When taking a trip to Morocco, it’s nearly a requirement to make the journey to see the vast sand dunes of the Sahara Desert. It’s such an awesome experience!
But those beautiful Sahara Desert dunes are quite the distance from Morocco’s popular travel hubs such as Marrakech and Fez. The town of Merzouga, Morocco, is the main launching point for camel tours into the Sahara Desert. So this leaves travelers with the predicament of figuring out how to get from Marrakech to Merzouga.
While there is a highway and public transportation connecting these two Morocco destinations, it’s not a quick jaunt. The route from Marrakech to Merzouga is more than 560 kilometers that cuts through a precarious section of the High Atlas mountains and then past deep ravines, before ultimately descending down into the Sahara Desert.
Going from Marrakech to Merzouga is really a fantastic trip, with many points of interest to stop at along the way. We’d recommend against going directly between the two cities. Stopovers along the way in fascinating places like Aït Benhaddou, Ouarzazate, and Dades Gorge really add to a trip from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert.
Three Ways To Get from Marrakech to Merzouga
There are three ways for travelers to get from Marrakech to Merzouga:
🚗 Rental Car
🚐 Small Group Tour
🚌 Public transportation: Buses & Taxis
Deciding the Best Way to Travel from Marrakech to Merzouga
The best way to get from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert largely depends on:
- your travel preferences/style
- your comfortability with independent travel in Morocco,
- the amount of time you have to travel this route, and
- your budget.
The small group tours are actually the most affordable way to go and can cost even less than a do-it-yourself trip that uses public transportation. It’s also, by far, the most convenient option. And a group tour is essentially the only option for those who are limited on time.
Going from Marrakech to Merzouga by bus can be a fun travel challenge for those who prefer independent travel. It can be great for those who like to go slower and have the time to do so.
Renting a car can be a great way to go for confident drivers who prefer to have the flexibility and have the budget to do so.
Considerations for Renting a Car for a Marrakech to Merzouga Road Trip
Renting a car to self-drive from Marrakech to Merzouga can be the most expensive option and may be the most intimidating, yet it offers travelers the most freedom. The road through the Atlas mountains can be a nail-biter, leaving travelers tightly gripping the wheel with around tight curbs with steep drops on either side. Road hazards further include crazy drivers, livestock, speed traps, sand, and road conditions in general.
It can also get pricey for those traveling Morocco on a budget. Weeklong car rentals in Marrakech start at about $200 for an economy car with manual transmission. Expect to pay over $300 for an automatic. Factor in the added expense of car rental insurance and gas (petrol) and you’re realistically looking at a cost of about $60-$90 per day to rent a car on the low end. And that’s in addition to food, lodging, and tours, of course.
You can compare rental car prices at all the main agencies using Priceline’s Rental Car Search, which tends to offer the best rates for Marrakech.
Small Group Tours are the Fastest & Most Inexpensive Way To Go
There are several great small group tours that you can book directly from some of Morocco’s major cities such as Fez and Marrakesh, which can be fantastic for those who are short on time or those who prefer to forgo the hassle that comes with independent travel in foreign lands. Most of these tours make a nice multi-day itinerary from Marrakesh to Merzouga which stop at notable sites such as Aït Benhaddou, Ouarzazate, and Dades Gorge.
While tours typical are much more expensive than independent travel, we found this isn’t necessarily the case here in Morocco, if you know where to look. Many highly-rated tours from Marrakesh to Merzouga and the Sahara Desert are actually surprisingly affordable. Even if you’re backpacking Morocco, you may really want to consider hopping on one of these tours for a few days to get you from Marrakesh to Merzouga’s Erg Chebbi Desert.
A small group tour from Marrakech to Merzouga will whisk you along to all different stops with ease and gives you the opportunity to meet other travelers. All of your lodging and meals will be taken care of for you and a guide will be available to provide information and answer questions.
An added benefit of being part of a tour in Morocco is that you won’t have to deal with the hassle of persistent touts trying to sell you tours. They can get aggressive with independent travelers. Since lodging and transportation are taken care of too, it makes for yet another hassle that get removed when taking a Sahara Desert tour from Marrakech.
A big additional benefit traveling in a minivan is that it take you from each destination to the next. There’s no need to wait in a random town for hours (sometimes overnight) for an elusive bus to arrive.
Timing is a big consideration for taking a tour. Given limited public transport connections, a small-group tour is able to whisk passengers from Marrakech to all the main points of along the way to Merzouga, and back, all in three days. Meanwhile, it would take about a week to do when relying on buses and public transport.
Where to Find Budget-Friendly Marrakesh to Merzouga Desert Tours
Often we find it’s the most economical to book tours once on the ground in most destinations around the world. But GetYourGuide offers some incredible deals on 3-day desert tours from Marrakech to Merzouga. They have a low-price guarantee, so you know you’re getting the lowest price. And we actually never found rates this cheap while in Marrakech.
But these tours are on set dates and do end up selling out, particularly so during popular time periods. So it can be critical to reserve ahead to secure these deals.
- This 3-Day Desert Safari for $125 is an incredible bargain! For what breaks down to only $42 per day, this experience takes in stops at Ait Ben Haddou, Dades Gorge before the included overnight camel trek & camp into the Erg Chebbi (Sahara) Desert. It further includes a stay at a 4-star hotel and breakfasts and dinners. The value is almost unfathomable. This well-vetted tour receives a regular stream of rave reviews (over 1,000) from travelers on GetYourGuide. It departs on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
- This 3-Day Sahara Desert Tour is nearly identical to the tour listed above, with the same inclusions and price. It’s simply run by a different tour operator. When choosing between this tour and the Desert Safari we recommended above, we’d simply suggest checking the most recent reviews and ensure the prices still the same.
- Continue onto Fes: While the two aforementioned small-group tours return to Marrakech, there’s also a nice option for those who are traveling onward to Fes. This Marrakech to Fes Desert Tour includes a similar itinerary as the other tours, but on the third day travels from Merzouga to Fes. The cost of this tour is noticeably higher than the other two, but it’ll save a lot of time and money unnecessarily backtracking to Marrakech for those who are continuing onto Fes.
Considerations for an Independent DIY Desert Trip from Marrakesh to Merzouga
Independent travel in Morocco has its benefits too. You’ll end up traveling deeper into the culture and exploring places that aren’t regularly receiving group tours. You’ll get to mingle with curious locals as you use the same public transit or share a cab, allowing for a more personal experience. It can be a fun adventure!
But on the do-it-yourself (DIY) route proposed throughout the rest of this guide, it’ll come at the cost of time, occasionally personal space, and lack seamlessness.
Anyone pursuing this trip from Marrakesh to Merzouga using public transportation will need to be comfortable with independent travel. Even more importantly, you’ll need to have more time then if taking a group tour. This is because there are very infrequent buses, with inconvenient connection times.
Because of this, traveling independently actually adds up to a bit more than some of those tours we mentioned. So it doesn’t really save any money to go this route.
The journey from Marrakesh to Merzouga on your own can be a moderate challenge. It’s not easy, yet not terribly difficult either. Having researched a bit of info upfront will make for a much more pleasant trip.
That’s why we put together this travel guide, showing exactly how to get from Marrakech to Merzouga. Info was desperately lacking during our visit. We wondered, can you use get from Marrakech to Merzouga by bus? What were the Morocco bus timetables? Where can/should you stop along the route? How much would it cost? Where would we stay?
We had to sort through tons of online reviews, forums, and blogs to piece together all this info. So we’ve now put together this travel guide and sample itinerary to potentially help out other independent travelers who may have stumbled across our little space on the web.
We’ve attempted to develop this fairly comprehensive resource with all the info assembled from our firsthand experience. Hopefully, this travel guide will now answer all of the questions you may have by providing some guidance on taking your own Morocco desert trip from Marrakech to Merzouga.
The remainder of this travel guide shows exactly how to do so.
How to Travel by Bus from Marrakech to Merzouga
Merzouga is the main access point to the rolling Erg Chebbi Desert sand dunes. You can travel directly from Marrakech to Merzouga using the 8:30 am Supratour bus, which is the only bus that currently makes the entire trip direct.
But that direct Marrakech to Merzouga bus is a 12.5-hour trip, if all goes well. Plus you’ll be missing some really awesome sites you could stop at along the way. We would highly recommend breaking up this lengthy bus journey with overnight stops at some of the spectacular destinations we’ve outlined throughout the remainder of this post.
Sample DIY Itinerary Marrakech to Merzouga Using Public Transport:
While Merzouga is the final destination to take a camel trek out into the Sahara Desert, there are two very notable stops to consider along the way, in addition to a handful of minor attractions. The two main places to stop are:
- The Aït Benhaddou kasbah (via Ouarzazate), and
- Dades Gorge
To access these two destinations in Morocco on the way from Marrakesh to Merzouga, it can take about a week, given the transport connections. Here is a suggested itinerary:
- Day 1: Enjoy the morning in Marrakech and take an afternoon bus to Ouarzazate to have dinner in Centerville.
- Day 2: Rise early and go to Aït Benhaddou and consider a stop at Atlas Studios on your return to Ouarzazate. Spend the afternoon at Taourirt Kasbah and consider a visit to the Cinema Museum.
- Day 3: Take the 12:00 CTM bus to Boumalene Dades, then transfer to a minibus into Dades Gorge to check into your hotel around 3:00 pm. Sip some tea and do some light exploring on your own.
- Day 4: Depart no later than 8:00 am for a hike around Dades Gorge and surrounding mountains (4-5 hours). Be sure to leave time to get back to Boumalene Dades for the 3:30 pm bus to Merzouga. (Otherwise, consider another night in Dades Gorge.) Arrive in Merzouga at 9:00 pm.
- Day 5: Relax in Merzouga during the day, as your camel trek will not depart until it cools off in the late afternoon. Enjoy your trip into the Erg Chebbi dunes of the Sahara Desert!
- Day 6: If opted for a one-night trek, return to Merzouga in the morning. Begin pursuing to the long road back to Marrakech (will need two days), or onward from Merzouga to Fes.
- Day 7: Continue traveling from the day prior.
How to Travel by Bus From Marrakech to Ouarzazate and Aït Benhaddou
First, to get out of Marrakech, you can find a Supratour or CTM bus to Ouarzazate at the bus station, which is located next to the train station. Buses run this route regularly, are air-conditioned and are fairly comfortable. The bus from Marrakech to Ouarzazate takes nearly 5 hours, which usually includes a 25-minute stop somewhere along the way, such as Touama.
You will want one full day around Ouarzazate, including Aït Benhaddou. So we recommend to either (1) take a very early morning bus to stay one night in Ouarzazate or (2) take an afternoon bus and stay two nights. Our Supratour bus cost Dh80 (~$8) per person.
Up-to-date prices and times for Supratour buses can be found at the ticket office at the Marrakech’s train station, located here. CTM bus times can be scouted out in advance on their website: here. The CTM bus station is also near the train terminal, located here.
How to Get From Ouarzazate to Aït Benhaddou
The main reason for a stop in Ouarzazate is to visit Aït Benhaddou. This kasbah is one of Morocco’s 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, recognized as such for its “earthen buildings surrounded by high walls, is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat.” Read the full UNESCO description, here. Visitors may recognize Aït Benhaddou from the movie Gladiator and on Season 3 of Game of Thrones.
Aït Benhaddou is a must-do detour along the route from Marrakech to Merzouga. All the desert tours from Marrakech running this route stop here and independent travelers certainly should too. It’s a fascinating sight. It just takes a little work to get to.
Given the direct bus connections for onward travel, it is easier to stay in Ouarzazate and make Aït Benhaddou a half-day trip. Plus Ouarzazate has a lot more midrange and budget-friendly lodging options, a good assortment of restaurants and a handful of supermarkets.
To get to from Ouarzazate to Aït Benhaddou, your best bet is to hire a grand taxi for about Dh250 (~$30) or so for the 30km+ ride there, waiting an hour or two, and the return to Ouarzazate. You can find the taxi rank near Ouarzazate’s bus terminal.
The offers for the trip from Ouarzazate to Ait Benhaddou will start high, so be sure to negotiate it down to a more reasonable rate. Dh350 isn’t a horrible price but you should be able to talk it down still from there. Shoot for at least Dh250 or less.
You can also try to take a shared taxi for about Dh20 per person, each way. But it seems that during the afternoon, no one is available to perform this trip. Furthermore, we saw no taxis waiting around Aït Benhaddou for the return trip. Hence, securing a roundtrip taxi may prove best.
However you get from Ouarzazate to Aït Benhaddou, be sure not to miss it. This was among our favorite of the many kasbahs visited all throughout Morocco.
Things to Do in Ouarzazate Morocco
This is Morocco’s version of Hollywood, so there are lots of film-related things to do in Ouarzazate Morocco. It’s also a pleasant city to visit. In addition to visiting nearby Aït Benhaddou, Ouarzazate’s main attractions are:
- Atlas Studio,
- Cinema Museum, and
- Taourirt Kasbah
While in Ouarzazate, you can visit two movie studios for some fun photo opportunities. These won’t be highlights to your Morocco trip but are certainly worth the effort and cost, if you have time after visiting Aït Benhaddou. If traveling from Ouarzazate to Aït Benhaddou by taxi, negotiate with your driver to stop at Atlas Studios on your way back into town where you can jump on one of their regular tours which run about every 30 minutes and lasts about the same (Dh100).
Otherwise back in Ouarzazate, you can also visit Cinema Museum where you can take your own self-guided tour of this other movie studio (Dh60).
Across the street from Ouarzazate’s Cinema Museum is the Taourirt Kasbah.
This is a nice visit to wander through its labyrinth-like corridors and stairwells. Since Cinema Museum and Taourirt Kasbah are right across the street from one another, these two Ourzazate attractions can make for a good way to spend half of a day.
Be sure to take a stroll through the Centreville area to see what’s going on and consider stopping for a bite in one of the many restaurants. There are typically local concerts and festivities there that locals come to gather for.
Restaurants in Ouarzazate Morocco
You’ll find a handful of restaurants in Ouarzazate, particularly near the Centreville area.
El Bahja was one of our favorite restaurants during our entire trip backpacking Morocco. This locals’ joint was always packed yet service was continuously fast and friendly. The keftas, tagines, and meat skewers were not only delicious but also generously priced. We stuffed our faces here multiple times and the bill came out under Dh80 (~$8) for meals, sides, bread, and drinks for two people.
Where to Drink in Ouarzazate Morocco
Don’t. Or just enjoy some mint tea at a café. But if you need to, a sectioned-off part of the supermarket in town sells booze.
Where to stay in Ouarzazate Morocco
There’s a variety of places to stay in Ouarzazate, spanning all budgets. For those looking for an inexpensive private room, we can suggest Hotel Marmar. It’s no-frills and basic, yet comfortable, and has extremely helpful personnel. You can find rooms including breakfast for as low as $20 per person. Visit hotelscombined.com here to check Hotel Marma rates across all top booking sites to ensure you find who offers the lowest price.
Tip: stay in the room above the office if wifi is important to you.
How to Travel From Ouarzazate to Dades Gorge by Bus
Dades Gorge is the next logical stop on a journey out to the Sahara Desert, from Marrakech to Merzouga.
From Ouarzazate onward, regular buses run few and far between, so you must plan your itinerary according to their schedules. From Ouarzazate, you may want to consider trying to stop at Skoura to see the famous oasis there. But with infrequent buses, it can only be done by hiring a taxi or making an overnight stop there.
In order to get to Dades Gorge, you must find a bus from Ouarzazate to Boumalene Dades. Once in Boumalene Dades, transfer to a minibus that will continue to Dades Gorge.
To get from Ouarzazate to Boumalene Dades, you can take one of two buses, which each takes nearly two and a half hours:
- CTM bus which departs Ouarzazate at 12:00 noon and cost Dh40.
- Supratour bus departs Ouarzazate at 1:00 pm.
Alternatively, you can consider a shared taxi, which will be infrequent and cramped, unless you buy extra seats. (This would be a good option to consider if you want to stop at Skoura.)
Once you get to Boumalene Dades, it is an easy minibus or shared taxi ride into Dades Gorge. They leave from the taxi ranks very frequently. The ride up Dades Gorge to about the 25km mark (where you’ll want to stay) should cost no more than Dh20 per person (possibly less) and should take about a half hour.
Dades Gorge on Your Own
In Dades Gorge, you’ll want to spend a day hiking in the area. If you are arriving in the afternoon, you may want to consider a half-day hike the following morning, before catching your next afternoon/evening bus to Merzouga. Perhaps spend what is left of your afternoon arriving relaxing or some light exploring on your own.
For a hike, we’d definitely recommend hiring a guide. There are no trails that are marked or signposted, so a hiking guide is essential.
We organized a guide with the hotel we were staying at for Dh300 (~$35), plus a bit more for a tip and a simple packed lunch. It would have been nearly impossible to navigate the trails otherwise. He also brought us over to a cave-dwelling nomadic Berber family where we had the opportunity to join them for a mint tea.
But the gorge itself, with its narrow and tall slot canyon formations, was truly an impressive highlight of Dades Gorge that we think is not to be missed.
Where to stay: We don’t have a strong recommendation for the hotel we used (it was just okay). But there are a number of listings with reviews to vet out on Booking.com. We recommend staying somewhere between the 24km to 27km area, for spectacular hiking opportunities.
Where to eat: Your hotel or guesthouse
Where to drink: Don’t. Or hopefully, you picked up something in Ouarzazate to enjoy privately and discretely.
How to Get From Dades Gorge to Merzouga
From Dades Gorge, you can opt to make a stop at Todra Gorge. But if one Gorge is enough, then this is where you’ll make your final push towards Merzouga. This is where all the Erg Chebbi Desert Tours depart from.
There is only one bus that leaves Boulmanes for Merzouga directly. It is a Supratours bus that leaves Boulmanes around 3:30. You can buy a ticket at a shop along the west side of the main stretch of the road. Look for the Supratour logo in the window. This shop is also where the Supratour bus stops to pick you up. The shop owner can keep you abreast if the bus is on time or running late and will store your baggage complimentary if needed.
From Boulmanes to Merzouga, it’s a long yet comfortable ride that takes nearly six hours. Be sure to arrange your accommodation in Merzouga in advance. Otherwise, you may be swarmed with touts upon arrival with offers for accommodation and camel tours.
Where to Stay in Merzouga Morocco:
We had a very pleasant stay at Chez Youssef, in which the owner met us at the bus station upon arrival to walk us back to his lovely riad. Rates start at $30 and include a very filling breakfast. You can also arrange camel tours directly with Chez Youssef, although we had booked ours elsewhere in advance.
Be Sure To Book Your Erg Chebbi Camel Trek in Advance
There are dozens (possibly hundreds) of operations in the area offering camel treks into this portion of the Sahara Desert known as Erg Chebbi. Tour agents aggressively swarm the bus upon its arrival in Merzouga to plead with passengers to take their tour.
For those with the patience to deal with this uncomfortable scene of dozens of touts grabbing you and climbing onto you, it may be possible to haggle down to a rate of about 550 dirham or so. Yet, their unvetted tours may come with variable quality, comfort, and well-being of the camels.
Instead, we’d strongly suggest this well-reviewed Camel Trek, that includes great meals, comfy sleeping conditions, a consistent track record of 5-star reviews, and even includes sandboarding (most others do not). It’s easily bookable online at a competitive price. And once you’re booked, you won’t have the chore of trying to sort through the sea of aggressive hawkers once arriving in Merzouga. Check up-to-date pricing and availability.
Returning Back From Merzouga to Marrakech or Merzouga to Fez
Supratours has an 8 am bus returning to Marrakech, which you likely will not be back from your camel trek in time to catch and may need to stay an additional night in Merzouga.
Alternatively, you can continue onward to Fez. While there is a Supratour bus at 7 pm from Merzouga to Fez, its arrival time in the middle of the night can be inconvenient. Instead, we recommend taking a quick taxi from Merzouga to Rissani. There, you can catch a local bus directly from Rissani to Fez or Rissani to Meknes. If no buses are departing Rissani, you’ll most definitely be able to get a bus leaving to Er-Rachidia where even more onward travel possibilities abound.
Taking the Marrakech to Merzouga Desert Trip Across Morroco
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