As you travel southeast out of Morocco’s Atlas mountains, you’ll find the climate getting very hot and dry. Looking at a Morocco map, you’ll understand why. It’s because this is where the deserts of Morocco begin. Quiet and scarcely populated, the desert seems to go on forever here. It is one of the most spectacular locations on our planet. And you should definitely visit it!
Set apart from the coastal cities by the Atlas Mountains, the Moroccan deserts are different from the lush, green north. However, don’t set your sights on the visions you’ve had of traveling up and down golden dunes of sand in a caravan of camels just yet. In the Sahara and Moroccan deserts, you’ll find what they call hamadas. These are places where all the sand’s been blown away. This leaves behind only bare rocks and boulders.
That is not to say, however, that Morocco doesn’t have those picturesque desert scenes you’ve always imagined. Indeed, it does! You’ll find them in two areas known as Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga, two of Morocco’s deserts we will talk about today.
First, let’s have a quick vocabulary lesson in Morocco’s Arabic dialect where the word Erg means “dune field”. It describes the immense, flat areas of the desert with wind-created sand dunes, with little or no vegetation. In other words, these ergs are exactly the kind of golden deserts you’ve been imagining all along.
Surrounded by rocky hamadas, both Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga are located in southern Morocco. They offer awesomely beautiful sand dunes as high as 150 meters (500 ft). Nowhere in Northern Africa will you find a journey into the Sahara like that found here. Basically, it’s an ostensibly wide and never-ending ocean of sand dunes that stretches towards the far away horizon. Each unique dune shaped with each playful gust of the constant siroccos, the desert always rising and falling like an endless sea.
To get to the desert, leave from Marrakech and travel the 560 km. (350 mi.) to where, just outside of the town of Merzouga, desert adventures await. The trip may seem a bit far, but it gives you time to get a good idea of the kingdom. This includes the Morocco people and the country’s contrasting landscape as you travel from the mountains to the desert.
Though the Erg Chebbi dunes area is the smaller of the two ergs, spanning an area of 28 km (17 mi.) from north to south and up to 5 to 7 km (3 to 4 mi.) from east to west, it’s easier to get to so better known by visitors.
With an area of approximately 35 km. (22 mi.) by 15 km (9¼ mi.), Erg Chigaga is a little bit bigger than Erg Chebbi. It’s also a bit more wild and natural than Erg Chebbi because it’s a bit more difficult to access.
As the sun starts to set across the Moroccan desert landscapes, a truly amazing thing seems to happen as the sky becomes a magical show of color.
The magic doesn’t end at sunset, however, as the desert skies perform an encore in the incredible star-studded night sky. Count the stars and enjoy the silence.
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