This adventure holidays travel guide is not just for those who are merely seeking an adrenaline hit on holiday, but also for those simply seeking some fun. Be it on the water, climbing mountains, close to home or on the other side of the world. Adventure is for everyone – whether you want to climb mountains, sail the seven seas or cycle every European byway and highway.
Desert & dunes holidays guide
There is something about travelling in the desert. The harsh beauty of landscapes shaped by the elements; the generosity of the people that live there, which is essential to their own survival, and the stories and legends of the sands told and retold over thousands of years.
Camping under the stars, following the crests of the dunes by camel and watching the mist lift off the sand in the morning; desert voyages are just as spectacular as you’ve always pictured them.
Desert travel can mean exploring palm-fringed oases, vast plains of salt, geothermal geysers and savannah grasslands where wildebeest play hide-and-seek with predators. Because one thing that desert scenery is definitely not is bland. Even when all you can see are dunes stretching endlessly off into the distance, the sand ripples with colours, making it a dream for photographers. Find out more in our desert and dunes travel guide.
What does a desert & dunes holiday entail?
Not every vehicle is cut out for desert travel, but then again, not all deserts are the same. In Chile’s Atacama Desert you might be transported mostly by van, whereas elsewhere more rugged terrain may require switching to 4x4s and quad bikes, or rocking gently from side to side atop that most dependable of steeds: a camel. A camel ride is a memorable experience – and not usually a very comfortable one, but they rarely last more than a couple of hours. Wrapping a light scarf around your face is a very practical approach.
Desert accommodationTypes of accommodation vary country by country too. In Southern Africa’s Namib and Kalahari you might be wild camping, or staying in luxury lodges or tented camps. In the Atacama and Thar Deserts, locally owned hotels take precedence. And in the Sahara and Arabian Deserts where nomadic Bedouin people are to be found, you can stay the night in a traditional tented camp amid the dunes, enjoying fire-roasted feasts, shared songs and dances, and stargazing that will leave you gasping.
Small group or tailor made trips?
Most desert and dunes holidays are small group tours, typically with between eight and 16 participants, where both the itinerary and departure dates are fixed in advance. Some of these are also suitable for adventurous families with teenagers. You can also opt for a tailor made trip, giving you the freedom to choose your standard of accommodation for instance, or to add in a few days at a nearby coastal resort if there is one, to cool down after the desert.
What do I need to bring?By the time the sun is at its full height in the desert, the heat comes at you like a drawn sword. Even if you’re travelling in winter you will need sun protection, suitable headgear such as a wide brimmed hat, and clothing that keeps you well covered. Luckily, the dry heat means that covering up is not too uncomfortable. Many tours will advise you to bring a sleeping bag along, but in warmer months a liner will suffice – although do check, as temperatures can drop precipitously at night. You’ll need water too of course, lots of it. Your tour leader and guides will ensure there is always plenty, but carrying a reusable bottle or two will help you reduce your plastic usage in places that can struggle with recycling.
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Best time to go on a desert & dunes holiday
The best time to go on a desert and dunes holiday naturally depends on which desert you have in mind, but wherever you go, it’s a bold person that arrives in summer.
The mistake that many people make about desert travel is thinking that it’s going to be baking hot throughout. In fact temperatures can drop a long way overnight, even in summer. If you’re camping, you’ll want to pack a few extra layers as well as high factor sunscreen. Or you could just cuddle up to your camel. In winter, hats and gloves can come in handy, especially if you’re going to be out after sunset for stargazing, or embarking on pre dawn game drives.
Desert & dunes, month by month
More Desert & dunes articles
From the immense sand dunes of Sossusvlei to the salt plains and geysers of Chile, and the rock formations of Wadi Rum, there is astonishing diversity in desert landscapes around the world.
You can spend an Arabian night in a Bedouin camp under a magic carpet of stars, sway along with a camel safari, and have fun sliding down huge sand dunes on desert holidays in Oman.
Namib and Kalahari Desert holidays in Namibia and Botswana showcase the spectacular sand dunes of Sossusvlei, a landscape sculpted by the wind and forever in flux.
The rolling sand dunes of the Sahara Desert are surreally beautiful as they glow pink in the sunset, while Nomadic herding communities, known for their honour and generosity, welcome you into camp.
The Gobi Desert might seem a forbidding environment: parched earth, baked by the sun in summer and frozen in winter, but travelling through the desert you will be thrilled by the welcoming nature of Mongolian people.
The landscape of Chile’s Atacama Desert is almost Martian in appearance, to the point that it has been used in numerous Hollywood movies.
Long associated with quick trips to Petra, you can have a much more immersive experience of Bedouin life and their camel heritage on a safari in Jordan.