Merzouga and the dunes of Erg Chebbi

Some 61 km southwest from Erfoud, Merzouga has one attraction, the 150 m high dunes of Erg Chebbi, a vast pile of sand stretching into the Sahara. The dunes are an offshoot of a much bigger area of dunes across the border in Algeria but because of the relative accessibility of Erg Chebbi they have often been used as a film set by Hollywood directors. And it's not hard to see why. As the sun shifts across the sky during the day the dunes change colour, from the palest cream to deep oranges and reds, and their beautiful shapes and patterns are constantly sculpted by the wind. Despite the popularity of the dunes it's easy to escape any sign of human habitation, especially if you get up early for a walk. Bear in mind, however, that what might at first appear no more than a lifeless expanse of sand is, in fact, a fragile ecosystem, and one that quad bike tours are in danger of destroying.

All of the hotels along the edge of Erg Chebbi organize
camel treks
into the dunes - usually out to semi-permanent tent encampments where you stay a night before coming back to the hotel. The cheaper trips tend to go a short distance to a communal camp where you may find that the romance of a night under the bright Saharan stars is spoiled by the crowds. Pay a bit more and you should get a small camp, with varying degrees of comfort.

There is little else, beside the other tourists and a small village with a Saturday souk, but the calm and wilderness are a big part of the appeal. There is occasionally good birdwatching in the adjacent
Dayat Merzouga
when it has water. Another (summer) option is to have a sand bath, said to be good for rhumatism. The piste continues south to Taouz, and the 4WD brigade now travel along the once 'forbidden track' west to Remlia and the confluence of the dry river valleys of the Gheris and Ziz.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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