Wanderlust: The world’s best desert resorts

Searching for a cure to your insatiable wanderlust? Kaitlyn Lai discovers it in a mixture of golden sands and infinite horizons with a dash of top-tier hospitality.

A free-form pool glows under the night sky at Anantara’s Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort

From the shifting dunes of Africa to the steep terrains of the Americas, deserts around the world offer a front-row seat to history, culture, rare wildlife and some of the most stunning topography on Earth. And, after being locked inside our homes for the past year, it’s safe to say that most of us have been daydreaming of freedom and wide open spaces. A promise of endless possibilities, the desert makes for the perfect post-pandemic destination thanks to lavish resorts that provide a sanctuary away from the urban jungle.

Known for its opulence, the Middle East houses an array of lavish desert resorts and glamping sites. Situated in the heart of the Empty Quarter on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi is the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara. The secluded oasis in the world’s largest sand desert boasts a total of 140 rooms, 14 suites and 52 pool villas. 

Anantara’s Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort

“The location was as unique as can be and, with no other buildings or resorts around the area, the resort was built in between two large dunes that help protect it through sandstorms,” explains general manager Adrian Stoppe. “The resort’s design shape also allows every room, suite and villa to have a sunrise or sunset view.” 

Apart from the regular camel trekking and desert drives, the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort invites guests to try their hands at Liwa tribesmen archery and provides a first-hand opportunity to learn about the ancient sports of falconry and Saluki hunting. After a long day under the sun, guests can wind down with the resort’s award-winning hammam and desert-rose spa rituals. 

In neighbouring Dubai, Bab Al Shams is a popular destination, while other sought-after choices outside the UAE include Six Senses Zighy Bay in Oman and Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp in Jordan.  

Camp Sarika by Amangiri

As luxury globetrotters gravitate towards the dunes, Middle Eastern authorities are also seeking to reduce their countries’ economic reliance on oil and are investing instead into tourism infrastructure. A number of luxury hospitality groups have grasped this opportunity to expand into the Arabian Gulf, and among them is none other than Singapore-based Aman Resorts, who are making their first foray into Saudi Arabia. 

In partnership with the Royal Commission for AlUla, the luxury giant is to develop a tented camp and two resorts in the northwestern AlUla region, which are all expected to open in 2023. Surrounded by rocky sandstone outcrops and boulders, the resorts will sit near Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has preserved more than 100 tombs with intricate ornamented facades from the Nabataean kingdom. 

On the other side of the world, Aman has already attracted luxury and celebrity travellers to the famous Canyon Point in Utah with Camp Sarika. The 10 tented pavilions of the luxury encampment by Amangiri are spread across a whopping 600 acres of raw Southwestern wilderness, allowing guests to truly become one with nature. 

Little Kulala in Namibia

For adrenaline junkies, Camp Sarika serves as the ultimate springboard for adventure. Take on the challenge of the via ferrata and traverse dramatic gorges using fixed rungs, or channel your inner outlaw and ride above the maze of ridges and canyons on horseback. Wellness enthusiasts can also visit the 25,000sqft Aman Spa to relax with treatments inspired by Navajo traditions and take part in personalised yoga classes on the rocks at sunrise.

“Designed for escapism, solitude and adventure, Camp Sarika offers a unique experience which many guests are seeking post-pandemic, where the remote desert setting enables guests to reap the benefits of connecting with nature,” says a representative from Aman. “When surrounded by such vast untamed landscapes, guests often experience increased mindfulness, reduced stress levels and a clearer headspace. The abundance of outdoor experiences in the wilderness also makes Camp Sarika ideal for larger groups or families seeking a secure space to reconnect or a special place for an overdue celebration.” 

If you want to venture into the world’s oldest living desert, the Namib in Namibia, steer your route towards Little Kulala and fall asleep to the swooshes of desert winds while gazing at the stars.

Longitude 131 in Australia

Another road less taken would be down under to Longitude 131 in the Red Centre, Australia. Sitting on the edge of the Uluru Kata Tjuta national park, the resort offers the rare opportunity to hop on a scenic helicopter flight over some of the world’s most inaccessible red rock landmarks, and explore Aboriginal culture through activities such as dot painting. 

For those looking to escape closer to home, Three Camel Lodge in Mongolia is the place for you. Located in the famous Gobi Desert, it features traditional Mongolian gers hand-made by local artisans with private bathrooms and wood stove heating. The ultimate Mongolian experience is further enhanced as guests are invited to build their own gers and give nomadic archery a go. To get a real feel of the mysterious Gobi, dig fossils under guidance of a paleontologist from the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and ride Bactrian camels with a local camel-herding family across Moltsog Els. 

See also: Post-COVID travel: Why private islands are the way to go

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