African Desert Safari: 17 Best Destinations and Top Attractions


An African desert safari is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that belongs on your bucket list. It is an opportunity to explore some of the most extreme landscapes in the world. Given that deserts cover at least a third of the continent, you may wonder where to begin.

Admittedly, the sheer number of options here can be overwhelming. Based on the general consensus, there are nine main deserts in Africa. Some of these have smaller deserts nestled within them. There are additional unique landscapes on the continent that fit the loose definition of a desert. Some lists therefore feature more than 20 names of African deserts.

To help you curate a worthwhile desert adventure, we have undertaken a thorough research of the best places to visit. Our guide includes a brief review of the top attractions that you cannot afford to miss in these vacation spots.

Read on to identify these must-visit destinations for the most exciting African desert safari.

Sahara Desert

The Sahara Desert is the largest desert in Africa, spanning 9.2 million square kilometers (about the size of China or the USA). It is also the largest hot desert worldwide – temperatures rise up to 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Farenheit). However, night temperatures can drop as low as minus six degrees Celsius. Some of its mountains receive regular snow falls. But the area as a whole receives less than one inch of rainfall annually.

Overall, it is the third-largest desert in the world – the Antarctica is the largest and the Arctic takes second place. Its expansive territory stretches across 12 countries. These include:

  • Egypt
  • Algeria
  • Chad
  • Tunisia
  • Sudan
  • Niger
  • Mali
  • Libya
  • Morocco
  • Mauritania
  • Algeria
  • Eritrea

According to estimates, the Sahara is home to about four million people scattered in these countries. It also has a wide array of wildlife. This includes cape hare, jerboa, oryx, mongoose, hyena, gerbil, barbary sheep and the desert hedgehog. More than 300 species of birds live here.

Though there are at least 20 lakes here, the only freshwater body is Lake Chad. It has sand dunes as tall as 450 meters – some of the tallest worldwide.

Top Attractions to Visit on Your African Desert Safari in the Sahara

Here are some unique attractions that will make your Sahara Desert vacation worth every moment:

  • Tassili n’Ajjer, Algeria – this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Algeria. It is renowned for its ancient rock art, stunning canyons and intriguing rock formations.
  • Siwa and Bahariya Oases in the Lybian Desert, Egypt – these sites are widely famed for their bubbling hot springs and lush, green vegetation. They are also home to several historical sites.
  • Timimoun, Algeria – a great site for archaeology lovers, this picturesque town is also home to groves of date palms.
  • Erg Chigaga and Chebbi Dunes – these sand dunes in Morocco rise up to 300 meters high. They are great locations for stargazing and camel trekking.
  • Chott el Jerid – located in Tunisia, this is a surreal landscape consisting of salt pans
  • Tomb of the Christian – dating back to the fourth century, this magnificent archeological site is a must-see in the Lybian Desert

Kalahari Desert

The Kalahari Desert covers a remarkable 930,000 square kilometers. 80% of this is in Botswana while the remaining part covers some of South Africa and Namibia.  It is the second largest desert in Africa (after Sahara) and the sixth largest on the planet.

Because it receives between four and 20 inches of rain every year, some experts describe it as a semi-desert. Even in areas with low precipitation, its ground cover is much denser than that of other deserts. Daytime temperatures here rise to highs of up to 46 degrees Celsius. At night, it drops to an average of 21 degrees Celsius. But it could go as low as minus 12 degrees Celsius in colder months.

Wildlife in this area includes the brown hyena, spotted fox, springbok, duiker, oryx, kudu, wildebeest, meerkat and steenbok. It is also home to black-maned lions, cheetahs and leopards. There are at least 264 bird species seen here, but most are not residents.

Rainwater seeps into the Kalahari sand as soon as it lands. This could explain why it has the largest underground lake (non-subglacial) in the world – Dragon’s Breath Cave.

Top Attractions to Visit on Your African Desert Safari in the Kalahari


Here are some of the best places to visit for a memorable desert holiday:

  • Dragon’s Breath Cave, Namibia – this mysterious subterranean world lies deep underneath Namibia’s arid landscape. The bizarre ecosystem has crystal-clear waters that are home to various aquatic creatures. The dark bowels of this cave still hold secrets that humankind is yet to uncover.
  • Trans-Kalahari Highway – drive through the desert on this scenic road and enjoy great wildlife views and the iconic red sand dunes.
  • Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – a nature conservation park that straddles the border between Botswana and South Africa. It is home to diverse wildlife species and stunning landscapes.
  • San Cultural Tour – take an immersive cultural tour and learn about the indigenous San community. Enjoy interactive experiences like storytelling sessions and bushman walks
  • Kalahari Desert Horse Trail – nothing quite as fun as exploring the vast terrain of the Kalahari on horseback.
  • Eye of Kuruman – widely renowned as the Southern Hemisphere’s largest natural fountain, it pumps out more than 20 million liters of water daily. The beautiful pool of crystal-clear water holds a thriving ecosystem of aquatic life. These include the endangered pseudocrenilabrus philander and a rare species of cichlid. Beautiful palm and willow trees surround the pool providing a gentle breeze.
  • Kubu Island – an iconic outcrop made of granite, consisting of fascinating geological formations. It is also famed for its rich historical and archaeological significance.

Namib Desert

Spanning more than 81,000 square kilometers, this desert covers parts of Namibia, Angola and South Africa. Experts describe it as the oldest desert worldwide. It borders the Atlantic coast and merges with Kalahari Desert.

While it may go more than a year without any rainfall, other years see about one or two inches of rain. In summer, temperatures rise to highs of up to 60 degrees Celsius. At night, they drop to between 17 degrees and 0 degrees Celsius.

Interactions between the Atlantic Benguela current and dry desert winds form a thick mist that provides the main source of precipitation. The same winds also make it an extremely arid area. Notably too, the fog here also comes from water sources underneath the earth’s surface. Surface water here is almost non-existent.

Just like the Kalahari, Namib is home to a wide range of animals including lions and elephants. The plains zebra, springbok, Gemsbok, Kirk’s dik-dik, Namib dune gecko, sand cat and meerkat also live here. Some of its endangered species include the rare black rhino, puku, oribi and the wild dog. It also has more than 200 bird species with such rare birds as the dune lark and Hartlaub’s Francolin.

Top Attractions to Visit on Your African Desert Safari in the Namib Desert


Some of the standout attractions here include:

  • Deadvlei and Sossusvlei – these iconic salt and clay pans are nature’s masterpieces showcasing a work of contrasts. The desert floor is a striking white situated in the midst of deep red dunes. Black skeletons of dead camel thorn trees punctuate the ground. These trees are reportedly about nine centuries old but do not decompose due to the extreme climate.
  • Skeleton Coast – where the Atlantic Ocean meets the sand dunes of Namib desert lies an area described as the world’s largest cemetery for ships. Huge numbers of whales have been stranded on this 500-kilometer stretch, leaving skeletons all over the beach. The shifty Benguela current and thick fog has also wrecked countless ships, with many sailors dying in the inhospitable region. Everything about this destination is unexpected.
  • Namib-Naukluft National Park – as the largest game park on the continent, this diverse ecosystem features mountains, a lagoon, deserts and canyons. It is home to astounding wildlife species.
  • Moon Landscape – the rugged landscape with rocky outcrops and dramatic cliffs in brown and gray seems almost alien-like.
  • Fish River Canyon – this 160-kilometer-long stretch is the second-largest canyon worldwide. It is about 27 kilometers wide and reaches a depth of 550 meters in places. During the rainy season, fish river comes to life, winding through the gorges into Orange River. A great hiking destination

Embrace the Beauty of Arid Landscapes on an African Desert Safari

The seemingly inhospitable lands that make up African deserts are a treasure trove of hidden gems. They are extraordinary worlds of sand dunes, caves, ephemeral rivers and white salt pans. Even in the most unforgiving terrains here, life dares to thrive.

Your role as an adventurer is to uncover the tales of adaptation and survival that keeps it all together. Enjoy the ultimate adventure vacation on your African desert safari with a tour of these awe-inspiring attractions.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *