An isolated wave of sand dunes some 30km (19 miles) long and 7km (4 1/3 miles) wide, Erg Chebbi is definitely worth the journey to get there. Emotions of wonder and excitement usually accompany a traveler's first sight of this surreal mountain range-like mass of gold, pink, and red. The hot, hard, black hammada leading up to edge of Erg Chebbi only adds to the dramatic vista. A string of auberges run parallel to the dunes from west of Erfoud all the way south just beyond the village of Merzouga. Every one of them can organize camel treks into the dunes lasting 1 hour to overnight. An overnight excursion typically includes a dinner of mint tea, tagine, and fruit; bedding of blankets or rugs; and breakfast the next morning back at the auberge.
Hassi Labied is a small hamlet north of Merzouga and about .5km (1/3 mile) from the highway; it's within walking distance from Dar el Janoub and Kasbah Mohayut. Here you'll find Centre Shop selling groceries, spices, and photographic accessories, and Kem Kem, which has an irregular Internet service and rents out mountain bikes for 100dh per day.
The Amraoui family, former nomads turned entrepreneurs, settled in Hassi Labied more than 40 years ago and has been welcoming visitors for 17 of those years into their Dépôt Nomade (tel./fax 0535/577303 or 0661/259687). Inside this air-conditioned treasure trove is a wealth of crafts and souvenirs. "We specialize in beauty," say Chez Amraoui, and the selection of carpets (some hard-to-find Bedouin Arabic carpets) in all colors and sizes confirms his sales pitch. In other rooms you'll find such diverse items as leather poufes (floor cushions), wind bellows, walking sticks, drums, cotton throws, lanterns, scarves, jewelry, and chess sets. There are flowing blue gandoras (for men) and caftans (for women) if you wish to dress like a local, as well as locally handmade shawls. It's open daily from 9am to 6pm, but they'll open up after hours on request. The village of Hassi Labied and Dépôt Nomade are 4km (2 1/2 miles) north of Merzouga and 46km (29 miles) south of Erfoud.
The village of Khamlia lies just south of Merzouga, and has been inhabited for more than a century by a mixture of Moroccan Berbers, Bedouin Arabs, and various tribes of sub-Saharan origin collectively called Gnaoua or Gnawa. Many of the village's Gnaoua residents are descended from the Bambara people of Mali, who had made their way to what is now Morocco via the great camel caravans. Traditionally shepherds and camel herders, the Bambara also brought with them their music, now popularized in Morocco simply as "gnaoua music." The music played by the Bambara in Khamlia is a unique form of gnaoua, incorporating Arabic and Berber lyrics as well as their own Bambara dialect. Groupe des Bambaras is the creation of Hamad Mahjoubi, and visitors are welcome to listen, watch, and dance to a performance by the group in Dar Gnawa (tel. 0668/247150), Hamad's family compound-cum-performance venue in Khamlia. You can drop by at any time of day and there will usually be members of the group ready for an impromptu performance, or you can organize a visit through your local accommodations.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.