I’ve become obsessed with sand dunes. They are one of my favourite types of landscape and I find it hard to put into words why. Sand dunes are often in quite hostile environments, being in places that are very hot and offer little or no shade. They are exhausting if you try and climb them and have the power to make you feel so tiny. They create huge ‘mountains’ which is crazy when you think that they are literally just piles and piles of loose sand with no solid centres. Yet they are beautiful and FUN. I collaborated with some other travel bloggers and compiled a collection of different sand dunes around the world!
Sand Dunes in AFRICA
Erg Chebbi – Sahara Desert
For me, the Sahara Desert was the bucket list sand dune and it didn’t disappoint! I booked on a tour from Marrakech to Erg Chebbi (9 hours driving direct) for a night camping in the dunes! We rode camels to our camping spot just as a huge sand storm started and continued all night long! Thankfully it stopped in time to be able to enjoy the sunrise. I got up extra early and for a little while I had, what felt like, the whole place to myself. It was magical and peaceful and made up for the sand storm (…and still finding sand for weeks afterwards).
Erg Chigaga (Shared by Heather at Conversant Traveller)
Erg Chigaga is a vast set of sand dunes that have drifted from the Sahara in southern Morocco. They’re a great place to explore, and visitors can spend a night or two with desert nomads in either rustic or luxurious camps. It’s a long drive down from Marrakech (about 9 hours) but you can break the journey at Ouarzazate (and see some of the famous film sets there!). And it’s worth every minute! Most people opt for a sunset camel trek through the dunes, before joining their hosts around the campfire for delicious tagines and some musical entertainment. After a spot of star gazing it’s time for bed, before getting up before dawn to climb a dune ready for a spectacular sunrise.
(Photo Credit: Heather at Conversant Traveller)
Sand Dunes in EUROPE
Dune du Pilat (Shared by Kylie Gibbon at Our Overseas Adventures)
The incredible Dune du Pilat in South West France is the tallest sand dune in Europe. It’s almost 3 kilometres in length and 110 metres above sea level. The great thing about Dune du Pilat is it’s incredibly accessible – it’s right next to the pretty town of Arcachon and only a short drive from Bordeaux. The main activity is simply climbing the dunes to take in the beautiful views from the top, stretching out over the Atlantic Ocean.
There’s a well-marked trail from the public carpark to the base of the dune and from there you can either take a set of steps to the top, or for if you’re looking for some great exercise you can make your way up freestyle through the sand. Once you’ve taken in the views it’s so much fun racing back down to the bottom!
(Photo Credit: Kylie at Our Overseas Adventures)
Curonian Spit (Shared by David of Travelsewhere)
Out along part of Lithuania’s coast on the Baltic Sea in northern Europe runs the Curonian Spit. A long stretch of land that spans almost 100km, the spit is home to many fascinating sand dunes. Likely the most impressive of the sand dunes is Parnidis Dune, part of the Great Dune Ridge by the border with Russia.
Surrounded by peaceful woods and the village of Nida, Parnidis is a drifting dune that is 67 metres high. Once you hike your way to the top, you’ll find views over the forest, Nida and the Russian territory. Around the dune are opportunities to go hiking through the woods and relax at nearby beaches. To visit, it’s best to stay in Nida or the city of Klaipeda on the mainland over an hour away, accessible by ferry and bus.
(Photo Credit: David at Travelsewhere)
Dunes of Loon and Drunen National Park (Shared by Daniela at Ipanema Travels)
The Dunes of Loon and Drunen National Park is one of the largest sand drift areas in Northern Europe. The park is located in the Netherlands, in the province of North Brabant, and is called by the locals the Brabant Sahara. The Dunes are easily accessible by car, even on a day drip from Amsterdam. If you rely on public transport, you should consider staying overnight in the neighbourhood.
The Dunes are perfect for hiking and if you are a bit adventurous you can go mountain biking there. For a flat country like the Netherlands, mountain biking is a luxurious adventure. You can rent your bike at the accommodation or at one of the entry points to the park. Another popular activity is discovering the park on the back of a horse. You can book it at entry point Van Loon or at one of the many riding schools in the neighbourhood.
Find out everything about the Dunes of Loon and Drunen on Daniela’s blog.
(Photo Credit: Daniela at Ipanema Travels)
Nationaal Park Zuid-Kennemerland (Shared by Lisa at Flip Flop Globetrotters)
This large national park (over 3800 hectares) covers the coastal area between Zandvoort and IJmuiden in The Netherlands. About 40% of all plants and animals in The Netherlands can be found in this amazing dune area. We often visit the largest dune area of the National Park called Kennemerduinen. It’s easy to reach by bike, car or train from our hometown Haarlem and by train from Amsterdam. There are numerous hiking and biking trails and you can also access the dunes from the beach at Zandvoort and Bloemendaal. The dunes are an amazing place and you can easily wander around for hours enjoying the magnificent and ever changing landscape. The area near dune lake ’t Wed is a great place for kids to play.
(Photo Credit: Lisa at Flip Flop Globetrotters)
Sand Dunes in NORTH AMERICA
USA – Michigan
Silver Lake State Park
When you think of sand dunes, the USA isn’t always the first place you’d think of, but I’m surprised by just how many there are in the States! Michigan is home to a couple of them! Silver Lake State Park is a little north of Grand Rapids. The town of Mears is right next to the dunes, offering plenty of accommodation and food options while visiting! The dunes are split into 2 sections, a pedestrian section (for hiking and sand boarding) and an off-roading section for ATVs and dune buggies…both of which you can hire in the town!
Sleeping Bear Dunes (Shared by Natasha at The World Pursuit)
Midwesterners in the United States don’t need to travel halfway around the world to see some of the best sand dunes. My home state of Michigan has beautiful sand dunes in the north. My favorites are Sleeping Bear Dunes, or what Good Morning America called “The Most Beautiful Place in America.” That title is not an exaggeration either, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore really is gorgeous and covers over 35 miles of pristine coastline.
Once you arrive you’ll be blown away by how blue the water is and how white the sand is. You’ll have to pinch yourself to realize you’re not even in the Caribbean. The best thing to do here is swim, or go on a hike through the trails. Located in Northwestern Michigan this whole area is easily accessible by car. There is a parking lot at many points so all you have to do is just get out and hike. If you are interested in the history behind the name “Sleeping Bear Dunes,” fully about it here.
(Photo Credit: Natasha at The World Pursuit)
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes (Shared by Stacey at Deafinitely Wanderlust)
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is located in Death Valley National Park in Southern California. Since I am from Los Angeles, I rented a car. It feels like a long journey but it’s because there are a lot of great stops in the national park. I forgot to bring a sand board but you can go sand boarding which looks quite fun. Camping isn’t allowed but I strongly suggest to visit there past midnight for stargazing. It’s quite beautiful! You can just lay down and listen to music even. If you love photography, this is a perfect spot for you to take different types of photography. Another thing that is important to note it is one of the hottest places on earth, avoid visiting during the summer (during May – October). I suggest visiting between fall to spring time when the weather is cooler and you’ll able to enjoy it more 🙂
(Photo Credit: Stacey at Deafinitely Wanderlust)
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (shared by Theresa at The Local Tourist)
If you want to see a cyclical environment, you can’t get a much more perfect example than Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado.
The formation of the dunes began in the San Luis Valley about 440,000 years ago. Glaciers melted, creating a lake. When its water evaporated, sand and soil accumulated on the high desert plain. The Rio Grande and its tributaries contributed to those deposits, which were picked up by westerly winds. When the winds came up against the mountain range they lost some of their oomph, and since they could no longer carry the extra baggage, they dropped it and the dunes were born.
They continue to grow. At the base of these huge piles of sand are wetlands and streams that cascade from the mountains. As their water evaporates, the cycle continues.
(Photo Credit: Theresa at The Local Tourist)
White Sands National Monument (Shared by Lauren at TheDownLo)
White Sands National Monument looks bizarrely otherworldly, and it might be, depending on what you believe about New Mexico. The largest gypsum dune field in the world, it is blindingly white as far as the eye can see, and the protected gypsum dunes are a mesmerizing playground for adventure enthusiasts. If you want to act like a kid in a giant sand box, the gift shop rents sleds and wax, but you can also horseback ride, camp, hike, and bike to take in the unique ecosystem. The closest big city is Ruidoso (a laid-back mountain town and total hidden gem), which is an easy hour and 15-minute drive.
(Photo Credit: Lauren at TheDownLo)
Sand Dunes in SOUTH AMERICA
Jericoacoara (Shared by Erin at Sol Salute)
Jericoacoara is in the Northeast of Brazil and while it’s quite hard to get it, it’s so worth it! Fly into the nearest city, Fortaleza, then take a 6-hour bus to Jijoca and board the jardineiras (an army-like 4×4 truck) that will take you the last leg of the way down the beach. The old fishing village is now most popular for its windsurfing and its sand dunes. The area surrounding the town was even declared a national park 2002. There’s a lot to do, including sandboarding, horseback rides, and gorgeous hidden lagunes. However, the most popular activity is to watch the sunset from the dune nearest to town. About an hour before sunset the town nearly empties as locals and visitors alike trek to the top of the sand dune overlooking the water to watch the sunset, caipirinhas in hand.
(Photo Credit: Erin at Sol Solute)
Lencois Maranhenses (Shared by Michael Gerber at Mscgerber)
The sand dunes in the Lencois Maranhenses National Park are probably the most incredible of whole Brazil and, even though they are quite remote, are definitely worth a trip. The best way to get there is to fly to Sao Luis, Maranhao (North East of Brazil) from where you can go by car or bus. The journey from Sao Luis takes approximately 4 to 5 hours by bus.
Once you are there you can enjoy several amazing activities, such as ATV tours, flying over the whole area with a small plane or simply visit the dunes, which are, depending on the time of your visit, filled with rain water. To enjoy this magic place to its fullest I suggest you going there between July to September.
(Photo Credit: Michael Gerber at Mscgerber)
Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) – Atacama Desert (Shared by Louise at Curious Footsteps)
The Valle de la Luna is well known for being the driest place on earth. The landscape was incredible and like nothing I’d ever seen before – beautiful rolling sand dunes, covered sporadically with salt crystals (mainly at the lower levels). The salt looked just like snow, I kept having to tell myself it wasn’t! It takes around 300,000 years for the salt to crystallise and then turn transparent (but only 2 months if it’s cultivated). We sand boarded down the dunes and walked along one of the more accessible ridges. We were staying in San Pedro de Atacama – it was a 45 minutes drive from there and fairly straightforward to get to. It certainly lives up to its landscape – I felt as if I could easily have been on the moon!
(Photo Credit: Louise at Curious Footsteps)
Huacachina (Shared by Claire at Past The Potholes)
Just a four and a half hour bus ride south of Lima, Peru you will find Huacachina. This surreal desert oasis is surrounded by huge sand dunes that provide some great opportunities for adventure, particularly sandboarding and dune buggying. The best buggy rides are in the late afternoon. They last longer and you get to witness the incredible sunset across the dunes while trying your hand at sandboarding. Rent a
board in town and climb up the nearest dunes for extra practice. Tip: either pack wax or rent a proper snowboard as the basic boards tend to stick on the sand.
Huacachina is also a great jumping off point for tours to the Islas Ballestas (Poor Man’s Galapagos), the Nazca Lines, wine and pisco tours, and Paracas National Reserve. To get there we recommend using Cruz del Sur’s Ica Express: a super comfortable direct bus running multiple times a day. Read more: 2 Weeks in Peru Itinerary.
(Photo Credit: Claire at Past The Potholes)
Sand Dunes in AUSTRALIA & OCEANIA
Australia – Queensland
Moreton Island (Shared by Christine at Christineknight.me)
Moreton Island is a 75 minute ferry trip from Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland. It’s the world’s third largest sand island, made up of 98% sand and 2% sandstone and rhyolite. Moreton Island is also home to Mount Tempest, which, at which is 285 metres high, is the tallest coastal sand dune in the world. The undulating sand dunes give the island a distinctive appearance and attract adventure seekers who enjoy sand surfing.
We took a bus tour from Tangalooma Island Resort to get to the area of the island known as “The Desert”. Equipped with pieces of board kind of like snowboards, we climbed the dunes and “surfed” down again.
(Photo Credit: Christine at Christineknight)
Carlo Sandblow – Rainbow Beach (Shared by Bryony at Coasting Australia)
Carlo Sandblow is a massive moonscape of a sand dune located a short walk from Rainbow Beach in Queensland, Australia. Part of the Great Sandy National Park, the impressive coloured sands of the area give a clue how the small town got it’s name.
Incredible views over the ocean and out to Fraser Island await – as well as hours of fun sliding down massive dunes. Bring your own boogie board!
If you drive to the end of Cooloola Drive in Rainbow Beach there is parking, then a beautiful bush walk of about 600m will bring you to the dunes. Visit at sunrise or sunset for an extra special spectacle. While you’re in the area don’t miss a visit to Tin Can Bay where you can hand feed wild dolphins.
(Photo Credit: Bryony at Coasting Australia)
The Big Drift Sand Dunes – Wilsons Prom (Shared by Jane at Wicked Walkabout)
In Victoria, we have a location that has been a family favourite holiday destination for generations of Aussies. Wilsons Promontory is an amazing place teaming with wildlife, fabulous beaches, amazing hikes and stunning inland sand dunes known as The Big Drift. Not many people know of the area and it is not overly publicised, but it is a pretty 2km hike to some awesome inland dunes that constantly shift and change. By day it is a playground for sand boarding and climbing dunes and by night it is an open expanse with stars that seem to start from the tops of the dunes. As the dunes are not well known, it is the quietest spot to be in the peak holidays seasons at the Prom!
(Photo Credit: Jane at Wicked Walkabout)
Lancelin Sand Dunes
Lancelin is a small town 90 minutes north of Perth in Western Australia. The dunes are located close to the town but 4x4s are recommended for the last little part of the drive as the parking area is IN the dunes! There is a small area to park near the main road with a short walk to the dunes if you don’t fancy risking getting stuck! Lancelin Sand Dunes are popular with both sand boarders and off-roaders. Sand boards can be rented by the hour from a couple of shops in Lancelin.
Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park (Shared by Amy at OutChasingStars.com)
An hour drive from Fiji’s Nadi International Airport is the Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park. As Fiji’s first National Park, Sigatoka offers several trails for hiking the beautiful dunes. The trails lead down to the beach, with smooth sand and shells. The site also has archaeological significance and World Heritage status.
We drove the opposite direction – from Suva – to spend some time hiking the park. The small kiosk offers and map and some educational signs about the local wildlife and vegetation. Rumor has it that the gold-medal winning Fijian rugby team comes here to train by running up and down the sand dunes. It takes some effort to get up, running up the loose sand, but the view from the top is worth it.
(Photo Credit: Amy at OutChasingStars)
Sand Dunes in ASIA
Dunhuang (Shared by Daniele at Cycloscope)
Dunhuang is mostly famous for the Mogao Caves, the ancestral and spectacular Buddhist grottoes. Not everyone might know though that the town of Dunhuang is an ancient desert oasis along the Silk Road, and it really looks like it.
The small city of Dunhuang is indeed surrounded by huge sand dunes, the biggest in China, they are very easy to access straight on foot from the town center, through the tourist gate of the famous enough Crescent Moon Lake. The lake itself is a bit of an overpriced tourist trap, but the dunes are impressive, some more than 100 meters tall.
Reaching Dunhuang is not easy, whether you can fly there or embark in long train or bus journeys. But the fatigue of the trip is certainly rewarded by the uniqueness of this place.
(Photo Credit: Daniele at Cycloscope)
Nubra Sand Dunes (Shared by Somnath at Travel Crusade)
The Nubra sand dunes or the Hunder sand dunes are easily perceptible from Hunder village in Leh,Ladakh India. The mountains encircling these dunes are also covered with sand and the color changes are notable and significant as you take photos in your lenses. The sand dunes are white in appearance and they can be tracked from the Diksit monastery till the village of Hunder.
There are two projected camels in the region that takes you for a ride in the sand dunes area which is really awesome and adventurous. The entire region is covered with white sand and it is an awesome feeling to be in there spending some time in Nature and enjoy the blissful serenity prevailing around. There are small homestays and resorts covering
the region and one can plan a stay if (willing to) to spend the night and enjoy the atmosphere.
(Photo Credit: Somnath at Travel Crusade)
Thar Desert (Shared by Patrick at German Backpacker)
As part of my trip around India, I visited the “golden city” Jaisalmer in the West of India’s desert state Rajasthan. Jaisalmer is the getaway into the Thar Desert, close to the Pakistani border and me and my friends did a two days trip into the desert from there. After spending a long day on a camel (this was more painful than it sounds!), riding through some rocky and less sandy parts of the desert, we made it to some beautiful sand dunes right in time for sunset. The views were incredible and we felt so far away from civilization. We spent the night directly in the sand dunes, sleeping on some blankets under the sky with a campfire next to us. It’s been a fantastic experience!
(Photo Credit: Patrick at German Backpacker)
The Kaluts – Lut Desert (Shared by Alex at Lost With Purpose)
The sand dunes of the Kaluts, part of the Lut desert in southern Iran, aren’t your typical sand dunes. Instead of cascading hills, they’re more akin to a ruined city covered in sand, lost to the ages. The massive sculptures, formed by eroding winds, are nothing short of awe inspiring. A visit to the Kaluts is surely one of the highlights of any trip to Iran.
The Kaluts can be visited from the city of Kerman. It is possible to visit them on a day trip from the city, but it’s much more satisfying to stay overnight in a desert oasis. Not only can you find solitude as you walk around abandoned caravanserais at the edge of the desert, it allows you to see both sunset and sunrise from atop a massive sand “castle”. Not a bad start—or end—to the day!
(Photo Credit: Alex at Lost With Purpose)
Wahiba Sands (Shared by Claire at ZigZag On Earth)
In the Sultanate of Oman, you only have to drive 2 hours 30 min from the capital city Muscat to reach the longitudinal Sand dunes of Wahiba Sands. As you approach on a flat rocky terrain, the orange sand climbs quickly in front of you to reach 100m in height. I recommend you check Google Earth to see how all the dunes line up! Thanks to this easy access, you can visit them during a day trip from Oman or spend the night at one of the camps from which you can enjoy sunset 4WD experience or camel rides.
But for those who know how to drive on sand dunes, the best way to experience this desert is to spend the night wild camping! There are smaller dunes in between the long ones and they are easier to access. This way you can appreciate the silence at both sunset and sunrise.
(Photo Credit: Claire at ZigZig On Earth)
Paoay Sand Dunes (Shared by Kevin at The Outcast Journey)
You won’t see that much sand dunes especially in a tropical country like the Philippines. Honestly, I can only name 2 sand dunes in the country, both of which are located in the northern part of the Philippines. Paoay Sand Dunes is situated in a 4th class municipality, and is often the first stop of Ilocos Region. Such trip starts from the top which is Ilocos Norte and all the way down back to Manila. There are several activities found in Paoay Sand Dunes – sandboarding and riding on 4×4 to name a few. Don’t miss the 4×4 ride as it is the highlight, giving you the thrilling experience. For 1,500 pesos for a group of 5 people, you will get an hour of enjoyment that includes the rough ride, or as some people would say, the “rollercoaster” that can go as high as 20 feet and afterwards the sandboarding using a piece of wood.
Qatar Sand Dunes (Shared by Jenny at TraveLynn Family)
No visit to Qatar would be complete without visiting the desert. We booked a fantastic half day desert tour with Qatar Inbound Tours. The drive south to the desert from the city took about 25 minutes along a wide, clear highway. When the tarmac ran out, the driver let the air out of the tyres in preparation for some dune bashing. What absolute exhilarating fun! I will never forget the giggles from my two young boys as our skilful driver careered up, over and around the silky dunes. We also stopped to take in the seemingly endless views of untouched sand, visited the Inland Sea, and drove so far south we could see the coastline of Saudi Arabia.
(Photo Credit: Jenny at TraveLynn Family)
Jiupeng Desert (Shared by Nick at nickkembel.com)
It might surprise you to learn that the small, sub-tropical, very humid island nation of Taiwan has a desert. It’s little and isolated, and few Taiwanese people even know about it, but it’s there! With gorgeous 30-meter sand dunes and fine sand that spills down onto a deserted beach on the coast, it’s a rewarding adventure for those willing to make the trip. Rental ATVs are always available and are the most exhilarating (and perhaps only) way to take in the dunes. Jiupeng desert can be reached by car or scooter in 1-2 hours on a small, winding country road from Kenting National Park, Taiwan’s most popular beach resort, on the southern tip of the island. Here’s the full article on how to get there!
(Photo Credit: Nick at nickkembel.com)
Karkarum Desert (Shared by Sarah Carter at ASocialNomad)
The sand dunes of the Karkarum Desert, 250 km north of Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat are unique. There’s not just miles and miles of endless dunes, with the odd straggly bush. Here you get to see the very Gates of Hell themselves. This is of course the Darvaza Gas Crater aka the Gates of Hell, where you can look over and lean into a giant crater, some 69 metres in diameter and 30 metres deep, into the ground, where, in 1971, the Russian Government set the escaping natural gas on fire thinking it would burn itself out. It’s still burning. It’s not easy to get to, getting a visa for Turkmenistan isn’t for the faint hearted and even when you get to the turn off, it’s a 5 mile drive or hike through the sand dunes themselves. We were en route from Istanbul, Turkey to Khiva, Uzbekistan and bush camping just a few miles away, in the lee of a sand dune. It was certainly on my bucket list and goes down in my estimation as the best sand dune in the world with natural gas heating ever!
(Photo Credit: Sarah at ASocialNomad)
Big Red Dune – Dubai (Shared by Elaine at Show Them The Globe)
The Big Red Sand Dune is a 100-metre high monster sand dune located in the Rub-al-Khali desert around 30 minutes outside of Dubai close to the border with Oman. Getting its distinctive red colour from the high iron oxide content of the sand, Big Red draws lots of locals and tourists each day in search of adventure in the desert.
At the dune you can sandboard, rent quad bikes and dune buggies or take an off-road 4×4 adventure up the dune. The sides of Big Red are incredibly steep so navigating its sands is a real adventure. Many companies run daily tours from Dubai to the dunes and it is also possible to spend the night in tents under the stars. Big Red gets extremely busy on weekends and national holidays when many people descend on the dune with their 4×4’s for some fun off-roading and it’s advisable to book your excursion in advance as it’s a very popular day trip from Dubai.
(Photo Credit: Elaine at Show Them The Globe)
Thanks again to all my amazing contributors! Which dune would you like to visit?!