Erfoud Guide, Southern Morocco
Erfoud is a small town in the southeastern part of Morocco’s Sahara Desert. It was built by the French in the 1930’s as an administrative center. It is a quiet place characterized by its red buildings and gorgeous scenery. Erfoud has a successful marble industry and in recent years, many touristic accommodations such as hotels and restaurants have cropped up contribute to the local economy. However, it is mostly used for a pass-through site for travelers on their way to the famous sand dunes Merzouga or the oasis village of Rissani.
With less than 10,000 residents, the small town still manages to have its own hustle and bustle. Just a few kilometers southeast is an active military fort that is off-limits, but is still visible due to its site at the top of a tall hill.
In its early days, Erfoud was an important place of departure for caravans heading out toward Ghana and Tombouctou. As far back as the 14th century, a Genoan embassy existed in Erfoud. However, Erfound went downhill, and did not become a place of any sort of great economic or political powerhouse. The military settlement was built by the French, 20 years after colonization started, to control Bedouins of the region.
While many consider Erfoud “not much to see” by touristic standards, it does have a few points of interest for a keen traveler. Erfoud is host to a lively souk, perfect for exploring goods, fresh produce and soaking up the local personalities.
Treks by 4x4 to some Saharan dunes on the outskirts of Erfoud are available where visitors are left to wander the area on their own. Camel rides are available, but setting out on food is also an option. Guides, also called Touregs, are all around and available to lead you to excellent vantage points in isolated areas.
Perhaps Erfoud’s most exciting attraction only occurs three days a year: the annual Date Festival. It occurs in early October to celebrate the nearly 1 million date palms in the area, and has a host of activities. Traditional music and spiritual songs, a fashion show of local dress, sporting events and a parade are all part of the festivities. It is also a good way to experience local folklore, and sample varieties of Dates available in local market. Cheap fossils, hand made woodwork and jewelry can be bought in local market..
If food is considered a travelers attraction, it would be a good idea to check out kalia, a preserved meat dish of highly salted lamb prepared with a variety of spices and served with herbs, eggs, and vegetables. Travelers may often be invited by some of the local shop owners and villagers for tea which should not be refused if as it is not just a chance for refreshment, but to experience and interact with the kind-hearted people.
When visiting Erfoud, it is important to note that the people are particularly sensitive to photos, especially during any religious ceremonies such as daily prayers or funeral processions. Moroccans in general are weary of having their photograph taken, but sensitivities are even higher here.
Since Erfoud is so close to Rissani, visiting the nearby city which is slightly larger and doubles in population is also a possibility when time and travel schedules allow. It too, has a large and lively souk, and is on the edge of Erg Chebbi, the largest and dessert in Morocco. It is also the where the founder of the Alaouite Dynasty, Moulay Ali Cherif, is laid to rest in a mausoleum.