Merzouga and erg Chebbi
Located south of the large palm grove of Tafilalet, the erg Chebbi, stretching nearly 30 km along the Hamada du Guir, bordering Algeria, well represents this state of mind:
A search for calm and serenity, unfortunately too often parasitized by the roars of 4×4 and other quads, disturbing this magic.
A subtle and particular ecosystem governs the life of the erg and maintains the formation of its dunes whose colour changes as the sun travels.
Indeed, the humidity accumulated at a great depth allows the dunes to settle and perpetuate themselves; some reach 150 m in height.
Stays in the dunes of Merzouga
The numerous inns are scattered along the dunes of Merzouga. They offer camel excursions within the erg Chebbi.
It is absolutely worth getting up early in the morning to watch the sunrise, the colours constantly moving seem to glow on the golden sand.
Then taking advantage of the relative coolness of the morning, start a walk in the dunes or on the reg whose black rockery which can appear monotonous is no less sublime.
This kind of morning escapade can lead to the small palm grove of Hassi Labied or to the village of Merzouga. A unique opportunity to meet the population, always welcoming, of the villages bordering the erg on its western side.
The time and energy released are really worth it, because it is, moreover, always possible to discover in these small excursions of beautiful black stones possibly fossilized, rejected on the surface of the reg.
Apart from camels and nomad tents, there is nothing in the desert – though – but around…
Depending on the time of year, sunrise generally takes place around 5 am in summer or 6 am in winter and sunset around 7 pm in summer or 5.30 pm in winter. Beware of hot spring and summer weather.
The Tafilalet region is indeed rich in fossils and minerals. Dinosaur bones – carcharadontosaurus sahiricus and more recently deltadroneus agilis, for connoisseurs – were discovered there in the 90s, around Rissani, about thirty km from the erg Chebbi.
In the towns of Rissani and Erfoud specialized craftsmen polish and manufacture many objects, often household, from these fossilized minerals.
Travellers will prefer the bivouacs offered by many inns in the dunes. You can travel there by camel to spend the night, admire the magnificent sunsets and sunrises. Sleeping outside or in the Berber tent under this black sky glittering with a thousand lights, an unforgettable moment.
Mechanical equipment enthusiasts can take a complete tour, accompanied by a guide or not, of the Chebbi erg, aboard these new desert vessels that have become 4×4 and quads.
The most patient, and not less adventurous, will choose the hump not always comfortable, but so much more true, of a camel to leave in a more silent and intimate discovery of these dunes which have the art to awaken in us unique feelings.
Birdwatchers will go a few kilometres from Merzouga for a walk on the shores of Lake Srji. In the past, the local populations knew it completely in water, but this aridity does not prevent hundreds of birds, pink flamingos, wild ducks, storks… to continue to find there a place of refuge and necessary rest.
Lovers of ancient history will let their steps lead them to the desolate ruins of the mythical Sijilmassa, adjoining Rissani. Former economic capital in the Middle Ages, it rivalled Fez or Marrakesh.
It was built in 757, located at the crossroads of the caravan routes, it quickly became an important and essential commercial centre for the Zenet tribes. However, slaves, fabrics and other goods coming from the present Sudan and the south Sahara passed through and were exchanged there; what made its wealth and its loss, because it was totally destroyed in 1818 by the Aït Atta tribes.
The village of Merzouga
The village of Merzouga itself is not very interesting. Only a few shops and cafés, the post office, surround the square where large taxis and buses arrive from Rissani or Erfoud. Generally, in their services, inns offer to come and welcome you in order to take you to this small paradise.
A track also exists, which runs along the Erg Chebbi, from Erfoud to Merzouga, but this requires a 4×4 and especially a good habit of this kind of driving.
The erg Chebbi is a very popular tourist place, at certain times a large part of the planet is merrily near there. Camel trips are the highlight of the tourist attraction in the dunes of Merzouga.
Several agencies propose quads and 4×4 rentals which criss-cross the dunes… We do not really like this polluting practice, unfortunately often practiced within the dunes.
In the village of Merzouga
The village of Merzouga has a post office and some shops and hotels. Most of the hostels are located on the edge of the dunes several kilometres from the road leading to Merzouga, many establishments offer to welcome you to the village itself if you arrive by bus or large taxis.
Hotels and guest houses in the dunes of Merzouga
From the approach of the dunes of erg Chebbi, inns and bivouacs follow one another in tight row, skirting its western flank, until the village of Merzouga.
Charming kasbahs, simple hotels, campsites and nomad tents, there is something for everyone. The whole benefiting from splendid views on the dunes of the erg Chebbi.
Signs indicate the accommodation along the paved road that separates Rissani from Merzouga making fork on the left and follow the corresponding track, passable by car, for a few kilometers.
Bivouacs and excursions to the dunes of Merzouga
All the establishments propose excursions and bivouacs in the desert. Often the evenings are rhythmed to the sound of derboukas, Arabic drum made of a skin stretched over a clay cylinder, which the inhabitants play to their heart’s content.
Sandboard in the dunes of Merzouga
Several hostels have skis and offer to go down the dunes. Of course there is no lift, but the experience, which is quite funny, deserves a little effort.
Eating at the dunes of Merzouga
All hostels also have a table d’hôte and some of them are open to people who are not staying overnight in their establishment. During bivouacs of one night or more, meals and breakfasts are included in the program, as well as mineral water most of the time.
Drink a glass at the dunes of Merzouga
To the south of the village of Merzouga, the “tourist complex” serves beer, wine and spirits at the foot of the dunes. See also Tomboctou Hotel in Hassilabied.
Finally we conclude with a quote from Theodore Monod: “The desert is beautiful, do not lie, it is clean“. I hope it lasts…
MAKE A BIVOUAC