M'Hamid is a small village in Zagora region of Morocco, one of the two places in Morocco where Sahara begins (another is Merzouga). M'Hamid gets fewer visitors than Merzouga and is arguably more "authentic." It is about 7- 8 hours by car from Marrakech and 5 hours from Ourzazate.
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 5000 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.
M'Hamid is also 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 (eg. in September 2011, taps went dry by early afternoon on many days). Despite this and to the severe frustration of locals, a number of the hotels have swimming pools. Choose wisely where you invest your money... it seems more sensible to head to the Moroccan coast if you are keen for a swim, desert temperatures notwithstanding.
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 DH110 (as of 3/2011). CTM leaves from Marrakech around 12:30pm and from Ouarzazate at 4:15 pm and reaches M'hamid anywhere between 9 - 11 pm (as of 3/2011). Other bus companies exist, like SupraTours, Voyages Farah, et al.
M'Hamid is a small town that is easily explored by foot.
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 60Km from the town. Overnight trips can be arrainged by many outfitters in M'Hamid.
The main thing people come to M'Hamid are trips to desert, overnight or several days: by camel, 4x4, motor bike or a quad bike.
If you plan to take two actitivities in desert, consider starting with a less intensive experience and proceeding to a more adventurous--to find something in every trip. For example, take quad biking after overnight camel trekking, not before.
Camel trips and 4x4
Camel trips and 4x4 are provided by many outlets in the village.
- Sahara Desert Travel, ☎ +212 (0) 670-83-45-76 ([email protected]), . Sahara desert Travel is an agency specialized in trekking trips. We offer highlighted walking trips and contact with the local population. We are also interested in eco-tourism and responsible tourism. Trips are organized from few days to real expedition, trekking of 1 to 15 days.
- Cynab Voyages, ☎ +212 (0) 524-43-69-56 ([email protected]), . Sahara desert Travel is an agency specialized in trekking trips. We offer highlighted walking trips and contact with the local population. Cynab Voyages is a family-owned Moroccan-American tour operator based in Marrakech with over 20 years of experience. The company uses only local guides with a love for their country and a knack for making travelers feel at home. Every guide speaks Arabic, Amazigh, French, and English. While offering standard packages, itineraries are often tailored to travellers’ particular interests.
- ZbarTravel, M'Hamid Centre (next to Hotel El Ghizlane), ☎ +212 (0) 668-51-72-80, . A friendly and family-run desert travel business providing work for local people. Offers many different types of desert tours according to budget and client requirements/capabilities from 4x4 excursions, walking tours, camel treks, bivouac camps and sandboarding - short and long duration. Excellent knowledge of local area and with office in Ouarzazate for arranging other Moroccan itineraries.
- Marhba au Sahara, . A small family company offering tours and excursions both by 4x4 and camel through Southern Morocco and the desert. The prices include all meals, overnight stays, guide, transport and all visits.
- M'hamid Voyages, Centre M'Hamid Elghizlane 47402 , BP : 7 - Zagora, ☎ +212 (0) 662-78-10-72, . Two very friendly guides offering camel treks and 4x4 Tours.
- Dar sidi bounou, . A small kasbah owned and operated by a Canadian Artist Nancy with her Berber husband Daoud. Where people can spend a night and trek to the desert in overnight trips both by camel and 4x4.
- Sahara Services, ☎ +212 (0) 661-77-67-66, . A customer-end intermediary for desert trips (both camel and 4x4) that is well connected with most of the local providers (and individual guides/car-owners?), but also seem to receive a huge part of price you pay. Don't confuse with many outlets in MHamid that also have a Sahara Services sign--use photo from their site as a reference or just call them.
- Naims Terrific Travel Services, ☎ +212 (0) 666-05-20-02. A small but friendly travel service who can arrange guided, personalized tours of the whole of Morocco but specialize in the Saharan region. Small group tours staying and eating in local private houses a possibility.
- Chiri Biri. A mid-level intermediary that Sahara Services works with (in turn, it contacts people actually performing the trip for the clients). Unlike their subcontractors, Chiri Biri asks for feedback on guide and food after your trip--presumably for improving subcontractors work. No contacts known so far.
- Caravane Targala (Caravane Terguala), ☎ +212 (0) 667-84-31-36 / 662-78-10-85. contact Razgui Mohamed. One of operators that does perform the trips for Chiri Biri and Sahara Services intermediaries. Operates 2-, 5- and 7-day tours.
- Sahara Best Travel, ☎ +212 (0) 662-53-43-35, . A family-owned agency operated by a licensed Moroccan guide from M'hamid, now based out of Marrakech. Services include: personalized tours of the Sahara with camels and/or 4x4 vehicles, visits to historical kasbahs and Berber villages, guided desert trekking, travel arrangements from the airports in Marrakech or Ouarzazate. Contact Houssine Fathallah
- Driss Aventures, ☎ +212 (0) 672-48-16-60. A very experienced licensed Moroccan guide with a great sense of humour from M'Hamid with an agency in Ouarzazate. Tailor-made trips for one or several days, trekking with camels or stays in bivouacs. Combination of trips to desert with other sights on the road to the desert, including exquisite cuisine and possibility to experience home visits for food & tea time. Contact Driss Himoud
- Mhamidtravel, ☎ +212 (0) 668-16-79-18 ([email protected]). Experience biovacing in the ancient sand dunes of Chgaga, camel trip to the back desert of Hmada and Dravali, see the history of this area with your own senses, meet the friendly Bedouin and learn their customs. Find all of these experiences plus the knowledge of the Tuareg, Mohammed Sbai as your experienced guide.
Quad Bikes and Buggies
Quad Evasion , +212 (0) 661-77-54-78 or +212 (0) 544-84-86-92, located 5km before M'Hamid. Seemingly the only provider for quad bikes and buggies rental--but is doing that professionally. Quad bikes are one-driver-a-time, while buggies are two-persons-at-once. Serves both 1- or 2-hour trips and multiple-day advanced tours.
Most tourist companies working in town offer tent rental for your own trip to desert.
No rental available in the town, still every week several groups of enthusiasts come to ride bikes in a desert.
Markets on Mondays: vegetables and fruits brought from other regions by camels.
Besides that, nothing special--typical tourist shops selling mediocre carpets and usual stuff.
- le coeur du sahara, centre m'hamid (zagora), ☎ 00212 678548205. to have a desert travel business providing work for local people. Offers many different types of desert tours by camels and jeep
Dar Sidi Bounou  offers breakfast, Lunch and Dinner from their locally grown garden at the old house they converted into a bed and breakfast hotel by the desert.
There are no bars in M'Hamid. It is a very conservative town that strictly observes the Sharia law banning alcohol.
- Dar Azawad, (located 5km before M'Hamid), ☎ +212 (0) 524-84-87-30, . Key personnel speaks English good enough. Rooms are stylish imitations of berber tents and small kasbahs. Otherwise, small package tour-style impersonal hotel: tourists in crisp clothes, not talking to each other; swimming pool as a center of entertainment; sleep-eat-swim-drink routine with little interest to the world outside the hotel. Overall, the place is more European than Moroccan, with local flavour found only in decor, slightly in the cuisine and in dutyfree-like souvenir shop. However, helpful hosts and daily cleaning in rooms. Tent floors are not swept for days, and are full of sand dust. Details: Owner name: Vincent Jaquet; another host (co-owner?): Christian.
- Dar Sidi Bounou, Dar Sidi Bounou, Bounou, M’Hamid, Province of Zagora, Morocco (Located 5km before M'Hamid), ☎ +212 (0) 524-84-87-30, . A charming traditional Daub House located in a Palmerie Garden at Bounou, four Km. before the end of the paved road at M’hamid in the Pied du Dunes of the Sahara in the South East of Morocco…. renovated recently to provide high quality comfortable accommodation at reasonable prices to discerning individual travellers or small groups seeking the special tranquillity of the desert with the possibility of experiencing the colourful local culture of this remote and beautiful place. This property originally had a small traditional daub house on it as well as about fifty palm trees. Rather than knock it down and rebuild with cement it was decided to leave as much as possible of the original structure and to strengthen it, enlarge it and then to add modern facilities. Working with local builders and craftsmen who still have the traditional skills and using , as far as possible the beldi (country) style materials such as daub, palm and cassia wood , which have a simple intrinsic beauty of their own , the house was repaired and made functional and comfortable. €30-50.
- Hotel Elgizlane B&B, (in the centre of town), ☎ +212 (0) 668-51-72-80, . Local personnel speaks English good enough. Rooms are simple and good. An alternativ for travellers starting their desert trip. Coffee, tea and local food. €12.
- Hotel Sahara. Legendary and very friendly, run by the Naamani brothers, Habib and Hassan. It is basic but after a week on a camel even hot water is luxurious and they have Internet. (29.828658,-5.723405)
- Hotel Kasbah Azalay (Azalay), ☎ +212 (0) 524-84-80-96, .
Begging children are unregularly numerous in the village, presumably thanks to many tourists arriving directly from the airport to M'Hamid to spend large sums on 4x4s, hardly seen Moroccan realities elsewhere.
Getting out is basically what one does in M'Hamid. Camel treks, nights in the desert, and 4x4 expeditions to the high dunes are very popular.