The 10 Most Famous Deserts in the World

Deserts, widely recognized for their unforgiving conditions and scarce rainfall, can be found across the globe. Embracing barren landscapes, they vary from the vast Sahara to the frigid expanse of the Antarctic desert, standing as some of the most famous and distinct deserts on our planet.

1. Sahara Desert

sand dune in the sahara desert
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

As the planet’s largest hot, sandy desert, the Sahara is only slightly smaller than the continental United States. Located in Northern Africa, this desert’s golden dunes and brittle plant life reach thirteen countries. Its famous dunes can reach about 600 feet in height.

2. Arabian Desert

Watching the Sunset over the Arabian Desert
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The Arabian Desert almost entirely covers the Arabian Peninsula in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Yemen. It’s the biggest desert in Asia and boasts the most extensive stretch of Earth covered in sand in the entire world at an area in the center called the Rub’ al-Khali, which translates to “Empty Quarter.”

3. Atacama Desert

Amazing landscape in Atacama desert
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The Atacama is a coastal desert located mainly in Chile, but it also reaches into surrounding countries, including Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. It’s the dryest nonpolar desert in the world and has a unique landscape featuring a lack of greenery and life in general, as well as many salt lakes scattered throughout its barren wilderness.

4. Namib Desert

A solitary oryx (oryx gazella) in Sossusvlei, Namib Desert
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As the oldest desert in the world, this coastal desert is one of the only deserts some African elephants call home. The Namib Desert stretches along the entire western coast of Namibia and reaches into the neighboring countries of Angola and South Africa. Many animal species, like wild horses, hyenas, baboons, and leopards, reside in the Namib Desert.

5. Gobi Desert

mongolia gobi desert great view
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The Gobi Desert is one of the most unique ecosystems in the world. It’s the home of many incredible species like snow leopards, Bactrian camels, and the Gobi viper. On top of that, the Gobi Desert is the site of many archeological digs and the discovery of famous dinosaur fossils and remains. The Gobi Desert spans Northern China and into Southern Mongolia.

6. Mojave Desert

Beautiful landscape around the Mojave Desert Lava Tube at California
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Located in the American South West, the Mojave Desert is the famous home of California’s Death Valley. The Mojave is the smallest and the dryest of the four North American Deserts. The Mojave is a habitat for many species, including mountain lions, desert iguanas, and the Mojave rattlesnake.

7. Great Victoria Desert

A desert landscape in the Great Victoria Desert of outback Australia with clouds, red sand and gum trees.
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Ironically, Victoria is one of the only two states in Australia that the Great Victoria Desert does not touch. Located in the middle of South West Australia, this desert is the largest in the country. It’s known for its massive thunderstorms and unique species like rock wallabies and bilbies.

8. Antarctic Desert

Antarctic Desert
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Did you know that not all deserts are hot and sandy? The world has two polar deserts: the Arctic Tundra and the Antarctic Desert. The Antarctic is the largest desert in the world, spanning a massive 13.8 million square kilometers. The Antarctic is home to iconic animals like penguins, leopard seals, and Antarctic minke whales.

9. Chihuahuan Desert

Criollo cattle graze on the open range of the Chihuahuan Desert in western Texas.
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Located in Northern Mexico and the South Western United States, the Chihuahuan desert is famous for its wide array of cactus species and massive habitat for prairie dogs. This diverse ecosystem was named after the Mexican state of Chihuahua, of which the desert engulfs a significant portion.

10. Kalahari Desert

Lodge in Botswana, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Kalahari desert, Botswana.
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Known for its incredible wildlife and the lifeline of the Okavango River, the Kalahari Desert is a popular African tourist destination. Located in South West Africa, the Kalahari covers vast portions of Botswana and Namibia and a bit of northern South Africa. If you visit the Kalahari, you can see animals like zebras, African wild dogs, wildebeest, and lions.

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Maya (she/they) is a queer entertainment and culture journalist from Worcester, MA with bylines in publications like Pulse Magazine, HorrorPress, CM Pride, Fangoria, and TransLash News & Narrative. They cover interviews, reviews, roundups, news, and more in the entertainment and lifestyle space. She loves horror, LGBTQ+ representation, and creativity. They hope their writing both entertains readers and inspires them to think critically.