Spread out over 9 million square kilometres across north Africa, the great Sahara desert is the largest sand desert in the world with a remarkable variation of microclimates and communities of plant and animal species. From the Red Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, the Sahara morphs from vast stone plateaus to areas of undulating sand dunes, punctuated by deeply cut mountain ranges and small green oases.
Despite the harsh conditions, the Sahara is home to an estimated two million people formed of permanent communities that have set up close to water sources and the ethnic tribes that live a traditional nomadic existence following ancient trade routes. Most famous of these tribes are the Berbers, descendants of the pre-Arab inhabitants of North Afri
ca, who even after some 4,000 years maintain their own language and culture across the Sahara and much of Morocco.
Sleeping in the Sahara
To truly experience the Sahara desert we recommend spending a night in a desert camp inspired by Berber traditions. The standard camps tend to be located further out in the desert with the nearby villages out of sight, often reached by an hour’s camel trek which only adds to your desert experience. The colourful tents are pitched in a rectangular arrangement facing into a central communal area of rugs, seats and low tables where guests will dine in the evening and for breakfast.
For discerning travellers, luxury camps offer a more comfortable desert experience with larger tents with fixed beds, flushing toilets and running water, carpets and lamps. The luxury camps tend to be closer to the desert towns as the higher standard of facilities requires access to electricity and water supplies. Many such camps are an easy walk from Merzouga and M’hamid village but guests can still opt to take a camel trek further out into the desert on a return journey back to the camp.
Best time to visit the Sahara
The best time to visit the Moroccan Sahara is between October and April when daytime temperatures are bearable, however, in December and January night-time temperatures can plummet below freezing so you’ll need to travel with suitable clothing. To experience the ethereal beauty of the Sahara sand dunes without the crowds, visit during the quietest months of November, January and February.
Temperatures are particularly fierce between June and August and therefore not ideal for the elderly or the very young though. During the height of summer, Moroccans come to Erg Chebbi to be buried neck-deep in the hot sand for a few minutes at a time. It’s reputed that the power of the sands are a treatment for rheumatism.
The dunes are spectacular at any time of day but particularly impressive first thing in the morning with the rising sun and last afternoon as the sun begins to set and the sands blaze with changing colour.