Erg Chebbi v Erg Chiggaga deserts

the motoroamers

Erg Chebbi v Erg Chiggaga deserts

When we think about desert landscape – what images come to mind? Most likely it will be the archetypal, undulating ocean of golden sand dunes with caravans of camels creating shadows in the early morning sun. Yet after a month touring Morocco’s desert region, we came to appreciate how many more personalities the desert has. An epic journey that has taught us to value and see the beauty in all things. In this blog, I share the desert landscapes we toured through and the hidden gems it revealed to us.

Is the Sahara worth the journey at all?

erg chebbi v erg chiggaga

A resounding yes. The desert is one of the most unique landscapes you will ever witness. Imagine this… The approaching roads, where whispering sands gently breeze across the road, signal that the dunes are close. The horizon that turns sunset orange at the height of mid-day, as the sand landscape comes into view. The palm trees that line up as if a welcoming party to this isolated yet spiritual environment you can imagine. And the silence that transcends your world as the vastness of the desert stretches out in front of you.

Placing your feet upon the golden grains is a precious moment where you become part of the earth. The stillness envelopes you alongside its endless canvas of dunes. With little obvious life, on closer inspection you see the desert’s beating heart. With animal tracks leaving their footstep marks, the greenery that can exist upon this arid soil and the dunes themselves that become shape shifters with each breath of wind. You could be forgiven, if you’ve never seen the desert before, of considering it bland, one dimensional and devoid of life. Yet once you arrive at the Sahara all those preconceptions fade, replaced by respect, awe and love.

To us, the desert is anything but one dimensional. You only have to get up early enough to see the sunrise to see that born out in front of you. The shadows change the desert’s look and feel and the sunlight breathes energy into every dune. Each moment the desert shifts, offering a new panorama.

A walk through the dunes has a feel of isolation as you loose yourself amongst the curvaceous mounds of sand. Yet there is an encompassing feel about the desert that pulls you into its safety with its reassuring embrace.

And of course there are the most iconic of desert creatures. The caravan of camels who are still a vital part of desert life for the Blue Men and Berber tribes who live amongst the sandy mountains. Their melodic gait, their sand protecting eye lashes and the low pitched grumblings that sound like a digesting tummy are all part of the iconic desert story.

So yes you must come and experience the desert, just once in your lifetime. Just which one? 

Footprints in the sand

Erg Chebbi – Merzouga

In the battle for supremacy, the discussion about the Erg Chebbi v Erg Chiggaga deserts becomes an interesting debate. And of course our views, are just our views. You must make up your own mind. Although let’s start with the eastern corner of Morocco at Merzouga.

However you arrive at this destination, the horizon view lets you know, without signpost that you are in the desert. Sand drifts like snow across the carriageway and, rising up like mountains, the Sahara sand dunes rule the landscape. The immediate impact of the environment hits you right in between the eyes as you stare in wonder.

Whether staying in one of the many campsites or a Riad in the town, your view of these magnificent dunes will be your every day vista. And I mean they are right on your doorstep; within a short few paces, your toes can be sinking into the sea of sand.

Walking through the dunes is so accessible that it feels like a privilege, and a humble a sunrise or sunset trek into the heart of the dunes, seems totally necessary. The peace of selecting your own dune upon which you sit with reverence as the day starts or ends, is palpable. Caravans of camels offer images that are beyond beautiful, well certainly to my eye. That is until the faint rumblings of a dune buggy or 4×4 cuts through your peace.

There is no doubt, that because of Erg Chebbi’s accessibility tourism has an impact on this landscape. Whilst it lacks the commercialism of other European tourist hotspots, it does exist. And it is evident as you bare witness to the scars upon the sand. Endless tracks gouge their marks into the dunes, making their presence felt both with ears and eyes. Yet there is consolation; with the next breath from Mother Nature, these dunes will return to the gentle and graceful ripples that are indicative of these lands and equilibrium will be restored, for that moment at least.

Merzouga is a vibrant town that offers an ATM, police, ample restaurants and cafés with small shops offering all range of supplies and vegetables. Butchers selling of all things coal for fires, and if you desire it meat of course. It is a lovely little town that will complete your desert experience.

In summary, Merzouga is a magical experience that sets your soul on fire with iconic desert images that will melt you heart. And with its accessibility, never has your Sahara desert experience been so close.

Erg Chiggaga – M’Hamid

The second dimension to our Erg Chebbi v Erg Chiggaga desert discussion takes you towards the southern reaches of Morocco’s border with Algeria. Some 220 miles (370km) from Merzouga you travel through arid desert land towards M’Hamid, which is where the road abruptly stops. The journey is anything other than boring. After the oasis town of Zagora, which is a good option for a base (check out La Paradise Toureg camping and hotel) – you head into the desert mountains. A mere 90 minutes drive will see the topography morph from arid flatlands to unexpected escarpments that dominate the skyline. Two mountain passes keep you entertained before the palm-tree lined roads become your welcome.

Erg Chiggaga is one of the three ‘Gates’ to the Sahara; Merzouga and Guelmim being the other two. And the landscape is totally different to Erg Chebbi. Feeling a little like an American boulevard with slightly rougher edges, the final approaches to M’Hamid feel embracing. Ancient Kasbahs sit alongside chateau-like hotels with acres of small dunes implanted with bamboo fences to manage the sand-drifts. This vista immediately signals the difference between the two deserts. M’Hamid is more about the nomads who live here; the Berbers and the Blue Men tribes living and working beside one another in harmony. Irrigation channels, date palm orchards and verdant green plots of vegetables coexist on land that seems inhospitable to anything agricultural. Yet amidst this slightly more pale desert scenery, nomadic life flourishes. Simplicity and harmony hold the community together in words of unspoken values and the feel of it washes over us and a desert culture unfolds.

Once in M’Hamid, which is an authentic nomadic town that has built up around caravan trails passing the desert, you are one step closer. Yet the route to Erg Chiggaga is anything but close. You still need a 4×4 or all terrain vehicle to reach this part of the Sahara, which is home to the highest of dunes reaching up to 300m.

A journey from M’Hamid to the fringes of Erg Chiggaga takes around 2.5hrs through often rough, sometimes fun, frequently flat and ‘stoney desert’ land. Where upon you reach your selected Bivouac; a temporary camp with tents for camping out overnight or for lunch, before returning back to M’Hamid.

We did this journey from Camping La Bousoule du Sahara and it cost 500MAD (50€ per person in a vehicle of four people. The alternative is to stay at Carrefour des Nomades just 3 miles (5km) from M’Hamid in the lovely village of Oulad Driss with its fabulous Kasbah.

I remember feeling slightly underwhelmed by our Erg Chiggaga experience. I think after the sights of Erg Chebbi and their ‘on the doorstep’ location, the trip to M’Hamid’s desert was too long for a day trip and, somehow less hospitable. It was certainly nice to have ticked it off, although it didn’t wow me like Erg Chebbi did, each and every morning.

Erg Chebbi v Erg Chiggaga desert – who wins?

Our conclusions about the battle of the deserts are these;

It depends what you are looking to experience as to which desert you might choose. In an ideal world, you would go to both for a holistic Sahara experience. Although that reality might not work for your trip schedule. So here are some pointers that may help you decide…

  1. If you have the luxury of time and/or are travelling in a motorhome/camper-van, then visit both, to experience their rich diversity and relish in their uniqueness. Each desert will give you something so incredibly different.
  2. If you are desert virgins, then we would highly recommend visiting Merzouga and Erg Chebbi. Their location and accessibility are total wows and it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
  3. If you are looking to experience a nomadic culture and an authentic desert way of life, then M’Hamid and Erg Chiggaga are absolutely the right option.
  4. If you want a desert removed from most tourist activity then Erg Chiggaga is more likely your cup of tea.
  5. If you are short on time and without your own vehicle, you could take an internal flight from Marrakech to Zagora with an overnight desert trip to Erg Chiggaga.
  6. The other alternative is to take a 4 day tour from Marrakech to Merzouga with a desert camp overnight stopping at UNESCO’s Aït Ben Haddou.

Our closing reflections

Making recommendations about destinations is such a tricky thing, because what we like is so personal. We have come to love both desert landscapes for completely different reasons although we hope that these six tips might just ease the deliberation. Either way, if you come to the Sahara, no matter which destination you choose, be prepared to be drawn into its magic and feel the pulse of this exquisite terrain, which will call you back another day.

Published: January 16, 2024
Category: Morocco | Travel Tips


  1. Julie Allen

    Thanks Karen 🙏 This is a really helpful blog and beautifully illustrated. Based on this I would want to see both places and hope to in a couple of months 🤩

    • Karen

      Hi Julie, that’s great. It will certainly give you two very different perspectives. And with the luxury of time, wholeheartedly recommend it too. Enjoy your Moroccan adventures. Kx

  2. Joanne Lucinda Vincent

    Hoping to make it to Morocco mid February but we only have 8 weeks as need to be home for the birth of our first grandchild 😆. Your blog has helped us make up our mind and we will definitely be heading to Merzouga first . Thank you ! X

    • Karen

      Hi Joanne, 8 weeks is a good amount of time to explore Morocco for your first time at least. Although what a great reason to need to go home eh? So glad that our blog has helped make up your mind. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Kx


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