A small administrative centre built around a café-lined square, M’HAMID (also known as M’Hamid el Ghizlane) was once an important marketplace for nomadic and trans-Saharan trade, but of this role only a rather mundane Monday souk remains. Although M’Hamid is still more low-key than Zagora, you might be forgiven for thinking the village’s main raison d’être these days is getting tourists onto camels – there are any number of operators, official and unofficial, who offer camel trips into the desert proper.
The most easily accessible of the dunes around M’Hamid are those at Erg Lehoudi (“Dunes of the Jews”), 8km north of town, which can be reached, with guidance, in a normal car via a piste just outside the village. They see more than their share of day-trippers (and their rubbish) and hustlers, and despite reaching a height of over a hundred metres, somehow feel rather mundane.
The most dramatic dunes in the entire Zagora region lie some 60km southwest of M’Hamid, where the 300m-high crescents of the Erg Chigaga ripple away into the horizon. The expense and time involved in getting here – a return trip by camel takes around five days; by costly 4WD, you can get there in less than two hours – is well worth it, and with quieter dunes and more spaced-out camps, the desert experience is much more akin to how you might imagine it.