Travel Guide: Desert Escapes to Steal Your Heart
I'm a traveller at heart and globetrotting is one of those things that I'd like to do far more of, but simply never do. Fear not, because our very own travel contributor, Hannah Champion, is here to save the day.
Hannah has picked three of the best desert locations around the world for the exploring traveller to visit, if you're looking to do something a little different for your holidays.
Take it away, Hannah!
When it comes to desert holidays, it’s likely that Dubai’s rolling dunes or Morocco’s spectacular sands spring to mind. Instead of these firm favourites, I’ve chosen a few more unusual desert escapes to pique your interest.
Despite not being the first on everyone’s list, there is perhaps no better desert location than Namibia. The desert here is one of the largest and most impressive in the world, spanning over 80,000 km².
Although you may think this arid region should be sparse on wildlife, the Namib Desert is in fact home to a vast array of birds, mammals and reptiles! A great way to witness the mighty black-maned lions, galloping gazelles and herds of African elephants that roam the sands is via a self-drive holiday through this magnificent country. Work your way from the country’s capital, Windhoek, on to Sossusvlei and Damaraland before exploring Etosha National Park. You can even stop off at the Tropic of Capricorn en route, which features a sign to mark the furthest point south that the sun can be seen directly overhead.
While on your journey you may want to push the boat out and discover the dunes from above on a once-in-a-lifetime hot air balloon ride above the desert!
Once you’ve hiked up the mammoth Big Daddy dune in Sossusvlei, dig your toes into the sand and sit back and relax as you watch the sands change from red to burnt orange to golden yellow as the sun rises for the day. Even though the memory of these breath-taking views will last a lifetime, be sure to snag some snaps of this unique location. Another photo-worthy destination on your route is Deadvlei. This quintessential landscape of Namibia comprises of a dry, white clay pan floor peppered with black, dead camel thorn trees set against a backdrop of orange-hued dunes – just wow!
And if, by now, you haven’t had enough of sand, end your Namibian adventure with a drive down the Skeleton Coast, a rugged shoreline scattered with shipwrecks that runs from Angola all the way down to Swakopmund. Don’t forget to look out for seals and other wildlife as you drive.
It is a little-known fact that The Arctic and Antarctica are actually both desert landscapes. Despite being covered in ice, the region of Antarctica receives such a low amount of annual rainfall that is it classed as a desert.
If you are ever fortunate enough to reach the seventh continent, you’ll soon see the similarities (and of course, differences) between this vast wilderness and the deserts of Africa and Asia. What at first seems devoid of life, soon turns out to be a remote home to some unique wildlife. As you move from island to island through Antarctica’s archipelago you’ll begin to spot a range of birds, from petrels and terns to huge wandering albatrosses and the much-loved penguins!
Penguins are peculiar characters so you’ll never get bored of watching them waddle through the snow, slide around on ice floes or dive into the frigid waters of the Antarctic Peninsula. From squawking gentoos and cute Adélies, to golden-throated emperors and quirky chinstraps (named for their characteristic black-lined chins), you’ll never run out of photographic opportunities.
The best way to visit Antarctica is by boat. The ice-breaker ships that venture to Antarctica have been specifically designed to navigate these waters. Although the journey through the Drake Passage to reach Antarctica can be somewhat treacherous (depending on sea conditions) the wonders that await you will hopefully have you feeling that it was all worthwhile.
Witnessing sweeping glacial vistas, mountainous icebergs and tranquil plateaus of water will be sure to leave you astounded.
The Antarctic cruising season runs from November to March with each month being “best” for a certain type of experience. The landscapes will be totally unspoilt in November leaving untouched trails of ice and snow; December and January bring penguin hatchlings and plenty of hours of sunshine; and February and March allow for greater whale sightings and the chance of spotting fledgling chicks.
Another spectacular destination for a desert escape is Wahiba Sands in Oman. This remote region is home to a collection of nomadic Bedouin tribespeople who roam this seemingly desolate environment in search of food, water and a place to call home (for a few nights at least). Enjoy an authentic Bedouin camping experience with sunset camel rides, traditional food and desert-brewed coffee before laying back to take in the mass of stars overhead. The dark night sky in the desert is the best place in the world to witness the galaxy, with the Milky Way, planets and shooting stars clearly visible throughout the night.
Aside from during traditional Bedouin music shows, the silence out in the desert is incomparable. Those who live in cities may find it difficult to sleep being in such a noiseless place but if you can learn to appreciate the silence you’ll begin to see the beauty of living in such a remote region. Enjoy it while it lasts as once you return to the hustle and bustle of Muscat you’ll soon be wishing you were back out in the dunes!
Oman’s desert is also a great spot for adrenaline junkies thanks to the option to rampage through the dunes on buggies, quad bikes and 4x4s.
Contrasting with the flat landscape of Oman’s desert is the Western Hajar mountain range and Wadi Ghul, Oman’s answer to the Grand Canyon. This dramatic gorge plunges deep into the earth with sweeping vistas and stunning layers of rock and sand. If you’re brave enough, take on the Balcony Walk, an exhilarating hike along the edge of the cliffs - looking down if you dare!