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5 Excursions to the Zagora Desert in Morocco from Marrakech

No trip to Morocco would be complete without an excursion to the magical sands of the Sahara. The Zagora desert in Morocco is a fantastic alternative to enjoy beautiful sunsets, camel rides and romantic campfire nights.

Katherine Betances

Katherine Betances

9 min read

5 Excursions to the Zagora Desert in Morocco from Marrakech

Zagora desert, Morocco | ©Marvin Meyer

Zagora is the name given to the city that serves as the gateway to the largest desert in Morocco: the Erg Chigaga Desert; due to its proximity, many people call Erg Chigaga by the name of Zagora desert. On a tourist level, it is a less exploited destination than Erg Chebbi, but an alternative with extraordinary potential that you should consider adding to the list of things to do during your trip to Marrakech.

1. Excursion to camp under the stars in the desert of Zagora

Camping in Zagora| ©ismail el youssefi
Camping in Zagora| ©ismail el youssefi

An excursion to sleep in the Moroccan desert is on the list of the most fascinating activities you could do on your visit to the Zagora desert. At the foot of the dunes are installed luxury camps that promise guests the experience of living a night in the desert in the style of The Thousand and One Nights.

Lodging

Most camps have a similar layout with a lounge in the center of the camp where you can relax on comfortable mattresses. Some include open tents with chairs, hammocks, puffs and sofas.

The space to rest will be composed of different private tents where the bedrooms are located. The number of tents varies according to the camp and inside the tents you will find different comforts including: king size beds, carpets, night tables, mirrors and armchairs.

Other amenities

In most camps the bathrooms will include a toilet, dressing room and laundry area. However, due to water shortages, in some cases only buckets of water will be provided for personal hygiene. Don't forget to check in detail all the facilities that the excursions offer, as well as those that are not included in the package, so that you can make a realistic travel budget.

Useful information about Zagora

  • Price: You will find varied prices ranging from 80 € to 230 € per person. However, this price usually includes not only spending the night in the desert but the complete excursion from cities such as Marrakech.
  • Duration of the excursion: Usually a day and a half or two days as the excursions depart from Marrakech the first day in the morning and arrive the next day in the afternoon. The total duration will depend on the activities in the desert in addition to the overnight camping.

Book your excursion to the Zagora desert

2. Excursion with camel ride in the dunes of Tinfou in Erg Chigaga

Camel ride in Zagora| ©Gabriele Stravinskaite
Camel ride in Zagora| ©Gabriele Stravinskaite

To fully experience the Zagora desert, you should schedule a camel ride in its sands. A ride through the dunes is the perfect way to enjoy the unique colors of the sunset on Moroccan soil.

In Morocco the Tinfou Dunes located in Erg Chigaga are famous for their healing qualities the Berber people claim that they are able to cure diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. You can ask your guide to bury your body under the sand for a spa-like experience.

Useful information about Zagora

  • Price: The average price of this excursion is from 20€ to 40€ per trip and per person.
  • Duration of the excursion: Varies depending on the tour company you hire starting at least 1 hour or maximum 3 hours including several stops.

Book your excursion to the desert of Zagora

3. Excursion to the desert of Zagora in a 4X4 to visit the Oasis of M'Hamid

Visiting the Oasis of M'Hamid| ©Richard Boyd
Visiting the Oasis of M'Hamid| ©Richard Boyd

You will have the chance to explore the Sahara desert to the oasis of M'Hamid aboard a 4x4 in a very original adventure. M'Hamid is the last great Oasis of the desert and a historical place very dear to the locals.

This oasis was also known by the name of Bounou, which once housed several southern Berber tribes such as the Ait Atta, Drawa and Hassani tribes, and legend has it that caravans gathered here before setting off on their journeys to Timbuktu.

What can you do in this destination?

In addition to enjoying the thrilling ride through the desert in a motor vehicle and the beautiful scenery of the Oasis, you can also enjoy a leisurely lunch in the desert under fantastic palm trees.

Useful information about this destination

  • Price: An excursion to the Zagora desert by 4X4 with a visit to the M'Hamid Oasis usually costs on average 70€ or more.
  • Duration of the excursion: It usually takes one day of travel itinerary, leaving early in the morning until sunset.

Book your excursion to the desert of Zagora

4. Excursion to the Draâ Valley

Visiting the Draâ Valley| ©Sara Camici
Visiting the Draâ Valley| ©Sara Camici

Explore one of the most popular tourist spots in the Zagora desert excursions by visiting the Draâ Valley. Originally known as the Valley of Olives until the 19th century, this is a settlement of great historical value that for long periods provided accommodation for the caravans of the desert. Take the time to appreciate the beauty of the place paying special attention to:

The beautiful palm grove of the Draâ valley

Gardens filled with date palms stretch for miles between the city and the river that make up the Draâ Valley. More than 30 varieties of dates grow in this region and are harvested each year from September to November. The palms of this valley proved, in addition to offering shade and shelter to all who need it, to be a highly versatile commodity option used to make baskets, leaf mats and other utensils.

The Draâ river itself

In this area you will find Morocco's longest river flowing from the High Atlas Mountains to the southeast. The Draâ river extends for 1100 km passing through Zagora and stops for proper management at a dam located in Ouarzazate. Towards the southern area and during the summer the river is usually full of water so it is typical to see local children swimming in it and enjoying its waters with the intention of lessening the strong heat of the desert.

Useful information about the Draâ Valley

  • Price: Some Zagora desert tours include guided excursions to the Draa Valley at a cost of 135 € approximately.

  • Duration of the excursion: This type of excursion has a duration of 10 hours. They start early in the morning and end at nightfall.

Book your excursion to the desert of Zagora

5. Excursion to discover Aït Benhaddou Kasbahs

In Aït Benhaddou Kasbahs| ©Abdel Charaf
In Aït Benhaddou Kasbahs| ©Abdel Charaf

Kasbah is the Arabic term that refers to both citadels and fortifications in a very broad sense of the word. Aït Benhaddou Kasbahs is an impressive architectural construction located in the city of Ouarzazate that became world famous in 1962 when it debuted in the British film Lawrence of Arabia.

On your tour of Zagora you may hear more than once the term "see Ouarzazate and die", a sentiment often expressed by Moroccans that allows them to verbalize their respect and admiration for this magical city.

Where is Ouarzazate located?

On a trip from Zagora the city is 2.5 hours away by road. On a trip from Marrakech 4 hours by vehicle. Ouarzazate is the main Berber city in the south and is world famous for its spectacular sunsets and its mountainous and desert landscapes.

The city's history is also fascinating, as it was once a crossing point for African traders seeking to reach the cities of northern Morocco and Europe.

Useful information about Ouarzazate

  • Price: This excursion costs from 35 €.
  • Duration of the excursion: It is a day trip that starts early in the morning and ends in the evening, for a total duration of 12 hours departing from Marrakech.

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How to get to Zagora desert?

Car in Zagora| ©Irfan Rahat
Car in Zagora| ©Irfan Rahat

Getting to the Zagora desert means that you must arrange your route to reach the city of Zagora first. Fortunately, there are several ways to do this:

Organized excursions from Marrakech

The best alternative is an organized tour from Marrakech to Zagora. It includes a tour fully managed by expert guides who will take you through the most interesting points and take care of your safety and well-being at all times.

Rent a private car in Marrakech

Recommended if you have experience on the route and want to go at your own pace making stops at points of your choice. You should consider fuel and tolls in your travel budget.

By plane

If you are traveling from Marrakech you will not be able to fly directly to Zagora so a popular option is to fly to Ouarzazate and then take a 2.5 hour road section.

By bus

This is a long and complex trip that can be exhausting and I do not recommend at all if it is your first time in the country.

Advantages of visiting the desert of Zagora

Zagora desert| ©puriy
Zagora desert| ©puriy
  • Excellent for avoiding crowds: This is a less crowded destination that many travelers consider more intimate and romantic. It is ideal to avoid crowds in times of high tourist influx.
  • Ideal to avoid long journeys: If you go to the desert from the city of Marrakech Erg Chigaga offers the advantage of being able to make a trip to the desert in just 2 days, with a maximum time of 8 hours of road including interesting stops.

Disadvantages of choosing the Zagora desert for your trip

Touring the palm grove| ©briDom
Touring the palm grove| ©briDom

Fewer accommodation options: Compared to Erg Chebbi you will find fewer desert camps and fewer accommodation alternatives. However, the existing offers are just as comfortable and luxurious.
Dunes: For me the biggest disadvantage is that the dunes of Erg Chigaga, possessing less sand accumulation and consequently less height, are less impressive.

What is the best time to visit the Zagora desert in Morocco?

Zagora by camel| ©Tony Smith
Zagora by camel| ©Tony Smith

The best time of the year to visit the Zagora desert in Morocco is in the months around May or around October. In both periods the daytime temperatures are quite mild and the days are less hot.

During the Saharan winter months, nighttime temperatures often drop below freezing. If you are a person accustomed to the cold and can handle such scenarios without problems, you might consider visiting the desert in winter.

During the summer months the desert heat is particularly difficult to handle, with temperatures averaging around 45 degrees Celsius some tours are forced to close for a couple of weeks during the months of July and September.

What to wear in the Zagora Desert?

Person in the Zagora Desert| ©puriy
Person in the Zagora Desert| ©puriy

In general terms, remember that Moroccans are a conservative culture. Try to dress according to their customs so as not to offend them. During excursions in the desert wear cotton or linen clothes that are breathable.

It is useful to bring hats, caps and sunglasses on your excursions. Also bring a scarf to protect your face during your adventure in the desert sands.

During the night temperatures are very cold so make sure you pack warm clothes and socks.

Other useful accessories are: a basic first aid kit, sunscreen, portable charger (you can find some that charge with sunlight), fresh water and a high protein snack.

Tips to save money on your next trip to the Zagora Desert

Eating in Zagora| ©tjabeljan
Eating in Zagora| ©tjabeljan

Here are a few tips based on experience that he felt could make your trip simpler and more fun.

  • In Morocco prices are rarely fixed so on your trip you will have to put your bargaining skills into practice.
  • Try to pre-arrange cab fares before you get in the car. In this city the vehicles are not metered and you could end up paying more than expected if you do not negotiate the fare with the driver.
  • If you are looking for cheap food in destinations like Zagora opt for street food instead of a casual restaurant. Besides being cheaper it is usually freshly made and 100% authentic Moroccan food.
  • When choosing a desert tour or any other activity research in detail what is included and what is not before opting for the cheapest price on the list. On several occasions I have seen slightly more expensive tours that include really interesting add-ons such as food and transportation to the hotel so at the end of the day they end up being cheaper for the traveler.

Other excursions to the desert of Marrakech

Campfire in Merzouga| ©Tomáš Malík
Campfire in Merzouga| ©Tomáš Malík

If your stay in Morocco is long enough or you would simply like to know other alternative excursions to fabulous Moroccan deserts, here is a list of desert destinations that might be of interest to you.

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