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    16 Surreal Desert Destinations That Feel Like A Completely Different Planet

    You don't have to travel to space to feel like you're no longer on Earth.

    The coronavirus pandemic is still impacting travel, and destinations around the world have different COVID-19 restrictions in place. It’s important to check and adhere to local government policies as you're planning any future trips.

    1. White Sands National Park — United States

    People hiking on white sand in giant dunes
    Ferrantraite / Getty Images

    At first glance, the glistening hills of White Sands National Park in New Mexico appear to be mounds of snow — but upon closer examination, the dunes are made of stark-white gypsum sand. It's a natural wonder that spans 275 square miles, making it the largest gypsum dune field in the world. When you’re done staring in awe at the surreal white dunes, you can hike them, camp on them, and even slide down them in plastic sleds.

    2. Salvador Dalí Desert — Bolivia

    Strange rock outcropping in the middle of a desert
    Zanskar / Getty Images

    I’d be remiss to not include this eerie landscape in the roundup. Named the Salvador Dalí Desert or Dalí Valley because of landscapes that resemble surrealist paintings by Salvador Dalí, this stretch of land in the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve is predominately barren and windswept but features sporadic rock formations that seem like they popped right out of a Dalí painting.

    3. Danakil Depression — Ethiopia

    Roberto Moiola / Getty Images, Dave Stamboulis Travel Photograp / Getty Images

    The Danakil Desert is expansive, hot, and arid, but that’s part of what makes the terrain so surreal. Spanning parts of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti, this giant desert stretches over 50,000 miles and includes the iconic Danakil Depression, a destination with temperatures that jump to over 122 degrees Fahrenheit, making it one of the hottest places on Earth. The unique landscape is home to volcanoes, geysers, salt plains, and geothermal springs, which add pops of bright yellows, blues, greens, and oranges to the terrain.

    4. Pinnacles Desert — Australia

    Pinnacles of rock shoot up out of the earth
    Jakub Michankow / Getty Images

    Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park is known for its mind-melting geological features that make you feel like you’re on another planet — but really you're just in Western Australia. Thousands of giant limestone pillars rise from the sand, their jagged, sharp edged columns (some of which reach over 11 feet) jutting out of the desert landscape.

    5. White Desert — Egypt

    White mushroom-like stone outcropping in the desert
    Tadejzupancic / Getty Images

    Within Egypt's White Desert National Park is a chalky, stark landscape of eerie mushroom-shaped rock formations and shocking white earth. The aptly named White Desert makes it almost impossible to remember that yes, you're still on planet Earth.

    6. Black Desert — Egypt

    Black capped hills in a desert area
    Nachosuch / Getty Images

    That's right, there are two otherworldly deserts in Egypt — and I couldn't mention one without the other. Just 30 minutes south of the White Desert is the landscape's complete opposite: the Black Desert. Here, black-capped mountains shaped and colored by volcanic activity rise up out of the earth. The effect is an eerie, Mars-like landscape of yellow, orange, and black.

    7. The Racetrack — United States

    Pabradyphoto / Getty Images, Jtbaskinphoto / Getty Images

    This giant expanse of dry lakebed (also called a playa) in California's Death Valley National Park is wonderfully flat and sparse — but what really makes the Racetrack eerie is the presence of moving rocks that have left a petrified trail behind them. Yes, you read that right: Certain rocks on the aptly named Racetrack have traveled as far as 1,500 feet across the flat expanse, leaving tracks as records of their movement. It's as if they were dragged for miles along the lakebed.

    Over the years, there have been plenty of theories and studies of this natural puzzle, including one in 2014 that might have solved the mystery: When the playa is filled with water and freezes overnight, it creates sheets of ice that get caught in the wind and push the rocks forward, leaving trails in the mud below the water’s surface.

    8. Atacama Desert — Chile

    Jagged rock and desert under a volcano
    Skouatroulio / Getty Images

    It doesn’t get more Martian-like than Chile’s Atacama Desert, a piece of land that spans over 40,000 square miles and is heralded as the world’s driest desert. You’ll find it all here — volcano views, salt flats, geysers, turquoise lagoons, and crystal-clear evening skies perfect for stargazing.

    9. Wadi Rum — Jordan

    Translucent-yy / Getty Images, Stanley Chen Xi, Landscape And A / Getty Images

    The ancient, archaeological city of Petra in southern Jordan is renowned, but not everyone makes the trek an hour and a half south to the desert of Wadi Rum. Here, in this protected desert wilderness, you’ll come across an open expanse of desert ringed by steep cliffs, natural arches, caverns, and deep, natural chasms. It is a playground of mind-blowing sights connected by miles of open, sandy expanse. Talk about feeling like you're on another planet.

    10. Empty Quarter — United Arab Emirates

    Open desert under orange sky
    Asif Graphy / Getty Images

    The world's largest uninterrupted sand mass is found — perhaps surprisingly — in the relatively small country of United Arab Emirates. Rub’ al Khali, or Empty Quarter, is a massive expanse of desert that's quiet and, well, empty — at least for the most part. It’s marked by ginormous dunes that are hundreds of feet tall — including the Tel Moreeb, a dune that's almost 1,000 feet high and has an incline that lures 4x4 fanatics.

    11. Lençóis Maranhenses National Park — Brazil

    Ignacio Palacios / Getty Images, Inna Didenko / Getty Images

    This park is best known for its seasonal lagoons, whose electric blue-ish green color pops against the chalky white sand. This desert destination is perhaps even more special because of its remote location on the northeast coast of Brazil — meaning your chances of being bombarded by selfie-stick carrying tourists is at least slightly lower.

    12. The Painted Desert — United States

    View of mountains with colorful striations
    Habesen / Getty Images

    Who says deserts have to be a monochromatic beige? In the Painted Desert of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, the rocky badlands range in color from reds, oranges, and pinks to dark purples and grays. It is the sort of place that truly lives up to its name — making you feel as though you’re looking at a brightly colored painting, not a real place. For the best experience, visit at sunset, when the sun makes everything pop even more.

    13. Namib Desert — Angola, Namibia, South Africa

    Hannesthirion / Getty Images, Simon Phelps Photography / Getty Images

    This bright rust-colored desert is unique because it sits on the water, stretching 1,200 miles along the coast of Angola, Namibia, and South Africa. The landscape might not be as dry as Chile’s Atacama Desert, but it’s close — and it's believed by some to be the world’s oldest desert. If that wasn’t reason enough to add this to your must-visit list, how's this: the Namib is home to one of the world’s tallest sand dunes (and some say it’s the tallest), which tops out at over 1,000 feet. How’s that for a hiking challenge?

    14. Gobi Desert — Mongolia and China

    Starry night sky above open wind-swept desert
    Anton_petrus / Getty Images

    The Gobi stretches across parts of both Mongolia and China, near the Himalaya. While the open expanse of cold desert (it gets snow and frost on occasion) is breathtaking on its own, what really makes this desert special are the rare animals that call it home — snow leopards and Bactrian camels — and the dinosaurs who once roamed the area.

    15. Salar de Uyuni — Bolivia

    Olga_gavrilova / Getty Images, Holgs / Getty Images

    Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Flat) is found in the Andes of Bolivia — which are stunning all on their own. But as anyone who’s ever visited this salt flat (which is the world’s largest) can confirm, it puts the surrounding mountains to shame. The destination stretches more than 4,000 miles (!!) and is made up of salt that has risen from the ground, creating a quilted pattern.

    The salt flat is stunning year-round, but it's extra amazing when the nearby lakes overflow, leaving a thin layer of water across the flats — which perfectly reflect the sky above. Oh, and as if that wasn’t reason enough to earn a spot on your bucket list, the flats are home to three species of pink flamingos (who get their coloring from their diet of red algae).

    16. Erg Chigaga — Morocco

    Open sandy desert with smooth dunes that go for miles
    Rattham / Getty Images

    An erg is a windswept dune field with little to no vegetative cover — a landscape that’s common in the massive Sahara Desert. But this erg, located in the Drâa-Tafilalet area, is thought to be the wildest, most remote large erg in Morocco and still remains relatively untouched.

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