Published: November 2008
Top Desert Lodges
Preserving the last big empties
Text by Global Travel Editor Costas Christ and Kate Siber
Adrère Amellal, Egypt
Key Features: luxury, local culure

Set in a remote oasis of date and olive groves eight hours from Cairo, Adrère Amellal is a series of traditional mud-and-salt-rock houses stylishly refurbished with local renewable materials. By day, discover an Egypt free of tour buses while exploring ancient sites like Cleopatra's Bath and riding horses in the Arabian Desert. Evenings are unfailingly romantic: Dine alfresco, by lantern light, on traditional fare straight from the organic garden.
+ Doubles from $493;

Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, United Arab Emirates
Key Features: luxury, active adventures, wildlife

Though set in Arabian Desert dunes only 45 minutes from Dubai, Al Maha feels impossibly remote. Credit goes to the resort, which helped establish a 55,600-acre reserve, the country's first. Guests can camel trek, ride purebred Arabian horses, and watch falconry displays, then bed down in decadent Bedouin-style suites with Persian rugs, antiques, and private pools.
+ Doubles from $1,000;

Apani Dhani Ecolodge, India
Key Features: local culture

Apani Dhani boasts an organic farm, eight solar-powered clay-brick cottages, and a vegetarian eatery in a bougainvillea-draped courtyard. But its greatest offering is the chance to experience village life in Rajasthan. Learn to cook regional dishes, make traditional crafts with local artisans, and ride in camel carts through the countryside, stopping for tea or rotis in villagers' homes.
+ Doubles from $25;

Wolwedans, Namibia
Key Features: active adventures, wildlife

Like many private African reserves, Wolwedans started when a Namibian businessman bought up desert farms to return them to nature. But Wolwedans, which offers four camps to suit all tastes, is anything but typical. Play Hemingway in a canvas-and-gum-pole tent or in an elegant wood-and-canvas chalet—both staffed by trained villagers—and hike through the vast quiet of the golden sand dunes, punctuated by oryx and springbok. Our advice: Splurge on hot-air ballooning at dawn.
+ $342 per person, per night;

Desert Rhino Camp, Namibia
Key Features: luxury, active adventures, wildlife

Thanks to the joint efforts of outfitter Wilderness Safaris and Save the Rhino Trust, Namibia's million-acre private Palmwag Conservancy hosts the largest free-ranging population of black rhinos in Africa. Track the beasts on foot with SRT rangers and researchers across rolling hills and desert scattered with ancient welwitschia plants, then sip South African Merlot and retire to an elegant canvas-and-thatch tent overlooking red-rock badlands.
+ Doubles from $814;

Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia
Key Features: active adventures, wildlife, local culture

To the uninitiated, the Gobi looks strikingly lifeless. But Three Camel, a solar-powered huddle of yurts with a stylish lodge, reveals a rich herdsmen's culture and rare wildlife like ibex, argalis, and snow leopards. Hike in the Gobi-Altai foothills, chat with nomads at the refurbished well, and listen to performances of Hoomi, haunting local song.
+ Doubles from $160;

Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa
Key Features: luxury, wildlife

In just four years, entrepreneur Stephen Boler bought 34 farms in the Kalahari Desert and turned them into a 220,000-acre wilderness reserve, one of the largest private conservation projects in African history. Walk and horseback ride to view resuscitated populations of rare wild dogs, roan antelope, lions, and rhinos. Luxury cottages have private pools and sundecks overlooking watering holes.
+ Doubles from $1,486;

Uno Eco Lodge, Mexico
Key Features: active adventures, wildlife, local culture, family

Uno Eco Lodge is perched above the Urique River on the rim of Copper Canyon—deeper than the Grand and a lot less crowded. The nine solar-powered rooms are owned by the Raramuri Indians, and your stay supports their 65,000-acre wilderness, where pumas and bobcats prowl. Trek to caves, waterfalls, and archaeological sites or skirt the canyon in a 1950s-era open-deck railcar.
+ $110 per person, per night;

Voyages Longitude 131º, Australia
Key Features: luxury, local culture

It pays to wake up at dawn at Voyages Longitude 131º: A bedside button draws the shades of your safari-style tent to reveal an unfettered view of the sun rising over Ayers Rock, the outback's famed monolith. By day, Aborigines lead tours around Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. In the evenings, dine out in the open, quaff local wines, and listen to stargazing tutorials.
+ Doubles from $1,980;

Wadi Feynan Ecolodge, Jordan
Key Features: active adventures, wildlife, local culture

Jordan's Dana Biosphere Reserve covers 116 square miles, protecting rare wildlife like the sand cat and Syrian wolf. In 2005, to raise funds for the reserve and employ local Bedouins, Jordan's Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature established this 26-room, solar-powered retreat with a mountain bike trail system. The inn, a model for Jordanian ecolodges, offers unprecedented access to Bedouin life.
+ Doubles from $93;