I used to do this a lot - funnily I always seemed to wake up just in time for sunrise! - a lovely time in the morning to see the desert, desert life and just beauty of the quietness and glow and colour of the new days sun on the sand - go for a wander with the cool sand under your feet and all the shapes and patterns and whatever else you come across to see - and capture with the camera!
First thing in the morning the sand will reveal the prints of whats been there before - maybe the evening before's camels - or footprints of birds, little animals such as foxes or cats even, but also you might also get to see the tracks of snakes and scorpions (rather scarey - but Ive not yet seen any of the actual things apart from their tracks left behind), centipedes and most commonly scarab beetles.
If you do come across one, and Ive been seeing them pretty much whenever Im walking in the sand in the afternoons, watch how fast they bury into the sand!
Funny when some tracks you come across it looks like there must have been a party with the number and variety of tracks all criss crossing each other!
if theres been rains there are 2 places that lakes form which are known to bring birdlife, especially flamingoes, up next to HOtel Yasmina at the far end of the dunes - which is sandy piste road following the chain of dunes along - and down near the village of Merzouga.
Ive several times seen the lakes in both places but never much in the bird life - this time in March there were some brown and white geese looking birds but still no flamingoes! Its always worth a look though - and theres nice views and shots to be had of the lake with the dunes in the background
Theres a road that turns off the bitumen near the approach to Merzouga - you either need to know where it is or have a local show you - the piste is quite okay to drive on to get in to the lake and out again
Rent your own car. It will save you time and you decide where you whish to stop on route. You can get there in 1 day but it means you will miss a lot en route. I would recommend at least 1 nights stop on the way there. A nice route to take is a loop. Marrakech via Cascade D'Ouzoud and the gorges on the way there. And back through the Atlas mountains passing via Ouarzazate.
This trip takes you to Merzouga which is far more impressive than Zagora. If you are limited for time though, Zagora is the shorter route and still takes you through the Atlas Mountains, but the dunes aren't as amazing or big.
I'd also suggest you plan at least 1 night in the desert. A trip by camel to a camp and stay overnight in a typibal berber tent (bivouac) is a great experience. 2 hours on a camel is enough. They are not that comfortable & you do not need to trekk for hours to get the desert feel. Merzourga, erg Chebbi, offers this from the start.
If any of you in the group are confident drivers than you can drive there yourself. 4x4 are not needed to get to the dunes. See my tips
There are plently of Local Oasis all surounsing the village of Merzouga. It makes a perfect morning trip from your hotels wither going by car if you are in a auberge a few kms away or just walking if you decide to stay in the village. I specially prefer getting a bit away from the village as i get more the sense of being more isolated altouhg you still will have some people everywhere (unless you go to the dunes walk walk walk).
People cultivate these vegetables in huge oasis type of plantation right on the end of the dunes separating the houses and the beggining of the dunes. Mint, oranges, carrots, tomatoes etc...
Rissani is the nearest town to Merzouga and Erg Chebbi and most people visiting the dunes will pass through the town. There are a couple of interesting sights here to make a stop worthwhile. On the outskirts of town is the Circuit Touristique de Rissani which is a 21km drive through the palmeries passing old, abandoned, yet scenic Ksar's.
Also on this trail is the Zaouia of Moualy Ali Sherif, founder of the Alaouite dynasty, and a direct ancestor of the current Moroccan King. There are free guided tours of the Zaouia available.
The town of Rissani is a busy place with a thrice weekly souk. Any visitor who arrives here will be approached by local guides on arrival but once you’ve shaken them off the market is an interesting to place to visit.
On our way back from sunrise on the dunes we passed the burnt out fuselage of a plane used in the filming of Le Petit Prince, from the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The author spent time flying across the Sahara before WW2 though I don’t know if he ever visited Merzouga. The plane is beside a berber house, near Auberge les Dunes d’Or.
We were guests of the lady of the household in a tiny dwelling in the middle of 'nowhere'. There was no other signs of life in sight apart from her animals. She made us tea and offered bread and olive oil. Scattered round the property were a collection of goats and hens, etc. The house was very tiny with thick walls but once inside was really cosy
Well, may be Merzouga is not really the desert but just the beginning and it was also wintertime but Berbers told us it was only raining one day a year. Lucky us ! ;-) We took the picture of that little market when we left Merzouga in the morning.
Great place looking for fossils. Just ask
around in Merzouga for a trip to the "dino-
saur place". You can find bones and teeth of
the famous mosasaur.
There are some good fossil shops in Merzouga or Erfoud. They can organise a trip
If you have your own 4WD you can try by your
own, but take a local guide with you.
Price: About 500 DH for a day (car with driver).
150 DH local guide for own car. Make sure
that your guide was a little knowledge of every