Smiling Tuareg camel driver near Merzouga on the Erg Chebbi dunes of the northern Sahara.
The Tuareg (/ˈtwɑːrɛɡ/; also spelled Twareg or Touareg; endonym Imuhagh) are Berber people with a traditionally nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. They are the principal inhabitants of the Saharan desert.
The Tuareg language, a branch of the Berber languages, has an estimated 1.2 million speakers. About half this number is accounted for by speakers of the Eastern dialect (Tamajaq, Tawallammat). Most Tuareg live in the Saharan parts of Niger, Mali, and Algeria. Being nomadic, they move constantly across national borders, and small groups of Tuareg also live in southeastern Algeria, southwestern Libya and northern Burkina Faso, and a small community in northern Nigeria.
Merzouga is a small village in southeastern Morocco, about 35 kilometres southeast of Rissani, about 55 kilometers from Erfoud, and about 50 kilometers from the Algerian border.
The village is known for its proximity to Erg Chebbi, a Saharan erg, and it is for this reason a part of the itineraries of many tourists visiting Morocco. Merzouga has the largest natural underground body of water in Morocco.
Erg Chebbi (Arabic: عرق الشبي) is one of Morocco’s two Saharan ergs – large seas of dunes formed by wind-blown sand. The other is Erg Chigaga near M’hamid.
The dunes of Erg Chebbi reach a height of up to 150 meters in places and altogether spans an area of 50 kilometers from north to south and up to 5–10 kilometers from east to west lining the Algerian border.
The nearest sizable town is Erfoud, about 60 kilometers further north. One other city is Rissani, around 40 kilometers from Merzouga, and from the 8th to the 14th century there was a separate kingdom, known as Sijilmassa, which was prosperous owing to former caravan routes.
Although rainfall is very brief and uncommon, in 2006 flooding adjacent to the dunes destroyed many buildings and killed three people.
The Sahara (Arabic: الصحراء الكبرى, aṣ-ṣaḥrāʾ al-kubrā , ‘the Greatest Desert’) is the largest hot desert and third largest desert after Antarctica and the Arctic worldwide. Its surface area of 9,400,000 square kilometres (3,600,000 sq mi)—including the Libyan Desert—is comparable to the respective land areas of China or the United States. The desert comprises much of the land found within North Africa, excluding the fertile coastal region situated against the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlas Mountains of the Maghreb, and the Nile Valley of Egypt and Sudan. The Sahara stretches from the Red Sea in the east and the Mediterranean in the north, to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, where the landscape gradually transitions to a coastal plain. To the south, it is delimited by the Sahel, a belt of semi-arid tropical savanna around the Niger River valley and Sudan Region of Sub-Saharan Africa. The Sahara can be divided into several regions, including the western Sahara, the central Ahaggar Mountains, the Tibesti Mountains, the Aïr Mountains, the Ténéré desert, and the Libyan Desert. Its name is derived from the plural Arabic language word for desert (صحارى ṣaḥārā  [ˈsˤɑħɑːrɑː]).