African safari vacations are underrated. They are wrongly associated with unbearable heat, hostility, and monotony. This article hopes to establish that these deserts in Africa are more than just an endless land of sand. From the Sahara to the Kalahari to the Namib, here’s the best desert in Africa that’ll truly amaze you. There’s so much more to the geological formations, unique animals, hardy plants, and sweeping dunes that inhabit the desert.
To help you make the most of your African safari dreams, here are the most stunning deserts you shouldn’t miss!
Who hasn’t heard of the Sahara? Following Antarctica and the Arctic (both cold deserts), the Sahara Desert is the third-largest desert in the world. It is also the most iconic region in Africa as it is the largest desert in the continent. Crossing at least 10 countries, the Sahara offers incredible scenery and exciting African safari activities.
The best time to visit the Sahara is between October and early May. This time will give you pleasant weather. Meanwhile, the hottest periods are late May and September. Temperatures can also fall below freezing in December and January.
Before turning into a desert, the Sahara was once a lush region inhabited by various animals and plants. Now, the Sahara rarely experiences rain. Some regions go on for years without experiencing a drop of rain. Because of the punishing environment, only 2.5 million people live in the Sahara despite its massive size. Arabic is the most common language spoken in the Sahara.
Sahara Desert Highlights
Ait Benhaddou: Sitting on the edge of the Sahara is a group of historic clay buildings dating back to the 12th century. About 30 kilometers from the center of Ouarzazate, Ait Benhaddou offers a haven of palms, mountains, and rivers, perfect for nature lovers. The lush trees in the middle of an arid desert make it very refreshing to the eyes. Aside from sightseeing and photo sessions, treat yourself to the shops selling rugs, jewelry, and Moroccan handicrafts. This stunning site of clay houses is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been used in countless films and TV shows.
Camel rides: You can’t leave the Sahara desert without enjoying a camel ride. The ride can take a little bit of getting used to, but the experience is worth it. In fact, camel rides are among the highly recommended activities to include in an African safari vacation. Most camel rides last an hour, and there are African safari tours that are mixed with a 4×4 ride.
Stay in a Berber camp: Another must-try activity in the Sahara is to stay in a Berber camp. This experience allows you to explore the desert highlights during the day and sleep under the stars at night. Accommodations range from luxurious to simple, depending on your budget. Some packages include meals, traditional music, dancing, as well as transportation to top destinations. If you prefer simple camps, consider bringing the must-have camping gears for a convenient experience. Staying in a Berber camp skips the hassle of organizing transport, accommodation, and tours.
Where To Stay In The Sahara Desert
Sahara Desert Luxury Camp: This glamorous camp (glamping) offers world-class tent rooms, modern amenities, and free private parking. Aside from comfortable rooms, guests are also treated to a buffet breakfast. The camp also offers some of the best African local dishes.
Desert Berber Fire-Camp: Another excellent tent camp option is Desert Berber Fire-Camp. With their wide array of comfortable tent camps, there is one that is sure to suit your taste. Enjoy its restaurant, common room, bathrooms with showers, and 24-hour room service. Activities popular to enjoy here include biking, hiking, and evening entertainment.
Camels House: A cozy B&B with a common patio, Camels House allows you to relax comfortably for a night or two. Each room has a Moroccan style, making your experience in this Africa desert feel more special.
Stretching from Libya through parts of Egypt and northwestern Sudan, the Libyan Desert comprises the Sahara Desert’s northeastern region. The Libyan desert is devoid of rivers, making it one of the driest and barren deserts in the world.
If you’re looking for the best African safari experience, the Libyan Desert is an excellent option. Most notable for its ancient Greek and Roman ruins, the Libyan Desert also offers sweeping views of mountain ranges, dunes, and oases. Don’t miss visiting the Black Desert, which is home to volcanic fields.
Libyan Desert Highlights
Tripoli Old Town: A great addition to your African safari itinerary is a visit to Tripoli’s walled Old Town. Busy your hours here by exploring the historic buildings, mosques, and the Roman arch. Aside from that, the narrow streets are lined with stores and eateries. Don’t forget to stop by the Tripoli Bazaar for some fine jewelry and crafts.
The oases: There are plenty of beautiful oases in the Libyan Desert. Surrounded by lakes or sand dunes, the oases are among the famous tourist landmarks in the Libyan Desert. The most notable oases are the Ghadames, Ghat, Wadi Elhayat, Wadi Eshati, Jufra, and the Kufra oasis. Their natural beauty offers a refreshing refuge amid the sea of sand and dunes.
The desert mountains and hills: The mountains and hills in south Libya add character to the desert’s beauty. Sitting in the southwest part of the country are the famous Akakus mountains. The mountains of Akakus are famous for their stunning formations against the orange sand dunes. Aside from that, the mountains boast an amazing collection of rock paintings and carvings. All these make Akakus an excellent addition to an African safari itinerary.
Where To Stay In The Libyan Desert
Plasma Hotel: This luxurious hotel sits just steps away from the Tripoli International Fair and the city center. With such a great location, the hotel gives you wonderful views of Tripoli City. Boasting 30 single and double rooms and 6 suites, Plasma Hotel promises comfortable and unforgettable stays.
Bab Al Bahr Hotel: It’s hard to say no to a hotel with panoramic views of lush gardens and the Mediterranean Sea. At Bab Al Bahr Hotel, guests are treated to stylish rooms with modern amenities.
Al Naher Hotel: For a budget-friendly option, this is a great choice. Whether if you’re a business or leisure travelers, the perfect location of this hotel that nestled in the heart of Tripoli will surely make your pennies worth.
Western White Desert
Undeniably the most well-known desert in Egypt, you need to visit the White Desert during your African safari vacation. The rock formations shaped like giant mushrooms and pebbles are simply breathtaking. Aside from that, the desert is also home to chalk-rock formations, thus its name. These rock formations are like masterpiece sculptures formed by wind erosion and sandstorms. The White Desert is a favorite destination for some schools and camping trips.
What truly highlights this desert in Africa are:
White Desert Highlights
Crystal Mountain: In the northern part of the White Desert sits a mountain that sparkles. Made of calcite crystal, Crystal Mountain is a stunning ridge standing out in the White Desert. The crystals in this famous mountain in Egypt almost resemble the Kryptonite, only if they were green. These crystals are cloudy white that sparkle beautifully when the light hits them.
Lake Marun: There are many beautiful salt lakes scattered in the White Desert, and Lake Marun is one of them. Aside from being an essential stop for migratory birds, you can also take gorgeous sunset photos in Lake Marun. These and more make Lake Marun among the best deserts to visit during a tour in an African safari.
Camping: Camping in the White Desert offers a different kind of experience. To fully enjoy this, book any of the numerous African safari camping packages. Aside from setting up the camp, a Bedouin dinner will be prepared for you. Imagine delicious chicken baked on the coal pit next to you. Add to this a bowl of vegetable stew and Egyptian rice. Bedouin tea time follows next. After a sumptuous meal, you can finally relax the night away under millions of stars.
Where To Stay In The White Desert
Rahala Safari Hotel: It may be a small hotel resort, but it has all the vibe and feel of a traditional Bedouin house. Guests will enjoy the peace and quiet here, perfect to end a busy and tiring day. Rahala has a restaurant, patio, and other amenities. Hiking is also a popular activity around the hotel.
El Badawiya Hotel: Featuring a traditional mud-brick building, El Badawiya Hotel sets the right mood for the perfect African safari excursion. Enjoy a variety of stunning rooms, a fireplace, a refreshing pool, and private seating areas. You can also feast on local dishes and organic vegetables from the hotel’s restaurant and farm.
Namib should be on anyone’s African safari list. It is the oldest desert in the world let alone in Africa, and it is also home to the highest sand dunes in the world. Some of these sand dun reach over 1,100 feet. Stretching from Angola to the Western Cape province of South Africa, Namib offers rugged and stunning landscapes.
If you’re in for a more remote experience, head to the NamibRand Nature Reserve, which is a private nature reserve. Solitaire is another remote spot located at the edge of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Solitaire is a great stopover for some cold drinks, baked goods, lunch, or snack. There’s also a gasoline station and 2 lodges to spend the night in.
The best time to visit the Namib Desert is any time between June and September when temperatures are more pleasant or tolerable.
Namib Desert Highlights
Dead Vlei: It’s not every day you get to see tree skeletons standing tall in a sea of sand. Dead Vlei is perhaps one of the iconic spots in the Namib Desert that you can’t simply miss. This area is extremely dry that instead of the trees decomposing, the sun-scorched them into black trees. Meanwhile, the sand dunes have literally rusted over the years, resulting in the orange hue. The dead black trees against the fiery sand dunes make Dead Vlei such a stunning work of nature.
Sossusvlei: Home to Dead Vlei and other attractions, Sossusvlei is possibly Namibia’s most spectacular destination. Characterized by a large and white salt and clay pan, Sossusvlei features some of the highest dunes in the world. In fact, some of these reach almost 400 meters high. The natural beauty of Sossusvlei has been drawing thousands of visitors every year. It’s also hard to argue why, because photography enthusiasts are spoilt here.
Etosha National Park: If you’re bringing the family to your African safari tour, Etosha National Park is perfect for you because they are kid-friendly. Enjoy and explore the abundant wildlife and game sightings in this national park. Etosha is also one of the most accessible game reserves in Southern Africa. You can easily reach it through a private car or tour buses. The park is also home to luxurious camps and restaurants.
Where To Stay In The Namib Desert
We Kebi Safari Lodge: Enjoy panoramic views of the scenic landscape at We Kebi Safari Lodge. Each thatch-roof chalet has a pavilion and private bathroom. Guests can also feast on the local dishes at the onsite restaurant. If you want to enjoy a drink, do so in the shared lounge area with gorgeous views. There’s also a swimming pool where you can cool off after a day of activities.
Le Mirage Hotel & Spa: If you’re eyeing a five-star hotel, Le Mirage is the closest to one in the Namib Desert region. Resembling a castle, Le Mirage is one of the most beautiful hotels in the Namib Desert. The rooms are spacious and elegantly designed. However, the best part of staying here is that it’s very close to the Namib Naukluft Park.
Moon Mountain Lodge: Fancy staying in an eco-friendly lodge in the Naukluft Mountains? Moon Mountain in the Namib Desert is up for the challenge. The lodge offers tents each with a private plunge pool for your pleasure. There’s also a restaurant, which serves traditional Namibian cuisine. Aside from that, you can catch gorgeous sunsets at the sun deck while enjoying cocktails.
Spanning 900,000 square kilometres of land, the Kalahari is the second largest desert in Africa. However, the Kalahari is not a desert in its purest meaning as most of the desert receives a lot of rain. This is how the Kalahari is able to support some animals and plants. What’s more is that the desert is home to Africa’s three big cats: the cheetah, the leopard, and the black-maned Kalahari lions. Visiting the Kalahari Desert treats you to its stunning landscapes and unique wildlife. All these are conserved in its protected areas that all offer excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.
Kalahari Desert Highlights
Makgadikgadi Salt Pans: One of the largest salt pans in the world, Makgadikgadi offers a different experience depending on what season you visit. During dry winter, the land is parched and very dry, but it’s the time when the pans shine best. Meanwhile, the summer wet season transforms the dry land into lush grassland.
Tsodilo Hills: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tsodilo Hills are adorned with about 4,500 rock paintings. It also has one of the highest concentrations of rock art in the world. These rock arts are human activities and environmental changes accounts that are worth seeing. Aside from that, Tsodilo is respected as a place of worship by the locals.
Baines’ Baobabs: Set on the edge of the KudiaKam Pan of the Nxai Pan National Park are the famous Baines’ Baobab trees. The Baobabs are among the many must-see attractions in the Kalahari Desert. Not only are they historical, but they are also fascinating. These trees are often called “upside-down tree” because the tops resemble tree roots. These famous trees can also store up to 120,000 liters of water in their trunks. This allows them to survive the harsh conditions in the desert.
Where To Stay In The Kalahari Desert
Tswalu Kalahari Reserve: Tswalu is an excellent launchpad for your African safari adventures. Aside from its perfect location, the lush surroundings and beauty of the reserve are enough to make you stay. The lodge offers luxurious and intimate rooms that will allow you to connect with nature. There’s also a world-class restaurant that reflects South Africa’s culinary heritage.
Le Must Residence: A large villa nestled in a beautiful garden, Le Must Residence makes any African safari trip more memorable. Aside from the lush plants surrounding it, guests are also treated to gorgeous views of the Gariep River. As for activities, there’s an outdoor pool that guests can enjoy.
Aha Urban Hotel: For a more affordable option, Aha Urban is a chic, comfortable, and clean hotel in the Kalahari. Its location is close to shopping centers, dining options, and golf adventures. It’s a great hotel option that gives you quick access to almost anything you need in the desert.
The Desert Is Calling You!
Experiencing an African safari can be the trip of a lifetime. From sand dunes, wildlife, and the flavors and spices of Arab dishes, Africa is home to many exciting things. If it’s your first time going there, it can be a little tricky to choose which desert or reserve to visit first. Out of the many, there sure is one that will fit your taste and preferences.
Hopefully, this article will help you in picking the best deserts in Africa to include on your travel list. Plan well and pack well because an amazing world of sand, dunes, and wildlife awaits you!