The Grand Erg Oriental is a large series of sand dunes located in the Sahara Desert. This spectacular and expansive sand formation is truly one of the natural wonders of Tunisia. If you are planning a trip to this country, you will definitely want to make a point of seeing it for yourself. It spans an impressive area of 600 km in width and 200 km long.
The Incredible Geography of the Grand Erg
The sheer size of the Grand Erg makes it the biggest erg in all of Algeria, second only to the Grand Erg Occidental. You will find the Aures Mountains not very far to the north of this erg. These mountains are a significant source of runoff because of the large body of water in the area.
Powerful winds are responsible for arranging the sand in direct unwavering lines, which are commonly known in geology as compound linear chains. These chains span a distance of 1.5 km wide, making for one very impressive view. A series of smaller dunes make up the compound chains. Many pictures of these oddly organized sand dunes have been taken by astronauts in space, offer a unique perspective that nobody on earth is privy to.
“Self dunes” are a common sight in the Sahara desert, which is where the Grand Erg can be found. These sand dunes are easily identifiable by their sharp ridge lines. The height and width of these dunes are subject to change, depending on wind strength and patterns over time. There are many other types of dunes, including complex dunes. Sometimes the wind in the Sahara Desert causes large areas of sand to be pushed away, exposing the rock underneath.
History of the Grand Erg
People have been traveling through the Grand Erg as well as the rest of the Sahara Desert since around the seventh century. While it might be hard to see how anyone could survive in such a harsh and unforgiving environment, the Bedouin nomads were extremely skilled at locating water in extremely barren areas. Today, those who occupy this area can be found in outposts throughout this stunning desert oasis. There are hundreds of thousands of palm trees, and even a small village dating back to the days of the Roman Empire.
The people who inhabit this area now live remarkably sheltered lives, mostly isolated from urban life as most of us know it. While this sandy landscape may be their home, they still have a deep appreciation for its breathtaking beauty and serenity.
Touring the Grand Erg
You will find that there are a number of tours available to Grand Erg, and many people visit this area of the Sahara each year to witness its remarkable beauty. If you should decide to take a tour of these sand dunes, you will most likely do so on camel. Most of these tours last two days and one night, though it can vary depending on the specifics of the tour package you select. There are some small villages that you may visit in the area. Chenini is a nearby region with numerous villages located in the hills.
You won’t have anything to worry about on your today, as you’ll be able to bring all the supplies you need with you (water, food, tent, etc.) A simple turban over your head will protect you from the sandy winds of the Sahara. While the camel you will be riding on may move rather slowly, it will provide you with plenty of time to take in the unique beauty that surrounds you.
The best time to visit the Grand Erg Oriental is from March till the beginning of May. September through November is also a good time to go, as the weather is milder and will make your trek a lot more pleasurable. Even during the peak season you shouldn’t expect the area to be flooded with tourists, simply because it is so huge and expansive. One of the great things about visiting this area is that there is plenty of beautiful desert landscape to go around.
The fact that this area is so remote, combined with the language barrier, could make putting this trip together a bit difficult. If you happen to speak either French or Arabic, you will likely have an easier time making arrangements. There are limited tour options for the Grand Erg Oriental, but you will still have some options to explore.
Where you will Stay during your Trip
Don’t expect to find The Four Seasons or Holiday Inn when you take a trip into the Grand Erg Oriental. If you want to save some money on your trip, you can stay in a tent made entirely from goat hair. While this may seem a bit odd or even unsettling, rest assured that these tents are extremely durable.
If you are willing to spend a little bit more money, you will find that the Campement Yadis Ksar Ghilane offers luxury tents that come with colorful rugs and even artwork. You will also have full access to your own bathroom as well as air conditioning, which is particularly nice considering how hot the desert can get. And for the additional expense you will even be able to take a dip in a swimming pool!
Where you will Eat
There aren’t any four star restaurants in the Grand Erg, so you will have to settle for eating by the light of your camp fire. There is, however, the Restaurant Le Bedouin Chez Magic in Douz, but don’t expect anything too fancy. The food at this restaurant is very reasonably priced and might taste even better than you’d expect.
The Cost of Visiting the Grand Erg Oriental
While the cost of visiting the Grand Erg Oriental can vary depending on the time of year and who you choose as your tour guide, you can take a short ride for around $30. If you want to stay overnight, you can expect to pay closer to $100. If you are interested in luxury treatment for your tour (private shower, English speaking guide, etc.), you could pay as much as $6,000.