Desert wildlife

Desert wildlife

Desert wildlife near camp

We love encountering wildlife on our travels, and our part of the desert, in the Iriqui National Park, is teeming with animal and birdlife. Despite first impressions, there is abundant desert wildlife to be seen if you know what to look for.

Sometimes all you need is a little patience or luck to stumble upon some of our local species and migratory visitors. Some of the species are nocturnal (staying active in cooler temperatures), while some are endangered and, naturally, elusive.

Endangered Dorcas gazelle - desert wildlife in Morocco

Dorcas gazelle

Below is a glimpse of the desert wildlife we’ve been fortunate to spot out from our camp, Camp Al Koutban. We’d be keen to know if you’ve seen any other species.

Our camp is ideally-placed at the heart of the Erg Chigaga dunes for the tallest dune in the Erg, and we also have plenty of other viewpoints nearby. When we say we want to bring you close to nature, we mean it.

One way to know we’re surrounded by desert wildlife, look down at all the tracks in the sand when you’re out walking, especially early morning.

White-crowned black wheatear - desert wildlife in Morocco

White-crowned black wheatear

If you want to get even closer to nature, then join us for a desert hike and camp wild across several days.

Desert wildlife – animal life

Desert wildlife in Morocco - The small rodent Jerboa (hunted by the fennec)

Jerboa

Dorcas gazelle (pictured at top) endangered, but numbers in the Iriqui National Park have increased over recent years (NB: the village of Mhamid El Ghizlane is named for ‘the plain of the gazelles’)
Jerboa, pictured
Hare
Fennec fox, pictured

The Fennec fox - desert wildlife Morocco

Fennec fox

Hedgehog
Berber skink (aka ‘sand-fish’, pictured)
Dab lizard
Saharan striped polecat (rare)
Addax antelope (endangered, re-introduced to the Iriqui National Park recently)
Jackal

Desert wildlife in Morocco - The Berber skink (or 'sand fish') which seemingly swims through the sand

Skink, which seemingly ‘swims’ through sand

Desert wildlife – birdlife

Desert wildlife in Morocco - desert birdlife

Blue-cheeked bee eater (migratory)

Sand-grouse, pictured below (distinctive call in flight, groups fly in V formation, and you may see them at ground level amidst small shrubs)
Wheatears, pictured (both the white-crowned, and the desert wheatear)
Desert sparrow

Desert wildlife in Morocco - wheatear

Desert wheatear

Lark
Bee-eater, pictured (typically February/March – look for birds in/above the calotropis trees)
Houbara bustard, pictured (endangered)

Desert wildlife in Morocco - Houbara Bustard

Houbara Bustard

Stork (group, in flight in circular motion)
Egyptian Vulture (rare, alone or pair)
Brown-necked raven (common)
Little owl (common, palmeraie)

Desert wildlife in Morocco - sand grouse

Sand grouse

For further images of desert wildlife in Morocco and camping in the Iriqui National Park, please follow us on Instagram.

Sahara desert hiking – FAQ

Sahara desert hiking – FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions on our Desert Hiking trips

We’ve captured your imagination, and now you want to understand a little more about what’s involved. Please read on.

Where does the desert hiking start from and how do we travel there?

The cheapest way to reach the start of the hike (the village of Mhamid) is by public bus from Marrakech (this service starts from Casablanca). This is a 10 hours journey from Marrakech, crossing the Atlas Mountains and driving along the Draa Valley oases. The bus operator that travels directly to Mhamid is CTM with one daily departure. Their website is ctm.ma and your destination is ‘Lamhamid Ghozlane’. CTM, and operator Supratours, also offer a route to Zagora if the Mhamid timetable isn’t suitable.
You will need to buy tickets in advance online.
CTM has a dedicated terminus in Marrakech (‘la gare CTM’ if you ask a taxi driver to take you there).

The alternative would be to rent a small car to self-drive and break up the journey to Mhamid with an overnight stop en-route (e.g. at/near Ouarzazate, 4 hours from Marrakech, or at Agdz, 5.5 hours from Marrakech).

A private 4×4 vehicle transfer with driver from Marrakech to Mhamid is costly. The direct car transfer takes approx. 8 hours, excluding any time for stops and visits en-route (i.e. make the short detour to visit the Ait Ben Haddou UNESCO Site near Ouarzazate).

You may consider taking the bus down to Mhamid one-way and arrange a private 4×4 vehicle transfer out of the desert back to Marrakech – this works with either of the linear trekking routes to the Erg Chigaga Great Dunes (3 nights or 4 nights). The driver will collect you at the dunes and take you out of the desert via Lake Iriqui and Foum Zguid (3 hours off-road travel) and then 6 hours via the tar road and back across the Atlas mountains.

Is flying an option?

There are direct flights with Ryanair to Ouarzazate airport (approx. 4 hours from Mhamid by taxi). You can fly directly from London, Paris, Barcelona. 

For domestic options we recommend travelling by the public bus (please see above).

What kit essentials do I need to bring for desert hiking and is there any weight restriction to my luggage?

We advise you to bring a sleeping bag in the Winter months. We provide blankets and sleeping mat but you will be more comfortable with a sleeping bag or a thermal sleeping bag liner on the cold nights. For warmer months, no need to bring anything additional unless you prefer to bring a sleeping bag liner for underneath the blanket.

Please bring clothing you can layer easily as temperatures will fluctuate greatly day to night. You will certainly need a down jacket/warm jacket, hat and warm sleepwear in the months November through to mid-February. A long-sleeved shirt for protection against the sun.

Footwear should ideally be worn-in, and trekking sandals (with socks) are ideal. Running shoes/trainers will be suitable for hard terrain, and note that sand/dust will get underneath your insoles.

There is no weight limit to luggage but about 15-20kg per person is fine. Your luggage (and the camping equipment) is transported by your camels in large baskets, therefore a soft duffel-style bag works well for packing purposes.

Other essentials for desert hiking should be sun protection and personal medication kit. We offer further guidance on packing here.

How many hours each day can I expect to hike for and is it possible to ride by camel for some of the time?

On average, you can expect to hike for up to 5 hours each day (with a break for lunch under shade of trees of up to 2 hours – which allows time for the camels to be unloaded, Moroccan tea prepared, lunch cooked, and camels reloaded). The lunch pause is a good opportunity to take a nap, read a book, take photos or help chop some vegetables with your crew. The camels will wander in search of a snack too.

It is possible to ride by camel-back for some of the hike. You should simply mention this to your guide before the camels are loaded with the equipment (so that the camels each carry a fair weight distribution). We don’t provide a ‘spare’ camel during the desert hiking unless you anticipate riding for most of the route (an extra camel at extra charge).

Do you cater for a vegetarian/gluten-free/vegan diet? Do I need to bring my own water for desert hiking?

Dietary requirements are catered for and the meals are mostly vegetarian-based (with seasonal fresh produce available from Mhamid). There will be pasta and bread so please do mention if you aren’t able to eat this.

We provide bottled drinking water, which you should also use for brushing teeth. We don’t ration drinking water.

Please mention your dietary restrictions at time of booking.

Can I take a shower during the desert hiking?

Water is a precious resource in the desert. We don’t carry enough water with the camels to allow for showering/washing every day.

We are able to provide water for hand and face washing in the evening once camp is established. Please ask your guide.

We suggest you bring wet-wipes and dry soap (hand gel), and bag your litter to hand to your guide.

If you plan to camp at the Erg Chigaga dunes on your final night of the desert hiking, please enquire with us on the possibility to camp at our fixed camp at the dunes (Camp Al Koutban), which has hot showers. Please note, camping on the final night at the Erg Chigaga dunes is at additional rate.

Who are we hiking with? What if I’m travelling solo?

Unless you specifically request to join up with other hikers, we currently run our desert hiking on a privately-arranged basis for any group size – whether you are a solo traveller, family, couple, or group of friends. You will hike with your own guide, cook and camel caravan.

We’ve had lots of solo female hikers join us. Should you still want to enquire further about doing this, we’d be happy to connect you with one of our previous guests.

We do have plans to introduce ‘open’ group departures on fixed dates for the new 2025 season. Please enquire with us.

Our guides all speak French and English – please let us know if you do require an English speaking guide.

 

Please refer to additional images of Sahara desert hiking here.

Tea has a special place in Morocco

Tea has a special place in Morocco

Tea-drinking is a big deal in most corners of the globe, from the Far East, Russia, India, to the United Kingdom, the Middle East, and North and East Africa, to say the least. Each nation has its own tea customs and rituals, and not everyone drinks the same blend of tea. Morocco is a nation of tea-drinkers (apparently it was the English who introduced tea here in the 19th Century!) and the preparation and serving of tea is not to be taken lightly. You can’t just “put the kettle on”, you need to savour the process and take time over it.
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Our Top 5 Things to Do in Morocco

Our Top 5 Things to Do in Morocco

You can’t possibly do and see everything that Morocco has to offer in one trip. If you can experience our top 5 things to do in Morocco that will be eye-opening enough (and, hopefully, inspire you to visit us again).
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The Iriqui National Park

The Iriqui National Park

Iriqui National Park

Created in 1994, Iriqui National Park was established to protect the biodiversity, flora and fauna across 123,000 hectares of south-eastern Morocco, and in particular to preserve the temporary wetlands of Lake Iriqui, at the heart of the desert.
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The Moroccan ergs – Erg Chigaga and Erg Chebbi

The Moroccan ergs – Erg Chigaga and Erg Chebbi

We are often asked the question about the Moroccan Sahara – Erg Chigaga and Erg Chebbi, which one should I visit?

It’s difficult to answer that one on an impartial level, as Yahya hails from the desert region closest to Erg Chigaga. However, we do always give practical advice, depending on your proposed travel schedule in Morocco. Sometimes, it’s just too far to reach one erg (‘sand sea’) when the other would allow for a far more comfortable and sensible journey. You should also consider whether you’d like to spend more than 1 night under canvas in the desert, and which time of year are you travelling in Morocco.

Erg Chigaga and Erg Chebbi each have their merits. Both dune fields are 10 hours+ from Marrakech, we advise you break the journey, with lots of overnight options before and after the desert; Fes to Erg Chebbi is feasible in one day (7 hours), or take 2 nights from Fes to comfortably reach Erg Chigaga. If you’re travelling over from the Coast, opt for Erg Chigaga, which is part of a neat loop through the Anti-Atlas mountains, the Sahara desert and the Draa Valley.
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Self-driving in Morocco – a few of our tips

Self-driving in Morocco – a few of our tips

Self-driving in Morocco

Having your own driver and 4×4 vehicle is by far the most relaxing and comfortable proposition to navigating the open roads and desert here. I endorse it, but I myself enjoy driving and love nothing more than a road-trip. What I find challenging is trying to concentrate on the road and enjoy the magnificent scenery simultaneously – well, it’s difficult – and evidently the driver can’t relax and enjoy the views as his/her passengers can. Concentration is key to self-driving in Morocco.
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