Last Updated on August 9, 2022
The Sahara is the largest hot desert and one of the most incredible places on Earth. If you are planning to go on an adventure travelling in the desert, then the Sahara should definitely be on top of your bucket list.
This famous desert is located in northern Africa and occupies about a quarter of the African continent, the Sahara extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea with a length of about 4800 km, and with a width of 1800 km from the Mediterranean to the central African regions, spanning a total of 11 countries: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan and Tunisia.
Sahara Desert Travel Guide
Climate in the Sahara Desert
The Sahara is known for its aridity and unbearable heat, precipitation is very low, less than 10 cm per year. In summer the temperature can exceed 55°C and there is an increased chance of flash floods. The strong thermal excursion leads to a considerable difference in temperature between day and night, even up to 40°C degrees.
There are two distinct climates in the Sahara: a dry subtropical climate with two “rainy” seasons (at the end of autumn and beginning of spring) in the northern Sahara and a dry tropical climate in the southern Sahara, where you can find higher elevations with colder temperatures and, in rare occasions, even snowfall. Yes, it does snow in the Sahara desert!
The Sahara comprises different types of landscapes:
- the hammada, or rock desert;
- the serir, desert of pebbles and gravel;
- and the lergo or idean: in the central part, desert formed by sand dunes.
The biome found in the extreme south is the savannah, while in the north is the Mediterranean steppe. The central sandy desert is definitely the most difficult place to find water and survive. In the desert the main health risks are dehydration and heat stroke (hyperthermia) and both phenomena can occur within just a few hours of stay in this environment.
In a hot desert such as the Sahara the sultry heat makes people sweat a lot, and the dry wind dries immediately the sweat, then the body begins to sweat again, with this process we dehydrate quickly. The first symptoms of hyperthermia are a strong headache and a sense of fatigue, if you do not immediately find a shelter in the shade and some water, the situation quickly deteriorates, you stop sweating and you feel dizzy and if you do not receive proper care you may even die.
The desert at night
If you think that with the night life in the desert improves, think again. Prepare to face the great cold, as night temperatures in the desert can even drop below zero. If you sleep in the open you need to light a fire, doing so is not difficult since the only wood you can find is very dry and thanks to this requirement you can light a fire with the method of friction. Remember that you must never sleep in contact with sand, it is a bad insulator and will cause your body to lose a lot of heat, you must necessarily lay down anything that will insulate you from the ground (palm fronds, clothing or a cloth).
Wake up at dawn to march cooler. Remember when you wake up, to always check your clothes, boots and equipment as scorpions or snakes may have found sanctuary in your belongings.
How to dress in the desert
The first thing to do if you find yourself in the desert is to cover your head with whatever you have available. You can use a large cloth handkerchief or a scrap of clothing (preferably light colored). Having adequate protection from the sun’s rays, on your head will buy you valuable hours in your fight for survival in the Sahara. Also cover the areas of skin exposed to the sun’s rays to avoid sunburn, wear and reapply sunscreen regularly if you have it on hand. A complete desert outfit covers your feet, ankles, legs, arms and torso, as well as your head, mouth and eyes. The dazzling light of the desert can literally bake your eyes and the sand reflecting UV rays can cause an effect similar to snow blindness, you must put a bandage around your eyes to which you must make two small alternate cuts at the eyes for sight. Polarized sunglasses offer the best protection from the sun in the desert.
Finding water and food in the Sahara
Desert water sources
In the extreme heat of the Sahara, our bodies would need to drink about 1 liter of water per hour. One method to make the water last longer is to hold it in your mouth so as to moisten your throat. In the desert you can go even more than a week without eating, but without drinking you won’t make it through the day. With a limited supply of water, it is necessary to start drinking as late as possible in order to make the most of one’s internal reserves. Water exists in the desert but it is found at depths impossible to reach by digging with your hands. For example, the roots of the Tamarisk tree extend more than 15 meters to find the water that keeps it alive.
You can quench your thirst by milking camel milk. Camel’s milk has a very high nutritional value, more than that of cows. If you find a gorge, go there to look for water. If you see seagulls circling near a gorge or canyon examine the area there may be water there. Dried up river beds are very rare, but if you find one you can try a makeshift dig where the ground is darker to find water. The best part to dig in is the sandy soil on the outside or near the roots of the greener plants. If you find wet sand while digging, put it in a T-shirt or cloth and squeeze it hard to make the cloth absorb its moisture, you will notice that water will begin to drip from the cloth, take advantage of this to quench your thirst. Finding water in the desert is not easy, that’s why every drop of water is precious and should be preserved.
Finding food in the desert is really difficult but not impossible. If you find food or have supplies, always remember to ration them and eat little but often, if you eat too much, digestion will make your body consume more fluids contributing to dehydration.
Scorpions often hide under stones, even if they are lethal they can be immobilized with a stick and eaten, the important thing is to remove the pygidium (the poison glands) and the sting, but also the head and the pedipalps (the pincer-shaped claws). The camel spider (Avellopsis) is edible, the important thing is to remove its head and front legs. The sand fish (Scincus scincus) is edible, but catching it is very difficult because it is very fast; it practically swims through the sand like a fish. In order to escape from predators, it builds burrows at a depth of more than one meter, but if you manage to catch it, you can eat it raw, eventually depriving it of its head. Beetles can be eaten. The horned viper is one of the most venomous snakes in the world and represents a real danger for nomads in the desert as its powerful hemotoxic venom can kill even a dromedary. They are about 1 meter long and their color is similar to sand, this makes them perfectly camouflaged with the environment. They can be recognized by the two small horns on their heads, and by their characteristic gait, known as “lateral twisting”.
Catching them is very difficult because they often hide under the sand or in the middle of the bushes; it is easier to meet them in the evening when they come out in the open to look for food. This snake can be eaten, the important thing is to remove its head, skin and guts. To eat it, it is wrapped around a stick and roasted over embers.
Foraging in the Sahara desert
In the Sahara desert there are few plants that can be eaten, but many others are poisonous. Dates can be found on palm trees, to get them you must climb paying attention to the bark which is very sharp. Dates are a goldmine in the desert, they contain sugars, vitamin C and mineralsIf you come across wild desert gourd avoid falling into the temptation of eating it in order not to risk getting sick and therefore speeding up dehydration.
Desert gourd resembles a melon and has a very bitter taste, even though it cannot be eaten it can be used as an antiseptic, local nomads use it as an aid against snakes’ and scorpions’ bites and against hemorrhoids. If while marching in the desert you come across this kind of plants with green and round fruits, similar to avocados, do not eat them and do not drink the milky liquid contained in its branches, because you would be very sick. The sap of these plants is so powerful that if it comes into contact with your eyes you become blind, Berbers use it as a remedy against warts.
- If you notice the wind starting to get strong find shelter, in the desert sandstorms can arrive in minutes. Sirocco winds pull with a force of 90 km per hour.
Being caught in a sandstorm can cause you to lose your bearings, as visibility in a sandstorm is zero.
- Although it is very hard to believe, in a desert if you walk along a dried up river bed, if it rains miles away you can be suddenly swept away by a huge wave of water. In the desert flash floods can inundate and sweep away everything they encounter, in fact the rains in the desert last a short time but throw down an impressive amount of water.
- If you see trees or vegetation in the distance try to reach it, you may have found an oasis. Finding an oasis in the desert means finding water, food, shelter and very often human settlements.
- Finding a tree or isolated palm trees means finding shelter in the shade and sometimes food and water.
- In the hot desert you can experiene the infamous desert mirage. A mirage is a natural optical illusion that can make you think you see a lake in the distance, in reality it is the reflection of the sky created by the sun on the ground.
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.