Although not quite in the Sahara Desert, the sand dunes at Erg Chebbi are what most people would have in mind. Many films including The Mummy, Prince of Persia and SPECTRE have been filmed there due to their accessibility and size, with dunes up to 150m high. Larger and more extensive dunes can be found across the Algerian border only 20km away, but that’s a little harder to travel to and around than Morocco…
Ergs are large seas of dune formed by wind blown sand, seemingly piling up in the middle of an otherwise flat and rocky landscape. About 28km by 7km at the widest points the Erg Chebbi dunes are bordered by the town of Merzouga and a number of hotels. They were a surreal sight when first seen from the road.
We dropped our bags at a local hotel, with just small overnight bags being taken by 4WD to a nearby desert camp on the outskirts of the dunes. Our camel train then awaited for a sunset walk into the dunes. This was my first camel ride and it was possibly the most uncomfortable mode of transport I’ve ever taken.
After an hour of slow, rolling travel around the dunes I was very glad to disembark and use my legs to climb to the top of a nearby dune for views.
This was a mostly great place to watch the sunset, with the sky lighting up spectacularly, and the sand cycling between colours.
Even in the shoulder season though it wasn’t a particularly peaceful experience, with annoying kids running around the dunes creating tracks, and the noise of 4WDs and motorbikes driving around and up the dunes.
Things improved when all the groups left, including my own on camel back, as the sunset colours were still improving, and I and a fellow keen photographer headed to the desert camp on foot. For any photographers I’d recommend using your legs rather than a camel as trying to take decent photos from a moving camel as the light fades is quite a challenge.
My favourite experience in Erg Chebbi was walking to the desert camp under the light of a near full moon.
The desert camp was far more comfortable than expected, with plenty of beds in the tents, decent toilets, and a tasty dinner followed by great local music played by the staff.
It was cold overnight but not as bad as expected, and visiting in November meant reasonably timed sunset and sunrise times. We left at 7am to catch the sun rise across the dunes, far less colourful than sun rise but still a pretty good way to start the day. I declined another camel ride and enjoyed the freedom of exploring on foot.
I didn’t see any animals in Erg Chebbi but there were plenty of their tracks around.
After which we walked back to Merzouga for a welcome shower and breakfast before another day on the bus travelling to Todra Gorge.