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 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.
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. In the past 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 12:30 and from Ouarzazate at 16:15 and reaches M'hamid anywhere between 21:00-11PM (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 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, 4x4, 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.
Camel trips and 4x4
Camel trips and 4x4 are provided by many outlets in the village.
- Cynab Voyages, ☎ +212 524 436956 ([email protected]), . 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 travellers 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), ☎ +212 668 517280, . 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, ☎ +212 662 781072, . Two very friendly guides offering camel treks and 4x4 tours.
- Sahara Services, ☎ +212 661 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.
- Naims Terrific Travel Services, ☎ +212 666 052002. A small but friendly travel service who can arrange guided, personalised tours of the whole of Morocco but specialise in the Saharan region. Small group tours staying and eating in local private houses a possibility.
- Caravane Targala (Caravane Terguala), ☎ +212 667 843136. +212 662 781085. One of operators that provides the trips for Chiri Biri and Sahara Services intermediaries. Operates 2-5, and 7 day tours.
- Driss Aventures, ☎ +212 672 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.
- Mhamidtravel, ☎ +212 668 167918 ([email protected]). Biovacing in the ancient sand dunes of Chgaga, camel trip to the back desert of Hmada and Dravali. Experienced Tuareg guide, Mohammed Sbai.
Quad bikes and buggies
Quad Evasion, (5 km before M'Hamid), , +212 661 775478 or +212 544 848692. Seemingly the only provider for quad bikes and buggy 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 hr 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.
There are no bars in M'Hamid. It is a very conservative town that strictly observes local laws banning alcohol.
Ensure that you carry sufficient supplies of water if venturing into the desert.
- Dar Azawad, (located 5 km before M'Hamid), ☎ +212 524 848730, . 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 centre 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. Some staff speak limited but functional English.
- Dar Sidi Bounou, Bounou, M’Hamid (5 km before M'Hamid), ☎ +212 524 848730, . A traditional daub house located in a palmerie garden. Renovated recently by a Canadian artist Nancy and her Berber husband. A small traditional daub house has been enlarged and improved with modern facilities and using, as far as possible the beldi (country) style materials such as daub, palm and cassia wood. It is both functional and comfortable whilst still retaining a stylish yet rustic theme. 3 double and a single bedrooms are in the house, they have terrace and ensuite bathrooms with hot water and European style toilets. There are also Nwalla huts and traditional black Berber tents with garden terraces, or you can sleep on the upper roof. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is available with some ingredients from their garden. Treks to the desert in overnight trips both by camel and 4x4 arranged. €30-50.
- Hotel Elgizlane B&B, (in the centre of town), ☎ +212 668-51-72-80, . Local staff have some English language skills. Rooms are simple and good. Good for travellers setting off on a desert trip. Coffee, tea and local food. €12.
- Hotel Sahara. Run by the freindly 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), ☎ +212 524 848096, .
There are numerous begging children in the village, presumably thanks to many tourists arriving directly from the airport to M'Hamid to spend large sums on 4x4 treks.