M’Hamid Desert or Merzouga Desert?
These are the questions every tourist looking for a desert experience in Morocco asks.
For your own mental health wellbeing – we think everyone should visit the desert at least once in their lifetime. Nothing will ever look or feel quite the same again.
So if you are wanting to come to Morocco and enjoy some desert trekking maybe you are wondering how to choose between Erg Chigaga or Erg Chebbi?
Each of these areas are made up of vastly different desert terrain which also include several ergs. An erg is an area of desert covered with wind-swept sand with little or no vegetative cover and is usually used to describe a high dune.
The most famous erg in M’hamid is Erg Chegaga (Chigaga) and in Merzouga, is Erg Chebbi. However both M’hamid and Merzouga desert areas contain several ergs. They also contain a lot of other types of terrain apart from sand dunes, such as mountains, dry river beds, oases, hamada, fossil fields, vegetation fields, etc etc
Erg Chebbi or Erg Chigaga?
So when someone asks us the difference between Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga, we need to understand the question fully. For example Erg Chigaga itself is more commercialised and touristic than people realise and contains many camps but because the general M’hamid area is more vast and empty than the general Merzouga area, Chigaga has a reputation for being the same. If you decide to go to M’hamid for wild camping and remoteness, my personal suggestion would be to visit Erg Zahar instead of Erg Chigaga.
Which Desert to Trek in
M’hamid has several amazing parts and we list them here but the Merzouga area is the real surprise. The one erg known as Erg Chebbi has a reputation for being the most beautiful of all Morocco’s ergs and is probably the highest too. A victim of its beauty and logistically convenient position, it became over touristic and suffered as an environment at the hands of irresponsible tourism. But this has all changed. ALL camps which were in the centre of the high dune area have been moved to the edge of the dunes and the only camps remaining are ones which were cleverly positioned and who meet new stringent environmental rules.
Therefore the centre of Erg Chebbi is in the process of gaining national park status and is now empty of camps and perfect for trekking and authentic desert experiences. However, as explained, there are also several other ergs in this area and we will visit some of them on our unique Walking with Nomad treks in the wider area known as Taouz where we will be able to meet with nomads living here. These are also very beautiful and were never over commercialised in the first place. In fact there is a treasure trove of areas which seem to have never hit mainstream tourism and cannot be found on more than a couple of intrepid tour company websites.
In the M’hamid area, located further south, the stunning Erg Chigaga dunes are situated over 60 km away from the nearest road and the road itself is in a very “out of the way” location. Those opting for an Erg Chigaga excursion should understand that they will either require a few hours 4WD transport or several days on foot or camel back to reach the location and this needs to be built into the travel plans.
The ECO Solution
I want to explain that this blog doesn’t actually aim to assume that either desert is more beautiful than the other. I personally believe, that each desert on God’s earth is equal by virtue of the beauty of its calm tranquillity. But as I’ve trekked extensively in both areas and stayed at several camps and hotels, I’ve got to know both areas really well. I love them both and am sure whichever you choose it will be the right decision for you but I am confident to present my conclusion that although M’hamid is a larger, emptier area containing some amazing tombs and fallen settlements, the Merzouga area is potentially better suited to eco-tourism for the following reasons:
- logistically better placed to fit more easily into your journey with an exceptionally interesting route to get there and less detouring required
- less remote resulting in better safety in the case of an emergency
- contains virtually untouched areas mostly undiscovered due to the popularity of the “one night camp experience” it is famous for
- high dunes reachable on foot or on camel not requiring 4WD transport to reach them
- recent governmental action resulting in higher environmental standards
- the emergence of the first truly eco camp
Although we currently do not offer treks in M’hamid, we are happy to provide more details about the area here and if you have any questions about this subject – please get in touch and I will be happy to talk it through with you in order to help you make the right decision.