Deserts are among the best places in the world for adventure. From treks across incredible landscapes to gazing at the stars on a perfectly clear night, a desert holiday can be the perfect antidote to a dreary winter.
Here are 10 of the best desert holiday destinations on earth.
The vast Gobi Desert covers northern China and southern Mongolia. It features mountains, an evergreen forest and a beautiful dune system – the Khongoryn Els. The dunes are also known as the Duut Mankhan or ‘Singing Dunes’ because of the sound they make when the sand is moved by the wind. At the heart of the Gobi, visitors can head to the Flaming Cliffs, a famous dinosaur fossil bed.
Travel tip: Most tourist-friendly hostels and guesthouses in Mongolia’s capital, Ulan Bator, can arrange a number of Gobi tour options but it’s important to research the tour operators first.
The Sahara stretches across Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Algeria and is by far the world’s biggest desert. Travellers love the classical ruins, ancient villages and gloriously atmospheric oasis towns as well as the endless sandscapes.
Southeastern Morocco is the most accessible slice of the Sahara. The Draa Valley – a stunning world of palm groves, earth-red kasbahs (fortified houses) and Berber villages – was the traditional starting point of 50-day trans-Saharan camel caravans to Timbuktu. Today, camel trekking to the Erg Chebbi dunes at Merzouga is the preferred option with many travellers believing them to be the best sight in Morocco.
Travel tip: Most trips into the Sahara begin at gateway towns. It’s worth spending some time at these oases as they are the centres of Saharan culture which hasn’t changed much for hundreds of years.
Spreading across Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, the Kalahari is arguably the best safari destination in the world. The massive Central Kalahari Game Reserve is home to lions, large herds of springbok, wildebeest and giraffe as well as breath-taking views.
Travel tip: If you want to see the wildlife, head to the Kalahari during or shortly after good summer rains when the vast Makgadikgadi Salt Pan teems with animals gathering in great numbers at the best grazing areas.
Namibia’s desert is an ideal holiday destination for adventure seekers. It’s stunning Sossusvlei sand dunes, the second largest in the world, are perfect for sandboarding and hot air balloon rides give travellers some of the best views of a desert imaginable.
Travel tip: Climb the 325m ‘Big Daddy’ sand dune for views of the surreal landscape of Dead Vlei, a white pan filled with the dark fossils of camelthorn trees.
Atacama is probably the best all-round desert travel location. From the El Tatio geysers and the hot springs at Miscanti to watching the sunset over Moon Valley – some of the experience are extraordinary. There’s also plenty to do including hiking, horseback riding, stargazing and safaris.
Travel tip: The chi-chi frontier town of San Pedro de Atacama is a great base for exploring with much of the natural sights mentioned above located nearby.
The Thar Desert is the most densely populated in the world and lies mostly within the Indian state of Rajasthan. There are plenty of camel and 4X4 safaris, but for many, the town of Jaisalmer is the highlight. Its striking yellow sandstone fort is a World Heritage Site and looks over one of the most enchanting places on the subcontinent.
Travel tip: Camping under the stars among the sand dunes at luxury glamping sites is a truly unique experience.
7. Sedona, United States
If you want a desert experience without the heat, then Sedona is your best bet. The temperatures in December-March are on the cold side but the holiday festivities (such as the Red Rock Festival of Lights) are incredible and the snow-dusted mountain peaks make for a stunning backdrop to the entertainment. For golfers, winter also provide shorter waits for tee-time at a few world-class golf courses including the Seven Canyons resort.
Travel tip: Winter is the off-season in Sedona and there are fewer crowds and cheaper accommodation.
8. White and Black Deserts
Egypt may be famous for Luxor, the Sphynx and the Great Pyramids of Giza but its White and Black Deserts are equally striking.
The Black Desert features picturesque, volcanic mountains that look to be charred but it’s the neighbouring White Desert that appeals to most travellers. Camping overnight is said to be a magical experience. Its nearby hot springs and salt lakes create perfect natural spas, with sunrise being the perfect time for photographers to snap unforgettable shots of the alien landscape littered with bizarre chalk-white rock formations.
Travel tip: The Bahariya Oasis is the best place to use as a base for exploring both deserts.
9. Dubai Desert
Most travel experiences in Dubai are about luxury and its desert is no exception. Hot air balloon rides, quad biking adventures, camel treks and adrenaline-pumping Jeep safaris over the dunes are ideal for adventurous types. If you’re after something a little more serene, there are a number of plush hotels and glamping resorts dotting the landscape.
Travel tip: The desert is right next to the city so you can enjoy the famous skyscrapers, massive malls and Bedouin dinners all in one day.
10. Australia’s Red Centre
Uluru (Ayers Rock), the red plateau that rises from Australia’s central outback, is the spiritual heart of Australia. Visitors to The Red Centre never forget watching the world’s most famous rock change colour at dusk and dawn or floating in an outback waterhole or learning from the Aboriginals about their culture.
Travel tip: Alice Springs is an ideal place to stay if you want to explore the Red Centre over a few days.
Have you had a desert travel experience you’d like to share? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.