Deserts are some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. The arid land is often uninhabited but possesses a stark beauty. Deserts can be hot or cold, and cover almost one-third of the Earth’s surface area. There are many important and famous deserts around the world. If you are lucky enough to visit them all you will be exposed to the most varied landscapes and their vast beauty. So, take a look at this list of the biggest deserts in the world worth visiting.
Famous Deserts In The World To Witness
1. Antarctic Desert: Largest Desert On Earth
Said to be the biggest desert names in the world, the vast inhospitable and freezing expanse of Antarctica is only home to small groups of scientific researchers (only between 1,000 and 5,000). It measures a total of 13.8 million square kilometers and its annual precipitation can be less than 51 mm in the interior.
How To Reach: You can either just travel to Ushuaia, Argentina, (a three-and-a-half-hour direct flight from Buenos Aires) – from where a majority of voyages to Antarctica depart. Alternatively, you can fly out of Punta Arenas in Chile to an airstrip on an island adjacent to the Antarctic Peninsula. From there, you can board an expedition ship and be standing face to face with glaciers and penguins just a few hours after departing Punta Arenas.
Animal Habitat: The animals found in the Antarctic continent are mainly penguins, whales, seals, albatrosses and other seabirds.
2. Arctic Desert: A Terrestrial Ecoregion
This large cold desert occupies parts of Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States. It is known for its high winds and sub-zero temperatures and is particularly vulnerable to climate change. It covers an area of 161,400 square kilometers and is amongst the largest deserts of the world. The Arctic Desert contains glaciers, snow, and bare rock in a harshly cold environment.
How To Reach: Geographically closer to the North Pole, Svalbard in Norway is one of the best places to see the Arctic desert. You can fly via Oslo to Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen. There is no regular boat or ferry service to Svalbard from anywhere.
Animal Habitat: The largest colonies of Ivory gull are found in the region, as well as Atlantic walrus, Polar bear, arctic wolf, whale and arctic hare.
The largest colonies of Ivory gull are found in the region, as well as Atlantic walrus, Polar bear, arctic wolf, whale and arctic hare.
3. The Sahara Desert: The Largest Hot Desert In The World
Spread over a vast region of Northern Africa, the Sahara desert is the largest hot desert in the world, being almost as large as the United States. It covers 13 countries and is famous for being extremely hot during the day and freezing at night. This African desert has an area of 9,200,000 square kilometers.
How To Reach: You can reach the Sahara desert from Marrakech by bus, helicopter or car. Usually, travelers choose to go to the Sahara desert by car with a private driver. The car will cover 249 miles (561 km) in roughly 9 hours.
Animal Habitat: The animals found here are tropical catfish, chromites, cobras, pygmy crocodiles, gerbils, jerboa, Cape hares, and desert hedgehogs.
4. Arabian Desert: Largest Desert In Asia
Located in the West of Asia, the Arabian Desert stretches across Yemen, the Persian Gulf, Oman, Jordan, and Iraq. At its center is the Rub ’al-Khali or the “Empty Quarter,” which is the largest continuous stretch of sand in the world. Known as one of the biggest deserts in the world and the largest desert in Asia, the Arabian Desert covers an area of 2,330,000 square kilometers.
How To Reach: A large part of the Arabian desert lies within the modern kingdom of Saudi Arabia. So you can fly to the country via loads of international flights, especially to Jeddah and Riyadh.
Animal Habitat: Animals found in the Arabian desert include Arabian oryx, sand cat, mountain gazelle, Arabian leopard, Nubian ibex and Hamadryas baboon.
5. Gobi Desert: Largest Dinosaur Fossil Reservoir In The World
Set in the dry, rain shadow of the Himalayas, the Gobi Desert lies in north-western China and southern Mongolia. One of the largest deserts in Asia, it is home to various famous cities of the old Silk Road as well as many important fossils. This East Asian desert covers an area of 1,295,000 square kilometers and is known as the largest dinosaur fossil reservoir in the world.
How To Reach: The easiest way to reach the desert is through Mongolia. Fly to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital and then, take a domestic flight from there to Dalanzadgad. From the airport there, you can book a car rental for the entirety of your trip into the desert.
Animal Habitat: Gobi desert has the snow leopard, black-tailed gazelle, Gobi viper, jerboa, Gobi bear, Gobi ibex, wild Bactrian camel, and more animal species.
Gobi desert has the snow leopard, black-tailed gazelle, Gobi viper, jerboa, Gobi bear, Gobi ibex, wild Bactrian camel, and more animal species.
6. Kalahari Desert: Home To A Number Of Game Reserves
The semi-arid savannah of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa covers parts of Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. It is known for its desert plants and scrub vegetation, and for its sole permanent river, the Okavango. This large basin-like plain of the interior plateau of Southern Africa extends for 900,000 square kilometers.
How To Reach: As it covers much of Botswana, the Kalahari desert can be experienced fully here in this country. There are no direct flights between but you can drive to Gaborone airport, fly to Maun, and then travel to the Kalahari Desert.
Animal Habitat: The wildlife of Kalahari Desert consists of the black-maned lion, leopard, and the endangered species of African Wild dog, gemsbok, blue wildebeest, red hartebeest, zebra, kudu, lion, leopard and cheetah.
7. Great Victoria Desert: Largest Desert In Australia
The Great Victoria Desert is the largest in Australia, spread over the south and west of the country. It also comes under the category of the biggest desert in the world. It is known for its sand hills, salt lakes, and grassland plains, as well as its numerous thunderstorms. A sparsely populated ecoregion, the Great Victoria Desert covers an area of 422,466 square kilometers.
How To Reach: You can fly from Melbourne airport to Ayers Rock, then travel from there to the Great Victoria Desert.
Animal Habitat: Animals found here are rock wallabies, parrots, snakes, camels, and bilbies.
8. Patagonian Desert: Largest Desert In Argentina
Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Andes Mountains to the west, the Patagonian Desert is one of the largest deserts in South America. It covers areas in Argentina and Chile. Also known as the Patagonian Steppe, the Patagonian desert occupies 673,000 square kilometers.
How To Reach: Reach Mendoza, the capital of Argentina and from there take a bus via Ingeniero Jacobacci and San Carlos de Bariloche. The ride takes around 23 hours.
Animal Habitat: Animals found here in the Patagonian desert are burrowing owls, tuco-tuco, mara, pygmy armadillo, Patagonian weasel, puma, Patagonian gray fox, desert iguana, western ribbon snake, and various species of eagle and hawk.
9. Namib Desert: One Of The World’s Oldest Deserts
The oldest desert in the world, the Namib is located on the coast of southern Africa, spreading across Namibia, Angola and South Africa. It is full of sand dunes and fascinating animals. Extending 1200 miles (1900 km), this coastal desert is one of the world’s oldest deserts and occupies 81,000 square kilometers.
How To Reach: Guests can travel to the Namib Desert via air. For air travel, guests can reach the OR Tambo International in Johannesburg where they will be assisted in transferring to Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek. Upon arrival, guests will board a light charter flight to Swakopmund or a commercial flight to Walvis Bay, depending on where the guest’s first destination is within the Namib Desert.
Animal Habitat: Animals found in the Namib desert are baboon, leopard, cheetah, brown and spotted hyena, klipspringer, springbok, steenbok, Cape and bat-eared fox, Hartmann’s zebra, as well as wild desert horses.
10. The Thar Desert: One Of The Most Fragile Ecosystems Of India
Though not especially dry or large when compared to the other deserts on this list, the Thar Desert in northwestern India is famous for its vibrant cultures. Spread across the states of Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Gujarat, it is also home to majestic forts and palaces. Also known as the Great Indian Desert, the Thar Desert covers an area of 200,000 square kilometers.
How To Reach: The nearest airport is in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan and there are a few domestic flights that arrive daily from cities including Udaipur and Delhi. There are train services as well to the towns of Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Barmer from different places in India. The passenger train services are provided by Indian Railways. There are also bus services from the cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur.
Animal Habitat: The animals of the Great Thar desert include numerous species of reptiles, desert scorpions, mongoose, red fox, chinkara, falcons, Indian bustard, blackbuck and a few species of wild cat.
11. Great Basin Desert: One Of The Four Deserts Of The United States
The largest desert in the USA, the Great Basin Desert is bordered by the Rocky Mountains to the east, the Sierra Nevada range to the west, the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts to the south, and the Columbia Plateau to the north. Don’t miss the Mojave’s Death Valley, the lowest point in North America. The Great Basin Desert stretches to approximately 541,730 square kilometers and is a cold desert with extremes in temperatures from dry, searing hot in the summer months to frigidly cold in the winter.
How To Reach: As the desert is in the Great Basin National Park, you can reach the park from Las Vegas, about 300 miles away, by taking I-15 to US 93, then US 50 to Nev. 487. The nearest airport is Ely which is about 67 miles away.
Animal Habitat: The animals found in the Great Basin Desert are mule deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep and yellow-bellied marmot.
12. Atacama Desert: Driest Nonpolar Desert On Earth
The Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world and is spread over a plateau across Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. It is famous for its many salt lakes and its almost total lack of vegetation. This desert plateau in South America measures 600 to 700 miles (1,000 to 1,100 km) in length from north to south and occupies an area of 104,741 square kilometers.
How To Reach: Take a direct flight from Santiago International Airport (SCL) to Airport El Loa Calama (CJC) which will only take two hours. From there, you can continue through a private transfer, rental car, or bus. If you choose to rent a car, then it’s best to book it in advance during the high season. From the airport, you can take Route 23 to the Atacama Desert and arrive in San Pedro de Atacama in an hour. Buses are usually available daily and will depart from the airport.
Animal Habitat: You’ll find a diverse range of birds such as Andean flamingos, species of hummingbirds and sparrows in the Atacama desert along with Iguanas, lava lizards, salt flat lizards (Liolaemus), that live in the dry areas bordering the ocean.
13. Taklamakan Desert: Largest Shifting-Sand Desert In The World
The Taklamakan Desert, the 11th largest desert in the world, lies in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwestern China. The desert is surrounded by mountain ranges on three sides, hence it’s a cold winter desert. Temperatures can range anywhere from 42 degrees Celsius in the summer to -10 degrees Celsius in the peak winters. It is the world’s largest shifting sand dunes that can go up to 60 to 300 feet in height. Almost 85% of the desert gets covered in a thick layer of shifting sands.
How To Reach: The desert is surrounded by several cities like Aksu, Kucha, Hotan, and Luntai. So either take a train to Korla or take any of the two roads that cross Taklamakan Desert. The first road connects Aksu and Kucha city, while the other road takes you to a small city called Luntai.
Animal Habitat: Animals found in the few areas of the desert are gerbils, gazelles, boars, jerboas, foxes and wild camels.
14. Chihuahuan Desert: Largest Desert In North America
With an enormous area of 501,896 square kilometers (193,783 square miles), Chihuahuan Desert secures the first spot to become the largest desert in North America. This desert is so huge that it covers parts of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States which includes five Mexican states, most parts of West Texas and the southeastern corner of Arizona. As Chihuahuan Desert mainly covers basins intersected by mountain ranges the average temperature is between 13-22°C, which is relatively mild. So it’s neither very hot nor very cold.
How To Reach: One can get to Chihuahuan Desert from Houston either by bus, train, car or plane. The distance from Houston to Chihuahuan Desert is more than 600 miles, so the fastest way to reach the desert is by flight and the nearest airport to Chihuahuan Desert is Midland International Airport.
Animal Habitat: It is home to around 130 species of mammals such as the Mule deer and pronghorn, kit fox, prairie dogs and black tailed jackrabbits.
15. Syrian Desert: 9th-Biggest Desert In The World
The Syrian Desert, the 9th-biggest desert in the world occupies not just half of Syria but also parts of Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The southern border of this desert shares its border with the Arabian Desert. So basically the Syrian Desert is an extension of the Arabian Desert. The landscape of the Syrian Desert is an expanse of dry and tightly packed rocks which gives the impression of “Wadis” which are desert valleys. The major attraction inside the desert is the ancient ruins of Palmyra, an important city during the Roman Empire period.
Animal Habitat: The most famous inhabitants of the desert are the Syrian hamster or the golden hamster, jerboas, various snakes, scorpions, sand cat, and camel spiders.
Also Read: How To Go On Ethical Safaris In Africa
As you can see, deserts have much to offer from beautiful landscapes to unique animal habitats. To visit many of these famous deserts you have to be adequately prepared to travel distances and brave the environmental conditions. But the experience and the vistas are sure to make it worthwhile. Which of these famous Deserts appeal to you? Have we missed any other famous deserts from around the world? If so, do share them in the comments below.
There are about 71 deserts in the world that are spread over seven continents, of which 26 deserts are from Asia, 12 from Africa, 10 from Australia, 10 deserts from Europe, 5 in South America, 4 deserts in North America, 3 in the Arctic and 1 from Antarctica.
Some famous deserts in the world are the Sahara, Antarctic, Arctic, Gobi and Namib deserts.
The world’s largest desert is the Antarctic Polar Desert which covers around 14.2 million square kilometers. It is so big that the Gobi Desert, the Arabian Desert, and the Sahara Desert put together cannot match the size of the Antarctic Desert.
Canada’s Carcross Desert is said to be the world’s smallest desert. It covers only 1 square mile or 640 acres.
According to the causes of their dryness the deserts are divided into subtropical, coastal, rain shadow, interior, and polar.