One of the great pleasures of Morocco's Atlantic Coast is spending half a day on the calm Merja Zerga (Blue Lagoon) with an expert bird guide. The 73-sq-km Merja Zerga National Park (4 sq km of water and the rest marshland) attracts myriad migrant birds, including wildfowl, waders and flamingos in huge numbers, making it one of Morocco’s prime birdwatching habitats. The best times to visit are September to October and March to April, but there are about 100 species all year-round.
You’ll see herons, flamingos, ibises, the African marsh owl, spoonbills, plovers and egrets. Slender-billed and Audouin’s gulls are regular visitors, as are shelducks, teals, terns, marsh harriers and peregrine falcons.
The lagoon is between 50cm and 4m deep depending on the tide. Ninety percent of the water comes from the sea, 10% is freshwater from the Oued Dredr, south of the lagoon.
There are six villages around the lake, four of which depend on agriculture, two on fishing. Many of the fishers take tourists around the lake as a sideline. Boat trips with the local boaters are easily arranged if you wander down to the small port where boats are moored. Expect to pay about Dh100 per hour for the boat. If possible, contact Khalil Fachkhir or Hassan Dalil in advance for a specialised birding tour; both have their own boats and speak English.
Hard-core birdwatchers may also want to explore Merja Khaloufa, an attractive lake about 8km east of Moulay Bousselham and part of the park, which offers good viewing of a variety of wintering wildfowl.
Drinking water directly from a tap in Morocco isn't a good idea. However, the Moroccan authorities are concerned about the pollution caused by plastic from bottled water, and many hotels have filtered water for guests which is considered safe to drink.