Merzouga is a small village, settled about 35 km southeast of Rissani, 55 km away from Erfoud, and 50 km from Algerian border. The place is popular for its proximity to Erg Chebbi and the Sahara erg. Merzouga is an integral part of several itineraries of tourists that come to visit Morocco.
Merzouga is also the city of the largest underwater body in Morocco. Also known as the gateway to Erg Chebbi, Merzouga is surrounded with interesting native legends that tell story of a wealthy family that refused hospitality to a poor woman and her son. As punishment, God buried them in the mounds of sand in the Erg Chebbi and this how the two majestic dunes above villages of Merzouga and Hassi Labied came to be.
Driven by the imposing dunes that are spread to the farthest possible point of your sight, tourists visit Merzouga from all around the world. But, Merzouga never ceases to surprise them by offering much more than just the grand desert. Be it night camping in the middle of the desert, 4WDs, camel rides, birdwatching on the banks of the Salt Lake, or sauntering around the markets of Rissani, Merzouga offers its visitors a lot of options to choose from to ensure your trip is unforgettable.
Best Time To Visit Merzouga
Edged by Sahara Desert, Merzouga’s climate is hot with nearly no rainfall. The city is crowded during its hottest months – June to September. Other months are relatively cooler, especially during the months of winter, viz. December to February.
If you are music enthusiast, you must visit Merzouga in April when the Festival Musiques du Monde is organized. The festival attracts musicians from around the world.
Things to do in Merzouga
Take the Erg Chebbi Route – We all know you are in Merzouga for the sand dunes. Camel trek to the desert and spend a night in the traditional Berber tents. Eating authentic Berber cuisine while listening to their music and watching their dances is the most beguiling thing you can do in Merzouga. The nights can get really cold, so be ready to blanket yourself under the galactic Saharan sky and share some exciting stories while sitting around the bonfire.
You can also ride a 4×4 to the desert or walk, however, both the activities must be executed in the guidance of an expert.
There is no better and more beautiful experience than to watch the sun rise from behind the grand dunes of the Sahara Desert.
Sandboard on the dunes of Erg Chebbi – It your adrenaline rushes at the mere thought of setting a camp or trekking in the desert, then you are going to love what’s next. Sandboarding! This thrilling activity is fun for the first timers as well as those acquainted with skate boarding.
Sandboarding involves walking up to the top of the dune and then sliding your way down to the foot of the dune. No matter how sweaty of tired you feel while walking towards the top, the second half will be worth it.
Visit the village of the Blacks – 7 km away from Merzouga is the village of Blacks, known for the origin of Gnaoua tribes and their music. Go to the village to enjoy the traditional dance and music of the Black Berbers who still live in the area.
Visit Dayet Srji Salt Lake – Situated in the Tamzgidat village, west of Merzouga, this lake is a pleasant place to spend the afternoon. Though the it rarely rains in Merzouga, the lake gets its water from High Atlas Mountains. Several birds come to the shore including flamingos. You can birdwatch while marveling at the stark contrast of the place from dry Sahara Desert.
Visit Rissani – Located near Erfoud, this place is famous for the mausoleum of Moulay Ali Cherif, which is on the southern edge of the town. Formerly a major caravan center, Rissani is now a commercial region with a large souk that is lively on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. The souk is popular for the trade of leather and goat skin.
Take the tour to Museum of Fossils and Minerals. Open from 9 am to 5 pm, the museum exhibits scientifically important specimens, while the lesser significant are up for sale. It is located 5 km along the Rissani road and can easily be identified by the two life-size dinosaur replicas.
You can spend the rest of the day at a local restaurant, eating different types of shawarmas. Available in veg and meat versions, the shawarma is a favorite dish of locals of Rissani.
What to do after exploring the desert?
There are plenty of activities you can indulge in once you have already explored Erg Chebbi.
The curious travelers who are simply in love with knowing every single bit of the town they visit can skim the narrow lanes, old streets, small souks, and shops. Mingle with the amicable locals who are welcoming and can give fascinating insights about the city. Several legends and tales have been circulated among the people of Merzouga and once comfortable, they will not shy away from narrating them on a refreshing cup of mint tea.
The gourmets who are ever so ready to taste new dishes can discover and try delicious local food of Merzouga. There are several restaurants in the city that offer authentic Berber dishes with several other cuisines. Some of the best and most friendly restaurants are:
Restaurant Cafe MORENO – It is a multi-cuisine café that serves African and Mediterranean dishes in addition to Moroccan cuisine.
Nasser Palace Restaurant – This restaurant serves dishes centered around Moroccan and other middle-eastern cuisines.
Café Azul – If you are looking for a more vegetarian option, you can walk your way to Café Azul.
Haven La Chance Desert Hotel – The restaurant serves typical Berber dishes like couscous and a variety of tajine, kalia, and harira. Mechui is their specialty, which is cooked with roasted lamb baked in an abode oven.
A picturesque concoction of desert, lake, and verdant oases, Merzouga is an excellent vacation spot for the adventurous tourist as well as the holidaymaker.