The Fascinating Deserts of China

China is a vast and wild country, spanning across the Asian continent and engulfing many varied environments and landscapes. One of the most incredible ecosystems that you will find in China is its fascinating deserts.

How can you visit the deserts of China, what can you expect to see there, and when should you plan your trip? Check out our top three picks below and find out everything you need to know about the deserts of China.

Deserts of China

Taklamakan Desert: Xinjiang Province

As the largest desert in China, this huge area of moving sand hills stands between gorgeous mountain ranges and seems endless. The name is thought to have derived from a saying, ‘you can get in, but you can’t get out.’ Legends shroud this area in mystery and its history in China is truly incredible.

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What to See

The nearby town of Hotan can serve as your base to see the Taklamakan desert. Here, you’ll see rich history and the rich culture and foods of different ethnic minorities.

You’ll see the silk factory and the carpet factory, and watch as crafts continue to be made by hand. Also, see the beautiful cultural museum here in Hotan, with incredibly preserved artifacts and even two 1500-year-old mummies.


You can’t miss taking a camel ride through the incredible Taklamakan Desert. Experience the vast and empty desert, and also its oases, such as in the Amu Darya basin in the northwest, or the ancient town of Almaty. Kashgar is another beautiful city that is an oasis in the north of Taklamakan and is another option as your starting point to visit this desert.  

When to Visit

This unique desert faces temperatures below freezing during the winter and has reportedly seen snow covering its sand dunes. For this reason, winter is not a recommended visiting time. Summer is a lovely time to visit the city of Kashgar.

Gobi Desert: Gansu Province

Being so isolated, you’ll be able to breathe in fresh air without pollution, and at night the stars shine their brightest away from the hustle and bustle of cities. You will truly understand the meaning of the term ‘in the middle of nowhere.’  

Gobi Desert

What to See

The desolate city of Dunhuang is a great place to explore and involve yourself in ancient Chinese culture.

You’ll want to see the beautiful Echoing Sand Mountain, and as you stand in its shadow, you can listen to the melancholy tune that is played by the wind over the grains of sand, a haunting sound that echoes all around you.

Also, check out the unexpected oasis of Crescent Lake. The Gobi desert offers many different sports alternatives. You can go hiking, paragliding, explore the sand dunes on a dune buggy, or go sand sliding! Of course, camel riding is also available.

When to Visit

To avoid the cold of winter and the fierce winds of spring and fall, the best recommended time is between the months of June and September.

Shapotou Desert: Ningxia Province

Listen to the wild singing sands, and watch as the dunes flow downwards, appearing almost like a waterfall. Standing tall towards the north of the Yellow River, this desert is home to some beautiful sights.

You can get to Shapotou easily from the city of Zhongwei. A bus leaves every half hour from the station and will cost 3 yuan.

What to See

For an extreme adventure in the dunes, the Shapotou International Sand Slide Center is your place to be!

Hurtle yourself down the sand hill at a 60-degree angle, flying downwards for 1000 meters. Another great adventure is the Yellow River Cableway Slide, a zip line that sends you literally flying through the air, across the desert landscape and down to the waters of the Yellow River below.

Sand slide

When to Visit

Summer and autumn are the high seasons but will provide you with the best weather and surroundings. The cost to enter the Shapotou Scenic area is 100 yuan in the high season.  

Exploring China’s fascinating landscapes is a great way to really get involved in the beautiful culture here.

Visiting the desert ecosystems opens up grand opportunities for adventure, and the ancient history surrounding these places is fascinating to learn about. Travel to the deserts of China and enjoy an unusual but stunning form of natural beauty.

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Cez Krol

Travel blogger at eTramping
Cez lives in China like a local for the past 4 years. Apart from speaking the language, he loves to discover more about this unique country of extreme contrasts. He shares his China experiences here at Sublime China and on his blog eTramping, so go and check out what's out there for you in China.
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