A desert is defined by a lack of water, plants, and animals. However, these wild, open spaces are surprisingly excellent places for adventurous travelers. Some notable international deserts include the African countries of Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Namibia, as well as China’s Gobi Desert, South America’s Peru, the Middle Eastern countries of Jordan, Israel, and UAE, and the U.S. Southwest states of Arizona, California, Colorado, and Utah.
Here are seven ways you can experience the desert in unexpected ways:
- Attend a festival. Desert festivals worldwide are well-attended by creative, experimental people. One famous example is the Burning Man art festival in Nevada, U.S., held next in 2022. Thousands of people visit this self-sufficient, man-made city in the desert for one week every September. If you’re in Europe, you may attend the Nowhere art festival in Spain, also planned for 2022. There are other festivals in the African desert, like Transahara in Morocco (March 2022) or in India, like the Desert Festival Of Jaisalmer (February 2022). The desert is clearly a space for creativity.
- Ride a camel. Camels are suited for the arid heat of the desert, and while they can be famously irritable, riding them is always an adventure. Many desert regions offer camel tours. For instance, in Egypt, you can pay $20-$70 for a pyramid tour. However, you can also trek through the Gobi Desert in China, experience an overnight “desert safari” in Dubai, or ride a camel along the beach in Mexico, complete with tacos and tequila. If there’s a desert, there’s probably a camel tour waiting for you.
- Go sandboarding. While snowboarding and wakeboarding are common winter and summer sports, sandboarding is a less well-known board sport. People board down the side of a dune like they would on a snow slope. You can play on the dunes of the U.S. Southwest, but if you prefer something off the beaten path, we recommend Peru, where you can sandboard the largest dune in the world.
- Rent an ATV or dune buggy. You may be familiar with all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). However, dune buggies are larger, safer vehicles for longer distances. Buggies are a great way to see the desert while knowing that if you did roll over, you would have more protection. Regardless of your vehicle of choice, visiting the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan is always a good idea; here are some highly-rated off-road tours.
- Climb rocks. Rock climbing is one of the fastest-growing adventure sports, and there is one undisputed climbing destination: the California desert. Specifically, Joshua Tree National Park. With over 8,000 rock climbing routes and over 2,000 bouldering routes, this is the meeting spot for climbers. New to climbing? There are classes for you (scheduled to re-open after COVID). Just visit during spring or fall.
- Soak in natural hot springs. There are multiple geothermal spots in the world where hot and cool natural springs bubble from the earth. However, few of them are located in deserts. Of note are the hot springs near Israel’s Dead Sea and the eponymous city Desert Hot Springs in California. Why visit hot springs in the desert? Because temperatures can drop quickly, making hot springs the perfect vacation spot in the evenings and winters.
- Stargaze. One of the best things to do in the desert is to stargaze. Whether you’re camping out or just passing through the nighttime sky of a desert is a sight to see. Deserts are perfect for stargazing because they offer open landscapes, spacious skies, and little to no light pollution. For instance, California’s Death Valley National Park is one of the least-visited National Parks in the U.S. but is a designated “Dark Sky Park” and offers unparalleled stargazing. Visit during a new moon to see the most stars. Check out our groups on Outdoorsy Black Women to join other stargazers.
So, the next time you’re considering a vacation, don’t discount the desert. You may find your next wild adventure out there, in those wide, open spaces.