6 Gorgeous Desert Destinations for Soaking Up the Sun This Winter
As the temperatures begin to drop, travelers shift their vacation daydreams toward the sun and the sand.
But while visions of hammock-clad palm trees may be dancing in your head alongside sugar-plums, the beach isn’t the only escape from the dreary dregs of winter.
The desert conjures images of camel rides and dusty, barren dunes as far as the eye can see, but there’s more to desert tourism than you might think: incredible landscapes, unparalleled stargazing, mind-blowing sunrises and sunsets, and some of the most fascinating, resilient wildlife on the planet.
Here are a few desert destinations that will convince sun seekers to trade the surf for a sandboard.
Joshua Tree National Park Southern California, United States
Hiking, camping, photography tourism and rock climbing are just a few of the top activities in this world-renowned national park. The winter months in Joshua Tree attract far fewer crowds than peak season (spring wildflower season). Last-minute travelers actually stand a chance to book a spot in one of the top-rated camps, which often book up months in advance.
Joshua Tree (Cont.)
Temperatures in the winter months are moderate (averaging 60 degrees Fahrenheit), but nights dip dramatically—so as with most desert destinations, packing layers and clothes of a variety of weights and warmth is a must.
Atacama San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
As far as desert tourism goes, Atacama has it all: geysers, hot springs, hiking, horseback riding, stargazing, ATV safaris and surreal landscapes at every turn. The charming town of San Pedro de Atacama serves as the desert’s access point for tourists.
The elevation can be an adjustment for those with altitude sensitivities, so allow enough time to acclimate before jumping straight to sandboarding. This desert is also the driest in the world, meaning you’ll need to bring lotion, chapstick, eye drops and a sizeable water bottle for your trip. Winter months in the U.S. (January, February, March) are summertime in Chile, though temperatures in the desert remain relatively mild (60-80 degrees Fahrenheit), making Atacama a popular tourist destination year-round.
Namib Desert Namibia, Africa
The 1,200 miles along Africa’s South Atlantic coast are often considered some of the most stunning desert terrain on the planet. A trip to this surreal destination -- particularly the white clay pan of deadvlei, a dried-up oasis surrounded by some of the highest dunes in the world – is said to feel a bit like stepping inside a Dali painting.
Namib Desert (Cont.)
Though perhaps not quite what one might immediately envision when planning an African safari, there’s no shortage of impressive wildlife in the Namib desert: hyenas, black rhinos, ostriches and even desert-adapted elephants can be found roaming the sweeping dunes.
March is a pleasant time to visit. The rains of the previous few months inject new life into the desert, and temperatures are typically cooler than the 90-to-100-degree highs of January and February. Travelers heading here in December through February are advised to bring lightweight clothing and sturdy rainwear.
Sedona Arizona, United States
As with Joshua Tree, winter is off-season in Sedona and thus yields far fewer crowds (and cheaper accommodations) than the peak months of March through May. Though you won’t necessarily find a reprieve from winter’s chill – the temperatures range from around the 30s to the mid-50s in December-March – the holiday festivities (such as the Red Rock Festival of Lights) and the snow-dusted mountain peaks make for a scenic getaway this time of the year. The winter months also provide gorgeous scenery and shorter waits for tee-time at the world-class golf courses around town.
Pack a water-proof windbreaker and medium-warmth layers if you plan to visit in the wintertime.
White and Black Deserts Farafra, Egypt
While Egypt is typically known for the Sphynx and the Great Pyramids of Giza, there’s more to the country than manmade ruins.
The Black Desert is about a five-hour drive from Cairo and features picturesque, volcanic mountains that appear blanketed with black char. Camping overnight in the White Desert is said to be a magical, meditative experience: The chalk-white rock formations that define the landscape are stoical and impressive. Hot springs and salt lakes nearby create dreamlike natural spas, and sunrise presents prime opportunities for photographers to snap unforgettable shots of the alien landscapes.
White and Black Deserts (Cont.)
The Black and White Deserts are relatively remote destinations -- they are two of the only places in population-dense Egypt where it’s rare to see another soul. Winter is an ideal time to visit, as temperatures are relatively moderate. Travelers are advised to pack layers as well as insect repellent.
As with many tourist destinations in Dubai, the tours and camping opportunities in the Dubai desert walk the line of over-the-top ostentatiousness: hot air balloon rides, camel treks and vertigo-inducing Jeep safaris through the sand are ideal for the adventurous at heart. A number of plush hotels and resorts dot the landscape here, as well, if you’re less interested in roughing it on the dunes and more inclined to glamp.
Dubai Desert (Cont.)
Winter is one of the best times of year to visit Dubai, but expect to deal with crowds (even in the desert) during peak tourist season.