The deserts in Africa are some of the most fascinating places on earth. But what makes these dry, hot expanses so interesting? Read on to find out…
The Deserts in Africa
Deserts have called out across the ages to adventurers and explorers, from the Sahara desert to the Arabian desert. Despite their tough topography and hot climate, deserts are marvelous landscapes, filled with beauty and mystery. A lot of travellers love visiting and exploring deserts and learning about the fascinating facts about deserts.
Despite the vastness and barren land, deserts offer an adventure of their own. Tourists can enjoy a desert safari, treks across incredible landscapes, stargazing at night and much more. If you too have deserts on your bucket list, then check out these 13 most incredible deserts in Africa.
Known as one of the most famous deserts in Africa, the Sahara desert is one of the largest hot deserts in the world. The scorching temperature in the summers can reach up to 122 °F (50 °C), giving this desert one of the harshest environments on Earth. The Sahara desert has a lot of distinctive features, but it is well-known for its sand dunes. The dunes cover approximately 25% of the whole desert.
Other tropical features that can be found in the desert include plateaus, mountains, plains, depressions, basins, and salt flats. Though water is scarce in the Sahara desert, some regions consist of two permanent rivers (Niger and Nile), and twenty seasonal lakes. The Sahara is made up of several different regions, with each having its own temperature, humidity, rainfall level, and plants. Travelers can explore the desert in the cooler months of January and May.
Despite the harsh weather conditions, the Sahara desert is home to many plant and animal species. According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are around 70 mammalian species, 90 avian species, 100 reptilian species, and 500 plant species in the Sahara desert. Tourists can experience blue skies, camel trekking, camping under the stars and many more adventures.
The Libyan desert is one of the most barren and driest deserts in the world and one of the most fascinating deserts in Africa. The desert constitutes the northeastern region of the Sahara desert and stretches from Libya through portions of Egypt and northwestern Sudan. The climate of the Libyan desert is surprisingly variable, being hot in summer, with an average daytime temperature of 50 °C. However, the days are cooler in winter, with an average temperature of 27 °C.
This huge, dry desert covers around 1,300,000 square kilometres and features a variety of landscapes. Some of the features include dunes, sand planes, oases and mountains. One region of the desert, known as the Black Desert, consists of volcanic fields. Depressions and rigids can also be found in some regions of the desert. The most ideal months to visit the Libyan desert are between October and March.
Western Sahara White Desert
Located on the west of the River Nile, the Western Sahara White desert is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful deserts in Africa. It is bordered by Sudan to the south and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. This desert is home to some of the most unique chalk-rock formations in Africa. The formations resemble surreal sculptures and were formed by wind erosion and sandstorms.
Some of the famous tourist attractions in the Western White Desert include Crystal mountain, Lake Marun, and stone sculptures. Camping in the White Desert is a whole different experience on its own. The best time to visit the Western White Desert is between October and April or early May.
Next up, the Namib desert is one the oldest deserts in Africa, dating back at least 55 million years. It also features some of the tallest dunes on Earth (reaching over 950 feet tall). Known to be one of the most photographed desserts, it stretches along the Atlantic coastal region of southern Africa. Covering more than 31,200 square miles, this desert covers areas of Namibia, South Africa and Angola.
The climate in Namib is quite arid which makes it a tough trip for tourists. The availability of water is scarce, with fog being the main source of water for animals and plants. The annual precipitation ranges from eight inches to less than one inch in some especially dry areas. Due to the lack of precipitation, there aren’t many rivers in the desert, with only waterways flowing underground. It’s best to visit the Namib desert between July to October.
Kalahari is a semi-arid desert situated in the heart of South Africa. According to some studies, the Kalahari desert can’t be regarded as a ‘true desert’ as it receives more than 10 inches of rain yearly. Due to the precipitation, the desert supports vegetation such as thorny shrubs, resilient grasses, and acacia trees. The desert also features huge salt pans and sand dunes, which are the major points of tourism in the desert.
Tourists can also spot wildlife such as cheetahs in the desert, which makes this desert a well-known destination for hunting as well. The roots of the desert are not only limited to wildlife, as the Bantu-speaking tribes have also lived in this desert for the past 20,000 years. The best time to visit Kalahari desert is between November and April.
The Danakil desert is often referred to as one of the harshest places on the planet, but travellers still love visiting it for its unique landscape. This is one of the most unforgiving deserts in Africa, covering over 136,000 square miles and receives less than an inch of precipitation annually. Some of the most distinct features of the desert include acid pools, hot springs, salt mountains, and volcanoes.
The Danakil desert is not only a famous spot for tourists but also scientists. In the mid-‘90s the area was used to study plate tectonics, with astrobiological exploration being the largest scientific draw in recent times. The ideal time for tourists to visit the Danakil desert is from November to March as the temperature is slightly more bearable.
The Guban desert is located between the easternmost tip of the Northern Somali coast, between the cities of Berbera and Zeila. Also referred to as the ‘burnt land’, this desert is sandy and low-lying with high humidity and temperatures throughout the year. It receives only 2 inches of rainfall annually and has sparse vegetation. This is one of the driest deserts in Africa.
Behind the Guban desert lie a series of mountain ranges named the Ogo highlands. The desert is populated mostly by the Issaq and Dir tribes who raise their goats and camels outside of the Guban, near semi-permanent wells in the Galgodon highlands. Despite the harsh temperature of the desert, it is still a famous spot on the list of tourists who love to explore deserts. The best time to visit the Guban desert is between the cooler months of November till March.
The Nyiri desert also called the Taru desert or Nyika is situated in southern Kenya between Amboseli, Tsavo West, and Nairobi National Parks. The desert receives a very low percentage of rainfall, however, features vegetation and several large springs that support wildlife. Some of the animals that can be found in the Nyiri desert include leopards, giraffes, elephants, lions, and kids.
The wildlife of the desert makes it a famous spot for tourists. On a safari to the Nyiri desert, tourists can enjoy camel rides, picturesque sceneries, and tranquil oases. Tourists can also enjoy sand dune racing in land cruisers as the landscape is mostly flat and safe to drive on. The best time to visit this desert is in the dry months of July to October.
Lying in northwest Senegal between Saint-Louis and Dakar is the smallest of the deserts in Africa, known as the Lompoul desert. Covered with orange sand dunes, Lompoul desert has similar topography to Sahara Mauritania than the surrounding areas of Senegal. Easy access makes this desert a popular destination for tourists.
The desert has a warm steppe climate, with one short rainy period. The rainy period lasts from July to September. The Atlantic Ocean has a cooling effect on the desert, due to which the nights are rather cool. The locals hold a music festival called“Festival du Sahel” in the desert every year
The best time to visit the Lompoul desert is between the drier months of January, February, and March.
Grand Bara Desert
Located in southern Djibouti, the Grand Bara desert is one of the lesser-known deserts for tourists. This desert was formed from a dried-up lake bed and is now made up of large sand flats with sparse desert shrubs and grasses. You won’t be able to find any trees or bushes in the desert because of its flat and infertile topography.
Despite the dry and hot climate, several large species of mammals have adapted to live in the region, including oryx and dik-dik. The desert also plays host to the grueling annual 15 km Foreign Legion run. The best time to visit this desert is between November to January.
The Karoo is a semi-desert in Africa that is well-known for its unique climate, geology, and topography. The desert receives extremes of both hot and cold weather, with low rainfall of up to 10 inches annually. However, there are several underground water sources across the desert that can be used for grazing and animal use. Karoo desert is well known for its beautiful endless plains, flat-topped koppies and sheep.
Moreover, the desert features the world’s richest array of succulent plants, with more than 10,000 succulent species. Many people from around the world, including tourists, scientists, researchers, and archaeologists visit the Karoo desert to see and study the features of this dryland zone. The best months to visit the Karoo desert are August, September, April and May.
The Chalbi desert is located in northern Kenya, close to the Ethiopian border. It is known to be one of the most arid and hottest deserts in Africa. The name ‘Chalbi’ comes from the Gabbra dialect and means “bare and salty”. The desert is surrounded by volcanic hills that create a visually stunning panorama. Due to its hostile climate, only selected animals and vegetation can be found in the desert.
Chalbi desert has a lot to offer with its tranquil oases and picturesque sceneries. When in the desert, tourists can hop on a land cruiser to enjoy a desert safari. You also have the option to enjoy camel rides to explore the desert in a traditional way. If you’re planning to visit the Chalbi desert, be prepared for an eerie landscape of rocky, frozen lava flows, dried clay, sand, cracked earth, and white salt.
Eritrean Coastal Desert
The Eritrean Coastal Desert is located on the southern coast of the Red Sea from Balfair Assoli in Eritrea to Ras Bir near Obock in Djibouti. The topography consists of gravel plain or flat, largely featureless sand lying below 200 m altitudes, interspersed with rocky outcrops. The weather varies throughout the year with the mean maximum temperature being 33°C.
This coast is a channel for the mass migration of prey birds making it one of the best places to film birds in Eritrea. It is one of the busiest migration routes in the world where birds such as eagles and buzzards make their way to Africa for the winter along the Red Sea coast. This makes it a popular spot for tourists and filmmakers. The best time for visiting the Eritrean Coastal Desert is from September to January.
The Deserts in Africa: Conclusion
The deserts in Africa offer a lot to be explored. Planning a trip to none of the deserts in Africa lets you get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, allowing you to enjoy peace and tranquility, out in nature. As long as you’re planning the visit in the cooler months, there’s not much to worry about. The desert landscape is bound to take your breath away especially when the sun starts to set. If you don’t already have deserts in Africa on your list of top places to visit, then it’s about time you add one to it.
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