Seven Extraordinary Desert Escapes For A Mindset Shift
Aerial view of Longitude 131°, Yulara, Australia. Photograph by Mr George Apostolidis, courtesy of Longitude 131°
In 2022, life has a way of keeping our heads down, our heart rates high, and for many of us, we forge ahead with little to no scope for reflection. Meditation and silent retreats aside, despite providing time away from work, vacations do not always give us an opportunity to zoom out and truly take stock. With that in mind, let us suggest the perspective-shifting headspin of an endless sandscape. All empty space, open sky and elysian aura – here are seven of the most impressive (in our opinion) dune-backed stays out there.
San Camp, Botswana
Main area of San Camp, Kalahari Desert, Botswana. Photograph courtesy of Natural Selection Travel
Nature really outdoes itself in the Kalahari Desert. An astonishing land of gnarled baobabs and black-maned lions, the sweeping desertscapes call to mind Rothko’s colour studies, and San Camp catapults you into the very core of it. From the vast canopied spaces – layered with mahogany writing desks and well-worn vintage chests – to the smouldering campfire, you’ll soon feel at home. Outside, sun-drunk meerkats squabble in the dust as herds of zebra graze lazily on the plain. Everything runs on solar power here.
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Longitude 131°, Australia
Dune Pavilion at Longitude 131°, Yulara, Australia. Photograph by Mr George Apostolidis, courtesy of Longitude 131°
Rising majestically from the rust-red sands that encircle it, Uluru’s sheer scale spans the whole horizon. But it’s the monolith’s all-consuming aura that really permeates, and the same intangible air gives Longitude 131º its magnetic pull. Underneath rooflines of stretched canvas, low-slung armchairs sidle up beside ceramics hand-thrown by Anangu artisans, and across the raw, unfettered desert, the mighty rock looms. The primal splendour of the wide-open landscape rapidly gets under the skin, but lean in even further with crack-of-dawn rambles between Kata Tjuta’s sandstone domes, thrilling chopper flights and Harley-Davidson joyrides down the far-reaching outback highway.
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Dar Ahlam, Morocco
Pool at Dar Ahlam, Sahara Desert, Morocco. Photograph courtesy of 700’000 Heures
It’s the profound sense of peace that’s most apparent at Dar Ahlam. Save for the occasional whistle of wind through the fronds, all is eerily silent. Flooded with sunlight by day and aglow with flickering lanterns come dusk, this far-beyond-the-ordinary kasbah – standing jewel-like on the cusp of the Moroccan desert – has been enticing serenity seekers for decades. Beyond the perimeter, towering dunes and gorges beckon, but heat-shimmered spells here are best spent beside the jade-toned pool, where swifts dip and dive and rippling canvas sails cast shadows onto the sun-baked tiles below.
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Under Canvas Moab, US
Suite Tent at Under Canvas Moab, Utah, USA. Photograph by Bailey Made, courtesy of Under Canvas Moab
An assemblage of canvas-clad lodgings strung across Utah’s far-out but beautiful Canyon Country, the call of the wild is immediately palpable here. And though, yes, you’re technically camping, roughing it this is not. Sizeable beds sit atop cowhide-strewn timber floors, gutsy showers blast away lingering desert dust and every gaze is directed to those epic sandstone plateaus. It’s once the heat lets up and night descends that the next-level desertscapes really come alive, so map a moonlit off-road circuit through Arches National Park’s rougher, seldom-seen stretches. It’s not for the faint of heart, but on an after-dark expedition, you can see coyotes, bobcats and prowling mountain lions.
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Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia
View of Three Camel Lodge, Gobi Desert, Mongolia. Photograph courtesy of Nomadic Expeditions
Swerving along dusty trails, past petrified trees and sun-bleached bones, you’ll glimpse the narrow plumes of smoke drifting skyward before this remarkable desert refuge comes into view. A clutch of generously furnished felt-topped gers aptly placed for near-total immersion in the Gobi desert’s untamed wilderness. In these parts, little has changed in centuries and few places on the planet are as thick with mystery. Beneath clear skies, time unfolds in a sequence of spirit-lifting adventures: scrambles along the shape-shifting Khongoryn Els dunes, fossil digs under the watchful eye of palaeontologists, and treks through the startlingly green Yol Valley – named for the wide-winged predators that nest in its rocks. Back at base, wood-burning stoves chase away the night chill as the echoes of Mongolian throat-singing set a bizarrely hypnotic soundtrack.
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Awasi Atacama, Chile
Pool at Awasi Atacama, Atacama Desert, Chile. Photograph courtesy of Awasi
Wedged between the Pacific and the Andes in Chile’s arid north, there’s stark, surreal beauty to be found in the Atacama. Shimmering salt pans rise into ochre dunes of planetary proportions, age-old petroglyphs litter twisting ravines, and puffing volcanoes loom above sun-scorched craters. So otherworldly is the terrain, Nasa has been known to commander swathes of it for Mars expedition simulations. Awasi Atacama makes for the most brilliant jumping-off point, drawing on the desert’s pre-Incan past with its cool adobe dwellings. Guests are assigned their own sturdy 4x4 for full-throttle thrusts across the hot, mineral-spangled earth, and you can spend the evening fireside, slurping pisco sours and gazing at the cosmos.
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Six Senses Shaharut, Israel
Private Reserve master bedroom at Six Senses Shaharut, Negev Desert, Israel. Photograph by Mr Amit Geron, courtesy of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas
All sun-burnished scarps, undulating dunes and oasis-like wadis, the remote reaches of the Negev have an allure of their own. And jutting out from a weathered ridge in splendid isolation is the no-less-impressive Six Senses Shaharut. Serpentine paths twist their way through the copper-flecked earth, connecting villas of rough-cut local stone, tree-strung amulets jangle in the breeze, and ever present on the horizon are the rugged Edom Mountains. When you can no longer hack the blistering heat outside, take sanctuary in the vine-entangled spa, where Nabataean animal statues occupy smoothed-out alcoves and sound-healing sittings usher in newfound inner calm.