1. The Sahara Desert
Probably the first one that springs to mind, the Sahara Desert is the world’s hottest. Many people think it’s also the biggest but in fact it comes in third, after Antarctica and The Arctic. Covering most of North Africa, the Sahara is almost as large as the United States! Named after the Arabic word for desert, temperatures can reach the 50 degree mark during high summer, and at night can drop to near freezing. The dunes here are enormous – some of them reach up to 180 metres high!
2. The Namib Desert
A coastal desert, the Namib Desert covers the countries of Namibia, Angola and South Africa, stretching for around 2000 km along the Atlantic Coast. It’s also the oldest desert in the world, estimated to have been a desert for between 55 and 80 million years! This is where you’ll find ‘The Skeleton Coast’, so-called for the numerous whale and seal bones that would wash up on the shore during the days of the whaling trade. But in modern times, the name more relevant to the skeletal remains of shipwrecks which line the coast, caught off-guard by the dense fog that rolls in off the Atlantic at night. Featuring some of the world’s tallest sand dunes, this is a land of epic cinematic landscapes.
3. The Gobi Desert
Formed by the rain shadow cast by the Himalayas, the Gobi Desert covers parts northern and north-western China, and southern Mongolia. It’s the fifth largest desert in the world, and the largest one in Asia. The Gobi is a cold desert, and depending on the time of year you may even find frost and snow on its dunes! Wind from the Siberian Steppes makes the temperatures here vary wildly – winter sees the mercury fall as low as -40 degrees, but in summer it can reach over 50 degrees. The whole area is known the world over to archaeologists as the source of important fossils – particularly dinosaur eggs.
4. The Atacama Desert
The Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world, composed mostly of salt lakes and sand. But just how dry is it? Beat this – the average rainfall in the Chilean region of Antofagasta is just 1 millimetre; and some weather stations in the Atacama have never received rain! It’s total dryness and lack of vegetation has even led to regions of it being used as a filming location for Mars scenes! Other films shot here include Quantum of Solace, Spy Kids, The Motorcycle Diaries and Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets.
5. The Thar Desert
Although not particularly large or dry (at least when compared to other deserts) the Thar Desert covers a large part of the north-western Indian subcontinent. The areas of Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Gujarat are all located in the Thar, making it one of the most culturally engaging desert regions. Cities like Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner are all fascinating places, set deep in the isolated desert landscape, where traditional culture thrives. Visit the Jaisalmer Desert Festival to get a real feel for the local culture