The classic travel question, mountains or beach? Do you prefer to take some time lounging on the sand or climbing towering peaks? Well, why not combine both? If you just can’t decide between the two, sand dunes may be the answer. Mountains of sand offer the opportunity to hike, board, camp, or just chill.
Sand dunes really are one of the coolest natural phenomena on the planet and one of the best vacation destinations. Still not sure? This list of the Best Sand Dunes around the world should give you the perfect inspiration! Don’t worry, if you just can’t let go of ocean waves, there are also options for you!
The iconic burnt orange and red dunes of Namibia are some of the most stunning in the world. Climb for days or take a four-wheel-drive deep into the dunes, where you will see pits of white sand contrasting against the red of the dunes and blue of the sky. Nearby safaris and the unique ruggedness of Namibia already make it a must-visit spot in Africa, but the Sossusvlei Dunes put it right at the top of the list.
When you envision Morocco it is hard not to picture the famed Sahara Desert. The Erg Chebbi Dunes epitomize the best that Morocco has to offer, rising right out of the Sahara Desert, almost beckoning to be explored. Take a camel ride into the desert to enjoy the most traditional means of transport and then sleep under the stars in one of the world’s most open spaces.
If Morocco left you hungry for a sampling of the Sahara Desert, then Libya may be exactly what you are looking for. The Libyan Desert is packed full of sand dunes, albeit not for the faint of heart. Make sure to explore with experienced drivers and ask to be taken into the depths of the dunes, where you will be surprised to find dunes of varying colors, sizes, and textures. Be sure not to miss the black desert, which while not made up of dunes is definitely a sight to be seen.
Listen closely enough and you might just hear the Bandain Jaran Dunes talking to you. Believed to be the result of seismic activity, these Dunes literally groan at their visitors. Even if not impressed by their sounds, you are sure to be stunned by their massiveness. Some of these dunes in the Gobi Desert stand as high as 1,600 feet!
Perhaps surprisingly, Japan actually offers a number of different dune options. Our top pick is the Tottori Dunes, because not only do these dunes offer phenomenal sand excursions, but they also sit right to the side of the ocean. What can you ask for besides sandboarding while gazing out at breathtaking ocean views? Other options in Japan include the Shimoda and Chiba dunes, which also offer some awesome sandboarding options.
The Mingsha Shan Dunes in China sit in a shifting sand desert and, similar to the Badain Jaran Dunes, they sound as if they are singing to you as you slide down their steep slopes. These gorgeous dunes have a mix of different colors, from red to black, white to orange, creating a truly beautiful scene. Visit the crescent moon lake, which sits in the middle of dunes and, even with the shifting sand, remains crystal clear blue year-round. Definitely take advantage of the boarding and sliding options so you don’t miss the dunes’ magnificent sounds!
Go really off the beaten trail and deep into the Simpson Desert to a place where Europeans wouldn’t dare trek when they first arrived in Australia. These days, the Simpson Desert Dunes offer some fantastic hiking opportunities, albeit not for the faint of heart. Unlike other desolate deserts, the Simpson Desert was once a glacier and, as a result, is now home to a number of lakes and a diversity of wildlife. Definitely worth the trip to the center of the continent.
Unlike the Simpson Desert, which is located right in the middle of Australia, far away from its shores, the Mount Tempest Dunes are situated on Moreton Island, right along the ocean. Mount Tempest is the tallest coastal sand dune in the world and is must-see. If for no other reason, get to the top of these dunes to soak in their stunning ocean views. There is really nothing like white dunes meeting crystal waters!
When you think of Europe, you may not think of deserts and dunes, but the Great Dune of Pyla, just southwest of Bordeaux, France is actually one of the world’s tallest. While not part of a vaster desert, as other options on the list, this dune does make for a wonderful day trip from Bordeaux and is on its own a site to be seen. Unlike other dunes, the Great Dune of Pyla is surrounded by a dense green pine tree forest, which makes it unique from other destinations.
Colorado is best known for its Rocky Mountains, but one of the most popular destinations in the state is actually the Great Sand Dunes National Park, where there are no rocky forests in sight. The highlight of these dunes is the Star Dune, which is North America’s tallest sand dune and provides excellent hiking and viewing opportunities. Rest muscles tired from hiking up steep, sandy hills while enjoying the Rio Grande River, whose sand and soil deposits are what caused the dunes to be formed in the first place, nearly 12,000 years ago. The area is packed with great camping options and is the perfect place to spend a long weekend.
The Death Valley desert actually contains very little sand. What sand there is, however, forms beautiful ripples up and down breathtaking dunes. The Death Valley dunes are some of the best protected in the world, having been declared a protected wilderness. This means that there are no off-roading opportunities and sandboarding is limited to a designated area. This also means that you can enjoy almost pristine conditions and a truly serene environment.
Can you think of anything cooler than sand dunes made of crystals? Not only are the dunes of White Sands National Monument composed of gypsum crystals. They are also home to what scientists believe is the largest concentration of Pleistocene tracks in North America, meaning you are right at the heart of the ice age. With constantly shifting sands, who knows, maybe you will stumble across mammoth bones.
Little Sahara in Utah offers a great of calm and adventure. Head to the vehicle-free zone to take a leisurely hike in a protected area where there is surprisingly diverse wildlife. This area is perfect for bird watching. If you prefer getting your adrenalin running, there are tons of options everywhere outside the protected piece of the desert. These dunes are packed full of off-roading trails.
If you are a Star Wars r, get to the Imperial Sand Dunes as quickly as possible. This is where scenes from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi were filmed. These dunes are well-situated for a day trip from Yuma, Arizona, or for a stopover on a longer road trip along the popular Route 8. Four-wheelers and dirt bikers will be in heaven here, where you can race across sprawling dunes at your leisure, so long as you have a permit. A permit will also allow you to camp under the stars in the middle of sprawling sand mountains.
Love sandboarding? You will the Huacachina Dunes in Peru! These dunes encircle a naturally formed lake and locals will tell you that its sulfur-rich water has healing powers. The sandboarding here is awesome! This area actually hosted the Sandboard World Cup in 2017 and sand boarders rave about the incredible speed they are able to get gliding down the dunes. Huacachina has set itself up as the perfect place to visit, with a number of restaurants and bars situated along the lake, which welcome sand boarders after a long day on the dunes.
Roll (literally) down the massive sand dunes of Médanos as you enjoy one of Venezuela’s prettiest sites and you will not regret it. The extremely fine sand of these dunes allows you to easily jump or roll down them, without needing a sled or board, totally free of charge. The Médanos dunes show off some of what makes Venezuela spectacularly beautiful and so much more than what the news has shown as of late.
Located in Chihuahua, Mexico, the Samalayuca Dune Fields offer every sand-related activity you could imagine, including sandboarding, ATVs, Jeeps, and even bubble soccer! While in the neighborhood, take some time to explore the Samalayuca mountains where you can find cave paintings believed to be over 1,500 years old. At night, sip on sotol, the locally distilled liquor and gaze up into the wide-open skies full of stars.
Cerro Negro is not technically a sand dune, but it made our list because it does have some of the coolest sandboarding options in the world and is essentially a black sand dune. This is actually an active volcano whose slopes are made of ashy black sand that makes for excellent boarding. Don’t just go for the volcano, though, spend some time in the surrounding area which is quaint and beautiful and just a really tremendous place to visit.
Chile has excellent skiing and gorgeous mountains, but it also has some really great dunes. There are several locations spread out throughout the Atacama, each equally as beautiful and offering excellent options for adventure sports enthusiasts. Check out Valle de la Muerte, Cerro Dragon, Medanoso, or Cerro Iman if you want to try your hand at world-class sandboarding.
The mother of all deserts, the epicenter of all sand dunes, the Rub’ al Khali is a massive desert that spans across several countries in the Arabian Peninsula. This vast, unbroken desert sprawls on and on and on and can be pretty intimidating to the average traveler. If you have it in you to make the trek into these dunes, though, you will not be disappointed. You can step totally off the grid and go for days on days in this incredible natural wonder. Just make sure to take an experienced guide and lots of food and water!
The Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is located in Maranhão state, in northeastern Brazil. It is an area of low, flat, occasionally flooded land, overlaid with large, discrete sand dunes. It encompasses roughly 1500 square kilometers, and despite the abundant rain, supports almost no vegetation.
So there you have it, 21 options that will let you combine all your beach and mountain fantasies into one! Enjoy the adventure of sandboarding down steep sandy peaks or just sit and take it all in. Whatever you do, just go! You won’t regret it. Think we missed somewhere? Let us know in the form below.