M’Hamid is next to the last major oasis one encounters on the way south into the greater Sahara. The area was historically important as the site (Sidi Khalil) where trade caravans gathered (some as large as 5,000 camels) before setting off to Timbuktu and other destinations. Little of its interesting history is to be found on websites or in tourist guide books, but knowledgeable locals share the facts and stories with pride and a touch of melancholy.
The reaching was known as Bounou, once a thriving village made out of a mix of local Ait Atta berbers, Local drawa, and local Hassani tribes. The villages of Oulad Youssef, Oulad Mhaya and Ezouaya, amongst others, are scattered throughout the oasis.
Local people get around on foot but small motorbikes are very popular too. Donkey carts are in widespread use for transporting goods.
The environment is harsh and fragile. You are urged to appreciate how scarce water is in the town. In the past taps went dry by early afternoon on many days.
There is a mosque in town, but as with the rest of Morocco, is not open to non-muslims. A Kasbah is located about 2Km away on the road out of town (take a left at the mosque). The kasbah is inhabited by black Africans who came from Mali many years ago.
Other than this, the main attraction are the Erg Chigaga dunes which are about 60 km from the town. Overnight trips can be arrainged by many outfitters in M’Hamid.
The main thing people come to M’Hamid for is trips to desert.
Getting out is basically what one does in M’Hamid. Camping in the desert, trekking and expeditions to the high dunes are very popular. You can do them overnight or for several days, by camel, 4×4, motor bike or quad bike.
If you plan to take two activities in desert, consider starting with a less intensive experience and proceeding to a more adventurous.
Around 2005, an asphalt road came to M’Hamid so you can reach the village from Ouarzazate by virtually any car. The trip from Ouarzazate is memorable, passing through small villages, the regional center of Zagora, and over a pass into the open desert.
You can take a CTM bus from Casablanca, Marrakech, or any city along the N9 road (Ouarzazate, Zagora, Tagounite). From Ouarzazate the trip is something like DH80; from Marrakech it is DH160 (as of 3/2014). CTM leaves from Marrakech around 11:30 and from Ouarzazate at 16:15 and reaches M’hamid anywhere between 21:00-11PM (as of 3/2014). Other bus companies exist, like SupraTours, Voyages Farah, et al.
Erg chigaga desert
Erg Chegaga (or Chigaga) is one of two major Saharan ergs of the Sahara in Morocco, the other being the Erg Chebbi near Merzouga.
This dunes are located in the Souss-Massa-Draa area about 50 km west of the rural town of M’Hamid El Ghizlane, itself located about 98 km south of the town of Zagora. With a length of approximately 40 km to 15 km width, some dunes are around 60m high, it is the largest and wildest of Morocco.
Because it is relatively difficult to access – it is only accessible by 4×4, camel or on foot – Erg Chigaga which can make for a much more memorable desert experience.