there are a lot of really intriguing camping sites along the road too. Just pack a small tent and some bedding, and you’re good to go.

Whatever option you choose, the desert really is something spectacular. How often in life does one get to wake up amongst the golden red dunes of the Sahara?! 

 

Described as ‘chronically dissatisfied with the mundane’ by all who know her, Jo Fraser is a travel writer and digital nomad. When at home in Brisbane, you will find her trying to make cats love her or throwing back black coffees in a bid to stay perky. Follow her blog at www.jofraserwrites.com.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.