Whilst our wildlife-spotting and quad bike-riding experiences had been fun, it had been disappointedly cloudy throughout the majority of our 3-night stay in Paracas, so we were keen to continue our journey south along Peru’s coastline in search of some sunshine.
Our next stop was the desert oasis of Huacachina. With just 200 residents it can barely be classed as a village, yet it’s already a firmly established stopover on Southern Peru’s well-trampled Gringo Trail. The reason? Miles upon miles of huge wind-sculpted sand dunes, upon which you can take a ride in a dune buggy driven by a lunatic with a serious adrenalin addiction, or practice your sand-boarding skills. Or both. I’d definitely recommend both.
We checked into Banana’s Adventures, a pricey option for Peru, especially considering that bathrooms were shared and breakfast was not included. However upon arrival we discovered that a free tour was incorporated into the cost of the room for every night we stayed, which softened the blow a little.
As did the friendly, relaxed vibe, the swimming pool, the delicious breakfast omelettes, the on-site bar and the two adorable resident kittens, who can’t have been more than a couple of months old.
We had trouble dragging ourselves away from the affections of this little fella, so for our first few hours in Huacachina we enjoyed some relaxation time at our hostel. Our sunset dune buggy ride and sandboarding experience was going to be anything but relaxing, so some downtime beforehand was just what we needed.
As soon as the dune buggy – a monster-sized converted American 4 x 4 with a large steel roll cage – pulled up outside our hostel, we both looked at each other with a mischievous glint in our eyes. We were so nailing the front two seats.
Fortunately no-one else seemed that bothered about doing the same (were they mad or was I missing something?) so I didn’t need to put all those carefully thought out seat-stealing strategies into practice. We simply jumped in, belted up and waited for our driver to return.
Our driver was a tall (by Peruvian standards), thickly-built, bald-headed man with hunched shoulders who looked like he meant business.
He was definitely serious about our safety; he wouldn’t leave until he’d ensured that both of us (and the backpack I’d thrown carelessly at my feet) were securely strapped in.
Huacachina is so tiny that in no time at all we’d been driven through its dusty streets and were heading up on to the dunes.
It was a landscape I’d only ever seen twice before in my life – in the Sahara Desert in Morocco and Mui Ne, Vietnam. There was nothing but sand in every direction as far as the eye could see. The dunes dipped and swelled with a strange water-like fluidity, the wind gently lifting grains from their surface, continuously re-shaping their appearance.
As soon as our driver put his foot down, we knew we weren’t going to be in for a ride quite as gentle as those sweeping dunes all around us.
But this ride was going to be fun.
He accelerated up those dunes with ease, the buggy leaning steeply with the angle of the slope. What followed was a series of shriek-inducing twists and turns as we were thrown around inside the vehicle like rag dolls. It was then that I realised why he’d been so careful to check we were all belted in; it wasn’t merely a precaution – it was a necessity.
Whilst he continued to feed his adrenalin addiction by driving us at ridiculous speeds up and down the dunes, I was at once reminded of being on a roller-coaster ride at my local theme park (without the upside-down bits, obviously). My heart was in my mouth, and I had no idea what was around the next bend, but I was loving every single damn minute of it.
You can probably tell by the look on my face.
Now, I would have been quite happy simply zooming around the dunes in this monster-sized beach buggy for the entire two hours, but there was a reason those clumsy wooden boards with velcro foot-loops had been loaded into the back of the vehicle. You got it – we were about to try our hands (or rather, feet) at sandboarding.
I must admit, I was expecting a piece of equipment a little more suited to its purpose than a piece of steam-bent plywood, and the ‘wax’ we were given to grease our boards (this basically helps the board to travel more smoothly – and therefore faster – over the surface upon which it is to travel) was quite literally a piece of broken candle, but hey, I was determined to make the most of the experience.
Now, I have boarded a little before (albeit on snow, not sand), and just about mastered the art of moving my heels and toes up and down to control the direction and speed of the board. The difference is that snowboards are flexible; these boards most definitely were not.
What’s more, the velcro loops that were designed to secure your feet were so worn that if you tried to move your feet in an attempt to control the board, they quickly became unfastened.
So, as you can imagine, my first attempt at sand boarding didn’t go too well. When I wasn’t sat on my arse, I was either trying to dislodge the heavy board from the thick sand under which it had buried itself, careering down a steep sand dune with no idea how I was going to slow myself down, or lying face down in the sand with my arms outstretched because I realised that was probably the safest way to stop before I fell off or was thrown off.
There wasn’t an ounce of grace or dignity about the whole activity, but it was definitely addictive, a lot more tiring than I’d imagined, incredibly frustrating at times, but also a hell of a lot of fun.
Some members of our group decided to use their boards much like a luge and lay down on their stomachs, digging their feet into the sand to slow themselves down, but being the stubborn fool that I am, I was determined to attain an acceptable level of success standing up before I tried lying down.
I also didn’t like the idea of potentially getting a mouthful of sand by involuntarily screaming as I struggled to slow the board down through fear of breaking my ankle. Knowing my luck, something along those lines was bound to happen. So I decided to stick with what I knew, regardless of how terrible at it I was.
Just as I was starting to get the hang of it all, we’d reached the bottom of our final dune and were all piling back into the vehicle in order to make it back down to the oasis before sundown.
Before we’d even made it back to the hostel, Stu and I had already decided that we’d be staying in Huacachina for an extra night – just so that we could repeat this afternoon’s experience all over again.
- If you are serious about your sandboarding (which, admittedly we weren’t), there is an outfit in town who offer a dune buggy tour complete with 60 minutes of professional tuition on proper custom-designed sandboards for 100 soles (£20.65).
- Alternatively you can just hire the boards and boots for 20 soles (£4.13) for three hours. If you do this though, everyone else in the group will expect you to be an olympic-standard sandboarder, so be prepared to be ridiculed if you’re not. That is the main reason we decided against this option.
- A double room (with shared bathroom) at Banana’s Adventures will set you back 130 soles (£26.84) per night, however if you were to book the included tours separately they will cost you 40 soles each, which makes the room price a much more acceptable 90 soles (£18.58). You can book a room at Banana’s Adventures here.