Camel caravan going through the sand dunes, Sahara Desert, Morocco

Be Amazed at What a Desert Can Offer on Goway Travel Experiences

Deserts are not empty, barren wastelands. They can offer enlightening perspectives which should not be missed or dismissed. To prove it, here are 8 fascinating deserts featured in Goway Travel experiences.

Let’s start off with a definition of a desert that I found, “It is a barren area of landscape where little precipitation occurs and consequently living conditions are hostile for both plant and animal life.” I now want to debunk this statement. About one-third of the land surface of the world is arid or semi-arid so we should not ignore it during our travels. We travel to experience new things and places, so, hopefully after reading this article, you will be convinced of the value of including a desert or two on your next Goway Travel vacation.

The Sahara Desert, Africa

The Sahara is the largest desert in the world (excluding Antarctica, which is technically a desert by definition). It covers all or part of Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, and Tunisia. Let’s concentrate on 3 countries, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt, which are tourist-friendly.

In Morocco, the desert is accessible from Marrakech, which, in itself is a colourful destination. Recommended is a 3-day, 2=night tour which starts from Marrakech heading first through the High Atlas Mountains to the desert town of Ouarzazate, where scenes from the film, The Gladiator, were shot. Spend the night here under an illuminated canopy of stars. Every night is breathtakingly beautiful. You spend the night in a traditional desert camp while learning about the way of life of the nomadic Berbers. A highlight will be observing the sunrise over the sand dunes in the desert. You later return back to Marrakech to continue your Morocco vacation.

Ouarzazate city and High Atlas Mountains panoramic view, Morocco
Ouarzazate city and High Atlas Mountains panoramic view, Morocco

In Tunisia, the Sahara can be visited on a tour from any of the following resorts, Hammamet, Sousse, Port El Kantaoui, Monastir, and Skanes, as it is not that far away from any of them on a Tunisia vacation. To obtain the full value of the experience, it is recommended to take at least a 2-day tour with an overnight. Some of the highlights en route include El Djem, which has an extremely well-preserved Roman Amphitheatre, and Matmata, a large maritime oasis. Later, reach the desert where you will visit a Bedouin nomadic tribe. Overnight in the desert would be at Tozeur, another oasis town. Tozeur was a locale for a few films, including Star Wars. An entire film set was built northwest of Tozeur, acting as Mos Espa in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. The next day brings a jeep tour into the Atlas Mountains before returning back to your resort.

Star Wars Mos Espa set, built in the middle of the desert, Tozeur, Tunisia
Star Wars’ Mos Espa set, built in the middle of the desert, Tozeur, Tunisia

In Egypt, you can visit the Sahara from Luxor and Aswan on the Nile River. From both cities on an Egypt tour, you can combine the desert with archaeological and other interesting sites. There are a number of oases in the desert.

The Gobi Desert, Mongolia, Asia

The Gobi Desert covers parts of northern and northwestern China and southern Mongolia and is the largest desert in Asia. It has been associated with the great Mongol Empire and is the location of several important cities along the Silk Road. It is very varied in its topography, offering high mountains, forests, sands, steppe, and springs. So what can you do here? You can climb sand dunes – the Khongor Sand Dunes are the largest and most impressive in the world. Once on the top of them, you can enjoy stunning panoramic views of the desert, as they measure up to 300 metres/ 9745 feet in height and are 12 kilometres/7.5 miles wide and about 100 kilometres/65 miles long. Getting to the top takes around 45 minutes to one hour. This was the land of dinosaurs and the area around Bayanza was excavated to find dinosaur bones, fossils, and eggs which were a million years old! You can visit the Flaming Cliffs which have an eerie beauty and were named because of the colour when the sun shines on them. They are home to wildlife such as mountain goats, gazelles, vultures, wolves, and more. You can visit a national park on a Mongolia vacation near Khalzan Uul, which means “bald mountain,” where ancient burial grounds can be found. The springs here are considered therapeutic, curing everything from hangovers to common diseases. Other activities include riding a camel and staying in a yurt, which is a dome-shaped tent in which the local inhabitants use as a home. For bird watchers, visit Yolyn Am which also has dramatic rocky cliffs and deep canyons.

Plains of the Flaming Cliffs of Bayanzag, Gobi Desert, Mongolia
Plains of the Flaming Cliffs of Bayanzag in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia

The Taklamakan Desert, China

The Taklamakan is a desert in the south-west Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region in north-west China. It is part of the Silk Route and includes places such as Turpan, Dunhuang, and Kashgar. These are known as oasis towns. It is surrounded by mountains on three sides. It is 1000 kilometres/620 miles long and 400 kilometres/250 miles wide. It is here that 4000 year-old mummies were found, one of which had European features. Dunhuang is known for the Mogao Caves, which contain ancient Buddhist murals and manuscripts, as well as Crescent Lake, where you can slide down the dunes while creating a whistling sound. Turpan is home to the wine growing region of China, the Flaming Mountains which shimmer and glow from the heat of the sun, the Bezelik Caves which contain thousands of Buddhist wall paintings, the ancient city of Gaochang, an archaeological site first built the year 1 BC, another ancient city, Jiaohe, first built in 60 BC and which is the largest and best preserved ancient city in the world, and the Karez Water System, an underground irrigation system designed over 2000 years ago. Kashgar is the western-most city in China and was once a very important trading post. You will see many ethnic Uyghurs and other minorities dressed up in their traditional clothes here. The colourful Kashgar Sunday Market is something not to be missed under any circumstances on your China vacation. It is said to be the largest market of its type in Asia. Every week, traders, farmers, and others come in from the outlying countryside in their droves to attend the Sunday Market.

Dunhuang's Crescent Lake, Gansu, China
Dunhuang’s Crescent Lake, China

The Thar Desert, India

The Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, lies in the state of Rajasthan in India. The nearest city is Jaisalmer. The Bishnoi Village near here is known for its desert tribes and villages. On a Goway Travel vacation to India, you can view wild animals such as desert scorpions, mongoose, red fox, black bucks, and blue bulls in the desert, and there are also many wild birds, mainly birds of prey such as eagles, falcons, buzzards, kestrel, and vultures. The Rajasthan Desert Festival takes place every winter and is celebrated by the people of the desert with dancing and singing. The best way to explore the Thar Desert is on a camel or jeep safari from Jaisalmer. There are eleven national parks and wildlife sanctuaries located in the Thar Desert region, the largest among them are the Nara Desert Wildlife Sanctuary and the Great Rann of Kutch. An interesting fact is that approximately 40% of the population of Rajasthan lives in the Thar Desert area.

Ethnic women going for water in well in Thar Desert near Jaisamler, Rajasthan, India
Local women going for water in well in Thar Desert near Jaisamler, India

The Atacama Desert, Chile, South America

The Atacama Desert covers a strip of land which is 1000 kilometres/620 miles long on the Pacific coast of Chile, west of the Andes Mountains. It is known as the driest place in the world, with some areas having no recorded incidence of rain. However, there are two rivers that are fed by snow from the Andes which create numerous oases throughout the desert. So why visit a dry desert on a Chile vacation, you ask? Some of the spectacular landscapes are breathtaking. There is exceptional nature in the form of salt flats, lagoons, volcanoes, natural hot springs, and geysers. There is also a rich variety of flora, with over 500 different species. The night sky is beyond belief and has been recognized as the clearest sky anywhere. In fact, several countries have set up observatories here to study astronomy. The Aymara indigenous community, which still prevails in small concentrations here, lives in quiet, cozy villages. Your best bet is to stay at one of the excellent lodges and partake in some of the numerous activities available. The Atacama offers unforgettable adventures such as crossing the desert on a bicycle, trekking excursions, and hiking up the highest volcanoes. Not all activities need to be strenuous. You can participate in 4-wheel drive tours of the area or simply relax at a lodge.

Geysers of the Atacama Desert, Chile
Geysers of the Atacama Desert, Chile

The Namib Desert, Namibia, Southern Africa

The name Namib means “vast place.” This is a suitable name, as the desert stretches for more than 2000 kilometres/1200 miles along the Atlantic coasts of Angola, Namibia, and South Africa. It is the only true desert in Southern Africa. The Namib has been claimed as the oldest desert in the world and contains some of the world’s driest regions with, perhaps, the Atacama Desert to challenge it for age and aridity. Geologists consider the Namib Desert to be one of the oldest in the world and many of the dunes found here have developed over millions of years. Located in the southern part of the Namib Desert and part of Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft National Park is Sossusvlei, a salt and clay pan surrounded by world-famous red sand dunes. These immense sand dunes are among some of the highest in the world. The colours vary depending on the age of the dunes, with the oldest being the brightest. The largest dune has been nicknamed “Big Daddy” and stands over 300 metres/980 feet tall. The Namib is almost completely uninhabited by humans except for several small settlements and indigenous groups. Most of the desert wildlife you see here, on a Goway Travel vacation to Namibia, is small animals that live on little water, although larger animals inhabit the northern regions. Although the Namib is largely barren of vegetation, lichens and succulents are found, and a few types of trees are also able to survive the extremely arid climate.

Sossusvlei in the Namib desert of Namibia with Big Daddy, reputedly the highest dune in the world, Namibia
Sossusvlei in the Namib desert with Big Daddy, Namibia

The Negev Desert, Israel

The Negev is a desert in the south of Israel and, covers around 50% of the country’s land. It has one major city which is located in the centre of the desert, Beersheba. At the bottom end on the Red Sea is the resort of Eilat. It is a fascinating region, home to the nomadic Bedouins who live in temporary accommodation, moving their livestock around with them. Throughout the Negev Desert, there are places where visitors on an Israel vacation can get a taste of the Bedouin way of life. Bedouin hospitality often includes providing camel rides, traditional cuisine, and an opportunity to sip tea or coffee while reclining in the colourful blanket-filled tents. The best way to experience the Negev on your Goway Travel vacation is with a jeep tour. This can include the Dead Sea and the ancient historic fortress of Masada. The crater-like formations remind one of lunar landscapes. The Mitzpe Ramon Wise Observatory on the side of the largest of these craters, the Ramon Crater, offers a breathtaking view of this unique feature of the Negev Desert. Beersheba is the site of the ruins of an ancient town that has been preserved. The highlight is Abraham’s Well, which is reminiscent of the one Abraham dug in Genesis.

Mountains of the Negev Desert, Israel
Mountains of the Negev Desert, Israel

The Pinnacles, Western Australia

The Pinnacles are ancient rock formations which can be found on an Australia vacation. They are located just a few hours north of Perth in Nambung National Park in Western Australia. This is a true desert landscape, where the weathered rock spires of the Pinnacles rise out of yellow sand dunes. They are limestone pillars which protrude out of the sand across the desert creating an incredibly unique landscape. They were formed from erosion by the wind and the rain and stand up to 3.5 metres/5 feet tall and come in various shapes – jagged, rounded, sharp-edged and combinations of these. They date back millions of years to a time when the sand was beneath the sea. There are literally thousands of them on view. The best time to visit them on your Goway Travel vacation to Australia is between August and October, when the weather is cooler and wildflowers bloom. Also, they are best seen in the early morning or late afternoon, at which times, the light brings out the colours and extends the shadows. The park is also fringed by secluded, white beaches, great for swimming, snorkeling, and surfing. Most animals here are nocturnal but one can see emus and kangaroos during the daytime. The best way to travel around is by 4WD, although it is possible to walk. So, if your visit to Australia includes Perth, then take a Pinnacles tour that explores the unique landscape of this region.

The Pinnacles in late afternoon light, Nambung National Park, Western Australia
The Pinnacles in late afternoon light, Nambung National Park, Australia

There are other deserts that exist which also have interesting and unique features. So, let’s close this article by saying, “It’s only sand, man,” which it is and it isn’t!

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Robert Glazier
Robert Glazier

Contributing Writer - With over 40 years experience in the travel industry, and working for Goway for the last 19 years, British-born Robert Glazier has travelled to over 80 countries. “I have never met a destination which didn’t have something to interest me,” he says. His first foray abroad was from England to Switzerland on a school trip at the age of 14, and that was the start of a long journey. An avid runner, Robert’s favourite way of exploring a destination, is to don his running shoes and really get to know it on foot, even if it means sometimes getting lost! His advice to other travellers? Always wonder what is around the next corner!

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