Chebbi or Chigaga: which is the best Moroccan Erg

Chebbi or Chigaga, how to choose the best Erg in Morocco
Chebbi or Chigaga - how to choose the best Moroccan Erg for you

So you’re going to Morocco (great choice by the way), and fancy yourself a wannabe T. E. Lawrence. After all, what can be more romantic than riding a camel into the desert sunset. Yet just how do you choose whether to adventure at Chebbi or Chigaga? One is more popular and has higher dunes, whilst the other is harder to reach but equally photogenic.

Hmm, decisions.

Well, never fear. I’m here to help since I’ve visited both. Although I do have a clear favourite, it really does depend on your own personal criteria for what a successful desert adventure would involve for you. Either way, you’ll probably hope you never have to ride a camel again!

So to the question…Chebbi or Chigaga?

Erg Chebbi

The better known of the two dune areas is Erg Chebbi, near Merzouga. An 8 hour drive from Fes in the north, and also from Ouarzazate in the west. The bivouac scene is better established and sees more visitors than Erg Chigaga, mainly due to the easier access and superior dune size.

Erg Chebbi, Morocco

Erg Chebbi

Erg Chigaga

Due to disputes over the nearby border with Algeria, Erg Chigaga is a much more recent tourist destination, and as such has only been admitting visitors since the 1990s. It lays south of M’Hamid, about a 9 hour drive from Marrakech. It’s a good idea to break the journey half way around Ait Ben Haddou, or at my personal favourite spot at Kasbah Ellouze, a Moroccan fortress guest house in Tamdaght. The last leg of the journey south of Ouarzazate through the Draa Valley is indeed a destination in itself.

Chebbi or Chigaga, how to choose the best Erg in Morocco

Erg Chigaga, Sahara, Morocco

So, which is best, Chebbi or Chigaga? Let’s look at the most important issue first…

1) Size

This one is easy. Chebbi is famous for it’s high dunes, some of which can reach 160m, thus affording spectacular views across this breakaway piece of Sahara. Chigaga on the other hand has fairly low dunes in comparison, only reaching around 120m. It is worth bearing in mind however that climbing a dune is incredibly hard work, and despite all best intentions, most sunrise-baggers only make it half way up the huge dunes in Chebbi (still a fanastic view) so in reality you probably don’t end up being any higher than in Chigaga.

Chebbi or Chigaga, how to choose the best Erg in Morocco

Nothing like picking the steepest route up the dune!

Chebbi 1 – 0 Chigaga

2) Expanse

Whilst Chebbi wins on the vertical scale, Chigaga must take the lead for vastness as it appears to go on forever, giving a real sense of being out in the wilderness. To just reach the dunes here involves around a 60km journey from M’Hamid through the hamada, a flat rocky area which acts as a bone shaking prelude to the sand. The landscape is breath-taking and there is a real sense of anticipation with every mile as the terrain becomes a bit more sandy, and the undulations steadily increase. In Erg Chigaga you definitely feel the remoteness. This makes the experience seem much more ‘real’.

The other bonus with Chigaga is that you can drive a circuit in the 4×4, without having to retrace your steps back to M’Hamid and Zagora. The off road route follows the Algerian border, passing the vast dried up Lake Iriki (where there used to be crocodiles!) before rejoining the sealed road a few hours on at Foum Zguid. This route is part of the original Paris – Dakar rally route, and experiences some incredible rocky desert scenery reminiscent of that in the USA.

Chebbi or Chigaga, how to choose the best Erg in Morocco

No it’s not the USA, this is on the off-piste route from Chigaga to Foum Zguid

Chebbi 1 – 1 Chigaga

3) Access

This one is simple. Chebbi is relatively easy to reach – just drive down to Merzouga, hop on a camel and off you go. However this ease of access does unfortunately result in higher visitor numbers, and the feeling of being less remote. Erg Chigaga on the other hand requires more time, thinking and expertise to reach, with the last 60km of off-piste driving from M’Hamid only accessible in a 4×4 with a competent driver. Whilst it is this very inaccessibility that makes Chigaga feel like more of an adventure, in the interests of fairness, this one must go to Chebbi since anyone who can drive a car can reach it without trauma.

Chebbi or Chigaga, how to choose the best Erg in Morocco

The easy road to Merzouga

Chebbi 2 – 1 Chigaga

4) Wilderness

Due to it’s relative remoteness, Chigaga wins this one hands down if you’re looking for remote and wild, although perhaps the fact you can drive in a 4×4 all the way to camp brings you back to reality, just for a moment. Chebbi still has the majesty of the desert to boast about, and despite the proximity of all the other camps which you can hear as you approach, after a 2 and a half hour camel ride you certainly don’t feel you want to be any more remote if that means longer on the damn beast.

Chebbi or Chigaga, how to choose the best Erg in Morocco

No-one for miles at Erg Chigaga

Chebbi 2 – 2 Chigaga

5) Bivouac

Now I’m only comparing the more basic camps here, since I don’t consider a luxury tent with an en-suite and all the trimmings to be what a true desert experience is all about. Both bivouacs were a lot of fun, and it really depends on what floats your boat as to whether Chebbi or Chigaga is best.

For us, we preferred Chigaga since we stayed in a tiny camp where we were the only visitors. Although there were other little camps in the vicinity, each was tucked away behind other dunes so you could neither see nor hear anyone else the entire time. We had a tent to ourselves, and there was even a little toilet hut just behind the camp which we weren’t expecting. The chap who ran the camp, and his assistant (who also appeared with camels for us to ride that evening) live there for about 6 months of the year, rarely seeing their families, and having a somewhat lonely existence. They relish the company of visitors, and despite the language barrier we enjoyed an evening chatting with our hosts.

Find out more about Erg Chigaga in my Sirocco in the Sahara post.

Chebbi or Chigaga, how to choose the best Erg in Morocco

Erg Chebbi versus Erg Chigaga in Morocco

Chebbi on the other hand has larger camps, all set more closely together, and not only can you hear the beating drums from the other camps as you approach on your camel, when daylight breaks you realise that you’re practically camping on top of the neighbouring tents (see above, under section 1). Each camp is large enough for several visitors, which if you want a social evening around the campfire making a fool of yourself on the musical instruments, then perhaps this would be the better option.

However, we went for peaceful solitude and to experience the landscape rather than to party, so being rather antisocial types we enjoyed Chigaga much more. Have a look at my post on Chameau 2531 to read more about our Erg Chebbi experience.

Erg Chebbi desert camp camel trek, Merzouga, Morocco

Large colourful camps at Erg Chebbi

We actually found the music emanating from all the dune camps at Chebbi rather irritating, and although it was quite fun to watch our own camp musicians play beside the light of the flickering flames, when they tried to force us all to sing and dance against our will, I found the experience a little spoilt for me. There were no toilets (which is what I’d expected), and tents although communal, were partitioned with large rugs so that each couple did have their own private bed area.

The food was surprisingly tasty in both camps, with breads, tagines, fruit and mint tea equalling any restaurant we’d eaten in during our Moroccan travels.

So, bottom line, if you’re social and want the whole Bedouin campfire experience, go to Chebbi. If you want calm, contemplation and solitude, go to Chigaga.

Chebbi 2 – 3 Chigaga

6) Sunrise

I have to give them both a point here, as we had the pleasure of seeing spectacular sunrises each time.

Chebbi:

Chebbi or Chigaga, how to choose the best Erg in Morocco

Sunrise at Erg Chebbi

Chigaga:

Chebbi or Chigaga, how to choose the best Erg in Morocco

Sunrise at Erg Chigaga

Chebbi 3 – 4 Chigaga

The Verdict

So which is the better choice, Chebbi or Chigaga?

In my view, the winner is…ERG CHIGAGA, for having the highest overall Lawrence of Arabia potential.

So have I convinced you? If not, then go see them for yourself and make up your own mind. Whether you choose Chebbi or Chigaga, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Found this useful? Why not pin it for later…

Chebbi or Chigaga pin

19 Comments

  • SARAH says:

    Thank you thank you thank you !!!! Exactly the type of info I was looking for … my decision is made now: Chigaga! Being totally not the sociable type (my partner being worse than me at that…) it is an easy choice! 😉 So glad I found your blog , I will certainly browse and read more from your posts!

    • Heather Cole says:

      It’s a pleasure Sarah 🙂 Glad you found it helpful. I know I was looking for this sort of information when we first went to the desert but I couldn’t find it anyway, so thought I’d do some research and write it myself. Have a wonderful time in Chigaga, and just shoot me an email if you have any questions.

  • Diogo Alves says:

    Heather,

    We’re going to Morocco in August. By what I understood this is not peak season since it’s going to be hot. Hence, it shouldn’t be crowded in Chebbi right?

    • Yes it will be hot (really really hot), so no it isn’t peak season (that’s around Oct – March when it’s cooler) and won’t be as ‘crowded’ (some of the hotels and camps do close during this season too). Your camel trek into the desert won’t be until the evening when it gets a bit cooler, so you’ll miss the worst heat of the day, and you’ll depart early next morning to avoid the same. So yes it can be done.

  • Great post Heather – thank you! We’re heading to Morocco in October, can’t wait.

    • Thanks Natasha, it’s one of the most asked questions about Morocco, which desert did you choose? (PS We’re back there in October too – might see you around!).

  • Ujwala says:

    Extremely useful article. I had been fretting since last night on which option to pick. I am now fully convinced to go to Erg Chegaga! Thanks a ton.

    • Thanks 🙂 It’s one of my most popular articles, so many people have asked the same question (it’s a tough decision), glad you decided on Chigaga, you definitely won’t be disappointed! Do let me know what you think!

  • Alimado Perez says:

    This post reminds me of my Morocco trip and the time i spent in desert, thank you so much for sharing this article .

  • Rita B says:

    We’ve been wondering about this for some time, which desert to choose! We’re heading out there later this year, think you’ve persuaded us on Erg Chigaga, though still time to make up our minds. Thanks!

  • Larissa Cole says:

    Great article! During the planning phase of our trip, this is exactly what I was looking for. We too had the Chebbi vs Chigaga question. Your article was the only true side by side comparison I could find and helped us make the decision: Chigaga. Thanks so much!

    • Thanks Larissa, glad it helped. I’ve had lots of emails from people about this post, more than any other, so it’s great to know what you’re all interested in. I think there aren’t many comparisons out there, and sometimes it’s the only way to answer those burning questions. Glad you had an amazing trip

  • Sara says:

    That info was awesome thank you so much!! We decided Chigaga, however all our research is showing us luxury camps there inlike your intimate one! Who/company did you arrange with?? Thanks!!

    • Glad it helped you make a decision, it’s so tough choosing between the two. There are several basic intimate camps like the one we went to, just ask whoever you’re travelling with, or via a guest house in M’Hamid and tell them exactly what you want. Our driver (from Lovely Travel, based in Ouarzazate who we hired for a few days) arranged it. They’re not the sort of camps you can easily book with directly, it’s a case of linking up with someone outside Chigaga who can arrange it for you. Morocco is the sort of place where there’s always someone who knows someone who has a third cousin who can sort it out for you! Have a fantastic trip!

  • Linda Simpson says:

    They both sound good, but you have got me wondering now if we should go to Erg Chigaga. We have booked an April trip to Erg Chebbi, and I am wondering if that is a busy time. Do you know? Also, we are travelling with our two teens. We all want to see real “desert”, so does Erg Chigaga fit the bill? Thanks for this, it is really useful and interesting.

    • I don’t think you should worry about it being too busy in April – peak times tend to be Nov – Feb when it’s not too hot and the weather tends to be fairly stable. April will be warmer but still ok, and you might experience some desert sandstorms as the wind picks up around this time, but it shouldn’t prevent you going, it can happen any time (and did with us in October at Chigaga!) or you might not see it at all. You’ll be happy with either Chebbi or Chigaga…and possibly your teens might appreciate Chebbi more as the dunes are higher and more impressive, and there is a bit more life to the camps with the musicians etc. Have a great time!

  • Eric says:

    Wonderful rundown. Thank you. I went to erg Chebbi on the off season and had the dunes to ourselves. So we had the best of both worlds

    • Thanks, it’s such a tricky question deciding which is ‘best’. I guess the experience will be different each time, glad you had Chebbi to yourselves, might have to see that one day

Leave a Reply

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

CAPTCHA
Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code