Scorching days, freezing nights, precious little water and dangerous reptiles for company. It’s no surprise that deserts are among the most daunting places on Earth. Some may think they’re best avoided. But for the rest of us, these arid wildernesses can make for the ultimate travel playground.
1. Horseback Riding
Namib Desert, Namibia – Galloping through the world’s oldest desert region is certainly not for travelers with weak hearts or thighs. If remote landscapes are your thing, however, a bit of man-beast bonding in the Namib Desert should fill your Instagram feed for a month. Rides can take you through the bush savannah and the Hakos Mountains, passing canyons, coastlines and oases and ending up at the shores of the Atlantic Ocean at Swakopmund. Along the way you’ll see wildlife in its natural environment: mountain zebra, oryx, ostrich, springbok and maybe even desert warthogs.
2. Dune Bashing
Lahbab Desert, United Arab Emirates – Less than an hour’s drive from the bright lights of urban Dubai, this is a desert-lite experience for visitors who want the adrenaline rush of being out in the sands without too much effort. You and your buddies can climb into a sturdy four-wheel drive and let your driver take on the might of Lahbab Desert sand dunes for you. All you’ve got to do is sit tight and keep your eyes open — not easy when your stomach is rolling, sheets of sand are spraying against the windows and your driver is pumping nauseatingly upbeat chart hits from tinny speakers.
Sonoran Desert, Arizona – If you want a less intense desert experience and the chance to take in as much nature as possible, you need to get to Arizona. One of the world’s most “alive” deserts, a slow-paced trek through Sonoran Desert allows you to see coyotes, roadrunners, mountain lions, zebra-striped lizards and more amazing desert-dwelling critters, as well as what hike organizers describe as a “botanical garden of desert plants.” Some of the hikes across this region are more grueling than others — you can choose a level that suits your stamina.
Usaka Desert, Peru – Snowboarding? Wakeboarding? Think you’ve done every board out there? Well then, the last terrain you need to conquer by board is the desert. You can do sand surf anywhere there are sandy slopes. All you need is a sandboard and a lot of determination — hauling yourself back up the sand dunes after each run can be agonizing.
5. Hang Gliding
Nevada’s Deserts, United States – What better place to gaze at the endless rolling landscapes of a Nevada desert than from high above it? You won’t have to put up with intense heat, sandy winds or back-breaking dune climbing to get a decent view — it’ll all be laid out beneath you. There’s an active hang-gliding scene in Nevada, and plenty of centers that can get you airborne.
6. Camel Racing
Thar Desert, India – Running camels look, in a word, demented. They have none of the elegant power of horses or the raw grace of big cats. Their legs splay crazily out to the sides, Bambi-style. And they seem permanently off-kilter. But don’t be fooled by their awkward appearance. Camels can gallop at up to 64 kph (40 mph) in short bursts. At major racing events, big bucks are often at stake. Events take place in various deserts, but one of the most riotous events is the Bikaner Camel Festival, held each January in the Thar Desert of northwestern India.
7. Quad Biking
Sinai Desert, Egypt – Quad biking might look a little on the rough-and-tumble side, but in fact they’re much smoother to drive than they look. A two-hour trip across the desert toward the Sinai Mountains takes you across open plains, dunes, valleys and canyons, at the perfect speed to take in the surroundings.