The dunes of Erg Chebbi, near Merzouga, are undoubtedly one of the largest and most beautiful sights in Morocco. These gigantic hills of soft sand form the border with Algeria and are worth a visit. The enchanting Sahara changes color before your eyes as it is blown by the wind.
Location and history
Erg Chebbi is located 40 km from the staff Erfoud, not far from Merzouga. Historically, it was a severe hardship for traveling Moroccans and other traders who had to pass through this area. She followed the route of the Sahara caravan that brought salt, gold, slaves and spices to Timbuktu. Before reaching the dunes of Erg Chebbi, a long trek had to be covered through the most flat and barren landscape imaginable. During the summer, the travelers’ clothing and skin were literally scorched away from their bodies by the sun.
Camel or Land Cruiser?
Nowadays it is not difficult to travel from Merzouga to Erg Chebbi, as this has improved greatly in recent decades. You have several options. The easiest way is with the 4×4 Land Cruiser. But if you really want to explore the Sahara, camel trekking may be a better option. If you choose the first option, you can take an English or Arabic speaking guide with you. You will then be in the hands of an expert who will offer you the opportunity to cruise through the dunes and the areas surrounding them. If you are trekking by camel, you will have to allow a week for it.
Animals and plants
By camel or if you step out of the Cruiser with the guide, you have plenty of opportunity to view the special flora and fauna of this area. You will especially spot reptiles in the desert by following their tracks. During the night you have a chance to catch a glimpse of the Jerboa, or desert hedgehog, and the Fennec, also known as desert fox with its extremely long ears. Plants are scarce here because it rarely rains here and when it does rain, only to a small extent. In spring, the period when it can rain, you can find the pink asphodel and the purple sea lavender. Although it rarely rains, small streams sometimes form there, creating an oasis. The water has drifted from the snowfall in the High Atlas Mountains. It is best to spot different bird species here and sometimes also species that are rare. Bird enthusiasts are particularly looking for the desert sparrows, the Egyptian nightjar, the desert warbler finch, the brown-yellow babbler and the Saharan green bee-eater. When it rains in spring, a small lake is formed northwest of Merzouga. At this lake you can also see flamingos and other water birds.
Silence before the storm
The climate of the Sahara is quite seasonal, sometimes it is dead quiet, but… when a sand storm occurs, you will hear a deafening hissing sound that will surprise you. A sandstorm can sometimes last for days and you don’t want that. But don’t worry, the locals will see something like this coming in advance. If you have long hair, it is recommended to tie it tightly. During the desert trip, it is also advisable to purchase a dark blue flowing turban. This is mainly supported by Tuaregs, a nomadic people who are the most important inhabitants of the Sahara, but also by the Berbers. The turban keeps the head cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
When you walk through the dunes, look at the clear footprints you leave behind. This gives a nice view of the otherwise flat sand. When you travel with others and they are at a great distance, it is also a surreal image to see them disappear into the distance like ants over the horizon. Whether you look to the right or to the left, you see sand dunes everywhere. You imagine yourself in a movie! Erg Chebbi gives you an authentic desert experience and extends to the Algerian border. It is best to visit Erg Chebbi and Merzouga around January and February. You then have the desert to yourself, as it were, and you see virtually no other tourists. In the summer months it can also be very hot and it can be too much for some. If you spend the night with the nomads, you will also see the clear starry sky that is unparalleled. You look at the many stars, planets, shooting stars and passing satellites. During these nights you also learn what quiet means.
Big and long Dunes
The dunes are known for their sometimes enormous size. They can be 150 meters high, 20km long and 5km wide. The high dunes are ideal for a new activity, namely dune boarding, a variation on snow boarding. All in all, a wonderful experience awaits you in this beautiful piece of nature on earth.