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How to get to the desert from Marrakech

Exploring amazing sand dunes, marveling at the most beautiful sunsets or counting a thousand stars under the night sky are just some of the many unique experiences that Marrakech and its deserts have to offer.

Katherine Betances

Katherine Betances

10 min read

How to get to the desert from Marrakech

Postcards from the desert | ©Taryn Elliott

Trips and excursions to the desertare among the most valued experiences for the many hikers who come to Morocco year after year. Its dunes and mysteries have been for centuries the curiosity of foreigners, who refuse to leave these magical lands without first living the experience of at least a camel ride on the sands.

Where is the desert of Marrakech?

Night photography in Merzouga| ©Jaanus Jagomägi
Night photography in Merzouga| ©Jaanus Jagomägi

When popularly speaking of the Marrakech desert what people are really referring to is the area of the Sahara Desert which is located in the domains of Morocco. The Moroccan Sahara Desert is divided into two large Ergs or dunes: The Erg Chebbi desert in the vicinity of the town of Merzouga and the Erg Chigaga desert in the vicinity of the town of Zagora. For its part the Agafay desert is an arid and rocky area just outside Marrakech, but not a sand desert itself.

For its part, Marrakech is known worldwide as the city of luxury and charm, thanks mainly to its fabulous architecture and diverse cuisine. It is the most popular city in Morocco, the point where the vast majority of tourists who travel from all over the world converge to this oriental paradise.

Morocco is a vast country that offers travelers several desert areas to choose from. So if you intend to travel to the desert from Marrakech you should choose the alternative that best suits your travel itinerary, the length of your stay, the best time of the year to visit Marrakech, your budget and the level of adventure you can handle!

How to get to Agafay desert from Marrakech

Private transportation to the desert| ©Julia Volk
Private transportation to the desert| ©Julia Volk

Among the options studied, it is the only one that allows adesert travel experiencefrom Marrakech in one day or less. For this reason, Agafay is the ideal alternative for any traveler who wants to know the desert of Marrakech and has a tight itinerary.

From Marrakech the Agafay desert is only 40 minutes away by road. You have different alternatives to move to the desert, some will take you directly to the camp or excursion while with others you will have to walk a distance on foot.

The best option: Organized Excursion

Most of the agencies that offer organized tours of experiences in the Agafay desert include among their facilities the pick up and return of visitors to their hotel in Marrakech.

Thanks to this, you will only have to take care of seeing, among the many options available, what activities you will do in the desert. Some popular alternatives are: camel riding with afternoon tea, water sports on Lake Takerkoust, glamping experiences in luxury tents in the desert, romantic dinner under the stars, lunches and much more.

  • Price: Included in the activity or tour
  • Duration: From 40 minutes for a direct trip to 2 hours if stops at tourist attractions are included before arriving in the desert.

Book your desert excursion

The fastest option: Pay a cab from Marrakech

Cabs in Marrakech| ©Mike Finn
Cabs in Marrakech| ©Mike Finn

Finding a cab for transportation from the center of Marrakech to your destination in Agafay is really easy. Cabs are a widely used method and those operating around the hotels usually speak 2 or 3 languages quite easily.

When taking cabs in Morocco you should be very careful and always fix the fares in advance and before getting in the car. Cabs here do not use meters and if you do not reach an agreement on the price of the trip the driver can charge you whatever he wants at the end of the trip.

  • Price: Approximately 35 € per trip. Remember to consider the return trip to the hotel.
  • Duration: A maximum of 40 minutes in a non-stop trip.

The most flexible option: Rent a car in Marrakech

The car rental business in Marrakech is highly demanded by tourists and local travelers, for this reason getting a car is very easy and in certain scenarios can be the most reasonable option.

However, it is not an alternative I recommend for inexperienced travelers who are visiting the city for the first time and are not entirely familiar with its ways and customs. The traffic chaos in Marrakech could be stressful and overwhelming. In addition, it can be impractical to get around for short distances such as the transfer to the Agafay desert.

  • Price: a single car in Marrakech has a minimum price of 8 € per day. Consider fuel costs as an additional expense.
  • Duration of the trip: The non-stop trip from Marrakech to the Agafay desert will take only 40 minutes.

How to get to Merzouga desert from Marrakech

Visiting Merzouga| ©Jeff Jewiss
Visiting Merzouga| ©Jeff Jewiss

Erg Chebbi is the perfect choice for those travelers whose goal of desert travel is to marvel at the most impressive sand mountains that Morocco is able to offer. The dunes of the Erg Chebbi desert can reach 150 meters high, making it the best known and most exploited of the two main sand deserts that make up the Moroccan Sahara.

The Merzouga desert is the farthest from Marrakech. A road trip will take at least 8.5 hours without stops. Quite an adventure in Morocco! Fortunately from the city of Marrakech you will find several transportation alternatives, about which I will give you more details below.

The best option: Organized Excursion

This is by far my favorite option, since in addition to avoiding the hassle of planning a long trip in the desert, it also saves us a lot of the inconveniences and unforeseen events that could arise. For a few euros you will have the opportunity to relax and enjoy yourself with very friendly guides whose job is to make your experience as enjoyable as possible.

Several tour operators offer organized desert excursions that will take you from your hotel in Marrakech to the great sand mountains of the Erg Chebbi desert and back.

On a guided tour, the road trip will be a bit longer, possibly 12 hours of transportation. However, it is the perfect opportunity to get to know other destinations of great tourist attraction that are always included in the tours as travel stops.

  • Price: The prices in this type of adventures vary depending on many factors. From 130 € onwards you can find excursions of a few days to Erg Chebbi.
  • Duration: A guided tour from Marrakech to Merzouga will take at least 3 days. My recommendation to enjoy a greater number of stops is to book a 4 or 5 day desert tour.

Book your desert excursion

The fastest option: Fly by plane

Morocco airport| ©David Berkowitz
Morocco airport| ©David Berkowitz

If your goal is to reach the desert of Merzouga in the shortest time possible, you can consider doing a part of the trip by plane. Although at the moment there are no direct flights between Merzouga and Marrakech, you can take a flight in the red city to Ouarzazate or to Errachidia. From this point you can hire a cab or take a bus line to your final destination in Merzouga.

This is not an option I recommend due to the additional cost involved but mainly because it limits the experience of the desert crossing to the final destination only.

  • Price: A flight ticket from Marrakech will cost from 130€ onwards. To this you will have to add the price of cab or buses giving a total average of 170€ the trip.
  • Duration: An average of 10 hours from your destination in Marrakech.

The most flexible option: rent a car in Marrakech

In the city of Marrakech you will have the option of renting a vehicle to reach Merzouga. This alternative offers many advantages such as the possibility of making a 100% personalized travel itinerary with stops only at your points of interest.

The main disadvantage is that it requires a lot of planning and organization on the part of the traveler, which is why I do not recommend it to those visiting Morocco for the first time.

If you are taking a road trip from Marrakech to Merzouga, take into consideration that, although you will find many fuel stations, the villages are usually separated by long distances so you should be aware of the indicator.

  • Price: a vehicle in Marrakech will cost you an average of 8€ to 10€, to this you will have to add the cost of fuel and tolls.
  • Duration of the trip: The direct road trip without stops to Merzouga will take at least 10 hours of crossing.

The cheapest option: the bus

Marrakech is the busiest and busiest city in Morocco, so you can take a bus from its main station to reach almost any destination in the country.

Despite being the cheapest option of all it is my least favorite due to the many drawbacks it brings: first it is a long and tiring trip in which you will have to sit for a long time and second you will not be able to stop to appreciate the beauties that Morocco has to offer on the route.

  • Price: With an approximate cost of 35€ you can go all the way to the village of Merzouga. From there you can book a day trip through the desert.
  • Duration: If you decide to travel by bus from Marrakech to Merzouga be prepared for at least 16 hours on the road without stops.

How to get to Erg Chigaga desert from Marrakech

Zagora desert| ©puriy
Zagora desert| ©puriy

As a tourist destination Erg Chigaga was opened to the world in the 90's and even today is still less visited than Erg Chebbi; this despite having some attractive advantages such as the distance from Marrakech and a smaller tourist influx.

The Zagora desert is located about 6 hours drive from Marrakech; the popular Moroccan city also offers all kinds of transportation options to reach the destination. Here is some general information about each of them.

The best option: Organized Excursion

Several companies and tour operators run organized excursions departing from Marrakech for a desert crossing. This is my favorite option to visit places like the Zagora desert, since the operators who have been organizing these excursions for decades know how to turn the trip into a totally enjoyable experience for the tourist.

Starting from the hotel in Marrakech, the trip to Zagora includes: stops at points of interest, transportation, fuel and accommodation in the desert. Most of your trip will be covered without taking up practically any of your time. Your only mission will be to be at the agreed meeting points at the agreed times and to find an excursion or guide who speaks a language in which you can communicate fluently.

  • Price: Although prices may vary depending on the itinerary, an excursion to the Zagorac desert usually costs from 80€ and up.
  • Duration: The full excursion from Marrakech usually lasts 2 to 3 days in total; although you can always opt for longer tours or coordinate with your operator for longer stays.

Book your excursion to the desert

The most flexible option: Rent a car in Marrakech

The most flexible and customizable option involves renting a vehicle in the city of Marrakech and embarking on the road trip on your own. It is a really interesting alternative and one that I recommend mainly to travelers with experience on Moroccan soil who are a bit more steeped in the culture or those traveling accompanied by a local.

One very important thing to remember is that the policemen and most of the people you will meet will not speak Spanish; so you will have to be prepared to communicate effectively in other languages. On the more positive side having your own transportation will allow you to design a tour at your leisure with stops at the main sites to see in Marrakech.

  • Price: a vehicle in Marrakech will cost from 8€ per day. To this you will have to add the cost of fuel and possible tolls.
  • Duration of the trip: The trip by car direct and non-stop from Marrakech to Zagora takes about 7 hours on average.

The most economical option: the bus

Bus in Marrakech Menara Airport| ©Tim Adams
Bus in Marrakech Menara Airport| ©Tim Adams

The bus is an extremely economical option to travel from Zagora to Marrakech but the least recommended for tourists. A bus trip will deprive you of enjoying the beauty of Morocco by not being able to stop at any point of interest.

If you choose this option anyway, from Marrakech the transport service company Supratours undertakesdaily trips to Zagora. The bus can be found at the main terminal of the city. Please note that finding operators and service personnel who speak Spanish will be extremely difficult.

  • Price: With less than 18€ you cover the cost of bus travel to Zagora.
  • Duration: Approximate travel time is 8 hours in total.

The fastest option: Fly by plane

The city of Zagora has its own airport, Zagora Airport (OZG). You can take a flight from Marrakech and once in the city hire the services of an excursion tour to reach the desert.

There are two reasons why I do not recommend this option:

1st- flights to Zagora, although short, are complex to get due to low demand. The company that operates flights between Marrakech and Zagora is Air Arabia Maroc.
Air Arabia Maroc; most flights include a stopover at Casablanca Airport, a stopover that can take many hours until your next flight.

2nd- Flying between cities will not allow you to enjoy the beauty of Morocco, which is ultimately the goal of every traveler.

  • Price: The cheapest flights are around 320€ on average.
  • Duration: Flight time without stopovers is only 2.5 hours in total.