Its definitely good tar sealed road all the way from Risanni to Merzouga - though maps still have the road as coming from Erfoud down the back way to Merzouga this road is not correct as it is really for those that know the way or for well skilled at driving in sandy conditions or have a 4x4.
The actual tar sealed road, which has been insitu for almost the past 10 years! runs from Rissani and goes all the way down to Merzouga and actually goes on down to Khamlia and Taoz - Ive noticed even the latest Michelen map 2009 edition and the map that is in the Footprints guidebook has the road still marked as a piste road and the main road as coming from Erfoud - but this is definitely not correct! The latest 2012 map is correct though.
At the cafe at the entrance to Risanni - Cafe Salaam - the faux guides congregate to rush out and catch tourists, or down at the main intersection where you have to slow down to turn left to head out to Merzouga or right to park near the souk - and plague you with taking a guided tour of the souk with them - which is actually not a bad idea to see what there is to see in a more time effective way - including being guided to the old kasbah and mausoeum and old palace which is now a museum - or to get out to Merzouga for the sunset.
If they tell you its only piste road to get out to the desert then they are trying to lead you astray as its tarseal all the way to Merzouga.
The numerous auberges are spread out along the 25km or so chain of dunes and are all sign posted along the way many with their own roads off the tar sealed road into the desert towards the dunes.
Although the individual roads to the auberges are piste these roads are generally fine for normal cars and you can therefore do your own getting about but you might find it reassuring to allow a faux guide to accompany you if you are running late or getting close to nightfall - they all have their own auberges that they are generally attached to and therefore will try to steer you to that one
....otherwise ring the auberge that you are heading for to let them know you are on the way so if you have any problems they will come looking for you or meet you at their turnoff.
As much as there is little employment opportunity in Risanni and the resourceful look for ways to earn an income, eg from commission received from guiding and taking to hotels and generating further services with camel trips and carpet purchases a lot of them lie to you and will try to get you to pay far too much.
Strongly recommend preparing yourself by finding out acceptable prices for goods and services - eg for products check out artisanal ensembles when you first arrive in morocco.
and also bear in mind that these guys are very promiscuous - though they dont call it that - its basically a mutual agreement.....
Amazing ships of the desert!? I keep reading of people referring to camels as being stubborn, cantankerous and agro and all that stuff - i havent seen it yet!
A trip to visit the desert around Merzouga is amazing! ive been privileged and blessed to have been driven way away by car off the usual tourist paths - along with the dealing with getting stuck and having to get unstuck etc - but ive seen and stayed in the desert and it really is beautiful!
So, otherwise than the reliable 4 wheel drive we need camels!
dont assume camel treks are for the tourists and commercial tourist trappers!
Camels are rather photogenic and so's the whole experience. Whether its a short sunrise or sunset trip or an overnight trip or if youre lucky to make the most of the chance to get out and away for several days its great riding along that sandy stuff and getting up those sandhills.
Amazing being on these creatures that are able to make such seeming ease of getting thru the stuff!
For prices its about 150 dirham for a 2 hours sunrise or sunset trip or about 250-300 dirham for an overnight trip - good value! you can also ask about going out for 2 or 3 days and really see the beauty of the sahara with its oases, hamada areas and bedouin families that live out there. or even longer!! and end up in Zagora!!
Any of the many auberges/hotels around the desert can arrange camel trips for you - most have their own camels or will have an affiliation with other hotels set up to obtain camels. Some share and converge on a communal bivouac area and some have their own...check first depending on what you prefer.
my recommendation is with Ali Mouni at Hotel NOmad Palace, just south of Merzouga town or auberges such as Kasbah Mohayut, Dunes Dor, Kasbah Mohayut
If it appears there have been recent rains check that your tent has been cleaned and shaken out in case of any scorpions or ants that may have set up refuge in there!...sleeping out directly under the stars is the best experience!
I prefer travelling with my own transport, and have travelled here either with my own rental car or with Moroccan friends and recommend that for efficiency and just simply easier travelling re luggage, weather and temperature conditions and the number of places in the area that can be visited but with difficulty if without transport.
For those coming and going by public transport its good to know there are daily buses.
The 2 major international level bus companies in Morocco are CTM and Supratours. These buses are generally well maintained, comfortable and more spacious than local buses and also faster as they keep to schedules and do not pick up passengers outside scheduled towns and cities.
It is by CTM that a bus comes from Fez departing about 8pm and arriving in Merzouga at 8am the next morning and a daily bus leaves from Merzouga also about 8pm arriving in Fez in the morning.
It is by Supratour that buses come from and go to Marrakech - daily buses leave both Marrakech and Merzouga about 7am meet enroute and then arrive at their destinations Marrakech and Merzouga about 7 pm.
There also local buses that arrive at and depart from Risanni through the day - apparently with the CTM and Supratour buses the timetable is such that there are 14 buses a day coming into Risanni and 14 buses a day heading out.
There are buses that come from Alnif and head up to Fez and Meknes via Risanni and Er RAchidia and buses that go to and from Tinerhr on the way to Marrakech.
Local buses are a lot cheaper than CTM and Supratours and can be an interesting way to meet and see the locals but take a lot longer to get to destinations as they stop to pick up and drop wherever there are customers all along the route.
If anyone is looking for DIY info on doing a trip to the desert, I just posted everything you'll need to know here-
Please don't hesitate to email me if you have any questions!
the drive to Merzouga is beautiful and can be done in a normal car. A 1.2l or 1.4l engine will do.
As you pass Errachida heading towards Merzouga you can head off the tarmac and drive towards the dunes. The "road is marked" by poles and stone piles.
Be careful on the way back as you do not have the dunes as a focus point and finding the main road can be hard as you have nothing to ain for but the horizon. So no matter how tempting it might be to leave the tracks...STAY ON THEM!
If you do you can do the drive all the way to the dunes.
Getting to out hotel, the Auberge les Dunes d'Or, was an adventure in itself. We travelled down from Er-Rachidia through Erfoud and Rissani. From Erfoud, a piste road goes to Merzouga but a better option is to take the sealed road from Rissani. After leaving Rissani the road turns sharply south and after about 10 km the dunes appear in the distance to the east and you pass signs for the first group of hotels.
Most hotels are located at the edge of the dunes in a long line stretching north from Merzouga and to get here you can either cross the pistes from the sealed road or drive all the way to Merzouga and then up along a long piste. We chose to skip Merzouga and took the piste from the sealed road once we saw the sign for our hotel. It was easy to follow the piste as a series of pink posts marked the route straight to the hotel. We had to go very slowly, however, as the surface was bad and we were in a Fiat Uno and it took us 40 minutes to cross. The views of the dunes along the way were excellent.
We hired a guide with a four wheel drive right from Marrakesch and we have no regretts about that. Durning the winter season the pass between Marrakesch and the South gets snow, this added on top of all the hair pin turns makes the journey a little hair raising at times. Coming though the pass was clear but coming back we found ourselves in snow, ice and limited vision. Once past Erfoud the road stops and becomes a bumpy, rocky track. Having a guide and four wheel drive made this trip a great way to take in the country side without all the worries. Our vehicle was a four runner but the one shown in the photo is used in the dunes at Chebbi Erg.
You can actually get to the village by your own car. many people that will try to stop you on your way will tell you that its better for you to go with him due to problems you might have: sand, rocks, snakes and even police. There are no big snakes, hehehe, sand its not a problem, if you decide to step off from the asfalt road that heads Village of Merzouga just follow the sticks painted in white and if you see some sand just go around it... Police its not a problem. they will problably stop you just to say hello and check if you have sitbelt on. maybe passport and thats it, they will smile at you. usually they ask locals for money, so if you go with someone local they will have to pay something that usually is not more that just a cigarret. so dont go by *** os someone telling you that he had to pay a lot of money and you have to give it back...
in the end of the desert tracks you start to see the dunes. from here just choose the hotels you desire. you will have plenty of to choose from.
in merzouga you have asfalt road. Check out my other Moroccan tips, i think there are more information about this way, and how not to get mistakes in Rissani. signs are bad...
If you see one of this on your way to Merzouga or if you´re on a certain point around the dunes and want to move yourself around just jump over the straw truck. These kind of rucks give straw to all the camels around the dunes, camels (or better dromadaries) used to take tourists up the dunes and enjoy the sunrise and sunset. You can basicaly travel all around the circle of dunes, lots of kms on this truck and meet all people and many hostels in the dunes.
right now the road to merzouga is asfalted;so;you would be able to reach to that place with every kind of transport.
those who had no car;the ctm and local buses from fes;meknes;agadir and marrakech could bring you to the nearest city of merzouga that is rissani.from rissani are small local white cars and grande taxi could bring you to merzouga for around 2 dollars.
Again on a camel ! But this time, these nice animals were more comfortable. Sand is also softer than stone (like in Zagora). But some of us also found a solution : put two blankets on your camel instead of one ;-)
Oh was this fun. Here's a little geography lesson first. Merzouga is roughly 8-10 hours from Fes, and about an hour from Erfoud. If driving from Fes, stop in Erfoud and get gas, and some coffee at the popular Cafe du Clap while watching old American war movies with the owner. Then hit the road to Rissani where you'll probably find a guide, if not, kiss your butt goodbye because you'll never find your way to Merzouga, it's almost impossible. First off, there isn't even a road, let alone a path or road signs. Secondly, it's really harsh driving, lots of bumps, potholes, and rocks. Good luck.
You can see this Mercedes heading Merzouga near the dunes.
This one is going from Rissani. The road to Merzouga to Rissani is far better than the one from Erfoud.