After days in the beautiful and chaotic Marrakech I definitely need a break and a quiet spot!
I decide to head directly to the source of peace and tranquility:
The Sahara desert!
With as much as 15/20 dirham (2€) taxi we reach the bus station where an eight hours bus of CTM brings my friend Rosa and myself across the Anti-Atlas mountains down to Ouarzazate.
The landscape changes rapidly as soon as we leave the city offering us beautiful green valleys and tiny villages.
Also here in Ouarzazate, as soon as we step out of the bus we are approached by a man offering hostel, food, tours… We’re actually after this last one and we start gathering information and contacts, but without giving any commitment. Two hours from one travel agency to another bargaining prices to end up with two main options.
Erg Chebbi desert near Merzuga and the valley of Roses, or Erg Chigaga near Zagora and the valley of Draa?
Erg Chebbi offers more reddish and a bit taller dunes, cheaper tours since you can drive there with a normal van, but are also more touristic and include only one night sleeping under the shining starts of the desert.
Our choice goes instead for the 3 days 2 nights tour in the Chigaga desert with a 4×4 land-rover with space up to 6 people. With a starting price of 250€ we succeed to close the deal at 185€, that is suddenly reduced then to 155€ when we convince Clemence from Germany to join us on the tour. (to reduce the price it’s a good idea to exclude the 1st and 3rd day’s lunches from the package and buy it on your own).
A day driving to the desert through the Valley of Draa and Zagora
Mouha, our guide, picks us up at the La Gazelle hostel, perfect place for a short and budget rest and in a couple of hours we leave the main road to turn into a side dirt road to explore the Valley of Draa and its small villages and Oasis. Marocco already appeared to my eyes as being in another time and World compared to Italy and Europe, but in these small villages the time seems really to have stopped.
We shot as many photos of the valleys and oasis as we want, but avoid shooting photos of the local woman washing clothes at a well and the local people since they make it clear they don’t like to be photographed.
The tour continues with a lunch stop in Zagora before driving the last 100 Kms between rocky desert mountains to the end of the road in Mhamid: for the next 2 days only a desert path to follow!
Finally in the desert at the Berbers campsite !
A positive note the tasty and abundant traditional food!
And here before dinner we get our ride on camels to reach the nearby tall dune in time to enjoy an amazing sunset and a walk back with the last light.
Mohammed and Josen, the hosts, are real Berebers, the local ethnicity of this area of Morocco. Josen moved to Marrakech for work as a basis and is here to visit his brother Mohammed who instead is living in the desert since the whole life: something in his eyes and words seems to tell a long story and experience. The atmosphere is magic and even more when they start playing music and singing Bereber songs!
Meantime over us the real show of stars fighting between to get their space and attention in the crowded sky, sometimes deciding to run away in a magnificent shooting star!
The first lights of the day anticipating the sunrise wakes us up in time to enjoy a big sun raising from the horizon of sand to slowly warm up the air around us.
A “desert breakfast” completes the warming up with warm bread with honey and jams, eggs, hot tea and even yogurt 😉
Mouha drives us for few hours through the desert till our campsite near some high dunes made of a sand that along the Kms changed toward red. Cuscus lunch and we have the full afternoon for us to climb the surrounding dunes and enjoy another amazing sunset, this time from the second highest dune of the Cigaga desert: what an amazing show of lights and shadows enlarging their power with the minutes passing. The desert is almost all for us with only other four tourist joining us on the top of the dune and the peace is guaranteed: after all this is why we came to the desert!
The desert presents us with another beautiful sunrise before the last drive through the dried out Iriki lake whose existence is confirmed only by some vegetation and muddy soils here and there, clear sign of the water that flows from the mountains during rainy days. Within those plants the most common is a poisonous one with fruits very similar to avocado, but deadly both for man and camels.
We drive through the highest dune of the area (I suggest to make it very clear with the driver if it really matters to you to climb it, or he will probably avoid to stop in order to save time) and we stop by some rocky hills in search of nice fossils hidden in the rocks. Millions of years ago indeed the whole area was submerged by water and these fossils are the prove of the incredibles changes of the land since then.
As we did you can also avoid to drive back till Ouarzazate and jump off in Tazenhakt in time to get the 14.30 bus to Taroudant near the coast!
Plus of the Chigaga desert:
Peace and quietness; good food and real local welcoming people. The campsite are adventurous, but above my expectations (even had bathroom with water instead of the more logical dry toilets): bring anyway your sleeping bag or fitted bed sheets.
Alternative plan for the desert experience:
we opted for a 4×4 tour from Ouarzazate in order to visit the Draa valley and cross the desert ending already in direction of the Atlantic coast, but many are the caravans of tourists with camels visiting the desert on foot on multi day adventures (and be brought then back with a car). If this is your kind of adventure, just go directly all south till Mhamid (or at least Zagora) and bargain a tour from there.