Spread out over 9 million square kilometres across north Africa, the great Sahara desert is the largest sand desert in the world with a remarkable variation of microclimates and communities of plant and animal species. From the Red Sea in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, the Sahara morphs from vast stone plateaus to areas of undulating sand dunes, punctuated by deeply cut mountain ranges and small green oases.
Despite the harsh conditions, the Sahara is home to an estimated two million people formed of permanent communities that have set up close to water sources and the ethnic tribes that live a traditional nomadic existence following ancient trade routes. Most famous of these tribes are the Berbers, descendants of the pre-Arab inhabitants of North Africa, who even after some 4,000 years maintain their own language and culture across the Sahara and much of Morocco.
Rising to heights of up to 150 metres, the wind-blown sand dunes of Erg Chebbi are the classic image you would expect of the Sahara desert – an endless sea of rose gold mounds snaking their way across an area that spans 50km from north to south, changing hue as the sun rises and falls from warm pinks to brilliant orange. The dunes rise almost immediately from the edge of Merzouga village, one of the most accessible desert towns in the region reached by paved roads with a choice of traditional hotel accommodation offering spectacular views of the dunes. It’s for this reason that the dunes of Erg Chebbi are the most visited part of the Moroccan Sahara and get busy with people during peak tourist seasons. The dunes around Merzouga peak with the Grand Dune de Merzouga, distinguishable from the others by dense thicket of tamarisk trees at its base.