Last Updated on January 2, 2023
There are many reasons you should add popular sand dunes to your travel bucket list.
The deserts of the world are filled with breath-taking sand dunes which come in different colors, forms and shapes. These geological structures are truly fascinating: always shifting, sometimes “singing“, at times as big as mountains.
Some sand dunes are famous because of their size, shape, or location. For example, the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, which makes them a popular tourist destination. Similarly, the Namib Desert in Namibia is home to some of the tallest sand dunes in the world, which has also contributed to their fame.
Other sand dunes are famous because of their unique features. For example, the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico is home to the largest gypsum dunefield in the world, which makes it a unique and interesting place to visit.
Finally, some sand dunes are famous because of their cultural or historical significance. For example, the Merzouga dunes in Morocco are a popular tourist destination and are often visited on camel rides. They are also located near ancient Berber villages, which adds to their cultural significance.
There are countless ways to enjoy the dunes: you can climb on them, try sand surfing, sand sledding, dune skiing, or dune bashing. Below, a list of stunning sand dunes to inspire your next desert adventure.
Famous Sand Dunes of the World
Huacachina Sand Dunes – Ica, Peru
Peru is home to countless amazing dunes, but those surrounding the oasis of Huacachina are easily the most popular. In fact, Huacachina is considered a sandboarding Mecca, with sports enthusiasts from all over the globe heading to its dunes to “surf” on them, as well as enjoying other activities such as dune buggy on the traditional “carro tubulares” (tubular cars).
Duna Federico Kirbus – Catamarca, Argentina
Duna Federico Kirbus is part of a sand valley that takes the name of Bolsón de Fiambalá, and it’s globally recognized as the highest sand dune in the world. This dune is named after Argentinian researcher Federico B. Kirbus, the first to discover and acknowledge its value.
Dune 7 – Namib Desert, Namibia
Dune 7 is named so because it is the seventh dune you encounter in the Namib desert once you cross the river Tsauchab. Dune 7 is remarkable for being the tallest dune in Namibia, with its impressive 383m of height.
This dune is an important dune climbing spot in the region, and a very challenging one! What makes the dunes of these region truly spectacular is the thin layer of iron oxide covering its sand particles, which gives them a vivid red color.
Big Daddy – Sossuvlei, Namibia
Not quite as tall as Dune 7 but still massive in size, the so-called “Big Daddy” is the highest dune in the Sossuvlei region.
Like other dunes in the region, it is a popular dune climbing spot, and one which rewards you with the best view of the dramatic landscape you can only find in Sossuvlei (other than being able to brag you took on a dune with such an iconic name as Big Daddy).
Singing Dune – Altyn-Emel National Park, Kazakhstan
Across the world, there are a few desert locations where you can witness the natural phenomenon of “singing sand” (or “booming sand”), where the athmospheric conditions and wind activity make it so that the sand vibrates, emitting a distinctive sound.
Kazakhstan is home to some of the most famous “singing dunes” where this phenomenon occurs. Locally known as Akkum-Kalkan, which literally translates to “singing dune”, you can witness this spectacle of nature in the Altyn-Emel National Park in the Almaty Region.
Famous Sand Dunes in the US
Coral Pink Sand Dunes – Kanab, Utah
The pink colored sand that makes this place unique is due to the erosion of the sandstone by the wind, which has been blowing between the Moquith and Moccasin mountains for nearly 15,000 years, dislodging grains of sand from the sandstone rocks and depositing them in this valley.
But what makes the pink dunes unique is not only their color: a few rare desert plants and animal species live here, such as the tiger beetle, an insect that lives nowhere else in the world.
The Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is also a popular sandboarding and ATV riding spot.
Sleeping Bear Dunes – Glen Arbor, Michigan
The Sleeping Bear Dunes owe their name to a legend according to which a mother bear and two cubs swam across the lake from Wisconsin to escape a forest fire; the cubs drowned and became the North and South Manitou Islands, and the spot where the mother bear waited became the Sleeping Bear Dune.
The area is extremely popular with hikers and nature lovers. Interestingly, the dunes are covered with vegetation and become snowy in winter, allowing people to sled on them. The famous Dune Climb also takes place at Sleeping Bear Dunes.
White Sands National Park – New Mexico
Located near the towns of Alamogordo and Las Cruces in New Mexico and only a quick car ride away from El Paso, Texas; the White Sands National Park is a one-of-a-kind desert where sand is made of gypsum rather than quartz. This gives it a distinctive white color which looks almost like snow.
And despite being part of the hot Chihuahuan desert, the temperature of the sand is usually mild enough that you can walk on it barefoot.
Sand sledding is a popular activity for families at White Sands.
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