What comes to mind when you think of Peru?
Machu Picchu and the other Incan ruins, probably. Or the Nazca lines, the endless coastlines of Lima, and the many varied hiking trails all over the country.
Those were my impressions, too, until I read a post by Two Scots Abroad about Huacachina. The photos of the place were breathtaking; imagine a small town surrounded by huge sand dunes, with a large lake in the middle? I never thought I’d find such in Peru!
Thus, after my two-week volunteering stint in Cusco, I packed my bags and headed west, down first to fly over the Nazca lines, and then up north to go sandboarding in Huacachina.
What struck me most about the town of Huacachina is how small it is. The local population is around a hundred inhabitants, mostly involved in the tourism industry. There’s a large lake in the middle, and surrounding it are bars, restaurants, hostels, and a couple of souvenir shops.
There are boats on the lake, too, the type that tourists usually love — you know, paddleboats in the shape of ducks. When I was there, however (around November 2015), the boats remained unused. Tourists just headed outside the town, out into the dunes.
There are many tour operators in Huacachina, and when you buy sandboarding packages, it usually means taking a buggy ride and going down the dunes on your belly or while sitting down on a well-used board. This is called body boarding.
Sandboarding Peru, however, is different. Comprising professional (and award-winning) sand- and snowboarders who join international competitions and teach sandboarding (both for a living and as a pro-bono work for local children), the company makes sure you get the real sandboarding experience (if you want it), which means standing up on the board, similar to snowboarding or skiing.
I went to their office in the morning, chose my board and my shoes, and then returned at 3pm to join the group. Alejo, the guide, and a professional sandboarder himself, led us to trek up the dune, away from the town.
We had to carry our own boards, and what with wearing the clunky shoes, it was in itself challenging for me.
When we arrived at a level part of the dune, within view of the town below, Alejo showed us how to board. He demonstrated the stances, how to go down, how to stop. He also showed us how to wax the boards and reminded us to do it often.
I was the only one with no experience either skiing, sand- or snowboarding, so I was the only one who fell down on my butt a lot. Once I got the hang of it, though, I loved it…that is, as long as we stayed on the small dune.
Once Alejo moved us to the high ones, I had to say no. Just looking down the slope made my stomach very queasy already.
I could only look on in envy while the others in my group whizzed past each other, using either boards or skis. They made it look so smooth and easy! I vowed to myself then that if I had a chance to go back, I would stay longer. I would practice more, and get the confidence I need to go down the slopes.
I didn’t just sit there and whine, though. I did what the other tourists did — body boarding. It’s less scarier and a bit safer for first timers. We went down really high (hundreds of feet high!) and steep slopes at very high speeds.
I couldn’t imagine standing up on the board and remaining upright!
All in all, the sandboarding experience took around an hour or so. After that, we went on a buggy ride, the ATVs effortlessly climbing high walls of sand to the accompaniment of shrieks and excited laughter afterwards. We got to see the sunset on the dunes, too, which was a huge treat.
If you visit Huacachina, don’t miss signing up with the sandboarding and sand skiing packages (starts at $49 for 3 hours) given by the International Sand Snow School. They’re definitely the best travel operator there when it comes to sandboarding.
Have you experienced sandboarding? Would you try this in Peru?