Day 1 / Marrakech to M’hamid
Early morning pick-up at riad / hotel and transfer from Marrakech 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 roadside, 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 guesthouses 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 guesthouse. 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. 2.5 hours 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: 5-6 hours, 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 2 days – Erg Smar, and then the great dunes of Erg Chigaga. 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: 4 hours, 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: 3 hours, depending on the pace of the group.
Day 5 / Great Dues of Erg Chigaga
After breakfast, camp is struck. Today’s goal is the great dunes of Erg Chigaga, Morocco’s largest sand sea (stretching some 40km in length) and 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, the vegetation gives way to rolling dunes and yet another small plateau, before the expanse of Erg Chigaga rises before you. You leave the camels to scramble up the sand to the nearest vantage point, with the Erg stretching far away in front of you. With good visibility, you should just make out the dunes of Zahar. Enjoy sunset from there and then descend to camp at the foot of the dunes. Today’s trek time: 5-6 hours, depending on the pace of the group.
Day 6 / Return to Marrakech
With an early breakfast, depart out of the desert to Marrakech. Drive off-road for 3 hours, via a dried river course that leads to the vast salt lake, Iriqui, and through some of the finest remote scenery in Morocco. Today’s off-road journey allows you to exit the desert, in the opposite direction to your start point (M’hamid El Ghezlane), to allow you to experience as much of this region of the Moroccan Sahara as possible. Join the tarmac road at Foum Zguid, continue onwards to Taznakht via some dramatic views, and then onwards to reach the main route across the High Atlas mountains. Expect to arrive to your riad / hotel in Marrakech early evening.