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6 Stunning Dunes to See and Sandboard in Your Lifetime

By Anna Mazurek


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An epic jump off a dune in Namibia
Photo by celeste moure

An epic jump off a dune in Namibia

Attention all adrenaline junkies and traveling photographers: These dramatic dunes should be at the top of your list.

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The west coast of Japan, Africa’s Namib Desert, and Australia’s Kangaroo Island have something unusual in common: giant, naturally forming sand dunes. These sand dunes are a haven for enthusiasts of sandboarding, a new adventure sport that, as you may have guessed, is the sandy version of snowboarding. For some, it’s a low-cost alternative to crowded ski resorts; for others, it’s simply an adrenaline rush. Either way, it’s become so popular that there’s even a biannual Sandboard World Cup.

The origins of the sport aren’t concrete, but the ancient Egyptians are rumored to have used wooden planks to slide down dunes and move heavy loads. And while sandboarding might sound extreme, like snowboarding, it can appeal to people of all levels. If you are riding the dunes for the first time, consider starting on smaller dunes, renting a sled instead, or sliding down on your stomach to ease your fears. Or book lessons and a guided tour.

Check out these six thrilling places across the world to surf the sand.

There's more to do than just sandboard at the popular Tottori dunes.
Tottori, Japan
The largest sand dunes in Japan stretch about 10 miles along the Sea of Japan in the capital of the Tottori prefecture. They were formed by sand that washed out to sea from the Sendaigawa River and then was brought back to shore by ocean currents. In addition to sandboarding, there’s a wide variety of activities available on the dunes, including camel rides, paragliding, and a sand museum with intricate, large-scale sand sculptures. Your hotel can help arrange sandboarding and paragliding reservations in advance.
A father and son walk across White Sands National Monument with a sled.
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
The dunes at White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico aren’t made of sand, but rather naturally occurring gypsum, a calcium-based mineral used in building materials. Located near Hollman Airforce Base, and run by the National Park Service, the monument is the world’s largest gypsum dune field and covers 275 square miles.

Unlike sand, gypsum doesn’t get hot in the sun so walking barefoot here is painless. Bring your own board or visit the park’s gift shop to rent a sled, which is a safe activity for kids. Try to schedule a visit during a full moon when the park stays open late.

Make sure to spend time enjoying the flora and fauna of Kangaroo Island too.
Kangaroo Island, Australia
Little Sahara is a dune system that covers 1.2 square miles on the southern coast of Kangaroo Island, one of Australia’s largest islands. The dunes were formed within the last 7,000 years when a series of storms and fires killed all the natural vegetation. Now, nature preserves cover a large portion of the island and are home to a variety of animals, including sea lions, long-nosed fur seals, and a sub-species of kangaroo. Plan to spend several days to make the most of the island’s attractions. Contact the Kangaroo Island Gateway Visitor’s Information Center about organizing sandboarding and other adventure activities, such as kayaking, biking, and sledding.
Tourists line up to sandboard down the dunes around Huacachina.
Huacachina, Peru
Huacachina is a true desert oasis—a naturally formed lagoon surrounded by lush palm trees and towering sand dunes. Located 190 miles south of Lima, the tiny town is a perfect stopover en route to Nazca. The most popular activity here is a dune buggy tour that includes sandboarding; it’s the perfect combination because the dune buggy picks you up at the bottom of the dunes so you don’t have to climb up. Tours can be booked through most local accommodations and agencies like Pelican Travel & Service.
The dunes outside of Concón have some of the best views of the area.
Concón, Chile
The towering sand dunes of Concón are located eight miles north of the glitzy beach town of Viña del Mar, a popular spot for vacationing Chileans. The view from the top alone is worth the climb, but it’s even more rewarding to sandboard down. The dunes face west and offer an aerial view of the surrounding towns, making this one of the best sunset spots on the coast. Boards are available for rent though Sandboarding.cl on weekends only—if you want to shred during the week, you may want to bring your own board. Afterward, reward yourself with dinner at one of the town’s many delicious seafood restaurants.
Walvis Bay, in Namibia, has a wealth of dunes to explore.

Namib Desert, Namibia

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You can learn to sandboard on the largest sand dunes in the world, which happen to be in the oldest desert on the planet. This vast 1,200-mile desert covers large portions of the Africa’s Atlantic coastline, stretching from Southern Angola into Namibia and South Africa. A variety of companies, including Alter Action, offer sandboarding trips at both Swakopmund, a German colonial town, and Walvis Bay on the southern coast of Namibia.

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