Deserts can be harsh and hostile places. They conjure up images of sprawling sand dunes and arid landscapes, where camels, lizards, scorpions and snakes roam. The world’s deserts are also home to beautiful wildflower meadows, historic landmarks and mountains traversed by trekking routes. Here’s our pick of the ones that are worth visiting despite the sweltering heat and uncomfortable temperatures.
Arabian Desert, Arabian Peninsula
You’ll be battling intense highs of 130 degrees Fahrenheit in the world’s fourth largest desert. This wilderness, which features limestone cliffs, sandy terrain and salt flats, travels from Iraq to Yemen and reaches the shores of the Persian Gulf. It occupies almost the entire Arabian Peninsula, including the ancient city of Petra and the ultramodern Dubai. The desert throws up opportunities to try wadi bashing in Oman and spot Arabian oryx in Saudi Arabia’s Uruq Bani Ma’arid.
Great Victoria Desert, Australia
Down Under's biggest desert occupies large parts of South Australia and Western Australia. While winters bring balmy temperatures of 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, summers often reach over 100 degrees. That said, being the recipient of little rainfall means that the heat is more manageable than in the country’s tropical regions. If your idea of fun is exploring dramatic bluffs, caves, gorges and rocky mountains, such as the Gawler Ranges, then you’ll be in the right place. With a 4WD vehicle you can traverse the barren outback landscapes along the Great Central Road, a 700-mile-long unsealed road connecting Laverton and Ayers Rock.
Kalahari Desert, Southern Africa
Daytime temperatures can rise above 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the Kalahari Desert and its wildlife has evolved in order to combat this. Springboks point their rears toward the sun and reflect the heat via the white patches on their backsides. Meanwhile, oryx have the ability to cool the blood that passes through their body when breathing through their nostrils. You can observe these and other majestic wildlife on safaris in Botswana’s Chobe National Park and Etosha National Park. In South Africa’s Northern Cape, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is worth sweating for.
Mojave Desert, USA
Spreading across almost 48,000 square miles in southeastern California and southern Nevada is the Mojave Desert. With less than 2 inches of annual rain, this is the most arid desert in North America. Average temperatures range from around 67 to 116 degrees Fahrenheit and in the height of summer the mercury has been known to hit 130 degrees. The desert is home to Death Valley National Park, one of the hottest places on Earth. You’ll also find Joshua Tree National Park, famous for its iconic Joshua trees. It’s not all vast expanses either: Las Vegas and Lake Havasu City lie within the desert.
Sahara Desert, North Africa
Almost 10 hours of sunshine per day contribute to mean temperatures of 86 degrees Fahrenheit across the Sahara Desert with highs often exceeding 100 degrees. This is the world’s largest hot desert and has a size comparable to that of China. It runs through parts of 10 countries, from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, and is home to thriving communities of the nomadic Bedouin and Tuareg people. Tourist attractions are in abundance across this landscape of enormous sand dunes and fascinating rock formations. Egypt’s Valley of El Haiz, Algeria’s Hoggar Mountains and Chad’s Lakes of Ounianga are but a few highlights.