Deserts Of The World List: 20 Famous Deserts, With Facts, Pictures & Information

Famous deserts of the world include the Sahara and Namib deserts of Africa; the Arabian, Gobi, and Thar deserts of Asia; the Great Sandy and Great Victoria deserts of Australia; the Atacama and Patagonian deserts of South America; and the Mojave and Chihuahuan deserts of North America. Due to its extreme aridity, Antarctica can also be described as a desert.

On this page you’ll find interesting facts on these and many other famous deserts…

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What Is A Desert?

A desert is an area of land that receives little or no precipitation (rain, snow, etc.). Without water, neither plants nor animals can survive, therefore deserts are typically low in biodiversity (the number of different species found in an area). Strong winds often increase the aridity (dryness) of the desert landscape.

The lack of plants leaves the desert ground exposed to wind erosion. Lack of cloud means that heat collected during the day escapes into the atmosphere at night, often resulting in extreme differences in day and night temperatures.

The continual expansion and contraction of desert rocks produced by the extreme temperature fluctuation results in their shattering and breaking. This creates sand, which is a distinctive feature of many desert landscapes.

Deserts are found not only in regions of the world that have low precipitation, but also in regions situated in the “rain shadow” of mountains. In a rain shadow desert, clouds passing over the mountains release their moisture on the mountains rather than on the desert beyond.

Deserts are among the world’s hottest habitats, but because the key characteristic of a desert is aridity, there are many cold regions that can also be considered to be deserts. This is why the list of famous deserts below includes Antarctica and several other regions whose temperature regularly falls below freezing, especially during the winter months.

Deserts Of The World List

A list of famous deserts from all around the world.

Arabian Desert

Arabian Desert

  • Continent: Western Asia
  • Size: 2,600,000 km2 / 1,000,000 sq. miles

Covering around one million square miles, the Arabian Desert is the world’s second-largest hot desert, after the Sahara Desert. (The Arabian Desert is essentially a continuation of the Sahara Desert eastwards into Asia).

The Arabian Desert covers most of the Arabian Peninsula, and includes much of Saudi Arabia, as well as parts of Yemen, Oman, Iraq, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Israel, and the Asian part of Egypt.

This vast desert region receives a maximum of 100mm of rainfall per year, with some regions receiving even less. With little cloud cover, the climate is hot, dry and sunny all year round. The lack of cloud also means that nights in the region can be bitterly cold, with temperatures reaching below freezing during the winter.

The southern third of the Arabian Desert is known as Rub' al Khali, and is the world’s largest expanse of continuous sand. You can read more about Rub' al Khali further down the page.

The Arabian Desert, situated as it is between Africa and Asia, has been an important trade route throughout history. It is the ancestral homeland of the nomadic Bedouin people.

Animals found in the Arabian Desert include the sand cat, caracal, striped hyena, sand gazelle, Arabian oryx and spiny-tailed lizard.

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Atacama Desert

Atacama Desert

  • Continent: South America
  • Size: 140,000 km2 / 54,054 sq. miles

The Atacama Desert is located on the Pacific Coast of South America, and covers southern Peru and northern Chile.

Due to its unique location between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes, the Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on Earth. It receives less precipitation than any other non-polar desert. Much of the region’s moisture is supplied by ocean fog.

The barren, rocky landscapes found in the Atacama Desert resemble the surface of Mars. Because of this similarity, the desert has been used both as a location for filming sci-fi movies, and as a test site for real NASA missions.

Animals found in the Atacama Desert include the Vallenar / Atacama toad, several species of lizard including Fabian’s lizard, Andean flamingos, South American grey fox, and the guanaco and vicuña, both of which belong to the camel family.

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Chihuahuan Desert

Chihuahuan Desert

  • Continent: North America
  • Size: 453,248 km2 / 175,000 sq. miles

The Chihuahuan Desert lies in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico and is the largest desert in North America. It is bordered on the west by the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range, which casts a rain shadow over the desert. To the northwest is the Sonoran Desert, which lies at a lower level.

In the United States, the Chihuahuan Desert covers parts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and in Mexico much of Chihuahua and smaller parts of Coahuila, Durango, and Nuevo León.

The climate of the Chihuahuan Desert is relatively mild, with an average temperature of 13-22°C. Average rainfall is around 235mm.

A characteristic plant of the Chihuahuan Desert is the creosote bush, Larrea tridentata, an evergreen shrub with yellow flowers.

The desert’s rocky plains and arid grasslands are home to animals such as the Mexican wolf, prairie dog, mule deer, blacktailed jackrabbit, kit fox, Gambel’s quail, roadrunner, giant whip scorpion and western diamondback rattlesnake.

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Gobi Desert

Gobi Desert

  • Continent: East Asia
  • Size: 1,295,000 km2 / 500,002 sq. miles

With an area of around half a million square miles, the Gobi Desert is Asia’s second largest desert (the Arabian Desert in western Asia is larger). The Gobi desert covers southern Mongolia and northern China.

The Tibetan Plateau creates a rain shadow over the Gobi Desert that results in the region receiving an average of just 194mm of rain in a year. The desert’s northern location and high elevation give it a cold climate, with some of the region’s meagre precipitation falling as snow.

The Gobi Desert landscape consists of arid grasslands, stony wildernesses and sand dunes. Tree growth is either extremely sparse or entirely lacking throughout much of the region.

Animals that live in the Gobi Desert include the Mongolian wild ass, wild Bactrian camel, black-tailed gazelle, marbled polecat, Gobi jerboa and wolf.

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Great Basin Desert

Great Basin Desert

  • Continent: North America
  • Size: 492,098 km2 / 190,000 sq. miles

Situated between the Sierra Nevada and Wasatch mountain ranges, the Great Basin Desert is one of North America’s four main deserts (the others being the Sonoran, Mojave and Chihuahuan Deserts).

Located entirely in the United States, the Great Basin Desert covers parts of Nevada, Utah, California and Idaho. The mountain ranges either side of the Great Basin Desert form a rain shadow over the region. The climate is very hot and dry in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter.

The mountainous nature of the desert results in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, shrublands and woodlands.

Animals that live in the Great Basin Desert include beaver, North American porcupine, sagebrush vole, bighorn sheep, pygmy rabbit and ringtail cat.

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Great Sandy Desert

Great Sandy Desert Australia

  • Continent: Australia
  • Size: 284,993 km2 / 110,036 sq. miles

The Great Sandy Desert is located in northwest Australia, and is the country’s second-largest desert (after the Great Victoria Desert). The desert is characterized by vast sand seas known as “ergs”. The “waves” of the sand sea are rows of linear dunes, which rise to around 25m high and are formed by the wind.

The average low and high temperatures of the Great Sandy Desert are 19.4 and 34°C respectively. It receives a relatively high rainfall of around 370.4mm per year.

Animals that live in the Great Sandy Desert include: dingo, perentie (and other goannas), bilby, marsupial mole, thorny devil and red kangaroo.

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Great Victoria Desert

Great Victoria Desert, Australia
Photo: Marian Deschain, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons (cropped / resized by

  • Continent: Australia
  • Size: 348,750 km2 / 134,650 sq. miles

The Great Victoria Desert is the largest desert in Australia. It is located in the southeast of the country, covering parts of the states of Western Australia and South Australia.

The first documented crossing of the desert was completed by British explorer Ernest Giles in 1875. He named the desert after the then-reigning British monarch, Queen Victoria.

The Great Victoria Desert consists of an expanse of dunes with dry lakes (known as playas) and crescent-shaped dunes (known as lunettes). Dry grasslands and gibber plains (a rocky surface formed of interlocking rocky fragments) are also present in the desert.

Animals found in the Great Victoria Desert include lizards such as the great desert skink, perentie and sand goanna; carnivorous marsupials such as the sandhill Dunnart and crest-tailed mulgara; and other Australian desert species such as the southern marsupial mole, water-holding frog, dingo, princess parrot and malleefowl.

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Kalahari Desert

Kalahari Desert
Wildebeest in the Kalahari Desert

  • Continent: (Southern) Africa
  • Size: 900,000 km2 / 347,492 sq. miles

The Kalahari Desert is located in southern Africa, and covers parts of the countries of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. The landscape of the Kalahari is characterized by vast savannas of red sand, longitudinal dunes, and a lack of surface water. Dotted throughout the landscape are “kopjes” (small rocky hills).

With a relatively high elevation of between 600 to 1600 meters, the climate of the Kalahari is cool in the winter, with frost not uncommon. During the summer, temperatures are high, and thunderstorms are common.

The Kalahari has an average rainfall of around 305mm, with areas in the north receiving closer to 500mm, making it a semidesert rather than a true desert. The comparatively high rainfall means that the Kalahari is home to a variety of plants, including acacia trees and baobabs.

Animals found in the Kalahari Desert include springbok, wildebeest, hartebeest, lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena, brown hyenas, African wild dog, warthog, giraffe, zebra and elephant.

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Karakum Desert

Karakum Desert
Photo: flydime, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons (cropped / resized by

  • Continent: Asia (central Asia)
  • Size: 350,000 km2 / 135,136 sq. miles

The Karakum Desert is located in Central Asia. It is situated east of the Caspian Sea and covers around 70% of Turkmenistan.

The desert’s terrain is mostly sandy, with dunes reaching heights of up to 300 ft.. The area receives between 70 and 150mm of rainfall annually. Average temperatures range from 79 to 93 °C in the summer and from −4 °C to 4 °C in the winter.

Crossing the Karakum Desert is the Karakum Canal, the world’s second-largest irrigation canal. This was constructed to transport water for agriculture, in particular for the growing of cotton.

Animals that live in the Karakum Desert include the tolai hare, sand cat, corsac fox and goitered gazelle.

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Kyzylkum Desert

Kyzylkum Desert

  • Continent: Asia (central Asia)
  • Size: 300,000 km2 / 115,831 sq. miles

The Kyzylkum Desert covers parts of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia, and is situated between two rivers: Amu Darya and Syr Darya. Dunes (in particular crescent-shaped “barchans”) cover most of the desert.

Although temperatures can get very high during the summer, the Kyzylkum Desert is classified as a cold winter desert due to the below-freezing temperatures that can occur during the winter.

Covering around 300,000 km2, the Kyzylkum Desert is roughly the size of Italy.

Animals that live in the Kyzylkum Desert include the Turkmenian kulan (a subspecies of the onager / Asiatic wild ass), Bactrian deer (a subspecies of the Central Asian wild red deer), goitered gazelle, golden eagle, Russian tortoise and desert monitor.

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Mojave Desert

Mojave Desert

  • Continent: North America
  • Size: (Maximum) 124,000 km2 / 47,877 sq. miles

The Mojave Desert is an arid region of the United States situated in Southern California and extending into parts of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. It is the smallest, driest and hottest of North America’s four major deserts (Mojave, Great Basin, Chihuahuan, and Sonoran). With an area of around 124,000 km2, the Mojave Desert is roughly the size of Greece.

The Mojave Desert is situated south of the Great Basin Desert and north of the Sonoran Desert. It is named after the indigenous Mojave people.

Situated within the Mojave Desert is Death Valley. This desert valley has the highest average monthly temperature of anywhere in the Americas. Death Valley is also the lowest point of the United States, with an elevation of 282 feet (86 m) below sea level.

Rocky grasslands, sandy plains and a series of mountains and basins make up the terrain of the Mojave Desert. A characteristic plant of the region is the Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia.

Animals found in the Mojave Desert include: the desert tortoise, Mojave rattlesnake, common chuckwalla (a large lizard), bighorn sheep, gray fox, black-tailed jackrabbit, greater roadrunner, Gambel's quail, turkey vulture and golden eagle.

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Namib Desert

Namib Desert
Springbok antelope in the Namib Desert

  • Continent: (Southern) Africa
  • Size: 160,000 km2 / 61,776 sq. miles

The Namib Desert stretches along the entire Atlantic coast of Namibia, and extends north into Angola and south into South Africa. The desert, which is only around 100 miles wide at its widest point, lies between the Atlantic Ocean and the slopes of the Great Escarpment, which rise up to the higher ground of the Southern African Plateau.

The Namib Desert is one of the driest places on Earth, with some areas receiving virtually no rain, and even the least-arid areas receiving a maximum of just 200mm of annual rainfall. The desert is also one of Earth’s oldest, having had an arid climate for around 55 to 80 million years.

Sand seas stretch from the coast inland, turning to rocky plains near the Great Escarpment. The sand dunes of the Namib Desert are among the world’s largest, reaching heights of 800 ft. / 240 m, and lengths of 20 miles / 32 kilometers.

The Namib Desert is home to Welwitschia mirabilis, a strange-looking desert plant that extends two long leaves across the desert floor from its underground base.

Animals that live in the Namib Desert include the gemsbok / South African oryx, springbok, ostrich, cape fox, bat-eared fox, black-backed jackal, zebra, brown hyena, spotted hyena, and the Namib Desert beetle.

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Patagonian Desert

Patagonian Desert
Photo: Jason Hollinger, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons (cropped / resized by

  • Continent: South America
  • Size: 673,000 km2 / 259,847 sq. miles

The Patagonian Desert is a cold winter desert located in South America. It is situated in southern mainland Argentina. The desert is also known as the Patagonian Steppe.

The Patagonian Desert consists of grasslands and shrublands (areas dominated by small woody plants), and is virtually treeless. Being a cold winter desert, it has a long winter and an average annual temperature of just 3 °C. Frost can form in some areas, even in the summer.

The Patagonia Desert is bordered on the west by the Andes mountain range, which creates a rain shadow over the desert.

Animals found in the Patagonian Desert include the Patagonian grey fox, mountain lion, lesser rhea, guanaco (a South American member of the camel family), Patagonian mara (a large rodent), tuco-tuco (a small burrowing rodent) and Chimango caracara (a falcon).

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Rub' Al Khali

Rub Al Khali Desert

  • Continent: Asia (Middle East)
  • Size: 650,000 km2 / 250,000 sq. miles

Rub' Al Khali, also known as “The Empty Quarter”, is part of the Arabian Desert. It is a vast erg (sand sea) that covers an area of around a quarter of a million square miles. Rub' Al Khali covers parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Rub' Al Khali is the largest expanse of continuous sand in the world. It is also one of the world’s driest places, and much of the area remains unexplored. It was only in 2020 that the Italian desert explorer Max Calderan became the first man to cross Rub' Al Khali alone.

Animals that live in Rub' Al Khali include the Arabian oryx, ostrich, Ruppell’s Sand Fox, Sand Cat, Rub' Al Khali Hare, desert monitor, and arachnids such as scorpions and camel spiders.

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Sahara Desert

Sahara Desert

  • Continent: Africa
  • Size: 9,200,000 km2 / 3,552,140 sq. miles

Covering an area of over 3.5 million square miles, the Sahara Desert is the world’s largest hot desert. It covers much of northern Africa, stretching across the entire continent from the Atlantic coast in the west to the Red Sea in the east. The Arabian Desert is essentially a continuation of the Sahara Desert eastwards into Asia.

The Sahara Desert covers parts of several countries, including Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Niger, Chad, Sudan and Egypt.

The characteristic terrain of the Sahara Desert is “hamada”: a landscape of rocky plateaus that lack sand. Ergs (sand seas) are also found in parts of the Sahara Desert.

Vegetation is sparse or non-existent in the desert’s hyper arid central region, which is bordered by arid grasslands and shrublands.

The Sahara Desert has a subtropical climate, with an average annual temperature of at least 25 °C; several parts of the Sahara Desert far exceed this.

Most of the Sahara Desert receives less than 20 mm of annual rainfall, with the most arid regions receiving virtually no rainfall.

Animals that live in the Sahara Desert include: fennec fox, addax, Dorcas gazelle, cheetah, African wild dog, ostrich, deathstalker scorpion, Saharan silver ant and Saharan horned viper.

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Sonoran Desert

Sonoran Desert

  • Continent: North America
  • Size: 310,000 km2 / 119,692 sq. miles

The Sonoran Desert is a North American desert that covers parts of the states of Arizona and California in the United States and Baja California, Baja California Sur and Sonora in Mexico. It lies south of the Mojave Desert and west of the Chihuahuan Desert.

The Sonoran desert has a subtropical climate and receives from 90 to 300mm of rainfall annually. The terrain is principally rocky grassland or shrubland.

Despite the arid climate, the Sonoran Desert is known for the variety of its plant life. One of the most famous plants of the region is the saguaro cactus, Carnegiea gigantea, a distinctive, tall cactus with several arm-like branches. Another characteristic plant of the desert is the creosote bush, Larrea tridentata.

Animals that live in the Sonoran Desert include the desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, collared peccary (a pig-like mammal), mountain lion, coyote, Gila monster and Sonoran Desert tortoise.

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Syrian Desert

Palmyra City, Syrian Desert
The ancient city of Palmyra in Syria

  • Continent: Asia (Middle East)
  • Size: 500,000 km2 / 193,051 sq. miles

The Syrian Desert is an expanse of dry, rocky terrain located in the Middle East. It covers much of Jordan and over half of Syria, and also includes parts of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. At its southern border the Syrian Desert joins the Arabian Desert.

The landscape of the Syrian Desert is mainly “desert pavement” – a surface of tightly-packed rocks. “Wadis” – desert valleys – cut through the desert at intervals.

Bedouin tribes inhabit the desert, many of whom still live the traditional nomadic lifestyle. Although the climate is too dry for growing crops, the area is used for grazing livestock.

The ancient city of Palmyra is situated in the Syrian Desert. Palmyra prospered from its position on the Silk Road – a trading route between the Far East and Mediterranean.

Animals that live in the Syrian Desert include the golden hamster (also known as the Syrian hamster), jerboas, sand cat, various snakes, scorpions and camel spiders.

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Taklamakan Desert

Taklamakan Desert
Photo: Colegota, CC BY-SA 2.5 ES, via Wikimedia Commons (cropped / resized by

  • Continent: Asia (China)
  • Size: 270,000 km2 / 104,248 sq. miles

The Taklamakan Desert is one of the world’s largest sandy deserts. It is located in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in western China.

The desert has an elevation of between 800 and 1500 meters, and is mostly surrounded by mountain ranges. To its northeast lies the Gobi Desert.

The Himalayas form a rain shadow over the desert, giving it an arid, yet cold desert climate.

Around 85% of the desert is shifting sand dunes, which range from 60 to 300 feet in height. The thick layer of shifting sand and lack of water prevent plants from growing in most areas of the desert.

The Taklamakan Desert lies on the path of the Silk Road, an ancient trading route between the Far East and the Mediterranean. The route splits at the desert, passing both north and south of the inhospitable sands.

Few animals live in the Taklamakan Desert. Found in the few areas of the desert that are capable of supporting life are gazelles, boars, foxes and wild camels. Small mammals such as gerbils and jerboas are also present.

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Thar Desert

Thar Desert India

  • Continent: Asia (Indian Subcontinent)
  • Size: 200,000 km2 / 77,220 sq. miles

The Thar Desert is also known as the Great Indian Desert. 85% of the desert is in India, with the remainder being in Pakistan; the desert forms a natural boundary between the two countries.

The Thar Desert is a vast region of shifting sand dunes. It gets its name from the word “thul”, a local term for a sand ridge. The desert sands are dotted with clumps of small shrubs.

The climate of the Thar Desert is arid and subtropical. The average rainfall in the south is 100mm; in the north this increases to 500mm.

Animals found in the Thar Desert include blackbuck (an Indian antelope), chinkara (an Asian gazelle), Indian wild ass, francolins (partridges) and quail.

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Antarctica Coastline

  • Continent: Antarctica
  • Size: 14,200,000 km2 / 5,500,000 sq. miles

Due to its low precipitation, most, if not all, of the continent of Antarctica can be considered a desert. Even on the coast, which is less dry than the interior, Antarctica receives a maximum of just 200 mm (7.87 in) of precipitation in a year.

Covering an area of 5.5 million square miles, Antarctica is the world’s largest desert (and the fifth largest continent). Antarctica is located at the southernmost part of the world, and contains the South Pole.

This vast polar wilderness is not only the coldest continent, but also the driest and windiest. These inhospitable conditions mean that biodiversity is low, especially inland from the (slightly warmer) coasts.

Animals that live on Antarctica include: six species of seal, five species of penguin, several other seabird species, and invertebrates such as mites, rotifers, and nematodes.

Whales, fish, squid and the important crustacean food source Antarctic krill inhabit the Southern Ocean around Antarctica.

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