The 11 Largest Sand Dunes in the World

Written by Kirstin Harrington
Published: September 1, 2023
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Sand dunes are amazing structures. You likely envision a place and imagine remote desert regions. Contrary to the highest mountains on the planet, few people are aware of the location of the largest sand dunes in the world. You are most likely to see a sand dune in real life when visiting a desert!

We have the top 11 of the largest sand dunes in the world for you. There are some interesting facts about how these unique creations come to be!

What is a Sand Dune?

Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado at Sunset

Colorado has the most sand dunes in the United States.

©Kris Wiktor/Shutterstock.com

Dunes are land formations that come in a variety of shapes. They are made from sand dancing with the wind. It causes the sand to accumulate in one location if the wind and sand converge for an extended period of time. 

Sand particles are picked up by the wind, carried across a distance, and then dropped in an opening or up onto a big object like an incline or mountain range. This is especially prevalent in dryland areas since there is less surface wetness there, making it easier for the wind to quickly loft large amounts of sand particles into the atmosphere. 

Many times, dunes are found in big groupings known as dune fields. A handful of these fields are massive, measuring in at about 100 square miles! Sand dunes are typically seen in coastal locations due to the specific conditions and surrounding geography needed for their creation.

1. Duna Federico Kirbus

Spanish text "aconcagua hill", mendoza province, argentina

Argentina is full of hilly, mountainous landscapes.

©DFLC Prints/Shutterstock.com

Although Duna Federico Kirbus appears to be a mountain from a distance, this is actually a towering sand dune. With a height of 4,035 feet, Duna Federico Kirbus in Argentina is unquestionably the tallest sand dune on the planet. 

This incredible work of art, which is higher than South Africa’s Table Mountain, is definitely a location that everyone should visit at some point. It is preferable to come as the sunlight begins to rise. 

Visiting Duna Federico Kirbus too late in the day can quickly turn into a windstorm. This region of Argentina is full of unique and bizarre dunes that are great for exploration. See this massive showcase of Mother Nature and its nearby sandy neighbors on an escorted tour. 

Enjoy a fun afternoon of sand boarding, yes, sand boarding, down this dune! 

2. Cerro Blanco

Cerro Blanco

Cerro Blanco translates to White Hill.

©Lucas Cometto/iStock via Getty Images

Sand dunes are difficult to accurately measure, but Cerro Blanco, located close to Nazca, Peru, can legitimately lay claim to being one of the largest sand dunes on Earth. It is undoubtedly the biggest in Peru!  

The enormous sand dune is greater in height than England’s tallest mountain, rising about 3,860 feet from the bottom to its highest point. Its crest offers a panoramic view of the whole Nazca Valley and, on a sunny day, you can even see the Pacific Ocean.

The strenuous climb to the summit of the dune, where the blazing sun forces heat from above and the dry breeze provides a little reprieve from the sweltering temperatures. This is a hot spot for sand boarders to enjoy an early morning!

3. Medanoso Dune

The "Medanoso" in Copiapo is where the Atacama Desert bring us lots of sand dunes becoming orange with the sunset over the horizon

Medanoso Dune is in one of the driest desert in the world!

©abriendomundo/iStock via Getty Images

Located in the Atacama Desert, Medanoso Dune makes it on the list as one of the largest sand dunes on the planet. It towers over the desert at a whopping 1,805 feet! It is arid here because of the location within the Atacama Desert.

All visitors have said the same thing when going to Medanoso Dune: It’s dry! Be prepared for unpleasant weather if you find yourself booking a flight! Like other locations on this list, it’s most popular for sandboarding enthusiasts. 

4. Badain Jaran Dunes

Two lakes At the Badain Jaran Desert

Many are shocked to see lakes in the desert.

©Alberto Sánchez cerrato/iStock via Getty Images

A number of the largest sand dunes in the entire world are in the Badain Jaran Desert in China. In fact, this region is also home to one of Earth’s most incredible unexplainable natural phenomena. 

The Badain Jaran Desert’s dune system generates an unexpected quantity of sound. When the wind lifts the topmost layer of dirt from the dunes, high-pitched howls and low grumbles can be heard. 

Visitors have said they thought the sound was a nearby jet flying dangerously low. Others have said it was the sound of an oncoming avalanche! The highest of the expanding dunes stands at about 1,300 feet tall. 

There’s no wonder why the Badain Jaran Desert dunes made the cut for one of the largest sand dunes in the world! If you plan on visiting, there are trips led by guides that showcase the magnificent sand dunes. 

5. Rig-e Yalan Dune

Shahr-e Sukhteh " Burnt City" is located in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, Iran. In July 2014 it was placed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.

Iran has many unique sand structures.

©Morteza Safataj/Shutterstock.com

One of Iran’s top natural tourism destinations is the Lut Desert. Rig-e Yalan is a group of extremely tall sand dunes that may be found in the eastern portion of Kerman province. The largest measures in at over 1,600 feet! 

This area is just south of South Khorasan province, and northwest of Sistan and Baluchestan province. Despite what you may think when you envision a desert, Rig-e Yalan has some scattered flora, including a diversity of different plant species. 

It’s important to note that several animal species can be observed in this region of the Lut Desert. Due to the vastness of the area and the lack of any towns or villages, traveling to Rig-e Yalan requires the assistance of a knowledgeable party. 

Camels and SUV vehicles are permitted in this region. It is essential to remember that permission is also necessary for a thorough trip to the Lut region.

6. Average Highest Dunes

sahara desert

These sand dunes are what most people picture when thinking of these natural wonders.

©MrLis/Shutterstock.com

The enormous Algerian Desert is home to these sand dunes. The dunes are located on the 23612-mile-long Isaouane-n-Tifernine Sand Sea, and their height is thought to be 1,410 feet.

Here, the dune system in the Algerian Sahara is very extensive

It’s a beautiful site to visit, but you must exercise caution because the 23,612 miles of hiking are not for the faint of heart. In the Sahara Desert, tourists can engage in a range of excursions like camel riding, sandboarding, and stargazing.

7. Dune 7

gemsbok in desert

Wildlife of all types call the area around Dune 7 home.

©Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

The Skeleton Coast in Namibia has what we know as Dune 7. These blustery dunes are located in this unusual region, which is littered with decaying ships and palm trees. To put it plainly, Dune 7 and its surroundings are quite a juxtaposition. 

The Namib Desert, the planet’s oldest desert, is home to Dune 7, one of the largest sand dunes at an astounding 1,256 feet high. This place is a hub for outdoor activities for thrill-seekers. You can rent an ATV and ride over the cumin-colored slopes. 

With the help of a knowledgeable guide, set out on an excursion through the desert, tackling challenging but thrilling hikes up dunes and observing microscopic individuals trailing behind you in the distance.

8. Mount Tempest

Australia Landscape : Brisbane City Skyline

Seeing the view of Brisbane is worth the trek up Mount Tempest.

©MaytheeVoran/iStock via Getty Images

Mount Tempest is not only one of the largest sand dunes in the world, but it is the tallest coastal sand dune on the planet! It measures 935 feet tall and rises over Moreton Island. It is a favorite among climbers visiting Brisbane.

Mount Tempest is on many people’s bucket lists because of its difficult ascent and breathtaking panoramic views of Moreton Bay and the rest of Australia’s mainland. Bring your hiking boots for a sunrise hike up this massive dune, and make sure you stop at some of the numerous benches along the route to admire the Champagne-colored sands and the blue oceans that surround them. 

Enjoy the day discovering the remainder of the island by taking a dip in the freshwater Blue Lagoon. 

9. Star Dune

Stargazers at Great Sand Dunes National Park looking at the Milky Way Galaxy.

Stargazing is one of the most popular activities at Star Dune.

©Mike Ver Sprill/Shutterstock.com

The National Park Service claims that Star Dune, which rises 750 feet from the valley bottom to its crest, is the largest sand dune in North America. Despite having a lower total elevation than High Dune, because the valley floor slopes, Star Dune earns an additional 100 feet to its overall height. 

You’ll need to book a trip to Mosca, CO to experience this dune in all its glory. Hikers must choose their own path through the sand dunes. You could possibly slide yourself down the sand dunes if you’re tired from the ascending hike. 

Who can blame you? This is no easy hike. You ought to plan on spending a minimum of half a day on this difficult hike. Because of this, it’s best to start in the early morning because the sun quickly warms up the sand! 

10. Dune Du Pilat

Dune of Pilate, France. Gironde, Arcachon Basin, Aquitaine, the largest sandy desert in Europe

It takes the average person around 20 minutes to scale Dune Du Pilat.

©SpiritProd33/iStock via Getty Images

As the sun is beginning to set, the biggest sand dune in Europe appears nothing short of magnificent. France’s Dune du Pilat makes our list because the wind-sculpted marvel is 350 feet tall. 

Even more shocking, Dune du Pilat is 1,640 feet wide. This intimidating natural phenomenon has become an essential stop for visitors looking for the perfect photo spot for their social media posts. 

Outdoor enthusiasts stand in awe of nature’s strength. It is bordered on one side by the Bay of Biscay and on the opposite side by lush forest.  

11. Empty Quarter

Rub' al Khali, arabian desert

Seeing the sun rise or set at the Empty Quarter is worth the trip for many visitors.

©Anton Petrus/Shutterstock.com

The Rub’ Al Khali, is known in English as the “Empty Quarter.” Bedouins, camels, and not much else call this boundless desert home. The dunes here are many and rise and flare like ocean waves. 

This arid wasteland has grown into one of the most well-known dunes-filled areas in the world after appearing in movies like Star Wars and The Matrix. The soaring summit and lofty 1492-foot height of this structure make climbing difficult for tourists. 

If this sounds like a destination you’d love to visit, book a trip to Oman. Visitors can take a 4×4 out into the desert to enjoy the rush of sliding straight down the intense slopes of the dunes. If you want to conserve your energy, hop on a camel and enjoy a ride in the desert.

Types of Sand Dunes

Arabian Peninsula

Saudia Arabia has a plethora of sand dunes.

©iStock.com/AFZALKHAN M

Sand dunes come in five different varieties, each of which is given a name based on its shape.

Star Dunes: Star dunes typically have sharp ridges and slip slopes on a minimum of three sides. Sand from various directions is blown by the wind, creating star-shaped dunes.  

Dome Dunes: There aren’t many dome dunes around, and they don’t have a slide face. Sand from every direction is blown by the wind and builds these dunes. 

Linear Dunes: Linear dunes are shaped like a worm that has been stretched. Due to the almost identical force of wind on each side, linear-shaped sand dunes develop.

Crescentic Dunes: Crescent-shaped dunes, as their name implies, are best described as looking like a capital C. You will likely encounter a large number of crescent-shaped dunes because they are so prevalent.

Parabolic Dunes: Parabolic dunes are similar to crescentic dunes. The only difference is that the parabolic dunes’ flip face is on the interior. Typically, the wind blows these parabolic dunes down until the outermost portion is all that is left. 

Summary of the Largest Sand Dunes in the World

Sand DunLocationHeight
Duna Federico KirbusArgentina 4,035 feet
Cerro BlancoPeru3,860 feet
Medanoso DuneChile 1,805 feet
Rig-e Yalan DuneIran1,640 feet
Empty QuarterOman1,492 feet
Average Highest DunesThe Sahara1,410 feet
Badain Jaran DunesChina1,300 feet
Dune 7Namibia1,256 feet
 Mount TempestAustralia 935 feet
Star Dune United States 741 feet
Dune du PilatFrance350 feet

The photo featured at the top of this post is © mr.wijannarongk kunchit/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Kirstin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering animals, news topics, fun places, and helpful tips. Kirstin has been writing on a variety of topics for over five years. She has her real estate license, along with an associates degree in another field. A resident of Minnesota, Kirstin treats her two cats (Spook and Finlay) like the children they are. She never misses an opportunity to explore a thrift store with a coffee in hand, especially if it’s a cold autumn day!

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