Desert Destinations for Otherworldly Hotel Experiences
While space tourism still has a long way to go, one way to explore supernatural, otherworldly places and spaces is through dazzling desert destinations found on earth. From the Colorado Plateau to Antartica and everywhere in between, here are some deserts that feel like another planet, where to stay, and tour operators to help arrange a trip.
Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Botswana A haunting and intriguing landscape, the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans in Botswana form a large part of the Kalahari Basin and the shimmering, salt-baked landscape is iconic in its beauty. Once an ancient super lake that covered up most of the country hundreds of thousands of years ago, today the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans is a desert and a place of serene nothingness and awe. It’s a place that defines isolation, but dig a little deeper below the surface to discover the people and wildlife that call the seemingly inhospitable area home.
The dry season, from April to October, with the peak being in the summer, is the desert as the world knows it. A shimmering whiteness envelops the scorched landscape of the dry Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, like a mirage floating over the crusted salt, with the chance to encounter nomadic herds in the distance, as if an illusion. Dry season is time of year for whizzing across the pans on quad bikes or horseback, sleeping under the stars, and enjoying the pans in their most iconic, glimmering state. In addition to these seasonal activities, guests can embark on the year-round daily game drives to spot desert-adapted animals including lion, zebra, elephant, brown hyena, cheetah and more. The only safari accommodations offering offers experiences to discover the otherworldly Makgadikgadi desert are under the Natural Selection portfolio, including the newly rebuilt Jack’s Camp.
Atacama Desert - Quasar Expeditions Known as the driest desert in the world with soil similar to samples found on Mars, the Atacama Desert spans 600 miles on the Pacific coast from Peru to Chile and receives an average of one millimeter of rainfall a year. Travelers interested in exploring the barren landscape can do so with Quasar Expeditions, a leader in experiential travel throughout South America for over 30 years. Quasar offers unforgettable tours throughout the Atacama, where guests can enjoy hiking, biking and horseback riding across the arid terrain during the day, and unparalleled stargazing opportunities at night - the desert offers 300+ clear night skies each year and is home to the largest ground telescope in the world. Add in stays at the top hotels in the area such as Explora Atacama and Tierra Atacama, and guests are in for an unforgettable trip.
Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia Start-up premium travel company, Niarra Travel, offers experiences to explore out of this world destinations and deserts around the globe including Bolivia’s famous Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats. Situated amid the Andes in southwest Bolivia and spanning over 4,000 square miles, the Uyuni Salt Flats is the world’s largest salt desert. Formed by the disappearance of a vast inland ocean about 13,000 years ago, today the salt flats are an alluring shiny white desert the where idle polyhedral figures seem to emerge from the ground. The only eco-friendly and luxury lodge lodge standing on the Uyuni Salt Flats is Kachi Lodge. With dome-shaped suites, a culinary journey of Bolivian cuisine, art, and exciting excursions including stargazing and bike rides on the pans, Kachi Lodge offers an exclusive and cultural travel experience to truly discover this surreal desert.
As a destination partner of Niarra Travel, Katchi Lodge is a leader in conservation and sustainability and aligned with Niarra’s commitment to positive impact ecotourism. The lodge is a model of sustainable tourism development thanks to its environmental approach, eco-friendly design, waste management program, support and interaction with local communities, and proud Bolivian cultural heritage beaming throughout. Niarra Travel is a next generation tour operator that operates according to its two guiding principles of transparency and purpose to ensure that each trip has a positive impact on the ground.
Colorado Plateau, USA Covering Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, the Colorado Plateau is one of the wildest areas in the U.S. It is characterized by tablelands, volcanic peaks, and deeply etched plateaus dissected by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Marchay Travel is well versed in organizing trips into this this desert landscape of canyons, mesas, ridges and gorges. They trips often include Amangiri, which blends into the untouched red-rock country, claiming 600 acres of the vast and majestic Plateau, the original Wild West. The modernist Suites of Amangiri and the tented Pavilions of Camp Sarika offer an inspiring welcome to one of the world’s most dramatic secluded settings. According to the Marchay team, spending an afternoon around the hotel’s iconic pool is a must as is partaking in the nightly smores.
Antarctica (Private Jet Excursion from Cape Town) Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, driest, most isolated continent and almost entirely desert with very little precipitation. Ellerman House offers guests a once-in-a-lifetime, 24-hour round trip excursion to Antarctica to experience “The Greatest Day” in collaboration with White Desert, which is the only company in the world to offer a Gulfstream private jet to access Antarctica. During their stay at Ellerman House, guests will depart on a private Gulfstream jet for a quick five-and-a-half hour flight, where they will partake in a host of activities ranging from gentle hikes to adrenaline-fueled iceberg climbing. The day concludes with a gourmet Champagne dinner set in the remote Antarctic landscape.
Another option for Ellerman House guests looking to spend more time in Antarctica can book the 8-day “Emperors & South Pole” excursion, where they will be flown to the luxury Whichaway Camp to spend their nights in spacious, heated fiberglass sleeping pods, styled to reflect the luxury of the early Victorian explorers. Led by expert guides, activities throughout the excursion include a journey to meet the Emperor Penguins at their secluded colony, kite-skiing, ice climbing, delving through a series of surreal ice-tunnels, and more. Guests will end their days at Whichaway with a relaxing sauna followed by a gourmet, 3-course champagne dinners by an award-winning chef. Travelers will then head on to the lowest point on earth and the holy grail of early explorers, the South Pole, to stamp their passports with the rarest of all stamps. Here, they will have the chance to enter the American ‘Amundsen-Scott’ Science base to learn about their ground-breaking research, explore the high polar plateau and camp down for the night. The Greatest Day and Emperors & South Pole experiences will be available on set itinerary dates from late November through early February.