If you find yourself in the Oasis of Huacachina, and most travellers who are making their way through southern Peru by bus do, you’re probably there to try your hand at sandboarding. This village of less than 200 is kind of an icon.
I found myself in Huacachina for the dunes. These mountains of sand surround the Oasis, a small lagoon that is surrounded by leafy palms and, of course, a bunch of hostels/hotels and tour offices. The village is something in itself, just a 7-sole (or close to that) taxi from the city of Ica. But, the real draw is the opportunity to get out into those dunes.
Tim and I arrived in Huacachina in the evening—too late to go with a group on our own, but just in time to see the hoards of people returning from the dunes. This is normally the kind of thing that turns us off, but here’s the place to make an exception. We decided to go the following evening.
How to book your tour
Do NOT book this before arriving in Huacachina. You will end up paying a lot more than you would if you’d just waited. Our hostel in Lima tried to sell us the two-hour dune buggy and sandboarding trip for double what we ended up paying.
Once you get to the village, you will be approached from all sides about booking a tour. We often feel a little shaken by this and immediately turn down the offers. Instead, we went into a tour office and booked on our own. We booked at 3 pm for the 4 pm tour and it ended up costing us 40 soles each (that’s about 16 CAD, or 12 USD). It might seem like a steep price for a two-hour trip (and it is), but this is the one big thing to do in Huacachina, so you might as well find a way to absorb it.
One more thing to keep in mind is to wear close-toed shoes. You’re going to be lying on the board and using your feet to brake. Yes, your shoes will quickly fill with sand, but you’ve just got to learn to live with it (it’s only 2 hours).
The tour itself
At 4 pm, a bunch of dune buggies leave from the village. Maybe 20 or so. Luckily, there is plenty of free space up there in the dunes, so you won’t feel overcrowded.
A bit of a warning: the ride isn’t the most easy-going part of this. There will be times when you suddenly drop down very steep dunes at high speeds. It can make your stomach jump a little, and probably isn’t the best idea for those prone to motion sickness. It can be unnerving at first. But, trust in the fact that your driver goes out at least twice a day and really knows these dunes. You’ll be fine. It gets fun after that.
We stopped at a few different spots to try sandboarding. On the big hills, everyone lies on their stomachs. There are a few smaller ones where we tried standing, but this was a huge fail for me. Some of our group managed pretty well. Though, everyone wiped out pretty hard at some point.
After a while, the sun got pretty low in the sky. We took some time to get our sunset photos and empty our shoes, then did some more stomach-wrenching dune buggying.
The tour ends with a mob of dune buggies gathering above the village to get sunset shots from above.
There’s a decent view of the village, though you’ll have to fight your way around other tourists in order to get the shot.
All in all, a fun experience packed into a short timespan. This is one of those things you do for the pure joy of it and the sense of adventure, not because you are looking to get off the beaten track and be different. Luckily, the crowds don’t matter when you’re out there.