Iriqui National Park is the largest national park in Morocco, spanning 1230 square kilometres of varied Sahara desert terrain at the foothills of the looming Atlas mountains. Salt flats, arid savanna and hazy dunes give rise to spectacular desert scenes typical of southern Morocco.
The epicentre of the park is the remarkable temporary wetland area of Lake Iriqui, which becomes centre stage for migratory birds during the park’s wet period. A few notable water birds that descend upon the area during birding season include flamingos, geese and coots. In 1994 the region around the wetlands was declared a national park to protect this vital birding zone.
From wild camping to camel treks and 4WD birding excursions, Iriqui National Park holds great appeal for visitors wanting to experience typical Moroccan desert scenes. The highest dunes in Morocco are located in Erg Chigaga, situated on the fringe of the park. Together with the salt flats inside the park, the dunes once formed part of the famous Paris-Dakar rally route. The closest town is Foum Zguid, which is roughly 90 kilometres from the park’s entrance.
Camel trekking is one of the most popular activities in the park. If visitors choose to partake in one of the longer treks, they will overnight in the desert.
The desert temperatures during the summer reach as high as 50 degrees Celsius and visits during this time (June to August) should be restricted to the coastal areas of the park.
Birding is the most popular wildlife activity in the area, and the park attracts a wealth of migratory species during the winter. There are also birds commonly spotted throughout the year in the park. Noteworthy species include houbara bustards, North African ostriches, coots, geese, flamingos, stilts and wagtails.
Mammals and reptiles are well represented in the park, and visitors can expect to see Barbary sheep, oryx, striped hyenas, monitor lizards, large geckos and snakes. The rare Dorcas gazelle is yet another species to spot.
The wet winter season is ideal for birding. The wetland area becomes a mecca for migratory birds. September to May is a good time to visit this desert region, but temperatures can drop to below freezing during the cold months of January and February.
The summer season, which is from June to August, is best reserved for coastal holidays. The desert temperatures during the summer reach up to 50 degrees celsius, making it uncomfortable to visit.
The awe-inspiring dunes of Erg Chigaga located on the fringe of the park, together with the flats of Lake Iriqui, once formed part of the famous Paris-Dakkar rally route. The national park is fantastic for guided 4WD excursions. These thrilling day trips appeal to the adventurous at heart and introduce visitors to exquisite desert mirages and sweeping scenes.
Birding is another major drawcard of the park, best done with a local guide or by joining scheduled birding tours. One of the most popular activities in the area is camel trekking. Longer camel treks involve and overnight stay in the desert, offering insight into the true nomadic lifestyle synonymous with this area.
Wild camping is the perfect way to spot an array of wildlife, in particular nocturnal creatures like jackals. Local desert guides will accompany wild campers and set-up igloo style tents, ensuring visitors are equipped for desert camping. Campers will sleep under the brightly lit night sky and wake-up to the most breathtaking sunrise scenes.
There is no set accommodation option inside the national park, but wild camping is possible. Desert camping needs to be pre-arranged with a local tourism office. Accommodation is in igloo tents that guard against the elements, and meals are made on an open fire.
Foum Zguid is where most visitors choose to stay. Situated some 90 kilometres outside of the park, this town is a true oasis in the desert. Most hotels are equipped with large swimming pools, offering respite from the desert heat. Palm-groves are often found on the grounds of the hotels, reinforcing that oasis-in-the-desert feel.
Hotels are generally mid-range, with one ultra-luxury option available. Decor and architecture is a reminder of the desert life, with rich colourful blankets and beautiful tiles adorning the interiors.