FAQ on desert camps

FAQ on desert camps

Where are the desert camps located?

The desert camps are located at Erg Chigaga dunes, at the heart of the Iriqui National Park (see below). The Erg Chigaga is the longest erg, ‘sand sea’, in Morocco at approx. 40 km length. Being 60 km from the nearest village/road (at Mhamid) makes it an opportune location for star-gazing and immersion in nature.

Camp Al Koutban, see image above, is ideally-placed for the tallest dune in the entire Erg (and some wildlife spotting), but all desert camps offer plenty of viewpoints from dunes closer to camp.

*NB: if you are taking the short 4 days tour between Marrakech and Fes, we offer alternative camping at Erg Chebbi dunes, to minimise driving hours. However, on the 5 days tour between Marrakech and Fes we offer desert camps at Erg Chigaga dunes.

How do we travel to the desert camps?

The Erg Chigaga dunes are approx. 20 hours round-trip from Marrakech (or on the Fes-Marrakech route, approx. 26 hours trip).
We arrange the stays at the desert camps as part of a complete package round-trip from Marrakech, or a through-trip between Marrakech and Fes. The packages include private driver-transport and hotel accommodation either side of the camping stay.

We can also arrange to collect you from Ouarzazate, or from the coast (Agadir, Taghazout, Essaouira).

Please look over our 4×4 tours page for various options with the desert camps. The most comfortable minimum round-trip is 4 days/3 nights (with 1 night camping). We recommend you spare an extra night to allow yourself a full day in the Sahara to really switch off.

Alternatively, we can put together a self-drive package for you, and arrange for a desert guide to join you in your vehicle at the village of Mhamid. Or you may finish a multi-day desert hike with a night in comfort at one of the desert camps.

What is the Iriqui National Park?

Iriqui National Park was established 30 years ago 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. The lake bed is normally a dried salt flat, which you will drive across.

Iriqui National Park is the largest park in Morocco (re: surface area) and is unique in that it is Saharan. The dunes of Erg Chigaga are simply a small part of the Park.

How big are the desert camps?

We offer desert camps with no more than 14 tents.
At the heart of each camp is the campfire, and the restaurant tent (*and bar at the luxury camp).
If you want to camp in privacy away from others, we recommend staying at the private nomadic camp (but with your own staff).

What should I pack/bring to the desert camps?

Please bring good sun protection, including lightweight long sleeves and hat – even in Winter, the sun remains very strong.
Please bring clothing you can layer easily as temperatures will fluctuate greatly day to night. You will certainly need a down/warm jacket, hat and warm sleepwear in the months from late November through to mid-February.
For footwear, 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.
Please bring a personal travel kit (e.g. immodium, antihistamine, painkiller, rehydration powders, support bandage, band-aids, antiseptic wipes, dressing, hand gel, eye drops).
Please protect cameras/phones/tablets from desert dust, even with a sealable plastic bag.
Lastly, please pack a book or two if you plan to disconnect.

What is there to do in the desert?

You can be as relaxed or as active as you like. Key times of day are sunrise/sunset, and meal times.

The stays at the desert camps include a camel trek before sunset (or walk if you don’t wish to ride). The round-hike (or camel trek) from Camp Al Koutban to the tallest dune in the Erg Chigaga is approx. 90 minutes.
Other hiking options are possible if you request a guide at time of booking. Without a guide, you can walk out from camp, but ensure to keep the camp in sight at all times.
The camps have shared sand-boards.
There are outdoor relaxation areas and hammocks.

Lastly, you may want to find a quiet vantage point and practise some yoga against the backdrop of the dunes.

Do you cater for a vegetarian/gluten-free/vegan diet at the desert camps?

Dietary requirements are catered for at the desert camps. Please mention your dietary restrictions/allergies at time of booking.
The emphasis is on fresh vegetables and fruit, tagines, couscous, soup, salads, bread/pancakes.
We provide bottled drinking water, which you should also use for brushing teeth.

What is the bathroom situation?

The desert camps source water from a natural spring, several kilometres from Erg Chigaga dunes.
We encourage you to use water sparingly in the desert, especially in light of recent drought conditions in the south of Morocco.
The tap water in the bathrooms is not drinkable.
Towels are provided (*and toiletries at the luxury camp).
The luxury and private nomadic camps have private bathrooms adjoining the sleeping tents (bucket shower, Western toilet).
Camp Al Koutban has a shared bathroom block (Western toilets/showers).

Will there be electricity at camp?

The electricity supply at the desert camps is generated by solar panels.
At Camp Al Koutban, should you need to charge your phone, camera battery, or other kit, please ask the team and they will use one of the sockets at the kitchen.
At the luxury camp/private nomadic camp, the sockets may be used in the tent.
However, you may want to bring an external power bank if you need to charge equipment while you’re travelling.

What sort of weather can we expect?

For queries about Morocco weather, we find the ‘meteoblue’ forecasts reliable. Search for Mhamid or el Gouera for the Sahara desert – www.meteoblue.com
The best times of year to visit the desert are from the end of September through to early May.

It’s not unusual to have windy conditions in the desert. These tend mostly to occur around the change of seasons/temperature changes (i.e. early Spring). Conditions can change quickly, it is a fact of life in the Sahara.
Winters see cold overnight temperatures (even as low as freezing by dawn) with warm daytimes. However, climate change has affected what were once seasonal patterns and Winters are shorter/drier than before.

Will we see animals near the desert camps?

There is abundant desert wildlife to be found in the Iriqui National Park.

For an overview of what to expect, please click here.

 

Please also visit our Instagram feed.

 

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.

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

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