You might begin to question whether what you are seeing is a mirage. The seemingly endless cumin-coloured cascades. The hazy shimmer as the sun’s scorching rays hit the caster-sugar sand. The tiny sand-dwelling plant poking its head through the surface beneath your feet. Deserts, coastlines and semi-arid regions around the world are dotted with sand dunes, some with pointed peaks, some towering above the rest, each unique and different to the next. Having been sculpted by wind and wild weather for decades, centuries and even millennia, sand dunes have become one of the most extraordinary natural landforms on Earth and are celebrated on World Sand Dune Day on the 25th of June. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie seeking adventure, a photography pro looking for the perfect shot, or just an excited globetrotter travelling to some of the most extraordinary places on Earth, we have created a list of some of the biggest sand dunes in the world that are waiting to be explored…
The smooth swathes of sand found in the Badain Jaran Desert in China are home to some of the biggest sand dunes in the world as well as one of the most amazing unexplained natural phenomenon’s on the planet. The dunes in the Badain Jaran Desert make a surprising amount of noise. High-pitched whistles and low rumbles can be heard when the wind takes the top layer of sand off the dunes, giving the impression of a propellor plane flying low overhead, or an avalanche crashing down in the distance. The tallest of the booming dunes sits at around 1300ft tall, the equivalent of 92 double decker buses stacked on top of each other. The desert is also known for its multitude of lakes that come in ruby, amber and emerald hues, so head out on a guided hike to find these rainbow pools dotted among some of the most impressive sand dunes in the world.
At a glance, you may think Duna Federico Kirbus was a mountain, but believe it or not, this sky-scraping dune is made entirely of sand. Simply put, Duna Federico Kirbus in Argentina is the highest sand dune in the world, standing at a whopping 4035ft tall. Taller than Table Mountain in South Africa and Snowdon in the UK, this epic escarpment is certainly one to add to your bucket list. This area of northern Argentina is brimming with weird and wacky dunes that are perfect for exploring, but it is best to arrive as the sun is rising to avoid a journey of mind-bending beauty becoming a windy, sand-blasted nightmare. Take a guided walking tour of this enormous dune and its sandy neighbours, before jumping on a sand board and hurtling down the face.
Europe’s tallest sand dune is nothing short of magical at golden hour. France’s Dune du Pilat is a bucket-list-topper when it comes to the biggest sand dunes in the world. Although it can’t compete with many of Earth’s tallest sand dunes, this wind-sculpted wonder sits at 350ft high, and its sweeping slopes extend a mighty 1640ft wide. With the Bay of Biscay on one side, and verdant woodland on the other, this menacing sand wall has become a popular spot for tourists wanting an epic Instagram shot and geography afficionados in awe of nature’s power. Throw down your towel, grab your sun cream and watch as paragliders sail overhead and children try to stay upright while running down the sandy expanse, their excited squeals being carried away on the warm Bordeaux breeze. For an even better view of Dune du Pilat, head out on a boat trip for the day where you can explore the Acrachon Bay area and the vast sand banks that lie opposite the great dune.
Namibia is the land where ocean meets desert. Dotted with skeletal shipwrecks and palm tree fringed dunes, this otherworldly landscape is home to the windswept dunes of the Skeleton Coast. Dune 7 is one of the tallest dunes in the world at a staggering 1256ft high, and can be found in the Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world. The honeycomb hued slopes of the dunes that surround Dune 7 are the ultimate place to try out dune bashing in a 4x4. Perch precariously on the chiselled peak of a dune and wait to feel the power of gravity send you soaring down the great sandy ridge. The Namib is also a great place to embrace the wilderness. Head out on a trek through the desert with an expert guide, taking on tough but exhilarating climbs up dunes and watching as ant-like humans in the distance follow in your footsteps, all before resting your weary legs in a luxury tent with a sundowner in hand at the end of the day.
The Empty Quarter is the English name for the Rub’ Al Khali, the largest continuous sand sea in the world. This limitless landscape is overflowing with dunes that roll and pitch like waves and is home to Bedouins, camels and very little else. Having featured in films such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Matrix, this parched wilderness has become one of the most renowned dune-filled expanses in the world. One of the leading sandy superstars is Ramlat Jadilah. Standing at a lofty 1492ft tall, its shifting sands and towering peak create a challenge for visitors wanting to climb it. Oman is the ultimate destination for adventure and culture, and the fact that the country is also home to some of the biggest sand dunes in the world is the cherry on top. Head out in a 4x4, to experience the thrill of sliding vertically down steep dunes or hop on a camel for a bumpy ride through the desert before settling on traditional cushions around low tables for dinner and stories with the local Bedouin people.
Mount Tempest towers over Moreton Island off Brisbane in a billowing sea of sand dunes and is the highest coastal dune in the world, standing at a mind boggling 935ft tall. It is a favourite among fitness fanatics and features on many a bucket list thanks to its challenging ascent and incredible 360-degree views over Moreton Bay and mainland Australia beyond. Pack your hiking shoes for an early-morning trek up this almighty dune and be sure to have a pit stop at one of the many seats along the way to take in the Champagne-coloured sands surrounded by crystal-clear aquamarine seas. Spend the day exploring the rest of the island, from the beautiful freshwater Blue Lagoon to the red and white striped beacon of Cape Moreton Lighthouse, before settling down to watch the sun set the sand on fire as it dips below the horizon.
Written by Immy Kelly