There’s nowhere quite like the desert. A vast ocean of sand, painted skies and shifting landscapes stretching out in front of you for eternity. If peace and quiet is high on your list of requirements for you next trip (but adventure still calls), make a beeline for the high sands of the desert. Planning a trip to some of the most inhospitable parts of the world isn’t for the faint of heart, but with the right kit and a strong sense of wanderlust, it can certainly be the most rewarding experience. We’ve picked out our favourite desertscapes to explore when the buzz of the modern world gets a bit too much. Pack your boots, scarf and SPF for this one.
1. Wadi Rum, Jordan
Wadi Rum has been used several times as a location double for Mars, which tells you more about how quiet it is than I can. Of Laurence of Arabia fame, this vast desert hides a treasure trove of cultural and historical wealth. Pay a visit to a Bedouin family, and sip sweet tea in a colourful, carpeted tent with locals who have lived in the desert for generations; listen to stories about Lawrence, ancestors and the changing life of traditional Bedouins. At night, a blanket of stars covers the desert, making this a perfect spot for stargazing. Middle Eastern astronomy myths are different from European stories, so prepare to learn about Rigel, Algol and Deneb as the Milky Way comes into focus. Let the Jordanian Bedouins guide you around their most famous Wadi, from echoing chambers and ancient cave carvings, to the easy-to-miss fauna that acts as food, soap and shelter.
2. Thar, India
Often overlooked in favour of the larger and better known deserts of the world, the Indian Thar desert is an unassuming gem. Stretching across Rajasthan, this is the land of Arabian Nights, fortresses as far as the eye can see and lakes giving way to seas of sand. Visiting as part of a larger trip to Rajasthan is recommended for full-effect. A desert break in Jaisalmer away from the grandeur and splendour of Jodphur, Jaipur and Delhi is the perfect antidote to the cacophony and chaos of India’s most visited region. Explore the Sam Sand Dunes and relax with the double-hump locals, camping is very much encouraged to experience a side to India that most travellers never get to see.
3. Huacachina, Peru
Firmly on the ‘gringo trail’, between Ica and Arequipa, lies an oasis unlike any other. Banked by tall sand dunes on all sides, the small town of Huacachina looks like it’s been lifted Palm Springs and placed in the middle of the Huacachina desert. Bustling with all kinds of outdoor activities and comfortable accommodation in the town itself, Huacachina is the ultimate destination for an off-the-wall group holiday in the desert. Spend days sand surfing (surfing the dunes on a boogie board), exploring off-road in a dune buggy and visiting the ancient and mysterious Nazca Lines nearby. With the promise of a pool and a restaurant at the end of a day in the hot sun, Hucachina has all the fun of the desert with none of the middle-of-nowhere camping.
4. Joshua Tree, U.S.A.
Only a 2 hour drive from the beating heart of Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park is American escapism at its best. Driving through the tiny towns of 29 Palms, Joshua Tree and Pioneertown will transport you to the scene of a western movie, complete with cacti, saloon doors and tumbleweeds. Rent a cabin a short drive from the town to experience life as it was before modern skyscrapers (but within easy reach of civilisation). The sunsets here are otherworldly, expanding across the whole horizon in a peach-hued haze. Drive a 4x4 through the park to experience the eponymous Joshua Tree and explore a few trails on foot for a close up look at the fauna that makes this desert so incredibly unique, before it’s too late.
5. Atacama, Chile
Covering 600km of dry and desolate landscape, the Atacama desert has long been seen as too tough to visit. Far from the truth, this natural wonderland is teeming with life, from active geysers to salt flats and azure lagoons, the world’s driest desert is a colourful and serene place to spend some time. Watch the light dance through the Moon and Mars valley, become a keen bird-watcher (flamingos and finches are abound), and experience the mirrored beauty of a salt flat first hand. Leave Bolivia’s salt plains to the masses and embrace the solitude of the Atacama. With traditional villages dotted around (San Pedro de Atacama and Cachi being the largest), take some time out of soul searching to learn more about the indigenous Chilean people and the day-to-day of living in such an extreme environment.