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© Mehran Maghsoudi

Lut Desert

Lut Desert, Iran
With never-ending dunes and plains, beautiful clear skies and rich cultural heritage that dates back more than 7000 years, Lut Desert (or Dasht-e Lut) is a paradise for visitors, blending geotourism, adventure tourism and cultural tourism all in one place. One of the hottest places on the Earth's surface, with a maximum temperature of 70°C (158°F), the land was considered barren and inhospitable for years. But the beautiful yellow corrugated ridges of the desert hide a unique ecosystem with seasonal rivers, rare birds, lizards and insects.

The Lut Desert is located in the southeast part of Iran among three provinces of Kerman, Sistano Baluchestan, and Khorasan-e Jonubi. The area of the core zone is about 23,000 square kilometers and the protected area, that works as a buffer zone, is about 18,000 square kilometers which includes Rig- e Yallan (sand dunes), Kalut (yardang), Nebka (depressions), Shur river, Gandom Beryan (plateau covered With dark lava) and the central Hamada (Desert pavement). The geomorphologic conditions of the central part of the Lut are developed as a pebble and sand plain. The severe hot daily temperature decomposes rock outcrops in the mountains that get deposited on the plains. The Hamada plain in the central part of the Lut has a reverse triangular shape pointing towards the south to Shurgaz Hamun playa. Another unique feature of the desert is the Shur river. The presence of the river in Lut increases the singularity of the desert. The river flows along 2000 km long, from Ravar Mountains passing the west margin of Gandom Beryan into the salt depression.

© Aref Barahouei / iStock
© Aref Barahouei / iStock

Landform evolution in the Quaternary period in this desert represents a particular history of geological and geomorphological changes. The high number of natural phenomena throughout the year and the richness of culture in the local communities, turn this desert into a place of natural and cultural importance. Some of its important natural features are the highest sand dunes of the world with more than 475 meters high, situated in Rig-e Yallan; The highest kalutes (yardangs) throughout the world with more than 155 meters high. The yardangs in this desert are so extensive it is said that they can be seen from space; The hottest spot on Earth with more than 70 degrees celsius recorded by NASA in 2005 in the southwest of Rig-e Yallan.

History & Today

Apart from the unique natural landscape of Lut, the cultural/archaeological landscape of western fringe of the Lut Desert is very well-known and important in Near Eastern archaeology. Through the last ten centuries, when the city of Shahdad was known as ‘Khabis’, it was an important trading place on the so-called ‘silk road’ connecting the seaports on the Persian Gulf to Middle Asian regions and also the distant regions in the East and West. The living of human beings in Lut Plain Region dates back to 7000 years ago. Since the 5th millennium B.C the region has always been inhabited by human societies. The western fringe of Lut Plain (Shahdad Plain), despite its proximity to the arid and hot desert of Lut, had been selected for living by the ancient men. Based on archeological evidence, the region contains 7,000 years of human culture and civilization.

© Yury Birukov / Shutterstock
© Yury Birukov / Shutterstock

Lut Desert was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2016. It was inscribed based on criteria VII to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance; and VIII to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features. Nowadays, tourism is an important activity and cities around the Lut desert such as Kerman, Shahdad, Bam, Nehbandan, Birjand, Fahraj, Zahedan and Nosrat Abad offer different tourism facilities such as hotels, restaurants, markets, and transportation. There are many eco-lodges and eco-camps around the Lut desert in the western and southern parts of the area. Also in the northern part of the core zone, there are facilities in Dehsalm village and Heydar Abad.

How to get there

The easiest way to get to the Lut Desert is to fly to the city of Kerman where there is a variety of desert tour offers. You can fly in from Tehran to Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani international airport. You can also fly there from other iranian cities such as Ashhad, Shiraz, Tabriz, Isfahan, Qeshm Island, Kish Island, Bandar Abbas, and Ahvaz. A cheaper way of reaching Kerman is by bus. As a very touristic city in Iran, Kerman is well connected and there are multiple buses during day and night arriving and leaving from Adineh Kariman Bus Terminal. The most common route is Tehran to Kerman and it takes approximately 10 hours with buses leaving every hour from 7:30 to 22:00. You can also reach Kerman by train, However the trip will take approximately 14 hours from Tehran and cost around 1868000 Rls (40 Euros).

© Marcin Szymczak / Shutterstock
© Marcin Szymczak / Shutterstock

How to Visit

To visit the Lut Desert there are tour operators in nearby towns, such as Kerman and Shahdad City, that will help you craft your journey. It is not recommended to wander the desert alone without a guide as tourists can get lost easily. Recommended activities are visiting archaeological sites, biking, hiking, camel riding, taking a desert safari, taking a balloon ride, buying handicrafts made by local peoples and NGOs and doing a night tour to spot the flawless sky. If you want to visit nearby attractions you can see Arg-e Bam World Heritage Site, Prince’s Garden World Heritage Site in Mahan, historical bazaar in Kerman, and Shahr-i Sokhta world heritage site. For accommodation the area offers many different options such as hotels, eco-lodges, and the most adventurous ones you can even camp in the desert.

In the Lut Desert you will discover life in one of the hottest places on earth. Tourists can witness ongoing geological formation as the winds erode the landscape to form yardang systems that extend to 120km. On earth’s geothermal pole you will witness seasonal rivers drying and reappearing as well as the world’s highest sand dunes that can measure more than 475 meters high. In this ever changing landscape, you can trust the night sky to be a constant feature. As the desert sky is completely devoid of urban lights and clouds, it is the perfect spot for visiting the celestial bodies and stars. It is also a great place to learn about local culture and ancient history as you get lost in the nearby cities of Kerman, Shahdad, Bam and Nehbandan.

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