Huacachina: Peru’s Sandboarding Playground
I had just arrived in Lima, Peru 3 days prior and had barely settled into the city’s cold and drab winter weather when I was spontaneously invited to a weekend getaway which was to include sandboarding and dune buggy adventures. “What?” I asked my friends, not knowing what they were referring to. As it turns out, just hours south of the sprawling metropolis of Lima lay the vast pampas deserts of Peru, and we were headed to Huacachina.
Huacachina is just a 5 minute car ride outside of the city of Ica, which itself is about 4 hours south of Lima by bus. Along the way, the only view out the window was miles and miles of flat, dry, and rocky landscape that seemed to stretch endlessly like a sea of pastel mustard yellow. Ica has its share of attractions to boast such as the countless wineries and pisco vineyards that help to produce some of the country’s iconic alcoholic drinks, but we were headed to the tiny town 5 minutes west of the regional capital. After arriving at the bus station in the haze of early evening, we caught a taxi for a handful of soles to take us to our destination.
As we drove through Ica’s city center and past all the little restaurants and shops that lined the connecting road, my friends and I chatted about out excitement for the evening when there it was. Our first views of the sand dunes of Huacachina and the outskirts of the city of Ica. Then as if out of nowhere, we were suddenly surrounded on all sides by deeply golden dunes that were looked even more enchanting with the sharp sunrays of twilight. How was it possible that the landscape could transition so rapidly from flat desert plains to these immense mounds?
Before we knew it, we had arrived at our hotel and handed over our few soles coins in appreciation. Spending the evening in Huacachina was an entirely delightful experience as we ate our bulging sandwiches along the banks of the lagoon under the shadow of the massive sand dunes. Families and their children, as well as couples in lighthearted embrace, rowed back and forth in front of us having rented small paddleboats for a small fee. Apparently, legend goes that a young woman was once forcibly separated from her lover by her disapproving father, and the lagoon today is the result of her tears. Every year, the water tragically takes the life of fated swimmers, all of which have always been male. As such, it is said that the vengeful woman is still trying to find her long lost love.
The next morning, we woke up excited and fully energized for our dune buggy excursion. We had organized the activity directly with our hotel which was to include a trip into the desert as well as an introductory sandboarding practice, and they certainly didn’t disappoint! After our buggy drove over that first large dune, we were faced with that seemed like the ends of the world. It was sand and more sand for as far as the eye could see, piled on at heights that rival even the tallest buildings back in Lima. It was hard to imagine all the way out there that we were only 30 miles from Peru’s Pacific coast.
As soon as we finished snapping a few pictures to show off to our friends and family back home, our buggy operators handed each of us a sandboard. “Here you go!” was all they said, and pointed down a large dune. They patiently taught us how to first lie on our bellies as if sledding faced down since we were beginners and how to tuck in our arms so as not to get burned by the friction as we pushed off. Others in our group had more experience so they chose to stand on the board as it should be done. That first trip was an exhilarating thrill and a challenge to keep our eyes free of sand, but little did we know, that was only the start. For the next few hours, we were buggied to increasingly higher points until the grand finale location which easily looked to tower as tall as a 100-story building. It definitely took quite some time to gather up the courage to go down that monster dune, but once at the bottom looking back up, one could only be proud of actually having survived it!
Huacachina was definitely a fun and adrenaline-inducing weekend getaway from Lima’s cold winter. What better way could one have wished to be introduced to a stay in Peru?