Merzouga

Merzouga is a small village in southeastern Morocco, about 35 km (22 mi) southeast of Rissani, about 55 km (34 mi) from Erfoud and about 50 km (31 mi) from the Algerian border.

The village is known for its proximity to Erg Chebbi and is a popular destination for tourists.It has been described as “a desert theme park” and the Erg Chebbi as “a wonderland of sand”. Merzouga has the largest natural underground body of water in Morocco.[citation needed]

Morocco Desert Tours from Marrakech
Morocco Desert Tours from Marrakech

A typical street in the older part of Merzouga

In 2006, Merzouga experienced devastating flash floods, displacing 1,200 and resulting in some deaths.

Near the dunes of Erg Chebbi there are other known villages: Hassilabied 4 km (2.5 mi) away, Tanamoust 3 km (1.9 mi) away, Takoujt 1.5 km (0.93 mi) away, Khamlia 7 km (4.3 mi) away and Tisserdmine 15 km (9.3 mi) away.

merzouga camp by night

History

Legend states that Merzouga once flourished as a tropical jungle until it was turned into a desert environment by God who punished families for refused offerings to a poor woman and buried them in the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi.

Merzouga was uninhabited but later became a transit point for merchants heading to Timbuktu. It later became a pilgrimage for the nomads of the Ait Atta tribes and eventually became a tourist destination.

Ancient fortified villages have existed in Merzouga for centuries. During French colonial rule fortifications were built by troops of the French Foreign Legion after the battles of Taflalet, which occurred between 1916 and 1932.

Tourism

Merzouga, the local tourist center, is located on the western lee of the dunes, together with some 70 or more hotels and auberges running north-south along the dunes. Many companies offer camel trips into the dunes, taking tourists on overnight trips to permanent campsites several kilometres into the erg, and out of sight of the hotels. Erg Chebbi’s proximity to the tourist center has led to the erg sometimes being referred to as “dunes of Merzouga.”

During the warmest part of the year, Moroccans come to Erg Chebbi to be buried neck-deep in the hot sand for a few minutes at a time. This is considered to be a treatment for rheumatism.