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.

Landscape photography in Morocco

Landscape photography in Morocco

Visiting the Erg Chigaga

A guest article by landscape photographer, Michael Breitung. More on Michael’s landscape photography below. This version has been updated for some new images from 2023/2024 (first published in 2020).

We are running another photography tour together from 1st February 2025, after a series of successful trips. Further details here.

Landscape photography in Morocco

An endless sea of sand painted in golden hues by the setting sun – to witness moments like this I travelled to the Erg Chigaga in Morocco. Here in Germany it was still winter, but in Morocco February already felt like spring and in the desert we had comfortable temperatures of between 20 –25°C during day and down to 5°C at night.

Planning for Landscape Photography

Visiting the desert had been my dream for some time when I started planning our trip to Morocco. As I researched the different options, the Erg Chebbi came up most of the time. It’s a lot less remote than the Erg Chigaga and also much more visited. For me, visiting the desert meant finding tranquillity and for this the Erg Chigaga seemed to be the better option. Also, from my perspective as a landscape photographer I was certain that the vast expanse of the Chigaga would provide me with many photographic opportunities.

Camp Al Koutban, landscape photography Morocco

To plan my stay in the desert I first used Google Earth to get an overview of where to find the higher dunes and of where the different Berber Camps were located. Here I came across the Camp Al Koutban (pictured above, to the right of the dune). While most of the camps are located close to the edge of the Erg, the Camp Al Koutban was right in the middle of the dunes with the largest dune in the area just a 45-minute walk away. I got in contact with Wild Morocco, who provide several tour options into the Chigaga and all-around Morocco. We decided to book a 5-day itinerary and adjust it to our needs. In the end we spent one evening at the Hara Oasis Lodge, 2 nights in the desert, one evening in Ait Ben Haddou, before ending our trip in Essaouira.

Hara Oasis

From Marrakech it was a long drive across the Atlas Mountains towards Agdz. Along the way there were plenty opportunities to enjoy the views and around noon we visited one of the larger Kasbahs in the region, the Telhouet Kasbah. It was fascinating to see the different architectural styles intermixed in those historic buildings. Then we drove on towards the Draa Valley until we finally reached the Hara Oasis lodge in the afternoon. This place was exactly what we needed after our first two days in Marrakech. The atmosphere at the lodge was so relaxed and calm that we were sad to leave after just one night.

Jebel Kissane, Agdz, landscape photography Morocco

Camp Al Koutban

But this sad feeling was quickly replaced by the excitement of finally visiting the desert. Yet again, a few hours of driving lay between us and our destination. The good thing about such remote places as the Erg Chigaga is that you can only get there by 4×4. This means you don’t have to fear busloads of tourists suddenly being dropped at a viewpoint next to you. Surely during high season the Chigaga will also get a bit more crowded because of the number of camps in the area. But if you decide to visit in one of the off-season months as we did you can literally have the dunes for yourself.

Erg Chigaga night skies, landscape photography Morocco

The camp itself was pure luxury. We had a huge tent fitted with carpets, a comfortable bed and many blankets. In a separate building the toilets and showers were housed. It was even possible to get a warm shower in the evening. In the middle of the camp a campfire was setup. The highlight of the camp besides its unique location though was the food. Here we got the real taste of Morocco: the flavour of the food was rich and it was perfectly spiced.

The Dunes

The dunes were spread right around the camp, but to photograph the endless desert I had to hike to some of the higher dunes in the area. An excellent viewpoint could already be reached in about 15 minutes. Here I photographed the Milky Way over the desert one morning.

Milky Way above Erg Chigaga dunes

But there was an even higher dune a bit further away. A 30-minute walk brought us to the foot of the supposedly highest dune in the Erg Chigaga. It took us around 15 minutes to climb it and once we crested the top of the dune I was speechless. This was exactly what I had come to see. With such a great view we weren’t the only people up there the first evening. But the dune is big enough to provide some space. Still I wanted to have this view for myself, so I went back the next morning to enjoy the orange glow of dawn on the dunes.

Erg Chigaga dunes, landscape photography Morocco

Ait Ben Haddou

We could easily have stayed another two days in the desert, but again it was time to leave. Our last stop on our way to the coast was Ait Ben Haddou. But not before a long off-road drive through a spectacular landscape with huge canyon walls. With the right light, those views would again have made for some great photos – maybe another time (*we include a night wild camping here during the photo tour). We arrived in Ait Ben Haddou in the afternoon, just as most of the day visitors left. An hour before sunset we explored the Kasbah, took the typical photo across the river and enjoyed the calm atmosphere. With only a few people left exploring the alleyways we enjoyed our visit. I can only imagine how packed this place can become during day when the busses of the day tours stop here.

Ait Ben Haddou at dusk, landscape photography Morocco

The last part of our journey with Wild Morocco brought us to the coast, to the windy city of Essaouira. The five days had gone like a breeze, much too fast. It didn’t take long for us to miss the silence, the great food and the vast nature. The Erg Chigaga and Camp Al Koutban are definitely a place to visit again.

About the Author

Michael Breitung is a freelance landscape photographer from Germany who loves to travel. His travels have taken him all across the world and he had the chance to visit and photograph many wonderful places. Wide scenic landscapes, waterfalls, mountain vistas and coasts are his favourite subjects. You can see more of his landscape photography on his homepage https://www.mibreit-photo.com

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.
(more…)

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).
(more…)

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.
(more…)

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.
(more…)