When a wealthy family refused hospitality to a poor woman and her son, God was offended, and buried them under the mounds of sand called Erg Chebbi. So goes the legend of the dunes rising majestically above the twin villages of Merzouga and Hassi Labied, and for many travellers fulfill Morocco's promise as a dream desert destination.
But Erg Chebbi's beauty coupled with Merzouga's accessibility has its price. Paved roads across the Middle Atlas from Midelt and east from Ouarzazate mean that desert tourism is booming. In high season, coaches and convoys of 4WDs churn up huge dust clouds as they race across the hammada in time for sunset camel rides, and purists lament the encroachment of hotels flanking the western fringes of the dunes – although there’s no denying the spectacular dune views from rooms and terraces.
To best experience Erg Chebbi's ethereal beauty, plan carefully and come out of season. The end of November, and January and February are the quietest times and some of the best weatherwise.