15 Most Famous Deserts In The World

These are some of the most fascinating, yet scary and mystifying places on the planet.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most famous deserts in the world!

Related: Check out the most famous lakes and famous mountains in the world as well!

1. Gobi Desert

The Gobi Desert is one of Asia’s famous deserts and covers parts of Northern and Northeastern China and Southern Mongolia. It’s a rain shadow desert which means it was formed because the rain coming from the Indian Ocean is blocked by the Tibetan Plateau, causing extremely dry conditions.

The desert has a length of about 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) and a width of about 500 miles (800 kilometers). This huge desert covers an area of about 500,000 square miles (1,295,000 square kilometers). It’s also a cold desert with occasional frost and snow covering its dunes, mainly because it’s located fairly north and at a height of between 2,990 and 4,990 feet (910–1,520 meters).

famous deserts gobi desert dunes
Gobi Desert dunes / Zoharby / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

2. Namib Desert

The Namib Desert runs for more than 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) along the western coast of southern Africa. This coastal desert is located in the countries of Namibia, Angola, and South Africa and is almost completely uninhabited by humans.

With a width of about 120 miles (200 kilometers), the desert covers an area of about 31,000 square miles (81,000 square kilometers). The conditions in the desert can be extremely harsh, with day temperatures in the summer reaching 113 °F (45 °C) and nights freezing. Remarkably, it’s home to the most types of endemic animal species of any desert in the world.

Namib desert

3. Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert is located in North America and covers large parts of the southwestern part of the United States and the northwestern part of Mexico. The desert is the hottest in Mexico and is world-famous for its unique endemic plants, most particularly the saguaro and organ pipe cactus.

The desert covers an area of about 100,000 square miles (260,000 square kilometers) and covers large areas of Arizona and California in the United States, and Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur in Mexico. What’s remarkable is that there are several large cities located in this desert, including Phoenix in Arizona which has a population of nearly 5 million people in its metropolitan area!

Sonoran Desert
Sonoran Desert / Source

4. Black Rock Desert

The Black Rock Desert is located within the “Black Rock Desert–High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area” and is actually a silt playa located 100 miles (160 km) north of Reno, Nevada. It’s part of the Great Basin in Nevada and is a dry remnant of an ancient lake called Lake Lahontan.

The desert covers an area of about 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares) and is enclosed by two arms of the Black Rock Mountain Range. The area is famous because of its numerous volcanic and geothermal features such as geysers.

Black Rock Desert
Black Rock Desert / Source

5. Sahara Desert

The Sahara Desert is located in Africa and covers nearly the entire northern part of the continent. It runs from the Atlas Mountains of the Maghreb to the Red Sea in the east. It’s the largest hot desert in the world and the third-largest desert by area after Antarctica and the Arctic.

It has a total length of about 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers), a total width of 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers), and covers an area of over 3.6 million square miles (9.2 million square kilometers). What makes the Sahara so remarkable is that it isn’t always a desert and changes from desert to savanna grassland in periods of 20,000 years.

6. Mojave Desert

The Mojave Desert is located in the southwestern part of the United States and covers areas of California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. It has a total size of 47,877 square miles (124,000 square kilometers) which makes it the smallest desert in North America. It’s one of the driest places in the world as most parts of the desert receive less than 2 inches (51 millimeters) of rain a year.

The desert is home to various famous spots including Death Valley, the hottest place in the United States which holds the world record of the hottest temperature ever recorded at 134 °F (57 °C). It’s also home to Las Vegas, one of the most famous entertainment centers in the world, as well as several abandoned towns referred to as “Ghost Towns” which have become tourist attractions. It’s also home to an endemic plant referred to as the “Joshua Tree” meaning it only grows in the Mojave Desert and marks its boundaries!

Mojave desert death valley
Road to Death Valley in the Mojave Desert / Wiki Commons

7. Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on earth. It’s located in the western part of South America and covers a strip of land with a length of about 1,600 kilometers (990 miles) and a total area of 104,741 square kilometers (40,441 square miles). This desert plateau is located in both Chile and Peru and is bordered by the Andes Mountains Range and Chilean Coast Range to the east, as well as the Pacific Ocean to the West.

Because it’s bordered by two major mountain ranges, a double rain shadow effect is created which has turned this place into the driest place on the planet. It’s also the only true desert in the world that receives less rainfall than the polar deserts. Its landscape is desolate primarily and consists of salt lakes and lava fields, as well as many stony areas which resemble the surface of Mars. because of this, it has been used as a simulation ground for various Mars expeditions.

Atacama Desert looks like mars

8. Great Victoria Desert

The Great Victoria Desert is the largest in Australia. It has a width of 700 kilometers (430 miles) and covers a total area of 348,750 square kilometers (134,650 square miles) in the Western and South Australian states. It’s one of the most famous deserts in the world and was first crossed by British explorer Ernest Giles who named it after Queen Victoria, the reigning British monarch at the time.

Even though the desert is one of the aridest regions in all of Australia, severe thunderstorms are quite common with about 15 to 20 happening every year. In between, there’s hardly any rainfall, though, which makes the area unsuitable to support a lot of plants and animals. The ones that do survive have adapted to the harsh conditions. Some animals even bury themselves in the sand to escape the excruciating sun in the summer months when the average daytime temperature can reach up to 40 °C (104 °F).

Great Victoria Desert
The desert / Wayne England / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

9. Kalahari Desert

The Kalahari Desert is the largest in the southern part of Africa and is located within the borders of 3 different countries, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. With a total area of 900,000 square kilometers (350,000 square miles), it’s also the 6th largest desert in the world. Regardless, the Kalahari is considered to be a semi-desert, because it receives a lot more precipitation than true deserts.

This magnificent feat of nature contains huge salt pans such as the Makgadikgadi Pan in Botswana and Etosha Pan in Namibia. These are remains of ancient lakes that used to dominate the region but that have dried up in the last 10,000 years. The desert also features a wide variety of plants and trees and is for the most part covered with vegetation. The climate is considered to be sub-tropical, mainly because it’s situated at an altitude of anywhere between 600 and 1600 meters (1,968 to 5,249 feet).

Kalahari desert facts
Landscape in the desert / Winfried Bruenken / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/deed.en

10. Thar Desert

The Thar Desert is located on the border of Pakistan and India in the northwestern corner of the Indian subcontinent. It’s an extremely dry region that only sees little precipitation every year, but is regardless still relatively densely populated by both animals and people. Jodhpur, a city with a metro of over 2.3 million inhabitants is located entirely within the borders of the desert. Several parks and wildlife reserves in the desert are also home to a wide range of wild animals.

Because of the arid conditions, the desert suffers from desertification, a problem that is being solved with the afforestation of various species of shrubs and trees. This prevents the dunes in the desert from moving around and avoids dry soil moving towards the fertile lands surrounding the desert. Water in the desert is brought to it by the Indira Gandhi Canal, the largest canal in India which supplies the largest irrigation system in the world!

Thar desert fun facts
View in the Thar Desert / Dan Searle / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

11. Tabernas Desert

The Tabernas Desert is a semi-arid region in the southeastern corner of Spain. It’s located in the province of Almeria in the Andalusia region in southern Spain. It’s a relatively small desert as it only covers an area of about 280 square kilometers (110 square miles). It’s situated just 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of the capital of the province, the city of Almeria

It also receives a little more precipitation than the coastal areas of Almeria due to its relatively high altitude between 400 and 900 meters (1,312 to 2,952 feet). The landscape is fascinating as rain and wind have caused erosion which carved its way into the stones. The desert is famously known for being the location of the shooting of the Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s, including some of the most famous movies of Clint Eastwood such as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Tabernas desert erosion
Tabernas Desert / Colin C Wheeler / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/es/deed.en

12. Patagonian Desert

The Patagonian Desert is also referred to as the “Patagonian Steppe” and is located in the utmost southern part of South America. As the name suggests, it’s situated within the Patagonia Region which covers areas in both Argentina and Chile. Remarkably, the Falkland Islands, which are part of the United Kingdom, are also included as part of the desert.

This cold winter desert is huge as it covers an area of 673,000 square kilometers (260,000 square miles). This makes it the 8th-largest desert in the world by region. Even though the outskirts of the desert feature a varied landscape, the central part mostly consists of a seemingly endless flat landscape covered in bushes and grasslands. The most remarkable feature inside the desert is called the “Petrified Forest,” an area featuring the fossils of trees that grew here millions of years ago.

Petrified forest patagonian desert
The Petrified Forest and desert landscape / Eassi / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

13. Chihuahuan Desert

The Chihuahuan Desert is the largest desert in North America as it covers an enormous area of 501,896 square kilometers (193,783 square miles). Even though it was named after the Mexican state of Chihuahua, it also covers 5 other Mexican states and extends into the United States as well. It covers most parts of West Texas, 2 large areas in New Mexico, and the southeastern corner of Arizona.

The desert is situated on the northern and central part of the Mexican Plateau which means most parts are situated at a relatively high altitude. This means that it’s not as hot as the nearby Sonoran and Mojave deserts which can be found to its west and northwest. It is, however, an extremely arid region because it’s encircled by the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain ranges which create a rain shadow effect. Regardless, large urban areas such as Ciudad Juarez, El Paso, and Albuquerque can be found here.

Chihuahuan Desert facts
The desert landscape / Adbar / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

14. Syrian Desert

The Syrian Desert is a large desert in the Middle East that is situated within the boundaries of 4 different countries. although it’s not as big as the one to borders in the south, the Arabian Desert, it’s still the 9th-biggest desert in the world. It consists mainly of a flat and desolate landscape with the occasional valley, areas locally referred to as “wadis.”

The central part of the desert is home to the Hamada Plateau and is one of the aridest areas in the region. The little precipitation flows down into salt pans and occasional lakes. One of the desert’s most famous inhabitants is the golden hamster, a popular pet in many parts of the world. The most notable attraction inside the desert is the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra, a city that rose to prominence in the Roman Empire as an important trading post on the silk road to the far east.

Syrian Desert facts
The landscape of the Syrian Desert / Yeowatzup / Wiki Commons

15. Great Sandy Desert

The Great Sandy Desert is the second-largest desert in Australia after the Great Victoria Desert and is located in the northeastern part of Western Australia. It features distinctive lateral dunes that extend across this immense arid region in this part of the country. It borders several other deserts, including the Tanami Desert to the east and the Gibson Desert to the south.

Apart from these distinctive dunes, you can also find a large meteorite crater here known as the Wolfe Creek Crater. It’s the centerpiece of the Wolfe Creek Crater National Park and with a diameter of 875 meters (2,871 feet) and a depth of 60 meters (200 feet), it’s one of the most stunning attractions in Australia.

Wolfe Creek Crater
Wolfe Creek Crater / Wiki Commons