Covering the majority of northern Africa, the Sahara is the world’s most famous desert. But how much do you really know about this iconic landscape? Here are 10 facts about the Sahara Desert that you might not have heard before.
1. It’s a common misconception that the Sahara is the world’s largest desert. In actual fact, it’s the largest hot desert behind the Arctic and Antarctica, which are both cold deserts. During the summer months, temperatures in the Sahara average between a sizzling 38-46°C.
2. The Sahara Desert spans some 8,600,000 square kilometres. However, this changes over time as the actual area of the desert expands and contracts with the seasons.
3. Scientists estimate that the Sahara’s overall size has grown to be 10% larger than it was nearly a century ago. While this is partly due to natural climate cycles, human-driven climate change is also responsible.
4. Spanning nearly a third of the African continent, the Sahara reaches a total of 11 countries. These include Egypt, Algeria, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, Western Sahara and Tunisia.
5. The Sahara gets its name from the Arabic word sahra, which means ‘desert’.
6. Sand dunes and sheets cover only around 25% of the Sahara’s actual surface. This desert also has numerous other land features including salt flats, gravel plains, plateaus and even mountains where snow has been recorded.
7. While many of the Sahara’s sand dunes reach over 180 metres in height, this desert’s highest point is an extinct volcano called Mount Koussi in Chad, which has an elevation of 3,415 metres.
8. It may be one of the harshest environments on Earth, but the Sahara is home to a variety of wildlife that has adapted to a life of extremes. Alongside camels and goats, desert species include cheetah, gazelles, ostrich, Fennec fox and monitor lizards. More deadly critters include the deathstalker scorpion and the extremely venomous sand viper.
9. Around 2.5 million people also call the Sahara home, most of which have Berber or Arabic roots. They either live in permanent settlements near water sources or have a nomadic lifestyle, travelling from place to place with herds of sheep, goats or camels.
10. Saharan trade routes played an important part in the economies of Ancient Africa. Goods such as copper, salt and gold were transported using camel caravans, which in their heyday consisted of thousands of camels. There’s even a record that mentions caravans of 12,000 camels travelling between Egypt and Sudan.
If these facts have you inspired to visit the Sahara Desert, why not check out our Morocco group tours? We visit the vast Erg Chebbi sand dunes to spend a night under the stars.