When it comes to vacations, many people imagine relaxing on a white sand beach under the sun. Most beach destinations, from Mexico to Thailand, also include plenty of water activities, from swimming with the dolphins to scuba diving. The idea is to spend time in the sun and water.
But when people imagine warm days beneath a twinkling sun, they rarely imagine the desert. In fact, desert destinations remain one of the least popular vacation spots worldwide. Those who don’t opt for sunny beaches tend to stick to cultural centers like Florence or Shanghai, as well as winter destinations like the Alps or the Rocky Mountains.
Still, that doesn’t mean those with a flair for adventure can’t find a quality vacation destination in one of the world’s many deserts. Though they receive less coverage than beaches and snow-capped mountains, deserts are breathtaking centers for natural wonders. These include star-filled skies far from light pollution, wild activities like boarding down a steep sand dune, and UNESCO World Heritage sites like sandstone forts.
Let’s take a closer look at four accessible desert destinations located around the globe.
Las Vegas, USA
Billed as the ‘City of Lights’, Las Vegas is one of the US’s most notorious vacation destinations—and it has little to do with the desert. For decades, the city has hosted the country’s most extravagant casino-resorts. Today, it’s easier than ever to visit on a budget, whether stopping over for a few days or a week.
And it’s not all about playing poker at the Bellagio or catching a Britney Spears performance. In fact, one of the most popular activities in Las Vegas is taking a tour of the nearby Grand Canyon. The massive canyons plunge as deep as a mile in certain spots, which tourists can visit on horseback, donkey-back, or even by helicopter or plane trip. Luxury glamping opportunities are also accessible from the city.
When it comes to North Africa, Morocco has a reputation for its rich and ancient traditions, a warm and welcoming culture, and plenty of desert outposts. Those flying into major cities like Rabat, Fez, Casablanca, and Marrakesh will be able to find tours for nearby stretches of the Sahara.
However, those who truly want to dive into desert living can fly into Marrakesh and take a tour that ends in Merzouga. Merzouga is home to the Erg Chebbi sand dunes and is also the historical location of camel vans headed across the Sahara to Timbuktu. Visitors will also see plenty of kasbah structures and Berber villages along the way.
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
The world’s driest desert isn’t in Death Valley, USA or the Sahara Desert in North Africa. It’s actually the Atacama Desert, located in Northern Chile, which runs for around 1,000 miles along the country’s coast. The location is so desolate that it’s often used as a filming location for projects about Mars.
Despite its reputation for harsh living, the Atacama is one of the most readily accessible desert destinations in the world. From the outpost of San Pedro de Atacama, it’s possible to visit the Miscanti, home of life-giving springs, or even Moon Valley. Activities are also expansive, including hiking, horseback riding, safari tours, and stargazing at night.
Not many people imagine a desert climate when thinking about India. However, the vast South Asian nation is home to the world’s most densely populated desert. The That desert takes up most of the state of Rajasthan in western India. The town of Jaisalmer, part of Rajasthan, is a booming tourist destination, which serves as an excellent home base.
Visitors can take advantage of the myriad of activities. Similar to Morocco, India has preserved its long-standing desert traditions. Some, like the camel tours, reflect modern life for many locals. Others, like the Hill Forts of Rajasthan, are UNESCO-protected for their longstanding history. And, like Las Vegas, extravagant glamping opportunities are easily accessible (and relatively affordable).