5 luxury desert hotels offering out-of-this-world experiences to add to your bucket list

Relax in the soothing waters of the infinity pool at Habitas AlUla. Picture: Instagram

Relax in the soothing waters of the infinity pool at Habitas AlUla. Picture: Instagram

Published Jul 27, 2023


Though the temperature may be extreme, many travellers are intrigued by the adventures that desert exploration offers. The opposite of winter wonderlands, deserts make up roughly 33%, or a third, of the Earth’s surface and are natural wonders boasting biodiversity in flora and fauna.

The beauty of the desert lies in its intense colours, towering dunes, spectacular vistas and starry nights.

Places like the Namib Desert, Atacama Desert and Australian Outback provide opportunities for dune walking, stargazing, mountain biking, camel rides and peaceful retreats.

If you’re looking for adventure and an opportunity to travel off the beaten path, here are five luxury desert hotels to add to your out-of-this-world bucket list.

Habitas AlUla, Saudi Arabia

Alcove Villas at Habitas AlUla offers a sanctuary of relaxation and connection, where open-air living spaces and panoramic windows invite the captivating beauty of AlUla inside. Picture: Instagram

A trailblazer in sustainable hospitality, Habitas brings luxury living to AlUla in an environmentally conscious way. The hotel is in an ancient oasis in the desert canyons of the Ashar Valley that features sandstone cliffs and palm groves.

The serene resort boasts 96 guest villas that span three tiers: premium Celestial Villas, Alcove Villas and Canyon Villas.

There is also a yoga deck, Thuraya Wellness and fitness centres, Tama Restaurant, an Ashar Deck lounge and a large infinity swimming pool.

From early morning to late evening, AlUla’s special tone of golden light brings warmth to the interiors, setting the scene for moments of stillness. Picture: Instagram

The hotel says each of the spaces is constructed from ethically sourced organic materials that blend seamlessly into their natural surroundings.

As an experience-led hospitality brand, Habitas has created programming that accommodates art and culture walks, canyon trekking, yoga, meditation and breathwork.

Guests can also expand their knowledge of this historical region with outdoor cinema screenings featuring regional cultural films and documentaries and open-discussion lectures on local initiatives, culture and history.

A stay at Habitas AlUla starts from $336 (R5 900) per person a night.

Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai

One of Al Maha Resort’s 37 Bedouin Suites, with private swimming pool decorated with Arabian artefacts. Picture: Instagram

Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa, Dubai, is a private guest-only oasis nestled among the lush palm groves, emerald canopies and iconic sand dunes of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.

The five-star hotel offers secluded tranquillity and iconic vistas of the sweeping plains and Hajar Mountain massif.

The hotel also boasts 42 suites and private swimming pools, with majestic dune and mountain views.

Guests can take an unforgettable horse ride, camel trek, nature walk or join a signature desert safari and practise the distinguished arts of archery and falconry.

A stay at the hotel starts from 3 773 AED (R18 000) per person per night.

Amangari Canyon Point Utah, US

Amangiri by Aman in the US South West. Picture: Instagram

Amangiri by Aman blends into untouched red-rock country in the vast and majestic Colorado Plateau, the original Wild West.

In the desert landscape of canyons, mesas, ridges and gorges, the modernist suites of Amangiri and the tented pavilions of Camp Sarika offer an inspiring welcome to one of the world’s most dramatic secluded settings.

The suites, villas and tented pavilions are a stone's throw away from the stunning wilderness of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park.

Desert Suites invite the stillness of the open-ended desert horizon to fill every indoor space, making the suites some of the quietest on property. Picture: Instagram

Amangiri's main restaurant presents sustainable, seasonal menus inspired by Native American cuisine and Utah's south-western culinary heritage.

Guests can also enjoy designated hiking trails on the property, e-bike tours or a trip on a private plane, helicopter or on a hot-air balloon – is an inspiring way to discover the breadth of the back country.

A stay starts from $3 600 (R63 300) a night for two at the Desert Suite.

andBeyond Sossusvlei, Namibia

An aerial view of andBEYOND Sossusvlei in the Namib. Picture: Instagram

The lodge is within andBEYOND Sossusvlei Private Desert Reserve in the Namib, the world’s oldest living desert.

Sustainability and luxury go hand in hand at Sossusvlei, with the lodge boasting 10 beautifully appointed stone and glass suites, spread out along the curve of the escarpment.

Each spacious air-conditioned suite offers a secluded, shaded veranda complete with private plunge pool, a living room with a fireplace, a large retractable skylight above the bed, and an en-suite bathroom with a glass-encased rain shower offering 180º desert views.

A suite at andBEYOND Sossusvlei. Picture: Instagram

Guests can enjoy experience a helicopter ride over the Sossusvlei a star-gazing extravaganza complete with a sophisticated on-site observatory, state-of-the-art Celestron CPC 1100 GPS (XLT) computerised telescope and a large stargazing skylight above your bed, and walking and hiking across ancient sands and Long Dune.

A stay here starts from NAD 16 790 (R16 400) per person sharing for a suite.

Longitude 131 Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Australia

With Uluru as an incredible background, the Dune Pavilion is Australia's only accommodation to offer views of both World Heritage listed natural icons Uluru and Kata-Tjuta. Picture: Instagram

Longitude 131 is in Australia’s Red Centre or outback wilderness characterised by endless horizons of rolling red sand dunes, green Desert Oaks and great domes of blue sky.

Guest have views of the World Heritage-listed natural icons Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas).

Longitude 131° is a gathering of 16 tented pavilions designed to offer luxurious sanctuary and a profound sense of place.

Unparalleled views of Uluru’s changing lights play out from the end of the bed or on balconies from the warmth of a luxury swag unfurled in the cool night air.

Unwind in the Longitude 131 luxury tent with its billowing ceilings reminiscent of a desert safari, but with all the luxury appointments including a king-sized Baillie Bed. Picture: Instagram

Custom furnishings invite stylish lounging, while works by indigenous artists offer inspiration.

Guests observe the sights of the outback through floor to ceiling windows, relax on outdoor decks and sleep under a blanket of stars. The hotel also offers inviting spa treatments and dining experiences with views of the outback.

A stay at the hotel starts from AD 4 200 (R50 000).