The Great Dunes 3 Days
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 & 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
This 3 days desert trek is a straight-line route, bringing you to the longest sand dune field in Morocco, the Erg Chigaga great dunes, approx. 60km from your trek start point at Mhamid. You will therefore require 4×4 transport back out of the desert, with two onward journey options.
On reaching Erg Chigaga you can choose to camp wild a third night, at the foot of the great dunes (additional Eur €40 per person). Or, if short on time, travel back out of the desert to Mhamid on the third evening (the 2hrs journey by 4×4 to Mhamid 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 late afternoon, or transfer back to Mhamid during the morning.
Your trekking route will take you via the regions marked Lotide and Bougarn on our Map. You will stay north of the Draa River course.
Click on the images to enlarge / © Images courtesy of M. Nestor, M. Charytonowicz & Wild Morocco
Leave the village of M’hamid and trek west in the direction of the great dunes of Erg Chigaga, with the mountain ridge of the Jebel Bani far to your north but in sight for the entire trek. Cross dry river beds (e.g. Oued Naam), and walk through a variety of desert vegetation and scrub before the terrain opens out and becomes more stark. As the day’s trek draws to a close, expect to camp amidst gently rolling dunes and Tamarisk trees, which offer shelter.
Progressing westwards, reach ever-more remote terrain, and larger sand dunes (e.g. Bougarn) surrounded by broad, dry earth plateaux and desert hamada (black stone). Scramble over the dunes and you’ll be able to see Erg Chigaga in the distance. Camp will be made west of Bougarn, in the seclusion of smaller dunes and shrubs.
As the sand becomes deeper (in former water courses/dried rivers), the surrounding plateaux open out to different kinds of plant and tree-life, and you will trek near an area that offers grazing land for the elusive Dorcas gazelle. You will start to trek through bigger dunes before reaching the last plateau bordering Erg Chigaga. Reach Erg Chigaga in time to enjoy sunset. Settle down and make camp once more or look forward to the 4×4 journey back to M’hamid.
TRAVEL TO THE START POINT, THE DESERT FRONTIER
There are a number of options for reaching the village of Mhamid (the start of the treks), it is more accessible than ever with the introduction of flights to Zagora.
The cheapest way to travel is by public bus. This is a 10 hours journey from Marrakech, although you can join the same bus earlier at Casablanca. 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 also offers a route to Zagora if the Mhamid timetable isn’t suitable.
There is an internal direct flight from Marrakech to Zagora, operated by Air Arabia. There is also an internal direct flight from Casablanca to Zagora, operated by Royal Air Maroc. Flights with Air Arabia depart on Wednesdays and Fridays until October 2019 (therefrom, Mondays and Wednesdays); Royal Air Maroc flights depart 4 times per week until October 2019 (therefrom, 3 times per week).
Zagora airport to Mhamid is approx. 1 hour 20 minutes by taxi.
Royal Air Maroc operates internal flights to Ouarzazate, from both Casablanca and Marrakech. Flights are daily.
Ouarzazate airport to Mhamid is approx. 4.5 hours by taxi.
The alternative would be to self-drive a small rental car and break up the journey to Mhamid with an overnight stop en-route (e.g. at/near Ouarzazate, 4 hours from Marrakech).
A private 4×4 vehicle transfer with driver from Marrakech to Mhamid is Eur €250 one-way. 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 or flight one-way and arrange a private vehicle transfer out of the desert back to Marrakech – this works with either of the linear trekking routes to the Erg Chigaga Great Dunes. The driver will collect you at the Erg Chigaga 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. The price of this return desert transfer is on demand.