Day 1 / Marrakech to M’hamid
Early morning pick-up at riad/hotel and transfer today to the desert frontier village of M’hamid El Ghezlane, at the end of the tarmac road, on the Draa Valley. Today’s journey is wonderful – traverse the High Atlas mountains via the highest main road pass in Morocco (the Tichka Pass at 2260m), pass typical Berber villages and lush valleys by the road-side, beyond Ouarzazate cross the Anti-Atlas mountain range before meeting the course of the Draa River valley (the longest river in Morocco and flanked by glorious date palm oases & crumbling kasbahs) and driving via Agdz and Zagora. Overnight just outside M’hamid El Ghezlane in the palm grove of Bounou, staying at one of the best guest-houses in the region. Overnight on half-board basis.
Day 2 / Draa River & marabout of Sidi Naji
After breakfast, your vehicle will drive you the short distance to M’hamid from your guest-house. There, meet your desert guides & camel caravan where the camels are loaded with your luggage/equipment. Your guides will also help you to wrap your turban, ideal protection in the desert. The morning’s trek follows the southern banks of the Draa River, through the vast palm groves and original settlement of M’hamid (purported to be approx. 300 yrs old); take time to visit some of the ancient pise-mud buildings, now abandoned, and enjoy the partial shade offered by the trees.
Once at the end of the palm grove, take lunch at a point known as Ras Nkhal. Here, the palm trees open out and give way to desert scrub and stone (hamada), earth banks & tamarisk trees for the rest of the day’s trek. After lunch, continue on a south-westerly course for approx. 2.5hrs towards the marabout (the shrine of a holy man) of Sidi Naji, close to where overnight camp will be established, in the seclusion of small dunes. Today’s trek time: 5-6hrs, depending on the pace of the group.
Day 3 / Region of Zahar
After breakfast, camp is struck, and the day’s goal, the large, remote sand dune region, of Zahar, will be reached before lunch. Today’s trekking terrain is largely flat, plateau-like earth (a dried lake) which gradually transforms into rolling sand dunes, with far less vegetation visible today.
Camp is established at the foot of the tall dunes, between smaller dunes, and lunch is served. This is a little-visited dune region and your afternoon is given to exploring Zahar, reaching the highest point to enjoy the wide-reaching views across the ‘erg’ (sand sea) and then the sunset. From this vantage point, it will be possible to look towards the route of the next day – the settlement at Erg Smar. Zahar is also known as the ‘screaming dunes’, for a legend that tells of a village buried beneath the sands there. Today’s trek time: 4hrs, depending on the pace of the group.
Day 4 / Erg Smar
After breakfast, camp is struck. This morning, for the first time since leaving M’hamid, you will cross the bed of the Draa River, to its northern banks, to trek to the abandoned desert settlement of Erg Smar (where, once, up to 35 families lived and farmed the land). The size of the Draa river bed is astonishing, given it now runs dry, but once flowed in abundance through the desert. Water does still run deep underground here and there is a well on the banks of the dried river where you will replenish the water supply (and freshen up with a quick shower).
Evidence of human existence is everywhere, the outline of agricultural plots & gardens, abandoned pise-mud buildings which were homes. Your day’s trek finishes under the welcome shade of large tamarisk trees, where camp is established – hard to believe you’re still in the heart of desert terrain, given the size of the the trees at this village. After lunch, you may explore the settlement, the banks of the Draa and the sand dunes that have since started to encroach on the buildings. Today’s trek time: 3hrs, depending on the pace of the group.
Day 5 / Dunes of Bougarn
After breakfast, camp is struck. Today’s goal is the dunes of Bougarn, where you may come across other visitors for the first time on trek. Departing Erg Smar, you leave the dense vegetation behind to cross small dunes and then a broad, earth plateau, passing through an area where it may be possible to see traces of gazelle (as the shrub that they feed on grows just here). To the north and south, rolling dunes are visible. The vegetation increases once more, and you take lunch under the shade of trees.
After lunch, on trek, continue through the vegetation and sand to reach a plateau before the rolling dunes of Bougarn rise before you. You leave the camels to scramble up the sand to the nearest vantage point. With good visibility, you should just make out the dunes of Zahar and of Erg Chigaga. Camp is established in the shelter of small dunes. Today’s trek time: 5-6hrs, depending on the pace of the group.
Day 6 / Dunes trekking
After breakfast, camp is struck. Today’s trek will see more vegetation, some lining the course of former river tributaries. Lunch is taken under the shade of the tamarisk trees. After lunch, trek across flat land which was once fertile (when water was present) and you will come across remnants of agricultural land which is now used as pasture for grazing camels. Overnight camp will be established, in the seclusion of small sand dunes. Today’s trek time: 5hrs, depending on the pace of the group.
Day 7 / Road back to M’hamid
Today’s goal is the village of M’hamid, to complete your circuit. The terrain once more becomes marked by desert scrub and earth banks, and palm groves become more apparent the closer you reach M’hamid. You will break for lunch, in shade, before reaching the village. Your vehicle will be waiting to transfer you back to your overnight guest-house, at the palm grove of Bounou. Today’s trek time: 3-4hrs, depending on the pace of the group.
Day 8 / Return to Marrakech
Early morning departure from your guest-house, to re-trace the journey north to Marrakech (as per Day 1). Expect to arrive to your riad/hotel in Marrakech late afternoon.