Merzouga tips: My best recommendations to make your Sahara experience that much better.
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Where is Merzouga?
Merzouga is a village on the edge of the Moroccan Sahara that serves as a great jumping off point for greater adventures into the Sahara Desert. Many people take 3-day desert tours from Marrakech that include one night camping at a Berber desert camp in Erg Chebbi nearby to Merzouga. A night in the Sahara will give you phenomenal stargazing as well as a small look into the lifestyle of the nomadic Berber people.
There are tons of desert camps in Morocco when you start searching on google. If you don’t have much time to dedicate to thoroughly exploring the Sahara and want to get the most out of your experience a tour to Merzouga comes most recommended. How did I come to find this information? This post by Anna Everywhere clued me into which location would be better: Desert Tour in Morocco: Mergouza vs Zagora.
Weather in the Moroccan Sahara:
Let’s cut to the chase: The best months to visit are February-April and September-November. Why? Because that’s when temperatures are most pleasant, spring and fall. Deserts are a land of extremes, temperatures can range from dangerously hot in the summertime to downright freezing cold in the winter! Here is a handy chart for temperatures in a nearby city in Algeria (yes, Merzouga is very close to the Algerian border).
What does a 3-day Merzouga Desert Tour usually include?
You’ll start by departing Marrakech early on day one towards the Atlas Mountains where you will make several stops for scenic viewpoints before descending out of the mountains and onto Ait Ben Haddou. Ait Ben Haddou is an ancient village that is famous for appearing in several big name movies. After exploring a bit of the Kasbah at Ait Ben Haddou head toward Ouarzazate: the Gate of the Sahara, a large city. After leaving Ouarzazate roll down your windows as you head into the Valley of Roses (it really does smell like roses!). You will arrive in the evening to Boumalne Dades for the evening. Day 2 is a jam-packed day, in the morning you will head off for the oasis town of Tinghir via the ‘Road of 1001 Kasbahs’. After exploring the lush, green oasis of Tinghir and a demonstration on how traditional Berber carpets are made you’ll head to Todgha Gorge to briefly explore the monstrous canyon before making way to Merzouga. In Merzouga you will meet your camels and nomadic guides and set off for a camel ride into the sunset and to camp at a Berber camp in Erg Chebbi for the night. Day 3 will begin before dawn so that you can leave by camel as daylight breaks and make it to the biggest sand dune around to catch the sun as it rises over the horizon. Day 3 is mostly spent in transit back to Marrakech with scenic stops along the way.
General Merzouga tips for the tour:
Bring an external battery for charging electronics and extra batteries for cameras! If you didn’t book the luxury camp you won’t have access to electricity the night you sleep in Erg Chebbi. You’ll likely be taking lots of photos and videos of your trip, so better safe than sorry!
If you’ve not booked a luxury desert camp: Pack a small backpack with necessary items the morning before you leave your accommodation in Boumalne Dades and head for Merzouga (ie: change of clothes, toothbrush, etc). Our driver failed to tell everyone this, which lead to everyone having to pack a small backpack when we arrived in Merzouga. Not the end of the world, just a little chaotic and a waste of time, that could’ve easily been avoided by simply telling the group to pack a bag at dinner the night before.
Tips for the Sahara:
Look at daytime highs and nighttime lows during the period of time you plan to take a Merzouga Desert tour. I visited in mid November and temperatures ranged from about 0°C (32°F) at night to 20°C (68°F)- warm days and chilly nights.
Pack necessary layers to accommodate the weather. It can be scorching hot in the summer to downright freezing in the winter. One woman on our trip had brought a winter jacket with her- was she glad she had it!
Bring water! Getting dehydrated is no joke. Some tours will provide water (best to ask before hand), but it’s still better to bring more just in case. This is the desert and it’s extremely dry out here.
Bring a long scarf. The local nomadic men who will take you out to camp on camelback will wrap your scarf on your head for you to keep sand from pelting you. It was very windy the evening I went by camelback, so I was glad to get to camp without sand in my hair and mouth!
Bring sunglasses. This pairs great with the scarf mentioned above to keep blowing sand out of your eyes, and of course the bright sun. If I hadn’t worn glasses I’d have not seen most the journey with the sand flying around.
Camel riding tips:
For many of you this will be the first time you ride a camel. Comparatively I find travel by camelback more comfortable than travel by horseback.
Stretch your legs before, especially your inner thighs. You’ll likely be engaging these muscles to help you balance as you mosey along.
Hold on! It can be a bumpy ride and require a bit of balance on going downhill. There are handles on the saddle to hold onto.
Tinghir & Todgha Gorge Tips:
Bring a water bottle. In the morning you’ll walk through the oasis of Tinghir. Luckily for you you’ll be in a nice shaded oasis but it’s a decent amount of walking (nothing strenuous).
Make sure to have money to tip your guide here. This guide is included in the tours and ours was great. Very informative and entertaining.
Ait Ben Haddou tips:
This ones more of a recommendation than a tip: The local guide in Ait Ben Haddou is not included in the 3-day tour prices. This is stated in the description, and that it would cost 2€ per person, which is fine. However I found our local guide that we were very much pushed to go with by our driver to have been utterly useless. He didn’t describe anything that wasn’t easily readable online in about 30 seconds time on the Internet. The part I found annoying was that our driver kind of pushed us that we had to. My recommendation is skip the guide, unless you can confirm you’re being set up with someone that gives good information and does more than cross the riverbed with you and tell you to walk to the top on your own and meet him back in 15 minutes. He also demanded tips on top of the 2€ per head. He walked us through the old Kasbah and spoke for about 3 minutes. 2€ x 17 people for about 10 minutes total of work is pretty high, so
asking for tips demanding tips on top was asinine in my opinion.
Avoid the hotel restaurant in Ait Ben Haddou next to the bridge. This is where we were dropped off by the Ait Ben Haddou guide and told to eat. Two things that I found bothersome: 1) They would not allow anyone to share meals. We were told no as many people in or group were paired and weren’t that hungry. 2) The most unprofessional restaurant move I had ever seen. One couple that was in our group split off from us and ate upstairs in the same restaurant. They paid THEIR waiter upon leaving. After we were all loaded up on the van to leave. The waiter that catered to the remainder of the group rushed onto the van stating that two people did not pay, pointed them out and started demanding money. The couple insisted they paid their waiter. The man then informed them that they were to pay him directly and not the staff member who handled their meal. (There was never any mention of this before, during or after the meal). It finally ended with the couple having to leave the van to settle the matter, in which they did absolutely nothing wrong. Not only was it embarrassing for the couple for being accused of stealing, it was ludicrous that a restaurant of that scale would have staff that behaves this way. My point: There are other dining options in Ait Ben Haddou.
Merzouga tips for packing:
Not sure what clothes to bring with you on tour?
1-2 loose fitting, light shirts. Aim for breathable fabrics.
1-2 pairs of loose, lightweight trousers.
1 sarong. Can be worn as a scarf, to cover shoulders or as a skirt.
1 scarf. Keep that blowing sand out of your hair and face.
Sunglasses. Block the bright light and the blowing sands.
Socks and underwear.
1 sweater/jumper or light jacket. Because it does cool off some in the evenings.
Spring and Fall:
1-2 loose fitting shirts.
1-2 pairs of trousers.
Socks and underwear.
1 jacket, it gets chilly in the evenings.
1 hat, because majority of your body heat leaves from your head.
1 pair of light mittens.
1-2 loose shirts. At least one long sleeve is a good choice.
1-2 pairs of trousers.
Socks and underwear.
1 insulated jacket.
1 pair of mittens.
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