We had arrived midday to a riad in the village of Merzouga on the edge of a stretch of the Sahara known as Erg Chebbi. It was too hot for the camels to head out any earlier so our host, Omar, fixed us up some lunch and allowed us to lounge around his oasis-like pool filled courtyard until it was time to ride off into the Saharan sunset.
We had been waiting all day so we were getting anxious to begin this camel trek through the Erg Chebbi desert, that we’d been looking so forward to. The camels had arrived outside the raid and looked ready to go too. We were supposed to leave at 6:00 yet at a quarter after, we were still just waiting around. I finally asked Omar when we were going to depart. He casually replied that we couldn’t leave because a sand storm was approaching.
The Sandstorm in Erg Chebbi
Wait, what?! Sandstorm? I went to the rooftop terrace of the riad, and sure enough, off in the distance was what looked like a dark wall of sand up in the air. One side of the desert was a nice partly cloudy day but looking in the other direction was an ominous blackness. As it slowly got closer and closer, Omar began securing the patio furniture onto the terrace.
He advised that we come down and take shelter but I really wanted to see what this sand storm was all about. The darkness that was once off in the distance was now at our doorstep. The once still air began to whip up very turbulently. Sand was now being blown everywhere in a quite strong steady warm wind. What looked like rivers of sand began flowing down the roads of this small village. It was quite the site. Sand was everywhere and the sustained winds seemed to be growing even stronger. After uttering a few expletives we soon learned the hard way that it was better to contemplate our impending doom quietly as to not get loads of sand crunching in our mouths.
Once the sand had blasted us for several minutes, our amazement finally subsided to common sense and we took shelter back down stairs. After another hour or so, the sand storm seemed to still be going full force and night was fast approaching. We wondered whether our trek was going to be cancelled. But then Omar introduced us to our guide told us that it was time to go.
He armed us with scarves to keep the sand out of our faces and showed us the proper technique on how to wrap them. After some very quick instructions we hopped onto our camels. The camels rose up from the ground very quickly nearly throwing you off if not holding on tightly. The camels were larger than we’d imagined and we felt like we were riding really high off the ground. But it didn’t take long to get a feel for it. With the sand storm still going strong, we went off into the Sahara. It was just the two of us on our camels led by our guide into the Erg Chebbi desert.
Visibility was poor. The sun was an opaque glowing ball in the distance so there would be no magical Saharan sunset for us tonight. But instead we were treated to watching these mountainous dunes shape-shift right before our eyes. Rivers of sands streamed down valleys then up and over slopes. Peaks in some areas steadily pealed away while others were being built up. Even while we continued to be whipped around by all this sand, it was all still an astonishing sight.
It was almost dark but after going up and over one last dune, there was a small tent camp. Thank goodness. We hopped off our camels and quickly sought refuge inside a tent. Oh, the simple joys of being able to talk without getting a mouthful of sand! It was beginning to cool off rapidly and was actually becoming rather chilly. Our guide presented us with the requisite mint tea and started to prepare dinner. The hearty chicken tagine we feasted on for dinner was good but the novelty of eating it in the middle of a Saharan sandstorm made it that much better.
After dinner our guide reappeared with some drums and attempted to give us lessons in Berber drumming. He was quite good! We had trouble trying to keep up with him during our drum circle desert jam session but it was fun to try.
It was well past midnight and time to close our eyes back in our camp beds with the sand storm still not letting up. We were exhausted and slept like rocks.
The Sandboarding on Sahara Sand Dunes
We weren’t asleep for long though as our guide woke us up only about 4 hours later so that we could see the sunrise. We grabbed our flashlights and ventured out of our tents. The storm was finally over and the air had become tranquil again. The dawn light slowly began to illuminate the vast Erg Chebbi desert and it was in absolutely pristine condition. No footprints, no camel tracks, no signs of life whatsoever. Any traces that may have been there before were now painted over with a fresh coat of golden sand.
The sun finally peaked over the dune. Still quite tired, we snapped a few pictures and went back to sleep.
Our early morning nap would also get cut short as we would need to set out and avoid the midday heat. Also we brought a few snowboards with us so that we could go sand boarding! So we scarfed down breakfast and climbed the dunes to give it a try. Neither one of us has snowboarded before so there would be a clumsy learning curve ahead of us. We started off with some “bunny slopes” and work our way up to some larger dunes.
What was unexpected was how time consuming and somewhat strenuous it was to climb these dunes. It would take a good 20 minutes+ to get up atop a dune for an experimental 90 second ride down. But man was it fun and worth every ounce of effort climbing the dunes. There were a number of crazy wipeouts but no serious injuries. Just great thrill! (See video at end of post.)
Visiting With Berber Nomads of Erg Chebbi
We could have played around on these dunes for a few more hours but it was beginning to warm so we had to pack up our camels and set off again.
We would now ride even deeper into the desert. After another few hours, we came to a planned stop at a nomadic Berber family’s camp deep in the middle of the desert. After exchanging pleasantries and the requisite mint tea we were treated to a hearty lunch. Then the three curious young boys in the family slowly started peaking into our tent. Finally one of the children, Hussein, was bold enough to pick up our camera and began going through our pictures. We were obviously not the first tourists to arrive at their camp as he showed us that he knew how to operate a camera and even took a few pictures. His brothers were a bit more shy but slowly joined.
We’d been through this once before back when connecting with the ancient civilization of the Wiwa children in the jungles of Colombia. So we loaded up a game onto our smartphone and had a lot of fun watching them laughing and playing it together. Ironically the game was PvZ2, in which the opening stages they were playing take place in the desert. They loved it.
The battery finally drained. Since we showed them our games, they wanted to show us theirs. They grabbed their sleds, motioned for us to grab our snowboards and we all headed off together up the dunes for some more sledding and sandboarding. We didn’t speak the same language but the smiles, laughter, and genuine fun we were all sharing was universal.
The hot air was finally starting to subside again so it was time to head on to continue on our journey to the second camp. We bid a heartfelt farewell to our new friends and set off on our camels again.
Camel Trekking in Erg Chebbi
Embarking further through the desert, our camels seemed to be getting tired and so was my ass. We hopped off and began walking along side them instead. We were now so close to the Algerian border that we could actually see into the country neighboring Morocco.
At one point our guide stopped as he was carefully looking at some tracks in the sand. He said it was from a sandfish. When he saw we were puzzled, he said he would show us. He found a point where the tracks ended, reached down into the sand, and sure enough pulled out what looked like a fish with tiny legs that swims around in the sand. How cool!
We arrived to our second camp in time to enjoy the sunset.
And since there was no sandstorm bombarding us we enjoyed dining alfresco as the night sky and thousands of stars began to appear. It was getting cool out again so we enjoyed sitting around a nice crackling bon fire.
The final day of our trek was extremely pleasant yet uneventful. We packed up once again and sought back out of Erg Chebbi on course for Merzouga.
A few more hours trekking over the dunes and we would arrive back at the riad. After three days in the Erg Chebbi desert we were covered in sand and never have I been so excited to indulge in a shower.
Here is a video of our excursion so you can see the sandstorm blow through and also lots of falling while sand boarding, all shot with a GoPro. View it in full screen.
If You Go on a Camel Excursion in Merzouga / Erg Chebbi:
There are dozens of tour companies and agencies to book camel tours with in Merzouga that are more than willing to take you on a camel trek through the Erg Chebbi desert. We booked our tour with CamelTrekking.com, had a good experience, give them a solid review and would absolutely recommend them. We did the 2 night “eXtreme Sport” tour in which the cost was 70 euros per person inclusive of all meals, water, guide, camels, camp, and equipment. For this specific tour you must arrange your own transportation to Merzouga but they also offer other tours from Marrakech and other locations, which include transportation and stops at other destinations. This excursion was a highlight of our visit to Morocco and we would strongly recommend to anyone considering a desert trip in Morocco.
Ready to make this epic trek through the Sahara Desert? Pin this to your travel Pinterest boards for future reference!: