Last Updated on January 12, 2023

Mexico is home to some of the most famous and scenic deserts in the world, as well as being the country where the most deserts are located.

As a matter of fact, more than 60% of the territory of the country of Mexico is located in the area corresponding to the belt in which the deserts of the world are distributed, which is the reason why great part of the country is arid.

Mexico is home to two major deserts: the Chihuahuan and the Sonoran Desert, both contiguous with the United States.

The Chihuahuan Desert spans most of the region of Chihuahua, parts of Coahuila and Durango, as well as three US states.

The Sonoran desert covers the states of Baja California Norte and Baja California Sur, the islands of the Sea of Cortez and most of the state of Sonora.

Map of the two main deserts in Mexico, the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts.
Map of the two major desert areas in Mexico, the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts.

Chihuahua Desert

The Chihuahuan Desert is the largest desert in North America, located at the border between the United States and Mexico, and is divided between the Sierra Madre Occidental and Sierra Madre Oriental.

The deserts spans across the states of New Mexico, Texas, Arizona in the US, and Chihuahua, Sonora, Durango, Coahuila, San Luis Potosi, and Zacatecas in Mexico.

Peñoles rock formation. Jiménez, Chihuaha, Mexico.
Peñoles, Chihuahan Desert. Near Jiménez, Chihuaha, Mexico.

The Chihuahuan Desert is characterized by variable climate conditions, with temperatures reaching over 40 degrees during the day and dropping extremely low at nightfall or in the winter season. Despite its harsh climate, the desert is home to a diverse array of desert plants, trees and animal life, with over 400 species living within its boundaries.

The desert is in fact scattered in lakes, rivers, and streams, which are home to many marine species that are now unfortunately at risk of extinction or low growth due to climate change and other environmental issues.

Samalayuca Sand Dunes

The iconic Samalayuca dunes within the Chihuahuan Desert are a popular travel destination, known for their recreational activities and tours, such as sandboarding, driving off-road cars, and desert camping.

Samalayuca Dunes. Chihuhuan Desert, Mexico.

Mexican states crossed: Chihuahua, Sonora, Durango, Coahuila, San Luis de Potosi and Zacatecas.


Sonoran Desert

Another famous desert in Mexico is the Sonoran Desert, which also spans both the United States and Mexico.

Known for being one of the hottest deserts in the world, the Sonoran Desert comprises several sub-eco regions in both Mexico and the United States, namely the Gran Desierto de Altar (Altar Grand Desert), the Colorado Desert, the Lechuguilla Desert, the Tule Desert and the Yuma Desert.

Mexican states crossed: Sonora and Baja California

Mexican Sonoran Desert

Altar Desert

The Altar Desert is one of the major regions of the Sonoran desert, and one of the most biodiverse deserts in the world. Its great attraction lies in the dunes that make it up, as they have very curious shapes that resemble stars.

Since 2016 it is considered a Biosphere Reserve together with the dormant volcanic crater “El Pinacate”.

The area, known as El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site hosting over 500 species of plants, 200 species of brids and 40 of mammals, reptiles and fish each, many of which are vulnerable endemic species.

Mexican states crossed: Sonora

El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve

Baja California Desert

The Baja California Desert has been inhabited by several indigenous tribes, despite being one of the most arid regions in the country.

The desert is characterized by its rugged and sparse landscape, but it’s home to a wealth of biodiversity. The Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River Delta Biosphere Reserve, located within the desert, are important areas for the conservation of marine and terrestrial species.

Mexican states crossed: Baja California

Baja California Desert, Mexico

Read also: Sandboarding in Mexico


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