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Get the most out of your visit to the Sahara desert, Merzouga


Who has never dreamed of sleeping in the Sahara cozily nestled between sand dunes while looking at the stars?


Merzouga in the southern region of Morocco is the perfect place to live all of these fantasies. It’s a small Moroccan town in the Sahara Desert, not too far from the Algerian border. It’s known as the door to Erg Chebbi, a huge stretch of sand dunes south of town.


Town Gate, Erg Chebbi, Merzouga, Sahara Desert

Typical Berber architectural elements in Merzouga, Morocco

Merzouga is a calm and quiet town in the Sahara, yet it offers a surprisingly big amount of cool fun activities. Here you´ll find how to get the most out of your visit to the Sahara desert, Merzouga.


Sunset camel ride in the desert


No trip to Morocco would be complete without a camel trek in the desert. If you are fascinated with the ancient African camel caravans, this is the perfect opportunity to feel like a nomad for a couple of hours. This is a once in a lifetime experience that you will never forget.


Although these treks are possible during the whole day, the best time is at sunset.


Camel caravan going through the sand dunes in Merouga, Sahara Desert (Morocco)

Sandboarding in the dunes


If you want to discover the desert in a more “alternative” way and get covered in sand in the process, you should try sandboarding. Although this activity looks at first glance as something that could be dangerous, it’s actually super safe.


The sand dunes of Erg Chebbi in Merzouga are really soft so you shouldn’t fear falling down. But make sure to cover your eyes with goggles to avoid getting sand in them. This is an awesome activity to do with friends.


Young female traveler sandboarding at Erg Chebbi sand dune in Merzouga, Morocco

Going for a ride in a 4×4 in Erg Chebbi


Although this activity is not as traditional as riding a camel through the dunes, nothing beats the feeling of zooming up and down through the desert in an off-road vehicle.


It’s possible to go on a short 2-hour trip in a 4×4 with a driver. The drivers in Merzouga are all quite young but don’t let their youthful appearance fool you. These guys are all very experienced drivers and they know the desert like the back of their hands.


Four wheel drive through the desert in Merzouga, Morocco

Listen to traditional Gnawa music in Khamlia


The Gnawa are an ethnic group inhabiting Morocco and they have some of the most beautiful traditional music you will hear while visiting the country. The ancestors of the Gnawa people were brought from Central and West Africa as slaves through the Sahara desert in caravans that eventually arrived in the southeastern part of Morocco.


One village where you can discover this culture is Khamlia. It’s located just 7 km south of Merzouga. The town itself is quite small with a population of 390 people of Gnawa and Berber origins. Khamlia is located right next to the Erg Chebbi dunes.


Gnawa musicians in white turbans and jellabas playing while sitting in a desert village Morocco

Admire the stars from the desert & enjoy traditional desert party


There is no better place to admire the stars than from the desert itself. Since Merzouga is a small town, the sand dunes around it receive almost no light pollution, making this a prime stargazing location.


You´ll be amazed by how clear the milky way appears above you and how bright and big the stars seems to be. It is a really soothing experience to see millions of lights above you in all directions and the best part you also can enjoy the traditional desert party.


Berbers at camp fire in Sahara desert near Merzouga village, Morocco.

Night in Haima in Merzouga dessert, Morocco

Milkyway and stars in the desert of Merzouga, Morocco

Merzouga is such an iconic place to visit in Morocco that it’s considered one of the best destinations in the country !


If you want to see all of this and more come and join us for Soy Erasmus Morocco trip. More information of the trip you will find here.


Video of the trip:


Curious facts about the Sahara Desert


The Sahara Desert is the world's largest hot desert and the third largest desert behind Antarctica and the Arctic. Located in North Africa, it covers large sections of the continent - covering 9,200,000 square kilometers which is comparable to the area of China or the US!


How Hot Is The Sahara Desert?

The Sahara is the hottest desert in the world – with one of the harshest climates. The average annual temperature is 30°C, whilst the hottest temperature ever recorded was 58°C. The area receives little rainfall, in fact, half of the Sahara Desert receives less than 1 inch of rain every year.


Despite many thinking of the Sahara as a constantly hot climate, temperatures drop dramatically at night, due to the lack of humidity, and can reach lows of -6°C. Snow falls regularly on several mountain ranges, but nowhere else in the Sahara.

On September 13th 1922, the Sahara’s record high temperature was recorded at 136 degrees Fahrenheit in El Azizia, Libya. Despite what this might suggest, the desert is more livable than you might think. In fact, the forecast temperature for our trip is just around 22 degrees Celsius. Pretty perfect if you ask us!


How Big Is The Sahara Desert?


The Sahara Desert is the largest hot desert in the world, and the third largest overall after the Antarctica and the Arctic. The Sahara Desert covers an incredible 9.2 million km², which is almost the same size as China, and a total of 8% of the earth’s land area. Impressive!


It’s a common misconception that the Sahara is the world’s largest desert. In actual fact, it’s the largest hot desert behind the Arctic and Antarctida, which are both cold deserts. During the summer months, temperatures in the Sahara average between a sizzling 38-46°C.


What Can Be Found In The Sahara Desert?


Sand dunes and sheets cover only around 25% of the Sahara’s actual surface. This desert also has numerous other land features including salt flats, gravel plains, plateaus and even mountains where snow has been recorded.


The Sahara is much more than just sand – in fact, the majority of the Sahara is made up of barren, rocky plateaus, as well as salt flats, sand dunes, mountains and dry valleys. The rivers and streams found in the Sahara are all seasonal, apart from the River Nile.


There are over 20 lakes in the Sahara, most of which are saltwater lakes. Lake Chad is the only freshwater lake in the desert.


The highest peak in the Sahara is Emi Koussi (3,415m), a volcano located in Tibesti Mountains, Chad. Other mountain ranges in the area include the Aïr Mountains, Saharan Atlas, Adrar des Iforas, Hoggar Mountains, Tibesti Mountains, and the Red Sea hills.


The Sahara is actually mostly rock – not sand! Yes, really. The desert is made up primarily of rocky hamada landscapes. In fact, it is just 30% sand, the remaining 70% being mostly gravel. The rest of the desert comprises sand seas, stone plateaus, salt flats, arid valleys, mountains, rivers, streams, and oases.


Monitor lizards, camels, foxes and gazelles live in the Sahara. The desert might be a tough environment for humans to inhabit, but many animals do live here. Camels are the main animals you will see in the Sahara, largely due to their use by humans. However, other notable species of wildlife in the Sahara include fennec foxes, addax antelopes, Dorcas gazelles and Saharan cheetahs. You might be lucky enough to spot one of these curious creatures during our Morocco trip.


It’s not all dry! There are over 20 lakes in the Sahara. All of these are saltwater lakes, except for Lake Chad, which is the only freshwater lake in the desert. There are also over 90 oases in the Sahara. But as they’re spread out over 3.6 million miles, we wouldn’t recommend setting out in search of water. It might be a long walk!

Instead, why not explore the highlights of the Sahara with our expert local guides on our Morocco trip?


How big are the sand dunes in the Sahara?


In east-central Algeria lies the Isaouane-n-Tifernine Sand Sea, with sand dunes as high as 450m – some of the tallest in the world!


The largest dunes in Morocco are the Erg Chigaga – with some dunes reaching a massive 300m. The Chigaga dunes are hard to reach, with access only permitted by 4x4, camel or foot. These dunes are a relatively untouched part of the Sahara.


Emi Koussi Volcano is the highest point in the Sahara at 3,415 metres. Emi Koussi is a shield volcano that sits in the Tibesti Mountains of northern Chad. The volcano has various lava domes, cinder cones, lava flows and maars visible on its outer flanks, which are evidence of its active history. Today, fumaroles sit at its southern base, and hot springs heat waters up to 37 degrees celsius – perfect for a relaxing dip!


Has The Sahara Desert Changed Over The years?

Yes - dramatically! The Sahara has changed immensely! It used to be lush and green, home to a variety of plants and animals. The change came approximately 5000 years ago, due to a gradual change in the tilt of the earth. It is thought that the Sahara Desert will become green again at some point in the future.


What Does “Sahara” Mean?


In fact, the word Sahara is derived from the Arabic noun ṣaḥrā meaning “desert”. Sahara is also related to the adjective ashar, meaning “desert like”, referring to a reddish colour.


Do People Live In The Sahara?


Around 2.5 million people also call the Sahara home, most of which have Berber or Arabic roots. They either live in permanent settlements near water sources or have a nomadic lifestyle, travelling from place to place with herds of sheep, goats or camels.


The Sahara is en route for Bedouin nomads, who travel with camels.


The word Bedouin is derived from the Arabic badawī, meaning “desert dweller”. These nomadic peoples move around the desert during their migrations around North Africa and the Middle East, making tent camps near natural resources depending on the season and the community’s needs. Bedouin nomads are known for herding traditions, as well as their rich history of oral poetry. You will get the chance to meet some nomads yourself during our Morocco trip.


Many dinosaur fossils have been found in the Sahara


As you would imagine, the desert is full of archaeological and palaeontological wonders. Along with 6000-year-old megalithic stone circles and Saharan rock paintings, unique dinosaur fossils have been found by scientists. Recently, the fossilised remains of an 80-million-year-old dinosaur were found in a Saharan oasis. Named the Mansourasaurus shahinae, the dinosaur is thought to have been 33 feet long and weighed 5.5 tons.


The Sahara has been used as a set for Star Wars


Several times, actually. The Tunisian Sahara has been used as a backdrop for the towns of Tatooine and Matmata, ever since the desert Berber towns caught the eye of director George Lucas. Matmata is the fictional village where Luke Skywalker grew up, and today you can still see some of the sets, often either abandoned or repurposed in a curious fashion.


BONUS FACTS:


*Spanning nearly a third of the African continent, the Sahara reaches a total of 11 countries. These include Egypt, Algeria, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, Western Sahara and Tunisia.


*Every 41,000 years, the Sahara alternates between desert and savanna grassland. This is caused by a wobble in the Earth’s axis as it rotates around the sun, which changes the location of the North African Monsoon and therefore causes the Sahara’s landscape to undergo a drastic change.


What a place.


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