Visiting the Erg Chigaga
A guest article by landscape photographer, Michael Breitung. More on Michael’s landscape photography below.
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 a few months ago. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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