Did you know that the Sahara Desert extends into Morocco? Indeed, the small town of Merzouga is right on the edge of the Sahara, next to the incredibly beautiful Erg Chebbi Dunes. The Erg Chebbi Dunes are the largest sand dunes in Morocco, and have been featured in several movies (including the Mummy and Sahara). The dunes have been said to be the birthplace of Morocco, as well as the home of the Alaouite dynasty of Morocco’s royal family, ruling since 1631. The current King, Mohammed VI, has a PhD in law, and took the throne in 1999, after his father (the king) died.
Mergouza is quite a distance from Marrakech (450 miles!), and is close to the border with Algeria. One of the most popular things for tourists to do here is take a camel trek through the Sahara around Merzouga, seconded by a hot air balloon ride in the early morning hours. Read this first-hand account of a camel trek and a stay in Merzouga. In such a small town, with a seemingly limited landscape, were you surprised by the amount of things the writers saw and did? What would you like to do most, on a visit to Merzouga?
One of the regional distinctions in Merzouga is Gnaoua music (also spelled Gnawa). Take a look at this video of Gnaoua musicians performing. What do you think about this music? Would you like to learn more about the cultural traditions behind it? This musical genre originated in sub-Saharan West Africa, but has combined with both Arab and Islamic sounds to become what it is today. The Gnaoua World Music Festival is held annually in Essaouira, Morocco. Learn even more about the festival here.
Just west of Merzouga is a salt lake, called Dayet Srji, which fills in the spring and dries up in hotter weather. Birdwatchers flock here in the spring to see ducks, flamingos, egrets, storks, Tristam’s desert warbler, the Egyptian nightjar (which looks like a lump of clay), the Arabian buzzard, desert sparrows, and other birds. Animal lovers look for reptiles, desert hedgehogs, desert gerbils, and scarab beetles. Look at these photos of Dayet Srji and watch these bird videos. Does it surprise you to find a salt lake, in the middle of the desert? Why do you think it is salt water instead of fresh?