Here in New York, it feels like each day brings one cold weather blast after another. It's time to focus my attention on warmer climes. While some may think of deserts as being dull, lifeless places, that isn't always the case. From sandboarding, camel treks and hot air balloon rides, there are many adventures to be had. And, if sleeping in a cozy bed inside a tent illuminated by lanterns on the ground and hundreds of thousands of stars above you doesn't sound appealing, I don't know what else will.
Packing a carry-on for a trip to the desert is all about preparing for extremes. Although the day can be oppressively hot, it can also grow quite cold at night. Make sure to pack a light jacket and sweater for evenings.
The major benefit of staying at Wilderness Safari's Kulala Desert Lodge ($$$) is its proximity to Sossusvlei, the major attraction inside Namib-Naukluft National Park. Rise before the sun to climb Dune 45 (also known as "Big Daddy") before the tourist busses arrive. Or, drive straight to Dead Vlei to enjoy the quiet surroundings as you capture uninterrupted shots of the petrified trees. While staying at Kulala, you could also plan to visit Namibia's second UNESCO World Heritage Site, Twyfelfontein, to see the ancient rock carvings. End each day on the porch of your luxury thatched-roof cabin with a gin & tonic in hand, as you watch the sun set over the tremendous dunes in the distance.
Al Maha Resort ($$$$) is an oasis located only an hour outside of Dubai, one of the fastest growing urban areas the world. In fact, Dubai's rapid growth is exactly why the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve was formed: to protect an ancient aquifer and the indigenous wildlife in the region (like Arabian oryx and red fox). A portion of the cost of your stay at Al Maha is filtered back into conservation efforts. Your Arabian prince/princess fantasy comes to life when staying in a Royal Suite, complete with it's own private, temperature controlled pool. With 42 rooms, it's the largest camp on this list, however, don't be surprised if rooms are hard to come by between October and April when the weather is most favorable.
What would a list of deserts be without mentioning the largest of them all: the Sahara. Relatively untouched, Erg Chigaga is one of the two largest dunes in Morocco and the namesake of Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp ($$$). Set within the rolling dunes, each of the nine luxury tents are decorated with handmade Moroccan antiques and plush king size beds. A cup of hot Moroccan mint tea (a mix of gunpowder tea and spearmint leaves) and a cool washcloth are offered upon arrival after your full-day transfer from Marrakesh. Along the way, you might like to stop in Ouarzazate for lunch at a restaurant like Dar Kamar to try a local specialty, like ‘seksu' (couscous) or chicken tagine. Nearby, you also might like to visit the Ksar of Aït Benhaddou (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
While the chances of something going wrong during your visit to these desert camps are slim, the best camps will have contingency plans in place for your safety. Don't be afraid to ask about it when booking. It's also good idea check if your travel insurance plan includes medical evacuation coverage.