M’hamid El Ghizlane: Best Place to See Sahara Desert Morocco
M’hamid El Ghizlane: Best Place to See Sahara Desert Morocco

M’hamid El Ghizlane: Best Place to See Sahara Desert Morocco

When dreams of trekking in the Moroccan Sahara Desert came calling, M’hamid El Ghizlane (Gazelle Plane) was the answer.

This Moroccan rural town is the last village before the Sahara Desert. Unlike Zagora and Merzouga, it’s a lesser-known destination for visiting the majestic ergs.

From M’hamid El Ghizlane you can easily get to the famous Erg Chigaga. You can also wander with nomads to quieter and closer dune fields where the sands are less disturbed by tourism, such as Erg Bartam.

Want to see the Sahara Desert in Morocco? Then read on to find out how to get to M’hamid El Ghizlane, where to stay and what desert trekking options are available. 

Where is M’hamid El Ghizlane?

M’hamid El Ghizlane (often shortened to M’hamid) is a town in southern Morocco. More specifically, it’s located in the province of Zagora, which itself falls within the region of Souss-Massa-Draa.

It’s a trek to get to pretty much anywhere from M’hamid. The nearest major town is Zagora 94 km away and Marrakech is a hefty 450 km journey.

Being the most southerly town in the country, M’hamid El Ghizlane is the gateway to the Moroccan Sahara Desert.

Sand swept and hazy, M’hamid El Ghizlane truly makes you feel as though you are at the edge of civilisation. I found it both impressive and inspiring to see the local community enduring the harsh Sahara conditions to make life work.

A motorcyclist waits at a junction in a dusty, sandy town.

How do I get to M’hamid El Ghizlane?

It’s simple to get to M’hamid if you’re coming from Marrakech. The journey takes 10 h but there are direct buses.

The only bus company that offers a consistent and reliable schedule between Marrakech and M’hamid El Ghizlane is CTM. For this reason I recommend traveling with them. Also, CTM coaches are clean and comfortable—at least mine was.

A ticket to M’hamid from the capital costs 170 MAD ($17 US) and CTM charges an extra 6 MAD for each piece of large luggage. The bus leaves at 11:30.

You can buy your ticket online on the CTM website or in person at the CTM gare routiere (bus station) in Marrakech. This is where the bus leaves from.

The CTM bus station is on the corner of Rue Zineb Nazfia and Rue Abou Bakr Seddiq. It’s also on Google Maps so you can just search ‘CTM bus station Marrakech’.

A bus station building. There are yellow taxis parked outside.

There are also buses that go to M’hamid from Bab Doukkala gare routiere, the main bus station in Marrakech. Supposedly, these leave at 8:30 or 20:30 depending on the day.

At first I wanted to take one of these buses, as being more of a local’s way of getting around, I thought it might be cheaper. However, after speaking with someone who was working at Bab Doukkala about the schedule, this option didn’t seem reliable.

If you’re on a really tight budget, then it might be worth going to Bab Doukkala bus station to find out if there is a cheaper option of getting to M’hamid El Ghizlane than CTM. You never know, a reliable bus schedule may have been put in place since I was there. 

A red building with the words Babb Doukkala written on it

Otherwise, CTM is your only option. However, at $17 US it’s definitely affordable for budget travelers and you get the peace of mind.

Amazing scenery during the journey

The journey to M’hamid El Ghizlane is a brilliant way to see some of Morocco’s incredible scenery. Beautiful, rugged landscapes line both sides of the road almost the entire way.

There are a few stops for toilet and snack breaks. These are an opportunity to snap some pictures.

Trekking in the Moroccan Sahara Desert from M’hamid El Ghizlane

M’hamid is the best starting point for treks into the Moroccan Sahara Desert as the town sits right on the edge of the desert. Once you leave M’hamid behind, you are well and truly in Sahara territory. After just a couple of kilometres you’ll see your first sizable sand dunes.

A field of sand dunes. The sun illuminates one side of the dunes, casting the other in shadow.

Erg Chigaga

The main draw for people coming to M’hamid El Ghizlane is Erg Chigaga. At over 60 m tall, these are some of the tallest sand dunes in Morocco.

Erg Chigaga is only 30 km away from M’hamid and you can easily get there with a 4×4 tour. These can last either 1 or 2 days (camping in the desert) and prices start at around $100 US per person. A 4×4 tour usually includes meals and quad biking in the erg.

You can also get to Erg Chigaga from M’hamid with a camel trek. This takes 5 to 6 days and you’ll get a more authentic experience accompanied by nomads and a camel instead of going in a vehicle. Trekking with a camel to Erg Chigaga costs around $300 US per person.

I didn’t visit Erg Chigaga and so can’t personally recommend who to book with. You can look online for different prices and ask at your hotel in M’hamid. Viator has a few Erg Chigaga 4×4 tours listed here.

Erg Bartam: my trek

The owner of the hotel I stayed in when I went to M’hamid El Ghizlane is a former nomad and he took me to Erg Bartam. These dunes are not known to tourists, who typically flock to Erg Chigaga. I hadn’t heard of Erg Bartam before arriving in M’hamid.

A large sand dune in sunset. This is Erg Bartam close to M'hamid El Ghizlane.
Erg Bartam at sunset.

The tallest sand dunes in Erg Bartam are around 12 m, but what they lack in height they make up for in beauty and peacefulness. You can take in the incredible Sahara Desert views at Erg Bartam without the crowds.

Alan stood on sand dunes.

Erg Bartam is a 4 h walk from M’hamid. A 2-day camel trek with a night camping in the desert, meals and tent included, costs around $90 US.

You won’t find Erg Bartam advertised by tour companies. But you can ask in your accommodation about getting there and they might be able to organise a trek for you. Otherwise, speak to Naji at Desert Trekking Vibes hotel.

A camel is ld by a guide through a desert.There are large sand dunes ahead of them. It is Erg Bartam closeto M'hamid El Ghizlane.

Other Sahara Desert treks from M’hamid

Ergs Chigaga and Bartam are only a couple of the dune fields you can get to from M’hamid. Others include:

  • Erg Lihoudi (another popular erg)
  • El Mezouaria
  • Kriaat-Gemel
  • Erg Ezaahar
  • Erg Smar

You’ll easily find tours to Erg Lihoudi. You’ll probably have to ask around in M’hamid to sort a trek to the other dunes.

A painted map of the Sahara Desert region close to M'hamid El Ghizlane in Morocco. The Map shows erg locations.

Other things to do in M’hamid El Ghizlane

Visit old M’hamid

M’hamid El Ghizlane is split into 2 areas. There is ‘new’ M’hamid, where the bus station, busy main street and most of the hotels are located. Then, a kilometre or so away, is ‘old’ M’hamid. You get to old M’hamid by crossing the bridge over the dried-out River Drâa.

A mosque. There is a child on a bike outside.

Aside from the mosque, all of the buildings in the older side of M’hamid are made of adobe. It’s fascinating how an entire town has been constructed using mud bricks, and how it maintains its integrity in such harsh conditions.

A nomadic Moroccan walks through a street of adobe buildings.

However, exploring the wider M’hamid area also reveals the struggles of Saharan communities. Old M’hamid feels like a ghost town; there are seemingly no workshops, stores, or other opportunities for work.

The dry, dusty air makes you think about what the locals do for water. My guide, Naji, explained how the area has been in drought for many years, and how this has affected livelihoods.

A man in a hooded robe sits in a sunlit spot within a shaded street in M'hamid El Ghizlane.

Plastic pollution

Unfortunately, plastic pollution is another major issue in M’hamid. There is no rubbish collection system so plastic ends up on the sandy ground and often blows into the desert.

A group of camels walk through a sand field littered with plastic.
This gives you some idea of plastic pollution in M’hamid.

Naji told me about how the locals band together periodically to do a town-wide litter pic. However, as there is nowhere to dispose of plastic responsibly, after collection, the locals burn it.

I recommend making an effort to limit the amount of single-use plastic you consume in M’hamid El Ghizlane to help with this issue.

Taragalte Festival

Time your trip to M’hamid right and you can check out the Taragalte Festival.

This unique gathering celebrates and shares the culture of Morocco’s nomads; natives of the Sahara Desert who, until fairly recently, roamed the sands in caravans following the rains.

The festival takes place every year over three days in October. The location is the dunes at the historic departure point from which the caravans left M’hamid El Ghizlane for Timbuktu in Mali.

The festival’s theme changes from year to year with recent themes including environmentalism. Festival activities have included live music, poetry readings, arts and crafts workshops, nomad-knowledge sharing sessions and stargazing.

A day ticket pass for the festival costs around 300 MAD ($30 US).

Watch the sunset

The hazy conditions create some magnificent sunsets in M’hamid El Ghizlane. I took this next photo of the sun setting behind the palm trees on the far bank of the Draa River from the newer part of M’hamid.

The sun sets behind a row of palm trees in a desert. It is the desert at M'hamid El Ghizlane.

Where to stay in M’hamid El Ghizlane

You can stay in a hotel within the town of M’hamid or you can stay at camps in the desert.

Hotels within M’hamid El Ghizlane town

Desert Trekking Vibes: 130 MAD/night ($13 US)

This is where I stayed and I couldn’t recommend it more. The rooms are nice private doubles and are charged at a really reasonable price too. Breakfast is included.

Naji, the owner, is an excellent host who really takes care of you. He cooked tasty meals for me and shared lots of local knowledge. He also takes guests on treks and was my guide to Erg Bartam.

Book Desert Trekking Vibes

Auberge la Palmeraie: 160 MAD/night ($16 US)

This hotel has a 9.3 rating on Booking.com and is excellently located just over the bridge near to old M’hamid.

A night in a room with 3 single beds is $16 US while a private double comes in at $20 per night. The price includes breakfast.

Book Auberge la Palmeraie

Desert camps

Camp Sahara Dunes: 215 MAD/night ($16 US)

This campsite has a 9.6 rating on Booking.com. It’s located just within the town boundary making it a good option if you want the camp experience but the comfort of having shops nearby.

A night in a shared tent costs $20 US while a private tent starts at $30 US per night. Prices include breakfast.

Book camp Sahara Dunes

Desert Bivouac M’hamid: 450 MAD/night ($45 US)

If you want the proper camping experience and a good level of comfort, then opt for Desert Bivouac M’hamid. It’s 7 km north of the town out in the desert and rooms have dune views.

The property has a rating of 8.8 on Booking.com and rooms start at $45 US a night per person. Breakfast comes included.

Book Desert Bivouac M’hamid

When to go to M’hamid El Ghizlane

October – April is the ideal time to visit M’hamid El Ghizlane as temperatures in Morocco are cooler. I was there in December and found the town practically void of other tourists. Being here in the low season was great as accommodation prices were lower and the dunes quieter.

A camel walks behind its driver, led by a rope.

The summer months in Morocco (June – September) make trekking much more difficult because of high temperatures. I don’t recommend visiting M’hamid during this period.

Why M’hamid El Ghizlane, not other Moroccan Sahara Desert Destinations?

Simply put, M’hamid El Ghizlane is still a lesser-known access point to the Sahara Desert.

The town is becoming a more popular tourist destination and is growing to accommodate this. However, it will be some time yet before tourism numbers here reach those of Zagora and Merzouga. 

This means that, for now, visiting the Sahara Desert from M’hamid is a much more authentic experience.

A desert camp. The sun is setting. This is M'hamid El Ghizlane.

Practical things to know about M’hamid El Ghizlane

Food

Your best bet for filling, hot meals is your hotel, especially if you’re vegetarian. M’hamid does have a couple of restaurants on the main street, but their menus are limited and they tend to close early.

There is a small supermarket, fruit and veg shop, and a few convenience stores in the town if you want to buy things.

Water

Unlike major cities in Morocco, the tap water in M’hamid El Ghizlane is not treated. There are several shops that sell bottled water.

Bus to Marrakech

Currently, the only scheduled bus to Marrakech from M’hamid is the CTM bus. It leaves at 6:00 every day from the bus station at the top of town.

A small brick building. It is the bus station in M'hamid El Ghizlane.

More adventure travel advice on A World Over

M’hamid  is definitely one of the most interesting places I’ve been to in my travels. Not only is the town an excellent base for Sahara Desert trekking, it’s also an eye-opener to the environmental challenges that communities in this region face.  

So if, like me, you enjoy raw, adventure travel and learning about the bigger picture of the places you explore, then add M’hamid El Ghizlane to your Morocco travel list. I’ve got more destination recommendations for Morocco here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *