Desert Adventures: Visiting Japan’s Tottori Sand Dunes

Bjorn

When someone first mentioned to me that Japan had a desert, I must admit I was skeptical. The closest actual desert, after all, was in Mongolia’s far east several thousands of kilometers to the west. The Tottori Sand Dunes to some critics might not be a ‘real’ desert, but this does not make the sand dunes any less special, or desert-like. I dare to say that it makes them that much more unique!

tottori sand dunes
Photo by mstk east used under CC

The kilometers-long dunes that silhouette Tottori’s coastline was initially formed by the Sendaigawa River. Centuries of coastal winds then sculpted the dunes in an ever-changing elegant scenery that continues to inspire many. Apart from taking a stroll to enjoy the scenery, there are also more adventurous options for those looking for a thrill.

Paragliding

Ever thought of gliding through the sky to get a real birds-eye view for example?

tottori sand dunes

There are a few popular paragliding courses to help you conquer the skies! One such option is with Zero Paragliding School, whose instructors we give a two thumbs up for their professionalism and patience. Their paragliding course can be taken for half a day (¥7,500) or a full-day (¥12,500) and covers everything from handling the paraglide to basic safety. Regarding the latter, you will be pleased to know that even if you fail horribly there is always the nice and soft sand to catch your fall. You’ll need to make a reservation in advance (+81-857-29-9098) since it is perhaps the most popular activity in the dunes.

There is also the comparably priced Tottori Paraglider. They offer English-language instruction and early morning glides (like 6:30am early—think sunrise views!).

Sandboarding

sandboarding
Photo by ActiveSteve used under CC

Next up, an activity the folks down under in Australia will be very familiar with: sandboarding. Japan might be well known to sport fanatics as a great destination for snowboarding and skiing, but sandboarding in Tottori is really quite special. The dunes have splendid 30-degree slopes that are not too difficult for beginners to tackle nor too easy for experienced boarders to show off their tricks. For about ¥3,500 you receive some instruction, a board for about 2 hours, and insurance just in case. Much like the paragliding course, reservation is required (+81-857-23-1749).

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 Suggested Activity 

Camel rides

Photo by cotaro70s used under CC

Perhaps less adventurous, but certainly unique in Japan, is to ride a camel. Yes, a camel. These limousines of the desert gladly help you immerse in your role as Lawrence of Tottori throughout the year between 9:30 to 16:30 (or 10:00 to 16:00 during the winter months). The camel ride is also the cheapest option of the three—you can snag a ride for as low as ¥1,300 fee for one person or ¥2,500 for two people.

Or you can make a day of it with this package that offers a camel ride, plus visits to the Tottori Castle ruins, the Sand Museum, and Kannonin Temple & Garden.

Getting to the Tottori Sand Dunes & the ultimate cheapo stay

The dunes are easily accessed from Tottori Station by hopping on the bus heading for Tottori Sakyu at bus stop 0. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes and should only cost you ¥370.



For those hardcore cheapos among us, going rough in the outdoors might be an option to truly complete the uniqueness of your visit. The Yanagijaya campsite is located right next to the sand dunes and putting up a tent is completely free.

Whether its just for a few hours or an entire weekend, Tottori’s sand dunes offer a unique abundance of entertainment with a sense of adventure.

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