The Great Dunes

4 Days Camel Trek and Walk

Package Prices Start From:

€440 per person
(including 4×4 transport back to M’hamid)

Hiking to Erg Chigaga

Trek a straight-line route to Erg Chigaga Great Dunes, the longest sand dune field in Morocco and at the heart of the Iriqui National Park. You will therefore require 4×4 transport back out of the desert, with two onward journey options. Discover some fascinating history and cross the vast Draa River bed in the heart of the desert. Visit the remote Erg Zahar dunes and the abandoned desert settlement of Erg Smar on the banks of the Draa River.

On reaching Erg Chigaga Great Dunes you can choose to camp on the fourth night, at the foot of the dunes at Camp Al Koutban (additional Eur €60 per person). Or, if short on time, travel back out of the desert to Mhamid on the fourth evening (the 2hrs journey by 4×4 to M’hamid will be made shortly after sunset, to allow you time to enjoy the day’s end from a vantage point on the dunes). If you camp at Erg Chigaga on the last night, you are able to take a vehicle transfer out of the desert next morning to Marrakech (or Ouarzazate), exiting the desert to the north-west at Foum Zguid and expecting to reach Marrakech early evening. Alternatively, transfer back to Mhamid from Erg Chigaga during the morning.

 

Travel to the Start Point, the Desert Frontier

The Route to Erg Chigaga

4 days to Erg Chigaga

Day 1

Draa River and Sidi Naji marabout

After breakfast, meet your desert guides and camel caravan when the camels are loaded with your luggage / equipment. Your guides will also help you to wrap your turban, ideal protection in the desert. The morning’s trek follows the southern banks of the Draa River, beyond the vast palm groves and original settlement of Mhamid (purported to be approx. 300 yrs old); take time to visit some of the ancient pise-mud buildings, now abandoned, and enjoy the partial shade offered by the trees. Once at the end of the palm grove, take lunch at a point known as Ras Nkhal. Here, the palm trees open out and give way to desert scrub and stone (hamada), earth banks and tamarisk trees for the rest of the day’s trek. After lunch, continue on a south-westerly course for approx. 2.5 hours towards the marabout (the shrine of a holy man) of Sidi Naji, close to where overnight camp will be established, in the seclusion of small dunes. Today’s trek time: 5-6 hours, depending on the pace of the group.

Erg Chigaga hiking across 4 days

Day 2

Region of Erg Zahar

After breakfast, camp is struck, and the day’s goal, the large, remote sand dune region of Erg Zahar will be reached before lunch. Today’s trekking terrain is largely flat, plateau-like earth (a dried lake) which gradually transforms into rolling sand dunes, with far less vegetation visible today. Camp is established at the foot of the tall dunes, between smaller dunes, and lunch is served. This is a little-visited dune region and your afternoon is given to exploring Zahar, reaching the highest point to enjoy the wide-reaching views across the ‘erg’ (sand sea) and then the sunset. From this vantage point, it will be possible to look towards the route of the next 2 days – Erg Smar, and then the great dunes of Erg Chigaga. Erg Zahar is also known as the ‘screaming dunes’, for a legend that tells of a village buried beneath the sands there. Today’s trek time: 4 hours, depending on the pace of the group.

Day 3

Erg Smar

After breakfast, camp is struck. This morning, for the first time since leaving Mhamid, you will cross the bed of the Draa River, to its northern banks, to trek to the abandoned desert settlement of Erg Smar (where, once, up to 35 families lived and farmed the land). The size of the Draa river bed is astonishing, given it now runs dry, but once flowed in abundance through the desert. Water does still run deep underground here and there was once a well on the banks of the dried river. Evidence of human existence is everywhere, the outline of agricultural plots and gardens, abandoned pise-mud buildings which were homes. Your day’s trek finishes under the welcome shade of large tamarisk trees, where camp is established – hard to believe you’re still in the heart of desert terrain, given the size of the the trees at this village. After lunch, you may explore the settlement, the banks of the Draa and the sand dunes that have since started to encroach on the buildings. Today’s trek time: 3 hours, depending on the pace of the group.

Day 4

Great Dunes of Erg Chigaga, 4×4 back to Mhamid

After breakfast, camp is struck. Today’s goal is the great dunes of Erg Chigaga, Morocco’s largest sand sea (stretching some 40km in length) and where you may come across other visitors for the first time on trek. Departing Erg Smar, you leave the dense vegetation behind to cross small dunes and then a broad, earth plateau, passing through an area where it may be possible to see traces of gazelle (as the shrub that they feed on grows just here). To the north and south, rolling dunes are visible. The vegetation increases once more, and you take lunch under the shade of trees. After lunch, on trek, the vegetation gives way to rolling dunes and yet another small plateau, before the expanse of Erg Chigaga rises before you. You leave the camels to scramble up to the highest vantage point in the entire Erg Chigaga, with the dunefield stretching far away in front of you. With good visibility from Erg Chigaga, you should just make out the dunes of Erg Zahar. Enjoy sunset from the top of Erg Chigaga and then descend to either the camp, or drive out of the desert back to Mhamid. Today’s trek time: 5-6 hours, depending on the pace of the group.

© Images courtesy of M. Nestor, M. Charytonowicz & Wild Morocco.

When to trek?

October through April

October still has rather warm day-time temperatures, very pleasant evenings. Night-time lows of around freezing in December / January. But winter light conditions are beautiful, due to the low winter sun. Possibility of a light rain shower in March. The desert is in bloom and camel calves are grazing. Early April sees the arrival of higher temperatures.

Why trek the Sahara?

Get well off the beaten path and experience the raw beauty of the desert.

The Iriqui National Park is untouched. It is home to an array of flora & fauna, the scenery unparalleled. Be prepared to walk on average 5-6 hrs per day. Option to trek by camel. Bring a sense of adventure.

Food and drink

What to expect

Green tea, strong and sweet – don’t be afraid to ask without sugar
Coffee, strong – if you take it white, order a ‘nuss nuss’; black espresso or ‘allongé’
Tagine – slow-cooked casserole
Couscous – steamed semolina
Brochettes – kebab skewers
Harira – tomato-base soup with pulses / beans
Bread – served at all mealtimes
Crepes – breakfast / evening snack
*gluten-free and vegetarian catered for