Getting to Merzouga
Merzouga is quite remote, located about 450 miles south east from Marrakech, close to the Algerian border. The largest town close to Merzouga is Ouarzazate which can be reached by plane or bus. You can stay overnight in Ouarzazate or head a little further out to the more interesting village of N'Kob.
There are plenty of tour companies who will offer desert trips with a guide and 4x4 from both Marrakech and Fes. It's an interesting drive but take a 4-5 day tour if you can, so you get to spend more time in the desert. The most popular trip from Marrakech would be a three day tour, but it's rushed. Some tour companies offer a trip that starts in Marrakech and ends in Fes, taking in Merzouga en route.
The quickest straight shot to get to Merzouga is to fly from Casablanca to Ouarzazate (7-8 hour drive to Merzouga), or Er Rachidia (2 hr drive to Merzouga) on Royal Air Moroc. Flights depart twice weekly.
There is no train link to this region in Morocco.
Best time to Visit the Western Sahara desert
The summer months between June and September can be brutally hot during the day, and not a lot of fun. Temperatures average around 115 Fahrenheit (45 C) during the summer and it's obviously dry as a bone. Nights in the desert do get much colder however and you'll need a good jacket even if you're sweltering during the day. During March and April you have a good chance of dealing with sandstorms as the Sirocco whips up. Best time to visit is from October to February.
Things to See and Do Around Merzouga
The desert is quite spectacular and you'll want to spend more than just 90 minutes riding out into the dunes and back, especially after a long bus ride from Marrakech or Fes. Plan to spend at least 2 nights in Merzouga and take part in a couple of different activities while you're there.
- Hop on a Camel and Camp -- You really should spend at least one night under the stars in the desert and enjoy a ride on a camel. There are lots of options and companies offering a wide variety of tents/bivouacs and also stays in remote nomad villages. Most overnight will include a traditional Berber meal by campfire and some musical entertainment. Ask your hotel for their packages, and shop around before you decide who to go with. If you want a more tranquil experience find an operator who has their own private camp so you don't end up sharing your experience with lots of other groups. Camping is basic, don't expect flushing toilets! Do get a turban of some kind, it actually does keep the sand away from your eyes and mouth and the sun off your head, so it's not just for dress up. Check these tours, to get an idea of prices. Group tours are usually cheaper, so find some fellow travelers you get along with and go together.
- Birdwatching around the Dayet Srji -- It's surprising to come across a lake in these parts, and even stranger to see flamingos. The Dayet Srji is a salt water lake and offers excellent bird viewing with lots of Egrets, Storks and Shelducks. Take a bird guide along, unless you're an expert yourself, it is much more rewarding.
- Quad Biking -- not as tranquil as a camel, perhaps a little obnoxious, but fun. When else can a novice pretend to be part of the Dakar Rally? Trips can last a few hours or several days and always include a guide.
- Hot Air Ballooning -- a truly magical way to experience the desert is up in a hot-air balloon. It's around 160 Euros for an hour per person, but certainly worth it.
- Sand Skiing -- Some hotels offer skis, boogie boards and snow boards for rent. It's quite a hike up the dunes in the deep sand and obviously there are no ski lifts, so you may want to give this activity a miss if you're not quite fit.
Where to Stay in and around Merzouga
If you're on a budget, opt for a hotel with a rooftop especially if you are visiting in the summer months. The breeze will cool you better than a weak fan. All hotels offer their own desert trips or can organize them for you. The following hotels are recommended:
- Guest House Merzouga -- Excellent family run hotel, right on the edge of the dunes, rooftop terrace and Berber hospitality at its best.
- Auberge Kasbah Tombouctou -- Luxury option with 56 rooms, swimming pool and sauna.
- Ksar Bicha -- It's a ten minute walk to the dunes from this great little hotel with excellent service and good overnight trips into the desert.
- Kasbah Mohayut -- Good value hotel with stunning views of the dunes, swimming pool and kid-friendly.
- Riad Nehza -- Excellent mid-range option, the Riad Nehza offers nice spacious clean rooms, good service and wonderful dune views while you dine. A pool keeps you cool in the midday heat.
- Auberge Takojt -- Simple, clean hotel that's great value for money, 25 Euros per night, with good hospitality and food thrown in. Locally owned and run, a "gem".