Merzouga or M'hamid?
Replies: 12 - Last Post: Mar 10, 2013 8:55 PM Last Post By: kalki
Mar 7, 2013 2:08 PM
Merzouga or M'hamid?Hi, Would love some advice from the experts here. My wife and I are off to Morocco in mid May and we want to check out the Sahara. Seems like two good options are Merzouga and M'hamid. Which one should we go to? Here are some thoughts and things we care about (in no particular priority):
- Ease of getting there: Seems like Merzouga is slightly more accessible through Ouarzazate. Quick question here: Is it advisable to rent a car in Ouarzazate and drive to Merzouga? How are the roads? How long will it take? (looks like the bus takes about 8 hours).
- Quality of dunes and things to do in the dunes: From google images, the dunes near M'hamid look more pristine and beautiful. Anyone have any experience here?
- Quality of accomodation: Seems like Merzouga is the winner here.
- Things to do other than the dunes: I have no idea who wins here. Any opinions?
Would love any thoughts/suggestions. Thanks so much.
Mar 7, 2013 5:41 PM
1Hi I love the Merzouga dunes
- of course there are those that prefer the ones around Mhamid but the Merzouga dunes are the highest of Moroccos dunes and being much more easily accessed I prefer the independence of that, without having to rely on having a 4x4 to get out into the dunes that for Erg Chigaga about 40 kms from Mhamid
- even the dramatic vision of them from the road that runs parallel to them down to Merzouga is to me inspiring
the main dunes of Merzouga are really a chain of dunes about 20 km long and then a large dune at Merzouga town itself which is popular for climbing up to the top of - takes an hour or so - with fantastic views from the top and great al the way up or around the dunes that varigate around that one for seeing the colours of the sand changing with the light through the day and esp more intense around sunset time.
there are hotels situated along the chain of dunes accessed by piste/sandy gravel roads from the main bitumen road that runs from Rissani to Merzouga.
there are some lovely hotels around - some more so that tour groups use on a regular basis and others that are more recommended for independent travellers. I prefer a family run hotel just south of Merzouga
all the hotels can arrange sunrise, sunset or overnight camel trips -or you can walk out wherever you want yourself - ie from the hotel or if you were going to drive into Merzouga and go up the large dune on its own that ive just referred to.
4x4 excursions can also be arranged and are great for trips out into the hamada/stoney desert to see life out there, the mines that are still being worked, nomad families, oases, and where the fossil marble are being taken from the ground. Also futher south there are dinosaur prints, ancient stone houses and forts out in the desert - 4x4 roads down into the desert Occidental and also that many take to go down to Mhamid etc.
theres also the village of Khamlia that makes an interesting visit where you can see the Gnawa music association and listen to their music.
there are CTM/supratour buses from Marrakech that come via Ouarzazate etc but with the sights along the way and options of getting around to enjoy the sights better my recommendation to enhance any one that can drive is to get a car.
Its about 6-8 hours by car from Ouarzazate but you have the option to stop and visit the lovely Dades gorge road or Todra gorge road on the way, even the ancient but still lived in ksar at Goulmima is a worthwhile stop too. If you are coming from Marrakech what about getting a car from Marrakech and having the trip over Tizn Tichka independently too so you can see the scenery you go through less obstructed and be able to stop for photos if you wish.
plus the route through to Ouarzazate whether direct or via Telouet is also very attractive and historical
Mar 7, 2013 10:06 PM
There a 3 main sand dune areas:
1. Merzouga: Beautiful high dunes, great choice of hotels, easy accessible with bus or rental car. The big downside: lots of tourists, specially mid May (top high season). From Ouarzazate it will take approx. 6-7 hours, depending on the stops.
2. M'hamid - Erg Lihoudi: The Erg Lihoudi sand dunes are small and not that impressive, but (for me as a photographer) very beautiful, there are not many tourists there and it is very peaceful. There are nice hotels in M'hamid and a few kilometers before M'hamid. The access to the dunes is via a short off-road track, that can be done be normal car, but every hotel can arrange that for you. From Ouarzazate it will take 4,5 hours to M'hamid.
3. M'hamid - Chaggaga: The Chaggaga dunes are as high and beautiful as the ones in Merzouga. The great difference is: you need a 4x4 car with driver, because they are 60km off-road from M'hamid. Every hotel (or travel agency) will be happy to organize this for you. During high season, there will be also many tourists, but it is much more of a desert experience than Merzouga.
Things to do in the both places: camel ride, sleep in a bivouac near/in the dunes, sand boarding (only on the big dunes), or quad driving.
The roads to Merzouga and M'hamid are mostly good, easy to drive yourself.
Enjoy your trip.
Mar 8, 2013 3:36 AM
3Everything was said here so I just want to add that you should read the thread contributions on both Ergs, it has been written so much about. Both are worth seeing, then it is matter of taste, some like Erg Chigaga, others Erg Chebbi.
But it is peaceful in both ergs.
I've been several times in both and prefer the Erg Chebbi sand dunes because they are "playing" with all colors, from yellow to gold and gray, and white, depending on the weather. While sand dunes in Erg Chigaga have most yellow colour.
Around Merzouga are many interesant places to see as Sahara lake, mineral mines there it is interesant to see how the people work there, old paintings in the rock and so on.
It would be good to know where you will start and also end your trip, if in Marrakech or? Because if you start and end in Marrakech, it is maybe better to go to M'Hamid, but if you will end in Fes, in that case is better to go to Merzouga.
Count only that you need have the time, best 4 or more days, not only rush through, it would be pity. And I am sure that if you go to one of those ergs you will not regret that you chosed just that erg you was comming too, if you understand what I mean now :).
Mar 8, 2013 7:18 AM
5Hello ! I took a bus from Fes to Rissani to visit the merzouga desert ! absolutely beautiful ! Haven't been to M'hamid but Merzouga was absolutely pristine and gorgeous and made me like I was the only person in the world... Take a camel and a guide and spend a few nights in a berber tent... WORTH IT!
The roads should be fine to rent a car and drive on.
Then take a trip into town (rissani) and check out the markets.
Best of luck
Mar 8, 2013 7:30 AM
6I was told some time ago that there was construction starting on the roads in the town of Merzouga.
You are near there now, Khamlia.
Are the roads better now compared to when I was there last November?
Mar 8, 2013 8:08 AM
7no David, they are not.
I was surprised of how it was in the town of Merzouga. That nice port at the entrance to the town is gone and it is wery pity because it was nice. Square is not clear after grubbing for ducting so it looks really really nice, more desert-like I could say.
By the part, was to say hello to Ali and there were so many campers. People as crazy taking sunbath, I not understand that they want to be grilled LOL.
Edited by: khamlia
Mar 8, 2013 10:06 AM
8Yes, grilled is the right word. Exposure to some sunshine is good, produces vitamin D in the body, but lying in the sun and getting burned is stupid.
I was only in Merzouga one time, but it seemed to me, at the time, that there were many men named Ali !
I would love to be there at this time, but not if the place is flooded with tourists.
I try to avoid them really.
Mar 8, 2013 10:45 AM
Mar 9, 2013 2:01 PM
Thanks for the replies. Greatly appreciated. Given what I have read, I think we'd prefer to drive and stop along the way.
We will be arriving in Casablanca at 2pm on 5/17 and leaving on 5/30. So we have close to 2 weeks. Also, we are flying to Paris, but we have kept the departure city open depending on the plan (as long as we can get a flight to Paris).
A couple of follow up questions:
- I don't think we are planning on going too crazy (ie. we are not really planning on going up north), so should we maybe rent a car for the entire trip or just for the trip to the Sahara?
- Any recommendations for car rental places?
- How should we map out the route? Google maps or something else? Is it recommended that we take some kind of a GPS? In other words: how are the roads, signs etc and how likely are we to get lost?
- For activities in Merzouga, can you recommend any good travel agencies? I am sure there are tons, but looking for ones that are good (we don't mind paying a bit extra).
Mar 10, 2013 4:39 AM
11if you can rent a car for the whole time it will be good, not only for the trip to the desert.
I rent often the car in Ouarzazate but you can do it in Marrakech, or already in Casa, I rent locals company, was satisfied every time and they are cheaper also
you have to buy a map and guidebook and then with help of google map you can do your route - think only at that to drive go slowly here, if google say to you that it take 2 hours for example, so count with sometimes with double so much time
You not need GPS if you not want to drive off road, but the roads are quite good and good signed so you can not go lost :)
try to google already now some places in Erg Chebbi and take contact with some of them you like, so you can make the picture of that. Otherwise you can also go right to Erg Chebbi and find some accommodation - they arrange for you all you wish to do - camel trek, tour around sand dunes etc.
Edited by: khamlia
Mar 10, 2013 8:55 PM
12Hiring a car. There are a number of local and international rental agencies in Ourzazate. Initially we had planned to use a small, local agency (we normally prefer to do so as we like supporting local businesses). However, we selected Avis. And.. were delighted we did so as on day 7 the car developed mechanical problems. We phoned the 24 hour help service and although we can get by with French, they transferred us to an English speaking person, who took all our details and arranged a car and truck to collect us and the car.
Back at Ourzazate, the extremely helpful agent offered us a replacement car and then refunded some of our fee as we decided to shorten our trip by one day.
We bought a map and also used GPS and had no problems finding our way around.
And for the dunes. We went to M'hamid. From there we walked for 3 days accompanied by 2 Berber guides and 3 camels. On the 3rd day we walked into one of the permanent camps at Chigaga and over nighted there. The solitude of the desert that we experienced with the 3 day desert walk was one of the highlights of our 6 week travel in Morocco.
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