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Introducing Merzouga

When a wealthy local family didn’t offer hospitality to a poor woman and her son, God was offended, and buried them under the mounds of sand 50km south of Erfoud called Erg Chebbi. So goes the legend of the dunes rising majestically above the twin towns of Merzouga and Hassi Labied – but reality is even more unbelievable. Shape-shifting to reach heights of 160m, Erg Chebbi glows a stunning shade of rose gold, until afternoon sunlight tints the dunes orange, pink and purple.

This is perhaps the best area in Morocco for spotting many desert bird species, including desert sparrows, Egyptian nightjars, desert warblers, fulvous babblers and blue-cheeked bee-eaters – all worth seeking, if only to put a face to those eccentric names. Sometimes in spring a shallow lake appears northwest of Merzouga, attracting flocks of flamingos and other waterbirds.

Purists lament the encroachment of hotels flanking the western side of Erg Chebbi from the village of Merzouga north past the oasis village of Hassi Labied – but there’s no denying the spectacular dune views from rooms and terraces. Sand toys (snowboard, skis etc) and bicycles are free to use at many hotels.