Last Updated on May 23, 2023

Rarely people think of the desert as a recreational place, which is a shame.

There are countless sports and activities that you can enjoy in the desert – as a matter of fact, there are a few things that you can only do in the desert and they should definitely make it to any adventure traveler’s bucket list.

Whether you are a thrill-seeker or just want to get out of your comfort zone and try something different, here’s a list of the best activities, experiences and things to do in the desert.

Best Desert Activities and Things to do in the Desert
Hot Air Balloons in Cappadocia, Turkey.

Top Sports & Activities For Desert Dwellers

1. Surfing on Sand Dunes with a Sandboard

As far as action sports go, sandboarding / sand surfing is still relatively unknown, although there are many enthusiast sandboarders all over the world that take this activity to the next level – there are even sandboarding competitions and a world cup held every year.

All you need to enjoy this activity is a sandboard – a special board made for sliding down sand dunes – and some wax.

Unlimited sandboarding at Stockton Beach, Port Stephens (NSW)

2. Dune Bashing and Desert Safaris

Riding over sand dunes at high speed with an all-terrain vehicle may not sound particularly exciting, but it’s one of the most thrilling activities you can do in the desert. For the best (and safest) experience, do this with the aid of a professional and experienced driver only.

Dune bashing” tours are especially popular in the desert holiday destination par excellence, i.e. the Dubai desert.

Dune Bashing in Dubai

3. Ride a Camel

Both horseback riding and camel riding are popular in the desert, but the latter is a more unique experience (for obvious reasons).

Today, you can actually find camels outside of the desert, as they have become a popular tourist attraction in desert-like environments and beach locations with sand dunes across the world, from the US to Japan.

For something even more weird and exotic, just know that ostrich riding is a thing.

Child Riding a Camel

4. Hang Gliding Over Sand Dunes

High desert hang gliding is a unique and breathtaking activity to add to your bucket list. Hang gliding will take you flying over stunning desert landscapes, this activity is also popular across the dunes of Cape Cod in Massachussets and those of Outer Banks off the coast of North Carolina.

As you glide through the air, suspended by nothing more than a thin, flexible wing, you’ll witness stunning desert landscapes that will take your breath away.

High Desert Hang Gliding

5. Hiking in the Desert

There is no place for hiking quite like the desert. This harsh, dangerous environment makes for the most challenging hikes you’ll ever face, and also the most rewarding.

The desert is one of the few occasions humans have left to enjoy nature at its wildest, away from the noise of the city – or any noise, for the matter. Make sure you are fully equipped with desert hiking gear in order to have the best experience as possible.

Hiking under the Desert Heat

6. Camping Under the Stars at Night

The desert is not only free from noise, but also from light pollution. Set a camp amongst sand dunes and sleep under the stars for one of the most magical nights of your life. If you are in the Sahara desert, combine this activity with some traditional food, music and dancing show for something truly unforgettable.

Desert Camping

7. Desert Bushcrafting

Take your survivalist skills to the extreme. It takes a lot of preparation, adaptation spirit and mental strength to survive in the desert, an environment notoriously scarce in food and water.

Despite this, there are plants that adapted to grow in the desert, and it is possible to dwell in both bushcraft and orienteering in the desert, and you can forage or hunt for food. Do make sure you are appropriatedly protected against sunburns and heatstrokes as well.

Desert Bushcraft Gear

8. Helicopter Rides and Hot Air Balloons Desert Tours

Aerial tours of the desert are becoming extremely popular in some places like Arizona, where you can hop onboard of an helicopter and enjoy gorgeous views of the Grand Canyon or the Sonoran Desert in its majesty from above.

Or opt for a desert hot air balloon ride instead for a more relaxed experience, while enjoying the breathtaking views this landscape has to offer – in Cappadocia (Turkey) this activity is so popular you’ll find literally thousands of balloons floating in the sky on most days.

Other locations where you can enjoy this activity include the Arizona desert near Phoenix, the Teotihuacan Valley near Mexico City, the city of Luxor in Egypt, and the Dubai desert.

Hot Air Balloons over the Desert in Cappadocia, Turkey

9. Gold Prospecting and Desert Metal Detecting

If you’re looking for a unique and exciting adventure in the desert, why not try your luck at gold prospecting or desert metal detecting?

The desert is rich with minerals and precious metals, and with the right tools and expertise, you could strike it rich. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of discovering a shiny nugget of gold or a hidden treasure buried beneath the sand.

Gold prospecting requires a bit of preparation, but with a metal detector and a shovel, you can set out to find the mother lode. And if you’re lucky enough to find something valuable, you can even sell it and make a profit.

Desert metal detecting is another exciting activity that can lead you to uncover ancient artifacts and treasures. From old coins to lost jewelry, you never know what you might find buried beneath the sand.

But before you head out into the desert with your metal detector, make sure to research the local laws and regulations to avoid any legal issues. And always remember to practice responsible metal detecting by leaving the desert as you found it and respecting any historic sites you may come across.

Metal Detecting and Gold Prospecting in the Desert

Read also: List of Desert & Sand Sports logo icon

Your n°1 source of information on the world of sandsports and desert adventure travel. Our articles are the result of extensive research, personal experience, and knowledge-sharing within the global sandboarding community.