We generally like to picture deserts in relation to the Sahara: large swathes of land covered in nothing but sand, completely devoid of life. But not all deserts are like this. In fact, many tend to be thriving ecosystems – maybe not quite as diverse as an old growth forest, but just as special and spectacular. Some of the oldest and most fascinating deserts can be found on the continent of Africa.

A part of what makes desert ecosystems so unique in Africa is partly due to the fact that not many people tend to live in or near them, which has left many of them largely untouched by human hands. This means that many deserts offer countless kilometres of untouched nature, something we should try and experience as often as we can.

The Namib Desert

The Namib Desert is a place like no other, and holds the record for being the oldest desert in the world. It’s a truly unique place, sometimes looking like something out of a painting – and it makes this particular desert fairly memorable. Some of the world’s largest sand dunes can also be found here, sometimes reaching as high as 300m into the air.

The desert itself stretches from the top of South Africa’s Western Cape province all the way to the country of Angola. The landscape is dry and rugged, and while there is some vegetation, it’s mainly in the form of solitary trees and the odd shrub. Despite this, the desert is teeming with life of every shape and size, and offers some of the best views of our cosmos on the globe, making it a favourite of dark sky enthusiasts and for African safaris.

The White Desert

The Western White Desert can be found in the country of Egypt and is a must-see for anyone travelling through the area. It’s truly one-of-a-kind, with huge rock formations that resemble mushrooms that dot the arid landscape.

Along with these, other formations can be found consisting of chalk-rock, which give the desert its name. These huge formations have been carved out of the rock over millions of years of mechanical weathering, like sandstorms and wind. While it’s relatively small compared to other deserts, this unique place is still very much worth the visit.

The Kalahari Desert

The Kalahari Desert is the second-largest desert on the continent after the Sahara. But unlike the Sahara, the Kalahari doesn’t actually meet the criteria to be a true desert, partly because certain parts of the 900,000 square kilometre region receive quite a lot of rain. This is why the Kalahari remains something of a biodiversity hotspot, and many of Africa’s most iconic animals can be found within this area, including the leopard and the cheetah, as well as the incredible Kalahari lions – this makes it a fantastic place to camp for a few days, but make sure to have something to keep busy with during the long, hot days, such as a book, online pokies, or a few friends.